So, did I get your attention? Well, I may as well tell you right now, it’s not true – at least not all of it. Those two ‘journalists’ are not pregnant, as far as I know, and have perfectly serviceable footwear. Nevertheless, news media are informing us that Vice News correspondent Jake Hanrahan, cameraman Philip Pendlebury and an unnamed Turkish colleague were arrested while filming in Diyarbakır in the southeast of Turkey. Their boss, of course, cried injustice, and Amnesty International howled for their release.
Turkish authorities, on the other hand, claimed the three men were working on behalf of a terrorist organisation, namely ISIS, Daesh, the Islamic State, or whatever it’s currently being called in your neck of the woods.
Kevin Sutcliffe, Vice head of news programming in Europe, called the charges ‘baseless, alarming and false’. He suggested that the arrests were an ‘attempt to intimidate and censor’ these guys who were ‘providing vital coverage from the region’. Just harmlessly going about the job they were being paid to do, in other words.
So who’s right, I wonder? One thing I am reasonably sure of – whatever we read or watch in the mainstream media is only a part of the whole story. What is Vice News, for example? Wikipedia informs me it started life as a punk magazine run by three guys in Montreal back in 1994, and has subsequently grown into a ‘youth media company and digital content creation studio operating in 36 countries’. Vice themselves claim to be ‘an international news organization created by and for a connected generation’ – so possibly that’s why I hadn’t heard of them. Despite my connections, I may just be in the wrong generation.
But what about Rupert Murdoch? He’s definitely older than I am, and he’s apparently bought a toehold in Vice, as has A&E Networks, a joint venture of Hearst Corporation and The Walt Disney Company. As far as I’m aware, Walt is a Dead White Male – but still, it’s good to see him and Rupe joining the punk generation or whatever the sociologists are calling those ‘connected’ ones. No doubt they have a purely altruistic interest in seeing that today’s young people learn the truth about what’s really going on in the world.
Some sources have taken the opportunity to raise again the claim that Turkey has more imprisoned ‘journalists’ than all the rest of the world put together – but at least recognise that none of them are foreigners. The opposition press in Turkey is currently full of banner headlines shouting ‘We will not be silenced’, echoing the courageous words of opposition CHP Party leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The cry does strike me, however, as somehow superfluous, given that no one seems to be trying to silence them – they, their newspapers and their TV channels seem free to say pretty much what they like, as does Mr KK.
Now I have to tell you that I’m a big proponent of freedom of speech, and I don’t take it kindly when anyone tries to shut me up – so to that extent I’m right with Mr KK. Nevertheless, it also strikes me that even the world’s most freedom-loving countries draw lines demarking areas of freedom and some of social or political undesirability. Child pornography, quite rightly, is a big no-no, and publishing film of people being killed or suffering physical harm is generally frowned upon. Chelsea (Bradley) Manning was sentenced in the United States to 35 years in prison for espionage and theft, among other charges, though many people consider she/he was providing ‘vital’ information about what America was up to in the region of Iraq. Julian Assange may get something similar if US authorities can ever lay their hands on him – and he’s not even an American citizen. I’m sure there are places on the US mainland where journalists are not welcome, and others they may visit only under close supervision. Try sneaking with or without your camera into the high-security federal government facility in Mt Weather, Virginia, for example.
Anyway, it looks as though Turkish authorities have released the two Brits, as I expected they would. Charges against them haven’t been dropped, but they’re being told to leave the country. Their ‘Turkish’ off-sider, whose name looks distinctly Arabic, is apparently still in custody, but also expected to be released soon.
Do the Turks have a right to do that? Well, it’s a controversial matter, the extent to which international law can force sovereign governments to do, or refrain from doing, something they do or do not want to do. Once again, the USA is a prime example: consider the way they flout international agreements on carbon emissions, or violently invade other countries with apparent impunity. I might like to be present when President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry sit down to discuss the situation in the Middle East – but I suspect they wouldn’t let me.
Turkey is currently reluctantly participating in a US-led war against a mysterious coalition of interests known variously as ISIS, IS, Daesh etc, a remarkably highly motivated, well-organised and well-supplied military force with no official ties to any country in the region, but active in Syria, just across Turkey’s southeastern border. At the same time, Turkey is struggling with a rejuvenated uprising of Kurdish separatists carrying out ambushes on military targets and terrorist attacks on civilians – who nevertheless are sworn enemies of aforesaid ISIS. While all this is going on, refugees from Syria’s seemingly unrelated four-year civil war are continuing to flood into Turkey, creating a humanitarian problem far exceeding the country’s ability to cope. Western nations, turning a deaf ear to appeals from United Nations agencies, have steadfastly ignored the growing crisis for years – insisting that the government of Turkey should deal with the problem in its own backyard, policing its 8,000 km of sea coast and 2,600 km of land borders to prevent desperate asylum-seekers from escaping to richer EU countries and dissident Europeans from going the other way to help ISIS.
In the real world it’s not always easy to deal with non-uniform-wearing freedom fighters intent on destroying a police station with a rocket-propelled grenade, or setting fire to a village primary school – and it is possible that security forces may sometimes be a little heavy-handed. It’s also possible that they prefer not to be filmed by foreign ‘journalists’ who may not always be interested in presenting both sides of the story. According to Wikipedia, 350 United States citizens have been killed by non-military law-enforcement personnel in the first eight months of 2015, yet most of the photographs I can find online about events in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mississippi show black youths carrying out violent acts without a police officer in sight. Maybe a Turkish camera crew could have filmed a different story, who knows?
But what about those Vice journalists, you’ll be asking. What about the ‘connected’ generation and their right to know? The Vice people pride themselves on ‘exploring uncomfortable truths and going to places we don’t belong’ – but what if the locals don’t want you there? What if they feel your presence may exacerbate an already delicate situation? How many Turkish TV camera crews were filming in Ferguson or Baltimore? Apart from that, if you don’t speak the local languages, how can you be sure you’re getting the whole truth anyway? As for the ‘connected’ generation, from my observations many of them are more interested in broadcasting their own current location and activities to the world than in doing much for the displaced millions from Middle East conflict zones.
What made me think those Vice journalists might be barefoot and pregnant? Well, around the same time as that story broke, a touching tale emerged in Australia of a young French traveller who fell in love at first sight with a handsome Queensland surfer. Only when she returned to her native France did the young lady discover she was with child. Desperate to find the love of her life and the father of her baby, Natalie Amyot posted a video on YouTube and Facebook appealing for help to find the ‘really cute’ man whose name, unfortunately, she hadn’t taken the trouble to find out.
Well, Australians are generally not known as a gullible nation. Much scepticism was apparently expressed online about the truth of the story – and in fact it turned out that the whole pathetic tale was a publicity stunt fabricated by a Sunshine Coast (Queensland) social media company. The connected generation, it seems, are not easy to con, for which we must be grateful. Nevertheless, Rupert Murdoch, the Walt Disney Corporation and Time-Warner clearly feel it’s worth their while to spend millions buying into the new media. In the interests of truth, I suppose?