Following the Internet campaign of Turkish intellectuals apologising to Armenians for the events of 1915, Can Ataklı, a columnist for the Vatan newspaper claimed, based on a text “circulating on the Internet” that some of the signatories of the campaign were “getting money from the EU”. He questioned what the money was paid for. Following this column, which violated newspaper ethics and all other rules of conduct by using insinuation rather than facts, we sent the following statement to the Vatan editor-in-chief, Tayfun Devecioğlu. The reason for not sending our reply to Can Ataklı was that previous letters by campaign signatories to him had been dealt with in a perfunctory manner, brushed aside with a line in his column. Unfortunately, a week has passed, and the Vatan newspaper has neither sent us a reply nor printed our statement in its newspaper, thus showing its insensitivity to this rights violation. We have thus decided to publish our letter sent to Vatan as an “open letter”, in order to share it with our readers and public opinion.
Dear Tayfun Devecioğlu, Editor-in-Chief of Vatan newspaper
Your columnist Can Ataklı began a campaign of slander and accusation in your newspaper on 31 December 2008. Among the NGOs and related people he writes about was Ertuğrul Kürkçü, general secretary of the IPS Communication Foundation and our foundation. Because Ataklı has ignored the rules of journalism by attempting this slander and by summarising refutations sent by other people affected, rather than printing them as they are, we have decided to address you.
The IPS Communication Foundation was founded in 1993 and has organised media projects ever since. As well as a daily news website (www.bianet.org) founded in 2000, the foundation can be seen to have carried out journalism training, published books on journalism and media observation reports, etc. The funding from the EU and other sources for these projects is acknowledged on the main page of bianet.org, as well as during seminars, in news items about events, as well as in our books.
All the activities carried out by our foundation with our support happen in public and are covered by other newspapers, TV channels, radio stations and Internet news websites. The concept of “rights journalism” which we are working on developing has been accepted as important in several communications faculties in Turkish universities. Since our projects are the only ones in Turkey to have made it onto the international map of “alternative media”, we have found it difficult to understand why your columnist has had to wonder what services we provide in return for funding.
When institutions that apply for and receive donations, the donating bodies have regulations that determine what is given for what purpose. Besides these bodies, the relevant Turkish bodies (General Directorate of Foundations and Ministry of Finance) also audit how these funds are spent. Since all this is a transparent process, it is malevolent to suggest that a person, in this case Ertugrul Kürkçü, general secretary of the IPS Communication Foundation, and an instition are interchangeable and that these funds are used by an individual. It cannot be possible that Can Ataklı, who is working on a slander campaign with his columns, is unaware of the processes of transparent project applications, acceptance, implementation and auditing. If he was, would that not call into question his professionalism?
It is an abuse of the freedom of expression for Ataklı to show the IPS Communication Foundation, as well other institutions, some of which have Vatan newspaper writers among their managers, as being “in the service of others” and “meaningless structures in pursuit of profit” because they receive funding from the EU. These claims are too obviously misinformation to be excused as “freedom to interpret.” We hope that you as editor-in-chief, together with the other editors, do not allow the journalism of your newspaper to be tainted with such baseless publications.
The only true fact in this campaign is that our foundation received 809,760 Euros from the European Human Rights and Democracy Programme to go towards the cost of 1,012,200 Euros of the project “Media Freedom, Independent Journalism, Observation and News Network” carried out between 2003 and 2006.
Referring to “a list circulating”, Ataklı says “it is claimed that these journalists, who are all apologists, have received money from EU fonds under different names.” He adds, “Now I am curious and ask: Have these journalists, who are all known by the public, received money from EU funds under different names? Do they continue to receive funds?”
Even a journalist new in his/her job would be embarrassed to ask such a question. First of all, there can be no list that “has appeared”, and, by implication, was secret before; Th European Commission Turkey Representative web site states clearly which institutions receive how much funding. It is also clear from the list that it is not individuals, but institutions that receive funding. If one wanted to conflate individuals with institutions, then Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ would also have to be accused of receiving money from the EU as an individual. Ataklı’s “curiosity” is thus not “curiosity”; rather, he ignores existing information and uses distortion. It thus becomes difficult for us to conclude anything but that he is organising a campaign of slander.
As stated clearly on the Turkish website of the EU Commission, associations, foundations, as well as public bodies such as universities, local authorities, ministries and armed forces can apply for funding. Projects that meet the criteria are accepted and funded. When the projects are implemented, the institutions present their activity and financial reports to the European Commission. The activities of the institutions are further audited by the relevant bodies in Turkey. Any publications that emerge during a project acknowledge the funding. In addition, the web site of the European Commission states the names of funded institutions and the amount of funding.
If we do what Can Ataklı did not do and have a look at the information on this website, we see that a total of 1 billion 965 million 341 thousand 818.98 Euros of EU resources were used to fund projects in Turkey in 2007. 98.8 percent of the money went to government units, including the Ministry of Defence, of the Interior and Justice. 1.2 percent, amounting to 24 million 800 thousand 989.75 Euros, was given to confederations of workers or employers, and NGOs, including professional associations such as the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB). Of this sum, the amount handed to NGOs working on human rights projects amounted to 8 million 800 thousand 989.75 Euros. In short, 1 percent of the EU Commission funding goes to NGOs, while 99 percent goes to the state. (*)
The state funding includes 9 million 250 thousand Euros for the “Struggle against Money Laundering” project run by the Ministry of the Interior, 15 million 300 thousand Euros for the “Citizenship Training for Soldiers” project run by the General Staff, as well as 10 million 700 thousand Euros for the “Modernisation of the Justice System and a Criminal Reform Programme” project and 750 thousand Euros for the “Improvement of the Justice System for Children” project, both run by the Ministry of Justice.
Our foundation has no corporal opinion on whether Turkey should enter the European Union. If one looks at the nine years of reporting on bianet, items about the EU may support or oppose the EU. In order to receive EU funding, there is no criterion of having to “work incessantly towards Turkey’s entry into the EU.” If one follows the logic that seks to make a connection between our signatures as individuals under the campaign to apologise to Armenians with the fact that our foundation receives funding from the EU, then would one not expect the Chief of General Staff, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of the Interior, in short, the state, to apologise to the Armenians because they, too, run projects funded by the EU?
In addition, how did it come about that Turkey’s 40-year relations with the EU have become associated with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the EU funds received by the IPS Communication Foundation associated with “AKP support”, and Ertuğrul Kürkçü equalled with the IPS Communication Foundation? And as a result, how is Ertuğrul Kürkçü, who has made his personal opinions very clear, turned into “an AKP supporter”?
Dear Mr. Devecioğlu, if we remember that Vatan styles itself as an “independent daily newspaper” and as “Turkey’s best newspaper”, we cannot understand how these labels square with Can Ataklı’s campaign.
We ask you to work towards restoring the professional and ethical norms that Can Ataklı has violated by informing your readers of the information we have given you.
“Independent journalism” is our shared area of interest. That is why we enclose four “rights journalism” books which emerged from journalism training workshops, as well as a book made up of presentations at the International Independent Media Forum, organised in November 2006 by the “Media Freedom, Independent Journalism, Observation and News Network” (supported by the EU funds that Can Ataklı keeps writing about).
Nadire Mater Ertuğrul Kürkçü
Chair General Secretary
IPS Communication Foundation IPS Communication Foundation
(*) In previous versions this ratio was miscalculated, and thus first shown as ¾ to ¼, and then as 4/5 to 1/5. We apologise for the error.
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