An Ethics Code Jumps from ICFJ Program to Daily Journalism in Turkey

Nov 182011

Two ambitious projects by Turkish journalists are putting a new ethics code to work – carrying it beyond the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) programs that inspired it into newsrooms across the country and onto a new website that challenges journalists to live by it every day.

An association of Turkish media published the 40-page “Ethics Code for Journalists in Turkey” and sent copies to more than 50 news outlets. Separately, the new website has critiqued scores of news articles appearing daily in Turkish media, stimulating ethics discussions that attract up to 600 hits a day.

Spun from two online trainings and a workshop in Istanbul that ICFJ designed and presented, the new code sets standards for ethics problems that Turkish journalists say concern them in their industry – problems with fairness, independence, and continuing conflicts of interest.

“We came out of ICFJ programs with a lot of help and inspiration,” said Yonca Poyraz Dogan, co-founder of the website, Media Ethics Platform (MEP). “I kept thinking that this valuable work should go out and find people. Our motivation was to push for more organized action and continue to express our worries not just behind closed doors.”

Poyraz Dogan is a reporter at Today’s Zaman newspaper and one of 80 graduates of the ICFJ programs. Two online courses in 2010 trained participants – from newspapers, newsmagazines, and online and broadcast outlets across Turkey – in media ethics in the digital age. Culminating those sessions was a three-day workshop last January in Istanbul, where 25 of the journalists used the results of their earlier work to create the ethics statement.

The Media Ethics Platform A dozen people – including 10 ICFJ graduates – created MEP as the first organization in Turkey dedicated solely to media ethics, Poyraz Dogan said. The group’s membership – journalists join as individuals, not as representatives of their news organization – has grown to 70 since March. MEP is now at work on guidelines for avoiding slanted or biased wording in news accounts.

A major effort is the critiques on the MEP website of news appearing in Turkey’s media. In one recent example – “Reaction against Haberturk’s Death Pornography” – the website challenged a newspaper’s decision to publish a bloody photo of a dead woman, a victim of domestic violence, lying naked, a knife in her back, her head turned toward the camera and her eyes open. The editor defended the photo. The MEP site cited the ethics code’s admonition that photos be taken “from an ample distance that would not disturb or worsen the suffering of the victims or survivors of violence.” Several Turkish media are covering the debate.

The MEP group sees objectivity as a core problem in their media’s ethics.

“In Turkey’s highly polarized and political media environment, we see that basic principles of media ethics have been ignored – most importantly, independence,” Poyraz Dogan said. “There are sometimes problems with editors who want to push their agendas or the agendas of their bosses; they might be ideological, political or financial. Media organizations take sides on issues. It is quite possible to see one side of the story in a number of newspapers and TV stations and the other side in another set of newspapers and TV stations.

“Our goal is to be a reference point when it comes to ethical journalism.”

The Media Association

The Media Association (TMA), founded by Turkish media outlets as a nongovernmental journalism organization that fosters quality journalism, was ICFJ’s training partner in the ethics programs. TMA printed the ethics code and sent it to every major news outlet in Turkey – a total of 51 – and to journalism educators throughout the country.

One role for the code is articulating professionalism in the new digital age, said Deniz Ergurel, secretary general of the association, alluding to the tens of millions of bloggers and hundreds of millions of camera phones around the world. "It’s a world where very important questions arise,” Ergurel said. “Who is a journalist? What makes us journalists?

“It’s not the paychecks or how many times our blog is visited per day, but it’s the ethics code that defines the border. The journalist is the person who practices this ‘profession’ with certain ‘professional’ rules. From this standpoint, I believe that the code will fulfill an important mission for Turkish journalists.”