Istanbul: A Turkish haven for Arab journalists


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Source: Al Jazeera News

In Turkey, Arab reporters in exile have managed to carve out a space for adversarial journalism aimed at the Arab world.

In a period when journalism is considered to be under siege in Turkey, a specific group of foreign journalists are thriving in this very same country.

Currently, there are more than a dozen Arab TV stations based in Turkey – most of them based in Istanbul – beaming their content back home to the Arab world.

It was in the aftermath of the Arab Spring that hundreds of reporters from Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria all fled authoritarian governments, oppression, prosecution, and in some cases, war, to come to Turkey.

While Turkish reporters find this situation ironic and, at times, hypocritical, Arab journalists praise the freedoms they enjoy in Turkey – especially when compared with their previous experience at home.

The Listening Post spoke to three Arab journalists about life in exile, as well as the space that’s been carved out for adversarial journalism aimed at the Arab world.

Hanaa Saleh, a Yemeni journalist who left for Turkey after Houthi militias overthrew the government in a coup said that her new haven allows her to “practise [her] profession freely … the mere notion of practising even the smallest amount of journalism was a crazy one, particularly for female Yemeni journalists. This was the reason I and numerous other journalist left Yemen and came to Turkey”.

Following her arrival, Saleh began working with Belqees TV, where she focuses her attention on highlighting Yemeni concerns, which has further increased her feelings of gratitude to Turkey: “I, along with hundreds of media personnel and others who live in Turkey, truly appreciate this country … If all countries were to open their doors for me, I would not choose, apart from Yemen, any other country but Turkey.”

Nader Fotoh, an Egyptian TV presenter, also left for Istanbul following the military coup inEgypt. According to Fotoh, “expatriates, immigrants, journalists and media personnel who live abroad have all left in support of the truth” – a notion that he tackles in his show Ghurba.

Unlike the Egyptian journalists who still reside in Egypt, Fotoh said that, in Turkey, he enjoys more journalistic privileges, including the freedom to discuss whichever topic he desires, or the ability to criticise whomever he wants.

“I can speak about and criticise whatever I want, the way I want, without offending anyone other than tyrants and oppressors. And without being told what to say,” Fotoh said.

Similarly, Noor Haddad, a Syrian presenter of a satirical, social and political show, said that Istanbul has become one of the main destinations for Arab journalists because it offers the “space to experience a reasonable degree of journalistic freedom” compared with their home countries. “Criticising the president instigates a kind of madness, for he is President Bashar al-Assad and we are not allowed to approach nor criticise him.”

However, in her show Noor Khanom, Haddad no longer shies away from criticising al-Assad, despite the backlash she often receives.

“It is my dream to present a satirical show in which I can criticise the head of the regime and to able to tell the head of the regime, or the biggest figure in the regime, that you are wrong. And to criticise and ridicule him without, as we say in Syria, spending the night at our ‘Aunt’s house’ (the jail of the intelligence service).”


Media haven or hell? The paradox of journalism in Turkey

A look at two groups of exiled journalists: those on the run from Turkey, and others who have found a sanctuary there.

EXTRA READ Turkey: No country for bold journalists?

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