Revisiting core values of media ethics in covering wars, conflicts and natural disasters
OANA President Kemal Öztürk's speech at FANA General Assembly in Doha, Qatar
Honourable Host and President of FANA, Mr Ahmad Saad al-Boainin,
Honourable colleagues from Arab News Agencies, from EANA and News Agencies World Congress,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of Anadolu Agency of Turkey and on behalf of the Organisation of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA) I extend my thanks for your invitation and wish you every success during the 39th FANA Congress.
Before delving into the main topic of my speech, I would like to give you brief information about Anadolu Agency and OANA.
Anadolu Agency was one of the first institutions of the new Turkish Republic that was established on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1920. We are 91 years old this year and remain the leading and most trusted national news agency in Turkey. We have over 600 full time staff inside and outside Turkey covering national, regional and world stories. We have reporters in nearly 40 points around the globe. We are keen to uphold our credit as a reliable, fair and fast news source. We run daily around 650 stories in Turkish on our main news feed and around 60 stories in English, 700 pictures and over one hundred video clips.
We are very keen to raise the level of cooperation with the Middle East and North Africa region and I am happy to announce that next year we will launch Arabic service to help the flow of information between Turkey and Arab nations. It would be a good opportunity for me to get your advice and opinion during this meeting about our Arabic service.
Due to Turkey’s geographical location we have membership in many regional news alliances such as OANA of Asia-Pacific, EANA of European agencies, BSANNA of Black Sea agencies, AMAN of the Mediterranean wire services and others.
We have taken over the presidency of OANA last November following the General Assembly meeting held in Istanbul. More than half of FANA members are also in OANA and are quite familiar with it. OANA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It was launched in 1961 in a gathering of Asian news agencies in Thailand on the initiative of and support from UNESCO. The aim was to allow the Asian countries with more than two thirds of the world population to get their voices heard better and let them communicate among themselves more directly.
OANA is a meeting ground for Asian agencies and despite the vast geographic area and diverse cultures on this continent OANA provides a common platform for us all. It is the biggest regional alliance of news agencies with over 40 members. We have a news pool among member agencies through which we share news stories and pictures. We have updated the website for this pool and for the first time now members are able to share video footage as well. OANA has cooperation agreements with other regional alliances such as EANA and AMAN and tomorrow hopefully with the signing of an agreement between us, FANA will also be officially linked with OANA.
While on the subject of news alliances I would like to make a call here for forming an alliance among news agencies of OIC countries. We can operate a joint pool where we can share stories, pictures, video and graphics. We have a common past and common culture. But news agencies of OIC nations are not linked together in any single organisation. Some of them are in OANA, some in FANA, yet some others in AMAN. We still get information about one another through international media. I would like to invite honourable colleagues to think about this suggestion and share their opinion with us later on.
Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have heard from distinguished speakers before me the latest technological and structural developments affecting the news media in general and news agencies in particular, ways and means of tackling the problems threatening our businesses.
Now with the internet and rapidly flourishing social media we have entered a new era of communications. We have to change our work habits and structures to include participation by our audience/readers/people at every stage of news gathering and dissemination in order to remain relevant and survive the big shift in the media paradigm.
However, this does not mean the end of news agencies. Social media, however great in both news gathering and dissemination, is fraught with innate problems. It’s a minefield where there are a lot of hoaxes, fake identities, false stories, slanders, disinformation, unethical and graphic pictures of indecency. The need for trusted brands of news media, professional news people will remain.
I would like to move to the subject of media ethics here as I sense an urgent need for us news agencies to re-think our core values and principles in journalism.
As you are aware, I have sent a letter last month to members of OANA, EANA and FANA drawing attention to the violation of ethical boundaries in the repeated broadcast of the indignity of the last moments of the ex-Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi. Grisly pictures and video of Gadhafi being shot, lynched and his bloodied body dragged along and paraded were televised over international media networks for days. This was for us the pornography of death and we refused to carry any of those pictures or video.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating a news blackout or censorship of any sort. I am talking about the ethical and professional lines, the red lights, where we have to stop despite the urge to beat our competitors.
Every human being, even a tyrant or a dictator, deserves a private death. Media ethics adopted across the globe, universal human rights, every religion and creed ask us to show this minimum respect to an individual.
Following the rules of respect for human dignity and privacy world media in common consent suppressed the gruesome pictures of Gadhafi’s victims in Lockerbie many years ago. However, the same rules were not applied to his death.
Many people from all around the world expressed their shock and questioned the attitude of the world media. A trade union spokesman in South Africa called it “imperialist barbarism at its worst” while a female American political science student wrote in her blog that she felt unsettled and distraught after watching the videos on tv networks.
General Stanley McChrystal, former US commander in Afghanistan, told an international audience at Oxford University, following the operation against Usama bin Laden last spring that he was disturbed by the graphic images of his body. He said he was very frustrated they could be released to the press at that time and added “Because at the end of the day, they were photos of a dead man. It depicted a loss of human life. And human life is precious. And that is what we should always remember during these times. We should remember our humanity.”
Even a general, dismissed from his duties in Afghanistan by President Obama, feels disturbed by gory images of his ‘enemy’. Why then the international media editors did not feel the same sense of responsibility towards millions of their audience?
Images and visuals help shape the collective memory of human history. Images remain deeply embedded in the minds and psyche of people. They reinforce perceptions and prejudices.
Therefore these images were culturally offensive and insensitive too and in my opinion were an attempt to reinforce the unjustified and unfair depiction of Muslims around the world as uncivilized, violent and savage people.
As Mehmet Gormez, top Muslim cleric in Turkey, has said, the scenes and images that came out of Libya “were not befitting Muslims, nor the descendants of Omar Mukhtar”.
Even though the renowned icons of Western news media have chosen to spread distressing graphic pictures of gore, shocking people across the world, now the drive to uphold media ethics should come from us, news agencies of this region.
The fact that horridly offensive material was captured by people on their mobile phones and was available on internet and as such was in public domain does not absolve news media of their gross misconduct. They brought them to a much wider audience.
As news agencies we still have a lot of influence and guiding power on the media in general. As the world and our region is moving to more tumultuous times, as humanity faces growing financial and social problems, as we witness more conflicts, natural disasters, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis we should not be the source of more grief and distress by spreading horrific images.
As Anadolu Agency, we have drawn up a text of editorial guidelines on this issue. Arabic and English copies of it are available for you to study. We have enlisted the support of other news agencies in Turkey to commit themselves to these principles in covering wars, conflicts, acts of terror or natural disasters.
If, as FANA, you adopt this or a similar text of editorial guidelines and declare it to the world I think it will be a strong and timely message to a wider media world and will help them re-think and revise their attitudes.
Thank you all for listening to me patiently and again I wish you a fruitful and successful Congress.