At today’s 10:45 a.m. morning lecture in the Amphitheater, Chautauquans will see the world through the eyes of foreign affairs columnist David Rohde and Nedim Şener, the man who dared to accuse Turkish police of assassinating a prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist.
Şener is a Turkish investigative reporter. His work has won him the International Press Institute’s World Press Freedom Hero award — and also prompted authorities to throw him in jail for “collaborating” with Ergenekon, a network of alleged terrorists in Turkey. He currently awaits trial for criminal activities tied to terrorism.
Şener’s story is similar to those of many journalists in Turkey. The Turkish government has said that it arrests and tries these journalists because they are involved in criminal activities. But Şener’s only crime may be his unwillingness to stop reporting the truth — even if it means losing his freedom or his life.
“Telling the truth and fighting for a just world, fighting for peace, is worth everything,” Şener said. “Prison is not something to be scared of, but one has to learn to live even in a prison.”
Sometimes, the risks of investigative reporting can be too great. Rohde, a Reuters columnist and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, said he doesn’t report on war anymore because of one harrowing experience.
In November 2008, Rohde was in Afghanistan doing research for a book when he was abducted by the Taliban, along with his translator and his driver. Rohde escaped seven months later by tiring his captors with repeated games of checkers.
That experience made Rohde question how far a journalist should go to tell the truth. He said that individuals must decide what risks they’re ready to undergo, and he respects writers like Şener who take great personal risk for their work.
“When it’s this momentous story for your country, you absolutely have to take risks,” Rohde said. “The kind of things he’s covered, you risk going to jail for.”
Rohde and Şener will share two perspectives on Turkey today. Rohde will try to explain the positive movements in Turkey that may lead to social and political change; Şener will show how a country can accuse its journalists of being terrorists and get away with it.
“I’ll be telling a story about a conspiracy that is more real than a great American movie plot,” Şener said. “Unfortunately, many reporters in Turkey are scared of losing their high-paying jobs by writing the truth, [and] there are few newspapers or media outlets that keep on criticizing the administration on every occasion.”
Rohde doesn’t deny the restrictive atmosphere on speech in Turkey. He said it’s part of a “disturbing trend” worldwide that governments blame the messengers for the messages they find and report. The backlash against the press for doing its job is backward thinking, he said.
But Rohde also thinks that Turkey is poised for change because of an “awakening middle class” that is educated, informed and eager for a chance to be politically and economically free.
“There’s a rising global expectation that all countries should have basic rights,” Rohde said. “The lesson is [that] prosperity doesn’t decrease expectations; it increases them. [So] what level of oppression will governments stoop to, to remain in power?”
Rohde said Americans shouldn’t judge Turkey based on its current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Instead, they should listen to people like Şener to know what steps to take to address the country’s needs.
“This is a new chapter of this decades-old struggle [in Turkey],” Rohde said. “Our views of the Middle East need to change. We’ve got to listen to people like [Şener]. We’re not going to solve [Turkey] through cyber surveillance and drone strikes.”