Freedom of press? 15-point plan on 'reporting Operation Olive Branch' for journalists in Turkey

by Gokcan Aydogan    


As the Turkish army pushes tanks into the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwestern Syria, the Turkish government is attempting to form the narrative about the attack on the Turkish public. The ruling party AKP instructed media owners how to report on the "Operation Olive Branch", and tried to prevent civil protests against the military offensive.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım met with Turkish media owners in Istanbul on Sunday and presented a 15-point list as a guide to reporting. "We are a democratic country and different voices are possible," advocated Yıldırım. But while the eyes of the world public are focused on Turkey, it is important to stand together, he stressed.

In the 15-point plan on "reporting Operation Olive Branch", the Turkish government urges journalists to emphasize that "the military offensive is aimed solely at terrorist organizations". At the same time, it should be emphasized that the military is careful to protect civilians during the attacks. In addition, the paper warns of caution in reports directed against Turkey from foreign news sources, especially sources of the Kurdish militia and the so-called "Islamic State" (IS).

Journalists should continue to emphasize that the military operation in Afrin is not only directed against the Kurdish militias, but also against the IS. "From the PKK and its political arm" - meant here the leftist alliance, People's Democratic Party (HDP) - planned protests against the military offensive should not be put in the foreground, it says in the paper.

Turkey sees the Kurdish militia YPG as a Syrian offshoot of the Kurdish Workers' Party PKK. The government is threatened by the YPG's strong presence on the Turkish-Syrian border, fearing that it may fuel Kurdish independence efforts in its own country. Several months ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened that Afrin would be on the way to the Idlib operation. Turkey could "suddenly come and strike one night".

On Sunday ErdoÄŸan warned at a party congress in Bursa to protest against the military operations. Those who go out on the street will pay a heavy price, he said. Erdogan wrote on Twitter that Turkey needed to "crush the snake's head" for the nation's survival. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had previously made it clear: "Anyone who opposes Turkey's Afrin operation supports terrorists."

Accordingly, the police went on Sunday against protests in Istanbul. In Kadıkoy, police forces blocked a demonstration organized by the "Peace Block - Coordination Against War" initiative. According to reports by Turkish opposition media, 12 protesters were arrested for "propaganda for PKK / PYD". 

At least 24 people have been arrested for their comments on social media about the military offensive in Afrin. They are accused of "terrorist propaganda", the Ministry of Interior in Ankara said on Monday.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was concerned on Sunday about the consequences of the Turkish offensive against Kurdish militias in northwestern Syria. In particular, the situation of innocent civilians is a cause for concern, Tillerson said after talks with his counterparts in Turkey and Russia in a statement. The US called on Turkey to restrain its military operations and avoid civilian casualties.

According to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the UN Security Council wants to meet in New York on Monday for consultations. Le Drian had previously spoken with his Turkish counterpart ÇavuÅŸoÄŸlu and called for a comprehensive ceasefire and unconditional access for aid organizations. Germany warned against incalculable risks.