Two weeks after the terrible earthquake that shook Northern Syria and Eastern Turkey, Kenan Şener, Secretary General of the Ankara Journalists Association (GCD), describes the dire humanitarian situation for the inhabitants and the local journalists who are trying to tell their stories despite everything. Şener recounts the daily grind of journalists reporting on the ground, as well as how the Association is responding to their urgent needs, and preparing for a long crisis.
What are the main issues journalists are facing in the field?
The protection of journalists’ rights and freedoms has become more difficult due to the declaration of a state of emergency in the earthquake zone. Journalists have reported being hindered in their work, some were detained, threatened, and physically assaulted. Safety is a growing problem. In some provinces, attacks on journalists by security guards, angry earthquake victims, extortion groups, robbery gangs and unidentified groups are increasing. There are reports of journalists being extorted at gunpoint. Working after sunset increases the safety risk due to power cuts.
Personal hygiene and health are the other major problem. Public health experts warn that asbestos may have been released into the air due to the demolition of old buildings. Journalists are unable to meet their personal cleaning needs as water systems do not work and they often have to wash their hands and faces with dirty water. There is an apparent problem with access to toilets in all cities.
What are the current needs of journalists?
As the electricity problem remains acute, there is a great need for power banks, batteries, portable camp toilets and headlamps. I should also mention that there have been more than 600 aftershocks, some of them more than 6.5 degrees. As we speak, a strong 6.4 earthquake has shaken Hatay as far as Gaziantep. It is therefore unreasonable to expect a quick return to some sort of normality. Emergency aid must therefore be maintained.
Due to the lack of electricity, all journalists in the region depend on their cars to recharge their equipment. Those who do not have cars try to charge their phones and other equipment in other people’s cars. Difficulties with transport and internet connection persist, but people are slowly overcoming them. Satellite internet capabilities as well as power banks and portable toilets are most needed.
With the offices of most local newspapers and internet portals razed to the ground, especially in Hatay and Adıyaman, local journalists are not only deprived of offices, but their cameras, video cameras, computers and printing equipment are now lying under the debris. There is a dire need to help them with office equipment, especially cameras and computers, as well as financial assistance.
How has GCD supported journalists since the earthquake?
Immediately after the earthquake, the GCD contacted the leaders of journalists’ associations in the region to gather information on the damage and losses. We formed a three-person team that travelled to the region to address the urgent professional and personal needs of journalists in the affected area. Journalists working in the area were mapped and a focus group of 250 journalists was formed to identify needs. The team representing the association held meetings with journalists, local media workers and executives of local associations in Hatay and Kahramanmaraş, the two provinces that were severely affected by the earthquake. Food banks, dust masks, personal hygiene kits and portable camp toilets were distributed to journalists.
How can unions in Europe help journalists in Turkey?
These are very difficult times for Turkey and the Turkish media. The dimensions of the impact of the quake will perhaps become much clearer in the days and weeks ahead after all our people who perished in the disaster are taken out and laid to rest. Scared of social backlash, as the death toll increases the pressure of the government most likely will become more and more oppressive, the signs of which are already evident. Under such conditions, journalists’ unions and media associations extending strong solidarity actions to their colleagues in Turkey will be much appreciated.
To support journalists in Turkey donate to the IFJ Safety Fund mention “Help -Turkey”