VOA Turkish Service, 2018 winner
Service reporters risked physical harm, and then continued harassment by the government of Turkey’s strongman president Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a result of their original, impactful journalism.
VOA’s Turkish Service showed their exceptional journalism skills and demonstrated their bravery in reporting this ongoing story. The stories provided video evidence to our audiences about the kind of violence and suppression the Erdogan government uses against its opponents– even in other countries. It also highlights the working of U.S. democracy in punishing those who would try to suppress free speech. It is impactful journalism at its best as demonstrated by the reaction the reporting received from our audiences as well as by being picked up by other major news organizations. The work clearly exhibits a commitment to free speech, democratic values and the free exchange of ideas.
It is no surprise our reporters continue to be harassed in Turkey and in their coverage of the Erdogan government after these reports were published. This graphic, honest journalism is not the kind of reporting the Erdogan government wants to see. The majority of the country’s media is owned by allies or family members of President Erdogan. As we know firsthand, self-censorship in the country is pervasive; critical journalists are jailed, fined or fired. Some fled the country. In terms of press freedom, Turkey falls somewhere between Iraq and Russia. Erdogan regularly vilifies journalists as “terrorists” and voices conspiracy theories that include the idea that Turkey’s allies are secretly working to undermine the country. It is in this context that VOA Turkish Service journalists have risked their physical safety and wellbeing to do their jobs.
VOA’s Turkish Service was on the scene outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in Washington D.C. and captured exclusive video that went viral during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit May 16th 2017. The video captured supporters of President Erdogan, including his government security forces and several armed individuals attacking peaceful protestors outside the home of the Turkish ambassador in a manner police characterized as a “brutal attack.” The protestors had gathered outside the residence, awaiting Erdogan’s arrival after he had met with President Donald Trump at the White House. The video caught President Erdogan looking on from his car in front of the building, and later, before entering the premises. The video captured by VOA’s Turkish Service was picked up by national and international news outlets, including CNN, Reuters, NBC, CBS, ABC, and BBC.
The footage of the brawl went viral as national and international news outlets used it in their reporting of President Erdogan’s visit to Washington. The brawl and video footage also became a point of contention between Washington and Istanbul. The Turkish Embassy claimed that their personnel and supporters acted in self-defense after being provoked. But that account differed greatly from the sequence of events described by protesters and captured on video by VOA. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson himself weighed in and expressed his “dismay” over the clash between the Turkish personnel and the protesters. As a result of the graphic evidence, the FBI investigated the incident, and the Washington, D.C. police sought the arrest of eighteen people linked to the attack, including bodyguards
to Turkey’s president. A total of 19 people, including 15 identified as Turkish security officials, were indicted by a grand jury in the U.S. Capital for the May 2017 attack.