Ahval, an independent news source on Turkey, makes debut

Sunday 05/11/2017
“We unconditionally commit, therefore, to freedom of expression and editorial independence in what we report and comment.” Yavuz Baydar, Ahval editor-in-chief

London - Turkey remains, for many reasons, a focal point of the world. In the past five years, it has been dragged into a deepening crisis, which was further complicated after a botched coup attempt in 2016. It is a country under strict emergency rule, which has led to the jailing of nearly 70,000 people.

The most troubled part is journalism. Turkish media are more than 90% controlled by the Erdogan government and there are nearly 180 journalists in prison. The victims of these oppressive measures are without a doubt the Turkish people, whose constitu­tional right to be informed is under severe pressure.

Turkey’s journalists are tough professionals, however. While some struggle for freedom in tiny outlets at home, others have established serious journalistic platforms abroad.

Ahval (www.ahvalnews.com), a new information website, aims high in this troubled domain. Launched November 1, Ahval seeks to provide high-quality news analy­sis, investigative stories, in-depth reports and expert commentary, targeting audiences worldwide. It provides content in Turkish, Eng­lish and Arabic.

Yavuz Baydar, a European Press Prize laureate with 40 years of experience in journalism, leads Ahval’s team of editors. Baydar responded to questions from The Arab Weekly.

TAW: Under the circumstances of demonisation of journalists in Turkey, some would call this a daredevil act. Would you agree?

YB: True, it is a challenge be­cause we have to battle against a power that is keen on controlling all information about Turkey inside and out. The paradox is that we have lived under some democratic forms in that country since 1946. The notion of democracy is in our backbones and we are reminded, on a daily basis, that we have to in­form the domestic and internation­al public about Turkey’s extremely interesting, baffling story.

In countless aspects, Turkey is far too important to ignore. That’s why it is our duty to cover its adventures and report them. My team and I are in Ahval only for the thrill of good journalism. We love it because it is filled with stories waiting to be told.

TAW: How did this project come about?

YB: I left Turkey soon after the coup attempt. The putschists delivered a deadly blow to the country, yet all segments of the society somehow contributed to this dreadful downfall. I reported on the months after the coup, which led to a nightmare for those whose common denominator was to disagree with the way President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan ruled the country. For more than a year I wrote for the Suddeutsche Zei­tung and other outlets, such as the Guardian.

As of late last spring, I felt deeply disillusioned with the way people simply became hypnotised by the immense power propa­ganda. It made me sad to see how fragile and divided we independent journalists were. I was about to quit journalism altogether when I was persuaded by some independent media publishers from Gibraltar, Ahvalnews Ltd, to stay in the game.

My prime concern was that we would be free of activism or political affiliation; that our only activism would be for journal­ism and free expression. There was no doubt that international audiences were left in a vacuum because of no credible outlet in English. The current ones either suffer from fierce self-censorship or they conduct Pravda-like official propaganda. The world needs a cool-headed, critical and rational information source and that’s where Ahval came in. In it you will see “all the news that is fit to post” about Turkey.

TAW: Ahval is online…

YB: It is. We will have three languages in separate sections and slightly separate content. As much as in English, we are aiming at informing the Turkish public. No issue is taboo for us but we are not one of those “opposition” outlets.

The words journalism and oppo­sition do not fit together. That one applies to partisan press. Journal­ism exists as long as it is critical, that is the keyword. It is about treating all the power structures critically and writing. We will look at all the issues with a critical eye and report and comment accord­ingly.

Our objective is to understand this extremely complicated, eva­sive country and tell it like it is. In the age of hostile treatment of jour­nalists and fake news and character assassinations, with Turkey as the epicentre of the ordeal, ours will be a tough job. We will cover politics, economy, culture and social up­heaval with the same attitude.

TAW: Turkey is a poisoned environment, with a witch hunt, labelling, suspicion and conspiracy theories…

YB: In many ways, it is like McCa­rthy era in the United States. People forgot to appreciate professional­ism and became obsessed with labelling each other. Turkey on all levels is eclipsed by “us and them.”

It is possible we will be targeted as terrorists, criminals or enemies of some sort but we know one thing: It is what we do and not who people imagine we are that matters.

The key component in journal­ism is honesty and devotion to facts. My core team of editors and I believe in one thing: The need to inform people and not deceive them with lies or propaganda. Truth and nothing but the truth matters. The audience appreciates that in the long run.

Much of Turkish media are rotten, some parts deeply corrupt. We must keep reminding that there are journalists at home and outside who are not.

If Ahval’s readers feel they are honestly informed and opened every day to a diversity of, even opposite viewpoints about Turkey, we will only feel content. What Jo­seph Pulitzer said more than a 100 years ago applies still in the inter­net age: “Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.” Ahval will, with an extremely reader-friendly format, cover all of Turkey, as lucidly as possible.

At Ahval, democracy is at the very core of our values. We un­conditionally commit, therefore, to freedom of expression and editorial independence in what we report and comment. It is what we stand for.

We shall abide by our strict code of ethics and staunchly defend the honour of our profession. We are not the mouthpiece of any interest group nor are we part of any activ­ist movement. ”Nothing but the truth” is our motto.

For the Ahval team, unfettered access to information for our readers, in Turkey and around the world, is sacred. At a time of unprecedented pressure on the media in Turkey and growing challenges elsewhere, we pledge to cover events accurately, fairly, impartially; with honesty, balance and diversity; enhancing faith and confidence in ourselves and the industry as a whole.

Our respect for the public’s right to be informed will remain unmoved.

To achieve our goals, we rely on the unique talents of our contribu­tors, journalists and editors. They will tell stories, scrutinise the structures of power and explain the events that shape our world in their broader context.

In these troubled times, the intrusion of fake news threatens the democratic order and whips up radicalisation. Facts, an es­sential component of freedom and knowledge, have become wounded bystanders or collateral damage in an increasingly conflicted world. We need, therefore, to share the facts and analyse them rationally.

At all times, we will seek to pro­mote transparency and knowledge, uncovering the thoughts behind the actions and the truth behind the spin.

Journalists and commentators are never beyond criticism. There­fore, we will always maintain the highest standards. We will be ac­countable. Therefore, we welcome contributions from all our readers and will correct any inaccuracies fully and promptly.