In Sunday’s Observer, Peter Preston describes Yavuz Baydar as a; “good and respected Turkish columnist”. Tonight (Wednesday), I was privileged to share a platform with two of Mr Baydar’s colleagues – Hasan Cemal, one of Turkey’s best known serious journalists; and well-known journalist and poet Bejan Matur. They, too, spoke very highly of Mr Baydar. Mr Baydar is clearly a credible and indeed highly respected journalist.
In his piece, Preston quotes (with a caveat, I think, in the headline) Baydar’s words in Today’s Zaman ; “There are 16 journalists in jail in Great Britain, under arrest pending trial in the so-called hacking scandal.” What? There are, of course, no ‘hacking’ related journalists at all in UK jails.
Perhaps it’s natural for a journalist operating in Turkey to make the assumption that journalists arrested by the police in the UK would languish in jail until tried (if tried at all; no charges have even been laid yet); natural, but it’s certainly a bad mistake to fail to factcheck the central detail underpinning his argument. Yet considering that, in his piece, Baydar wants to contextualise Turkey’s jailing of journalists, i.e. to argue that never mind Turkey, it’s pretty ropey in the UK too, his failure to check his central non-fact is all the more surprising. For another analysis of Baydar’s comments, although one which misses some key points, see Roy Greenslade’s piece in The Guardian. Like Preston, Greenslade is a centre-left journalst of quality and note. Yet his analysis is oddly weak too. For example, it’s hardly unusual for journalists in some countries to be jailed on a pretext unrelated to journalism. But what’s most striking in Preston’s piece is not his forgiving of the Baydar’s serious error. I don’t doubt it was an as an honest mistake. It’s Preston’s conclusion that if even Turkish journalists are worried (on a false basis) about the UK then we should be careful how we treat those caught up in the UK hacking business. That was an incoherent (on account of Baydar’s error) and ill-advised attempt to look at the problem through the other end of the telescope. Worse, it unintentionally belittled the problems journalists in Turkey can face.
Peter Preston is, truly, a highly respected and senior journalist. But if here were to go to Turkey he’d find that there really are many journalists in jail (mainly, ‘though not exclusively, Kurds) for opposing the establishment (not simply the Government, by the way, it has it’s own challenges with the establishment). That really shouldn’t be used as a entre into a piece about the Levenson inquiry which is, in world terms, is a very, very minor schlock.