Turkish exiles′ news portal "Ahval"

Hardly politically neutral

Dissident Turkish journalists have taken refuge with foreign information platforms. The latest of these, in Arabic, has some rather dubious supporters however. By Joseph Croitoru

Persecution of journalists who dare to criticise the Turkish regime has become a commonplace in the country since the attempted coup. Many have gone into exile and are doing their best, via television and the Internet, to counteract the influence of the pro-government media in their homeland.

The concentration of such alternative media projects, most of which operate bilingually, is particularly high in Germany. German television channel WDR features a programme called "Turkey Uncensored", the daily newspaper "taz" publishes its "gazete" and the editor of the Turkish paper "Cumhuriyet", Can Dundar, who fled to Germany, writes a weekly column for "Die Zeit". He is also behind "Ozguruz", a news portal supported by the German research network "Correctiv". In Cologne meanwhile, exiled Turkish-born journalists have "Arti TV", though it broadcasts in Turkish only.

Another dissident exile initiative, which aims to achieve a more international impact, joined their number recently. Based in London, but operating from several countries, the news portal "Ahval" (a Turkish Arabism derived from "ahwal" meaning events) has been given a carefully chosen name.

The first of its kind, "Ahval" aims to attract an Arabic readership alongside the Turkish and English ones. The man behind the project is 61-year-old Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar, one of the founders of the Turkish-English investigative "Platform 24" launched in 2013. Baydar left Turkey immediately after the coup and most recently spent a little over a year as a columnist for Germany's "Suddeutsche Zeitung".

Commitment to pan-Arabism

The inclusion of an Arabic news service is most likely down to its new financial backer, London media organisation "Al Arab", which, since its establishment in 1977 by Libyan exile Ahmad al-Huni, has propagated pan-Arabism and secularism with the aid of its eponymously named newspaper.

Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
The "Ahval" news platform is run by 61-year-old Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar – one of the co-founders of the Turkish-English investigative "Platform 24". Baydar left Turkey straight after the coup and spent a year writing as a columnist for Germany′s Suddeutsche Zeitung

The media company has been subsidised by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for some time, a practice much more likely to indicate foreign policy rather than ideological interests, because like Saudi Arabia, the UAE is extremely critical of the sympathy shown by Turkey towards the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. For its part, Ankara has accused the UAE of giving financial support to the attempted coup.

In contrast to the apparent intentions of German-based Turkish media initiatives, "Ahval" is not concerned with demonstrating political neutrality. Editor Baydar claims he has complete editorial freedom with regard to content and that objective journalism not militant opposition interests are his priority – a claim rather hard to justify for the Arabic version, however, particularly for coverage of such sensitive subjects as the Muslim Brotherhood. A piece by "Al-Arab" journalist Hisham al-Nagar which, significantly does not appear in the English and Turkish versions, ably illustrates this.

Distorted link to Hassan al-Banna

In the article, the Egyptian journalist desperately tries to relate President Erdogan's comment on the recent devastating attack on a mosque in North Sinai – "the terrorists have no relation with Islam" – to a similar statement by Hassan al-Banna, founding father of the Muslim Brotherhood. In December 1948, Al-Banna's reaction to the assassination of Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Nuqrashi by a radicalised Brotherhood supporter was to condemn such people as neither (Muslim) brothers nor Muslims.

Hassan al-Banna, founding father of Egypt′s Muslim Brotherhood (source: bbc/Archiv)
Engineered proximity to the founding father of the Muslim Brotherhood: Egyptian journalist Hisham al-Nagar desperately tries to relate President Erdogan's comment on the recent devastating attack on a mosque in North Sinai – "the terrorists have no relation with Islam" – to a similar statement by Hassan al-Banna, founding father of the Muslim Brotherhood

Al-Nagar's use of the analogy to associate Erdogan with Islamist terrorism is by no means the only example of manipulative reporting. Al-Banna's cited condemnation must also be treated with caution because in the Arabic Internet it is to be found in a whole variety of different contexts and chronologies.

Occasional alarmist rhetoric

Reports of this kind aimed at manipulating a particular readership and occasionally resulting in significant variation between the different language editions of "Ahval", are extremely rare however. In general, the range of topics covered is identical in all editions. Many of the contributions are very short and although they come from news agencies are accompanied by images which are just as large as those featured in the few commentaries and background reports.

It is very often the person and comments of Erdogan – as it is in equivalent media organs in Germany – that is the most prominent feature of the Turkish edition. Some of the material offered in Turkish comes from press reports already published on the Turkish internet and therefore likely to be familiar to Turkish readers.

Given the increasingly evident deterioration of the situation for intellectuals in the country, it is understandable that "Ahval" should adopt rather alarmist rhetoric at times in its efforts to mobilise against this. In his analysis, Turkish journalist and editor of the English edition Ilhan Tanir, sees Turkey as on its way to becoming a totalitarian state. He fears that the recent arrest in Ankara of Saban Kardas, head of the Middle East Research Institute "Osram", an institution known for its allegiance to the government, may be the first step towards the dismantling of Turkish civil society.

Joseph Croitoru

© Qantara.de 2018

Translated from the German by Ron Walker

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