Government-backed report turns journalists in Turkey into public targets

Demonstrators protest against the Turkish government's curbs on media. (AFP/File)
Updated 07 July 2019

Government-backed report turns journalists in Turkey into public targets

  • The report’s structure resembles an indictment, criminalizing journalists who work for foreign media outlets
  • Many national and international think-tanks publish reports on media industry

ANKARA: Turkey’s pro-government think-tank SETA targeted many Turkish and foreign journalists working for foreign media outlets, including myself — I have been working for Arab News in Turkey for years — in an controversial 200-page report.
The reporters, whose biographies and social media accounts have been profiled in the report, were effectively put on a target list.
Social media interactions, retweets, likes on Twitter and the media outlets where they were employed were analyzed in the report.
Journalists were evaluated for coverage of critical events in recent Turkish history: the Gezi park protests in 2013, curfews in southeastern Anatolia between 2015-2016 and the failed coup attempt in 2016.
In the “suggestions” section of the report, the public was encouraged to contact the authorities about foreign media outlets mentioned in the report whenever they are thought to be producing reports critical of Turkish government.
The report hasn’t been published in English yet.
The report, entitled International Media Outlets’ Extensions in Turkey, has been strongly criticized for overtly targeting and profiling reporters who are working in Turkey for the international press.
The report’s structure resembles an indictment, criminalizing journalists who work for foreign media outlets, including Arab News, BBC, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, Euronews Turkish, CRI Turkish and Sputnik.
Several journalists in Turkey who were dismissed from their jobs in the mainstream media, have turned to working for foreign media outlets in recent years.
Some syndicates strongly criticized the report and said those who published it would be responsible for any harm that occured to the journalists profiled in the report.
“This is arrogance, mixed with incompetence, and finished with a sprinkle of malice on top,” Selim Sazak, a political analyst from Brown University, told Arab News.
“SETA was always Erdogan government’s policy shop, pretending to be a think-tank. It seems like they’ve finally reached the point where they’re not even pretending anymore,” he added.
Some experts see the report as a sign of increasing pressure on the media in Turkey.
Dr. Sarphan Uzunoglu, assistant professor of multimedia journalism at the Lebanese American University, said the main problem about this report is its agenda.
“Many national and international think-tanks publish reports on media industry. However even the most biased NGO or think-tank reports are based on more rational proofs or datasets,” he told Arab News.
“Lacking academic perspective and political objectiveness, the report is also intellectually very limited in terms of its approach to the media outlets it covers. It never goes beyond being a conspiracy-based report,” Uzunoglu added.
For Uzunoglu, the report tends to normalize a series of human rights violations.
“This report also demonstrates how pro-government intellectuals operate and how institutions like SETA turned into ideological tools for the government,” he added.
Reporters without Borders, the international group which advocates freedom of the press, criticized the report: “We firmly condemn this new intimidation attempt and we stand with our targeted colleagues!”
The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom condemned it: “It is criminalizing the foreign journalists working in Turkey and trying to intimidate them. This is alarming!”


Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

Updated 20 January 2020

Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

  • Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used
  • Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology

LONDON: Google’s chief executive called Monday for a balanced approach to regulating artificial intelligence, telling a European audience that the technology brings benefits but also “negative consequences.”

Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used.

“There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. The question is how best to approach this,” Pichai said, according to a transcript of his speech at a Brussel-based think tank.

He noted that there’s an important role for governments to play and that as the European Union and the US start drawing up their own approaches to regulation, “international alignment” of any eventual rules will be critical. He did not provide specific proposals.

Pichai spoke on the same day he was scheduled to meet the EU’s powerful competition regulator, Margrethe Vestager.

Vestager has in previous years hit the Silicon Valley giant with multibillion-dollar fines for allegedly abusing its market dominance to choke off competition. After being reappointed for a second term last autumn with expanded powers over digital technology policies, Vestager has now set her sights on artificial intelligence, and is drawing up rules on its ethical use.

Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology. Vestager and the EU have been the among the more aggressive regulators of big tech firms, an approach US authorities have picked up with investigations into the dominance of companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

“Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities,” he said, adding that it could incorporate existing standards like Europe’s tough General Data Protection Regulation rather than starting from scratch.

While it promises big benefits, he raised concerns about potential downsides of artificial intelligence, citing as one example its role in facial recognition technology, which can be used to find missing people but also for “nefarious reasons” which he didn’t specify.

In 2018, Google pledged not to use AI in applications related to weapons, surveillance that violates international norms, or that works in ways that go against human rights.