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Gülşen Koçuk, journalist of the JinNews agency in Diyarbakır, answered our questions on the work done by this media in carrying the voices of women and of the opposition in a media landscape dominated by newspapers at the boot of Turkish power. An experienced journalist, she began working in 2012 for the JinHa agency, the predecessor of JinNews, during her studies in sociology. She joined JinNews in 2019.
NOTE: The English translations of expressions containing the word “kadın” could use the terms “feminine” or “feminist”. In most instances, we have chosen to translate by using the words ‘by women” or “for women”, notably in: “women’s journalism” means journalism done by women, from women’s points of view. Neither the word feminist nor feminine appear to cover completely the meaning of this expression.
• What is JinNews?
JinNews is an agency created by a group of Kurdish women following the shutting down by decree of the webzine Sûjin that was created after the closing of the JinHa agency. 1
JinNews took on the mission of becoming the media where women’s movements can make their voices heard. When rights are violated, the agency sheds light on the fact, when a struggle takes place, it talks about it, it lends its pen to women who wish to express themselves. It is an agency providing information centered on women, children, ecology.
• How does JinNews function?
The agency provides a space in which women can express themselves and work. Which means that from the local correspondent to the camerawoman, from the technical service to publishing, from accounting to legal advisors, all of the teams are made up of women. JinNews is the result of collective work, including in the production of its news. It functions through its relays in a number of regions. Not only in Kurdish regions, or only in Turkey, because JinNews is an agency with the duty of making the voice of women heard all over the world. Its main objective is the constitution of women’s discourse and language in the field of media. Even though women’s struggles exist since the appearance of inequalities between women and men, journalism by women is not very old. Its literature is notably made up of exchanges and discussions between women. This is one way to provide advancement to the examples we have inherited. Thus, through journalism, JinNews attempts to contribute to women’s language and expression.
• Do your offer training to your cub reporters and other staff?
Of course. We offer both training within our own agency and periods of apprenticeship during which the friends joining us learn how to practice journalism. There are faculties of journalism and communication in Turkey. Once you have received a diploma from these schools, you are not truly a journalist yet. Several of our friends and colleagues who joined us after these studies, learned the practice of journalism here. That was also my case. This is not the sort of trade you can fully master only with school studies, in order to become a journalist you must go out in the field.
When new colleagues join us, while acquiring the technical aspects, they must also learn how to angle a topic from women’s perpective. If not, we would be no different from the media who inform with a patriarchal language and point of view.
Moreover in our region, we have the Dicle-Fırat Journalist Association. Workshops are organized there to which we contribute and who also offer training in journalistic language in various fields, for example, on topics concerning women, children. The training process should go on until the journalist says “that’s it for me.” But if truth be told, that moment never arrives. Journalism is an endless journey. Perhaps journalism ends when you say “that’s it, I’m a journalist now”. You must constantly be open to progress, to training. Here, we attempt to transmit this method. None of us received perfect professional training, but we learned journalism from people who practice it. We share our learning one with the other, each of us is both an apprentice and a trainer. This is not about transmitting knowledge out of a mould and saying “here, this is what journalism is about”. That is a contradiction. Journalism must be outside the boxes.
• If I’m understanding correctly, there is no “specialization” within your agency?
Yes. Of course, there is a sharing of tasks, cameras, editors, these are necessities linked to the nature of this work. The correspondent can write the information but can’t do everything. So there is a sharing of tasks. But there is no question of a sharing based on a hierarchy, with orders delivered from top to bottom. Journalists produce their topics, while discussing with their desk editor, then these articles are sent to the editors who move them on to the publisher, and the technical service completes the run. Of course this chain exists but you cannot say “I am the editor, my word is final”, that would be an approach contrary to the approach of women’s journalism. This is how we attempt to function.
• Do women journalists with experience in other media join your agency?
I had this experience myself with JinHa, then I worked with Özgür Gündem, then Özgürlükçü Demokrasi. Both were shut down… The experience at JinHa allowed me to work with other agencies. And today I am here, I share my experience and adopt the principles of JinNews. Our editorial colleagues are all experienced journalists. But there is no question of imposing yourself in an authoritarian way by saying “I’m experienced, I’m here to teach you things”. Here, it is a matter of transmission of experiences. Moreover, although we have freelance journalists providing articles, we also have salaried staff.
• What is the angle adopted by women’s journalism? What is the difference with other media?
In mainstream media, we encounter women either as victims of patriarchal violence, or as a woman who is cheated upon or who is a cheater herself… Or under headlines such as “the woman who caused a car accident” …as if this never happened to men. We are faced with media allocating women a specific space. From its onset, the objective at JinHa was precisely to change that. The media created after JinHa have pursued this objective in the tradition of women’s journalism. The names may be different, the objective is the same.
What was our slogan at JinNews’ creation? “On the trail of truth, with women’s pens.” To shed light on reality but with women’s outlook. Even if you have a democratic identity, this does not mean that you also have the outlook women have. This is a different matter. It is a matter of questioning the man within us, of putting an end to the dominating, macho mentality. Even in opposition media, we sometimes notices macho approaches or comments. That is exactly what JinNews wants to change. Women are not only present in the role of victim, they are in all aspects of life, health, economy, law, justice…Women are activists, politicians…Why for example when dealing with scientific topics, or again with the coronavirus, are men the first ones to be interviewed? Why do we constantly see men scientists, men economists? This is one of the issues we question and challenge. These are not masculine fields yet the social perception functions with these codes. When you pronounce the word “politics”, the image that appears before our eyes is that of a man glaring at you…
To summarize, it’s a question of looking wherever women find themselves and doing so through their eyes.
• Do you have an official status as journalist?
That depends on what you mean. There used to be press cards, known as “yellow cards” attributed by the Prime Minister’s Communication Center. They have become “turquoise” and are now allocated by the Presidential Communication Center. If you are talking about these cards, no. You can only obtain one if you work in mainstream media. For journalists who are opponents, this is impossible. We have none, but they are not what make us journalists. Besides, our objective is not obtaining this kind of card, quite the opposite, we challenge practices that differentiate and discriminate against journalists and keep them from exercising their trade. We, women journalists, are opposed to this practice of cards that have as sole objective that of favoring mainstream journalism, and weakening the credibility of other journalists. A number of journalists are prosecuted, taken into custody, imprisoned, criminalized. But another part of journalists, as if “validated” have this turquoise card that acts as a sesame opening all doors. For us, the only key is in writing the truth and doing so with a woman’s pen.
• Does the State exert pressure on you because of your work?
You will not find a single person living and working in Turkey and who tells what is happening there who is not subjected to pressure. When you reveal a scandal, there are attempts to prohibit the publication of the information, attempts to muffle the affair, or you are taken into custody, or the media for which you work is shut down… Recently, we wrote concerning an allegation of rape on a 15 year old child in Gerçüş (Batman region) by 27 men, policemen, soldiers and village guards 2. Our article was denied the right of publication. Normally, in a country under the rule of law, in a democratic system, there should be an inquest. But in Turkey, what was forbidden was our article revealing these facts. This is the system in which we practice journalism. How could we not be subjected to oppression?
When you are in the field, being hampered by the police is also a form of oppression. Recently in Ankara, this systematic pressure exerted on our colleagues reached such a level that the Women and LGBTQI Commission of the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) registered a complaint. They do not want us to inform…You are thwarted, hindered arbitrarily. Normally, the press benefits from immunity. I am a journalist and I am here to cover the event, to do my job. For what reason do you hinder me from doing so? Are there things you do not wish us to reveal? (She laughs). Because among these things, there is violence. Violence against women. Violence against people demanding their rights. Violence against the workers. Violence against one and all. Of course journalists receive their share of this violence… Every time there is a police operation of political repression, among the people arrested, there is always at least one journalist. Recently our colleagues were taken into custody under similar conditions. But what happened? They could find nothing against them so they were released. Their aim is to criminalize the journalists. The minute you are taken into custody, the matter is settled, which is to say in the eyes of public opinion, your designation as a journalist is under question…In the Kurdish regions, things are a bit different. When journalists are arrested, the people tend to say “he/she must have written something true.” But it is not the same everywhere in Turkey. For example, if you leaf through mainstream media and look at mainstream stations, you will encounter an entirely different scene… If I were a regular consumer of this type of media, I might think differently. But the truth is not what they describe, this is something I can say clearly.
• Four journalists, Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur of the Mesopotamia agency (MA), Şehriban Abi and Nazan Sala, your colleagues from JinNews were arrested for informing about the civilians thrown from an army helicopter. Where do matters stand in this affair?
Our friends have been incarcerated since October. Prior to that, they were targeted by police attacks. When one of the two people thrown from the helicopter died, out friends were denied their right to work when they went to the funeral. And the detentions occurred immediately afterward. This is not surprising because the State did not want this event to appear in mainstream news. Information is produced on orders, that topic was not to be mentioned. These friends wrote about it, listened to those who could not be heard because no one was extending the microphone in their direction. And that was enough to arrest them. They are still incarcerated as a preventive measure. Their hearing is scheduled for April. But their accusations were only put together very recently. Request from their lawyers protesting against their incarceration [Note: as well as demands for their liberation by organizations, notable international ones such as the FIJ and FEJ requesting their liberation] were rejected. You will certainly see nowhere else the fact of throwing two people, two citizens, from a helicopter. It happened in Turkey, in that region, because they were Kurds. Had these journalists not been informed about what happened, they were possibly going to say – I’m extrapolating – “two members of the PKK were neutralized”. And yet, these two men were villagers, plain and simple.
In any event, as long as you inform on this type of thing, you are a target… Other colleagues were arrested. No later than last month… They arrest, they release, they arrest, they release… The sentences they pronounce mean nothing to us. Journalism does not disappear with their sentences. No one says that those who are imprisoned “are not journalists”, quite the opposite, this reinforces solidarity. One is imprisoned, ten take up his or her place… The fight for truth is not one limited to three or four people. If I were not here today, there would be another woman in my place. JinHa was shut down, what happened? We go on writing. Şûjin is closed, we continue. The daily Özgür Gündem is shut down, Özgürlükçü Demokrasi opened, it gets shut down, and so on. There are always journalist who pick up the torch. This is not a movement that can be stopped, it advances in parallel to the political climate. You have certainly heard about the “resolution process” 3 during which time repression stopped. Not completely, in fact, but it did have an effect on daily life. For example, for the journalist… in the region, you were not kept from working, you were not subjected to violence. But in the wings, we saw how things were not always that simple. Everything hung by a thread and it finally broke. The deaths, the oppression started anew and intensified. There is no dichotomy. Every time those in power intensify their hostility against opponents, the press suffers its share of the attacks. Those in power cannot leave any space for journalists to write. Therefore, it starts by attacking the journalists, taking them into detention, then it shuts down the media… We don’t know how much longer our media will remain open. We do not know if we won’t be arrested tomorrow morning. Everything is uncertain, because these are the current conditions under which we live in Turkey. One morning at 4, 5 o’clock, they will take you into detention, then they will send you to prison…A women’s agency is shut down. But that does not mean that everything ends there. What matters most is to carry on the struggle. And I am convinced that, even should a single person remain, the struggle will continue.
• What forms of solidarity with Kurdish media are possible from independent media across the world?
The fact that people with an external view speak up is important because it is not the same for us. There are two options [note: for the Turkish regime]. Either you are pro-regime or you are in the opposition. In this latter case all doors close in front of you. But when you come here as an independent journalist, your intention is very important. If you relate your observations, your experiences as they are, your work is difficult also. But not as much as for a journalist who works here. For example, why do outside journalists not ask mainstream media “what are your working conditions?” Because there can be no mention of work-related difficulties for them… All journalists have some difficulties maybe, but if you are an opponent, you work in the field becomes very complicated. Most of all, the information to which you have access is limited. But the fact that a journalist describes his or her observations is very important for the objectivity it provides and also as a relay to a larger public.
Some press organizations show up and show solidarity from time to time. But is that sufficient? No. This is sporadic. For example, they come for the “Day of active journalists” [January 10] but the trials of our colleagues are ignored and are not relayed. And yet, it is journalism that is under trial. We have visitors for March 8… This is fine in itself, of course. But it would be best without an orientalist outlook… Because here, there is a struggle carried out by women, by Kurds and by oppressed people and it is precious. In writing about all this, journalists must not adopt a detached approach, totally removed from themselves…I do not find the current situation satisfactory. The journalistic approach cannot be reduced to the celebration of specific days. There are so many things in need of writing in Kurdistan…There are details escaping even our own eyes. This is why the mission of independent journalists is very precious. Concerning the qualifier “independent”, there is a sentence we heard during periods of confrontation, for example. “An independent delegation arrived on location to make some observations.” Independent journalists are part of this. Their work is precious for those working here. And journalists who come here have the possibility of returning home with lots to write about. This is a place where you find yourself facing reality. It isn’t only a terrain for the media, a place of political confrontations, but a place where people live and suffer the consequences of war. This is why we alone are not enough.
Everyone must feel concerned. Just as workers who burn to death in New York are also my problem, as a journalist and as a woman, what is happening here should be a problem for a woman in Europe or in America… Solidarity among women requires this, so does solidarity among journalists. Not acknowledging the borders.
• What is the role of JinNews in Kurdish society?
JinNews is Kurdish of course, but it is mostly a homage to women’s struggles. And as it is an agency created at the initiative of Kurdish women, it carries the name “Jin” (woman). You are certainly familiar with the slogan; “Jin jiyan azadi” [woman, life, freedom], the symbol of the Kurdish women’s struggle that has now become universal. For us, the word “Jin” is a notion that goes beyond Kurdish women and covers women of the whole world. JinNews does not inform only about Kurdish women and we do not have a specific mission in that direction. The mission JinNews gives itself is to make the struggle of women visible. Again, this means the struggle of Kurdish women but also that of women’s movements in Turkey and everywhere in the world. This is an agency for all women.
Interview conducted by Loez
Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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