Q&A with Journalist & IPI Board Member Ferai Tinc


IPI Talks to Columnist about her Recent Departure from Hürriyet Newspaper and her Fight for Press Freedom in Turkey
- Enid Portuguez

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

To call Ferai Tinç an outspoken journalist and press freedom advocate would be an understatement. As the foreign news editor and columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet – and IPI board member - she fervently and fearlessly challenged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdôgan's notions of democracy, the methods through which Turkey's judicial system has prosecuted journalists and the inadequacies with which her country's government has addressed freedom of the press. Tinç's style is direct and tempered with a mix of brutal honesty and cautious optimism. Even as she explored controversial issues such as Turkey's mutually beneficial relationship with dictatorships in Libya and Iran, she expressed confidence in the country's capability to inspire and influence new, transitional democracies.  

When she wasn't penning pieces on Turkey's relations with the Middle East, the EU and Cyprus, the 62-year-old mother of two served as the president of IPI's Turkish National Chapter and contributed to the founding of the Turkish-Greek Women's Peace Initiative. Tinç also shared her passion for foreign policy with students at Marmara University, where she lectured about Turkey's most pressing international affairs topics from 2000 to 2008.  

"When visiting Istanbul to lobby for the release of journalists held in prison, I learned so much more about Ferai, including the fact that she has been a freedom fighter for more than 40 years," said IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. "I also found out first-hand how deep her commitment is to press freedom and how very brave she is. She is an example of that phrase 'walking the walk and talking the talk.' She is a hero."  

While Tinç has certainly blazed a trail for a generation of Turkish journalists, the government's current attitude toward press freedom has created a difficult environment for progressive voices such as Tinç's. According to IPI research, Turkey today has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world and has between 700 to 1,000 ongoing cases that could result in the imprisonment of even more journalists. Furthermore, provisions set forth in the country's Anti-Terrorism Act conveniently implicate the work of investigative journalists as elements of alleged plots to overthrow the government. Numerous journalists have been arrested in connection with the infamous "Ergenekon" investigation. In the context of such a hostile atmosphere, Tinç decided it was time to leave the newspaper where she has spent the past 28 years.  

On 29 July, Tinç published her last column for Hürriyet, in which she announced that her departure from journalism was a decision a year in the making. In an e-mail interview with IPI, Tinç recalled the highlights of her career, why she left Hürriyet and her plans for life after journalism. 

IPI: Why did you choose this time to retire from journalism?  

Ferai Tinc: My decision is triggered by the situation in which Turkish media finds itself. Unfortunately, the parties in government, the Justice and Development Party, and the forces behind it, wanted to intervene in the media in order to facilitate the transformation of Turkey according to their road map. The socialist and Kurdish media has always been under pressure in Turkey. Now the mainstream media is threatened. The disproportionate tax penalty applied to the Dogan group and the pressure from the government to fire some columnists who were criticising the government harshly has created a climate of self-censorship. The media owners, who are businessmen with interests in other sectors also, did not want to become embroiled in disputes with the government. It is understandable. Where almost 70 journalists of various political inclinations are in prison, accused of being terrorists, where media laws do not defend freedom of the press, and where - as a natural consequence - self-censorship is so strong, I, as a journalist, had only one choice, and that was to put a ‘punto finale’ to my career.   

IPI: How did you feel when you turned in your last column?  

FT: I feel very happy. Now I am free to think, to tell and to write what I want to. The responsibility will only be mine. I will not endanger anybody else, such as the owner of any newspaper, for example. I will not write in the mainstream but in the new age communication varieties that have large opportunities.         

IPI: You were a journalist at Hürriyet for 28 years. What were the highlights of your career there?  

FT: I started to work for Hürriyet on the foreign news desk in May 1982 and did not change newspapers since then. Because Hürriyet was the best of Turkey, I have covered all the developments: The collapse of the Soviet Union, the bewilderment of the "eagle" who lost the enemy, the rise of new republics, the Caspian oil running to the international market, new oil games, EU enlargement, Turkey-EU relations. I was present at conflict points at important times in history. I covered the Kurdish issue in Turkey and Northern Iraq. I had the chance to be a close witness to the end of the last century and the first ten years of this new one. It was a splendid career for me. Now it is time for the books. 

IPI: What do you hope your legacy will be? 

FT: I don't know if it can be called a legacy, but my purpose as a female foreign news columnist has from the very beginning been to reflect the woman's point of view in analysing events. That is to use tools in my analyses such as empathy, a strong filter against prejudices, to give room to views from all sides, to underscore the values of democracy on the basis of equality and human rights, and to adopt a firm position against hate language. Did I succeed? This I don't know. I am not a person to preach legacies. Turkish media has very good reporters, writers and journalists of all kinds. And for them the only legacy is the ethical principles of our career, developed on the basis of national and international values. 

IPI: As an IPI board member, you've been passionate about promoting press freedom in your country. What have been the most challenging aspects of being a journalist and press freedom advocate in Turkey?  

FT: I have been an IPI member since the 1990s. IPI has always stood with Turkish journalists since it was founded. IPI is the most prestigious and influential international press freedom organisation. And it is a direct message that if in any part of the world press freedom is under threat, it has global implications. In Turkey, the most challenging aspect is that when journalists go to prison, there are some other journalists that clap their hands [as if to say] "Those who are not thinking like me may go to hell." This approach poisons the press freedom struggle and facilitates the task for those who want to silence society.      

IPI: Where do you think your sense of justice comes from?  
FT: I think the sense of justice is a normal human drive. Everybody has it, but some choose to close their eyes, ears and hearts to it. This is the difference.  

IPI: What interested you about journalism? Why did you choose to pursue it as a profession? 
FT: Journalism was not my preference. But if you are from a generation that faced military intervention twice as university students, you don't have a chance to do what you want.Pursuit, imprisonments, pressures, police files force you to start to earn money from any job that you find. I decided to be journalist under such conditions. But I loved my profession, enjoyed and respected it.       

IPI: Tell us about your personal experiences in dealing with violations of press freedom. Have you ever been attacked, harassed or arrested while doing your job? 
FT: It is not necessary to be attacked or harassed to stand up against press freedom violations. A journalist in prison or even a verbal insult by a government representative against any journalist is an attack against every journalist. I won't forget the day when Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan called on media owners to silence columnists in an election meeting. "You pretend you cannot intervene … . The shop is yours. You are the boss. If you keep them, that means you want them," he said. As a journalist, how would you feel? In order not to push your boss to come and knock at your door, you take your coat and go. Is there any other choice? You don't need to wait to be named.   

IPI: What advice would you give young journalists in Turkey? 
FT: I have no advice for anybody, even for my sons. I have in my ears the very precious words of Leonardo da Vinci: "La sapienza 'e la figlia dell esperienza," which means "knowledge is the daughter of experience," not advice!   

IPI: What is next for you? What are your plans now that you're no longer working at Hürriyet? 
FT: My plan is to continue the struggle for press freedom and to work on the books I had to postpone. And to work in my vineyards to revatilise a very special species of white grape that for centuries was consumed in the Ottoman palaces. When societies forget their tastes, they become indifferent to global values. 

Ferai Tinc
during a SEEMO conference