The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria has revoked the press accreditation of Kurdistan24. According to a statement by the authorities, K24 is working to ‘spread hate speech, fuel sedition of the Kurdish people and incite Kurdish-Kurdish fighting’. By doing that, it ‘violates the ethical principles that the media must have in their work’ and violates the Media Law in Northeast-Syria. Local and international individuals and organisations speak out fiercely against this violation of press freedom.
I won’t join their choir. It is shallow not to connect the concept of press freedom to honest journalism. The one can not exist without the other. No, I am not suddenly saying this because this time it is the Autonomous Administration that has come under scrutiny, whose democratic project I support. I have written several stories and columns about this issue, not only related to Turkey but also connected the the Netherlands and connected to murders of journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul and Hrant Dink, also in Istanbul.
In short: as journalists and as advocates for press freedom, it is not enough to just ‘denounce’ the racism, misogyny and Islamophobia our colleagues are subject to, we have to also call out bad journalism that contributes to these mechanisms in society. If we want to make sure that no journalists get murdered anymore by the powerful people they write about, we have to aspire to be journalists like our murdered colleagues. If such work becomes the default, we’d all be protected because those in power cannot possibly kill us all.
How does this relate to the case of Kurdistan24? That’s just a Kurdish channel trying to do its work in the Northeast of Syria, right? Well, no, it is not. It is directly affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the party of the Barzani family in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.
Which is directly cooperating with the Turkish state against everything the Kurdish movement in Turkey and Syria stands for and everything they try to achieve. I don’t know which articles exactly drove the Autonomous Administration to the decision to kick K24 out, but disregarding the huge power imbalance here, is no service to journalism.
The Autonomous Administration holds power in the northeast of Syria, sure. But does that make them powerful in the whole dynamic with the KDP and Turkey? Of course not. Turkey has invaded SDF-held Syria several times and continues to occupy and ethnically cleanse and torture the population of Afrin and holds a piece of land east of the Eurphrates as well. There have been negotiations btween the Autonomous Adminstration and the KNC, the local Kurdish opposition linked to the KDP and supported by Turkey, but even if the KNC would really want to make a deal with the Autonomous Administration, Turkey wouldn’t allow it.
Meanwhile, Syrian president Assad and its ally Russia are a threat to the Autonomous Administration as well. Not to mention the increasing water problems and draughts, caused by climate change but it wouldn’t be so bad if Turkey hadn’t of just closed the tap of the Euphrates river and the Alouk water station that’s under its control. The Autonomous Administration reportedly has increasing money problems as well, intensified by the expiring and non-renewal of an oil contract with a small American company.
That’s not power, that’s a democratic project under severe pressure from all sides, trying to survive and trying to keep the region relatively stable and safe, as it has been throughout most of the the Syrian war. If you want confirmation of just how deeply Turkey wants to destroy the Kurdish movement and everybody who aspires to democracy, justice and peace, just look at recent developments in Turkey itself. A brutal political murder that was, as lawyer Eren Keskin sharply phrased it, ‘claimed’ by Erdogan’s companion and chief Grey Wolf Devlet Bahçeli, and the start of the procedure to ban the HDP, the only party that envisions a democratic Turkey for all – a procedure that will reach its goal, I have no doubt about that.
Just how much K24 aspires to be honest in its journalism, was made perfectly clear by its news director Shamal Abdulla, who commented on the news on Twitter but stopped reacting when I asked a simple question. Orders by Qandil? Prove it, or just be honest in your reporting and say that the revoking of the accreditation was based on violations of the press law of the Autonomous Administration. This may still be a lousy law, that still needs further explanation, that still needs a proper prodecure in which the channel can defend itself, but don’t claim to be ‘independent’, as a spokesperson of the channel told the Committee to Protect Journalists https://cpj.org/2021/06/kurdish-authorities-in-syria-revoke-kurdistan-24-license-close-offices/. For the CPJ, it is too simplistic to just say that the Autonomous Administration should ‘learn to tolerate criticism’ if it wants to ‘be taken as a legitimate authority’. Up your game, press freedom organisations, and take power structures into account. What are we worth as journalists demanding press freedom if we don’t?
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.