Unscrupulous news reporting by Der Spiegel

Abdullah Bozkurt
Abdullah Bozkurt

Date posted: August 23, 2013


Der Spiegel’s recent article titled, “Dangerous Friends: Power Struggle Splits Turkish Ruling Party,” by Hasnain Kazim and Maximilian Popp, is perhaps the best example of the way in which Der Spiegel misrepresents and unfairly presents the magazine’s biased view of the Gülen movement in Turkey.

This unscrupulous news piece may only pass as “investigative reporting” for those who do not know anything about what Mr. Fethullah Gülen, respected by millions in the world, stands for on various issues. I guess the rehashing of old arguments that have been proven false time and again in Turkey’s court of law over the years does not mean anything for the magazine editors, who allow such a piece to be published without any scrutiny. The article did not ask for the movement’s representatives to comment so that the magazine’s readers can hear both sides’ arguments and make a fair assessment.

The most scandalous part of the article is that the editors allowed the authors invent a quote from a source without actually speaking to him. This shows the extent the authors are willing to go in order to create a one-sided and unfair characterization of the movement and recent developments in Turkey. The victim in the story was Hakan Yavuz, political scientist at the University of Utah and author of a book from Oxford University Press (2013) about the Gülen Movement. He said neither writer had contacted him either by phone or via email for comment and quoted him as if he was interviewed for a piece by Der Spiegel. He already sent a complaint letter to the editors while considering a libel suit against the magazine. This has casted a long shadow over Der Spiegel’s reporting in general and the integrity of its editorial team in particular. Whoever dropped the ball in this article has dealt a huge blow to the credibility, trustworthiness and integrity of the magazine. You can read Mr. Yavuz’s strong reaction to the magazine in our newspaper today.

There are numerous distortions and misleading points raised in this article. For example, the authors mentioned a case about Gülen as the reason for his departure to the US, but hid the fact that the case resulted in his acquittal and this ruling was upheld on the appeal. It also failed to recall the undemocratic conditions at the time, when the military junta of the 28 February coup that ousted the democratically-elected government in 1997 exerted pressure on the judiciary to open a case against Gülen with fabricated evidence and trumped-up charges. Now these generals are being tried for their crimes of toppling the civilian government and interfering with politics. Victims who were subjected to the junta’s witch hunt practices that marginalized large segments of society are being offered compensation and restitution as part of the democratization packages adopted in the Parliament.

The magazine raises the already dismissed conspiracy claim that the movement wants to infiltrate the government bureaucracy. Gülen himself responded to this claim by saying that all citizens have a right — in accordance with the law and the criteria of merit — to be employed in their own country within the ranks of state institutions, including the police, judiciary and military. Since the participants and supporters of the movement number in the millions within Turkey, their presence within such institutions is a statistical certainty given that the movement is not a clandestine organization or cult.

Yet the magazine does not shy away from invoking accusations of “brainwashing and sect-like structures” against the movement, based on testimonials from so-called defectors it interviewed anonymously for an earlier story. This groundless accusation is nothing new, of course. The movement operates in more than 150 countries, yet there has never been a single case in Germany or in any other democratic country suggesting that the movement is cultish structure and brainwashes people. The movement is a civil society organization, and people can come and go as they please without being subjected to any intimidation.

The article also wrongly suggests that the Gülen movement is part of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) even though the 11-point bulletin of the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) released early in August, which was cited in Der Spiegel’s article, dismissed this claim. The GYV statement on behalf of the movement said that “the movement has never to date entered into an alliance with a political party or person and will not do so in the future,” stressing, however, that “it supports policies and practices in line with democracy, pluralism, human rights, freedom of religion and belief and rule of law, whichever party proposes them.” “Entering into an alliance with a party runs contrary to the movement’s practice of remaining above and beyond party politics and against the fact that it has sympathizers from all political parties and views,” the statement underlined. The reporters also invented a new description of the GYV as “conservative-Islamist,” when the movement and its affiliate GYV strongly reject the politically-charged “Islamist” label. In fact the GYV and the movement have been under intense criticism in Turkey from so-called “Islamist” circles.

The article extensively quotes Ahmet Şık, who is currently being tried in Turkish court for his alleged activities as part of the Ergenekon terror network. Since Şık’s anti-Gülen views are well-known, and he was writing a book about Gülen at the time of his arrest, he claimed he was arrested because of the book when in fact prosecutors ordered his arrest because of his relationship with other Ergenekon suspects. Moreover, there was nothing in the book that has not been previously discussed by other authors who wrote about Gülen. When Mr. Şık had been arrested, the publisher was not put behind bars, confirming that his arrest had nothing to do with the book. There are many unflattering books, blogs and pieces attacking Gülen and the movement that are readily available in Turkey. Nothing happened to their authors, except that they had to pay compensation when Gülen successfully brought defamation lawsuits against some authors for slander and libel in civil courts.

Repeating groundless and speculative accusations against the movement without giving it a fair shot to respond, Der Spiegel once again displayed its Islamophobic editorial line. This was not the first time these accusations were raised in the magazine and will probably not be the last. But every time they run a slanderous article running foul of journalistic values, they deal a blow to their credibility, which is a precious asset in our profession. Targeting volunteers of the movement at a time when a German parliamentary commission issued its report on the murders of Turks in Germany — apparently committed by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU) operating with the knowledge of German authorities — must be noted as well. Marginalizing and stigmatizing other ethnic and religious groups in Germany is nothing new, as history taught us. Wolfgang Büchner, the editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel, must be very proud that his magazine has performed a great service in drawing a bulls-eye on the back of the movement’s volunteers with these manifestly ill-founded accusations.

Source: Today's Zaman , August 22, 2013

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