The European Union Investigative Awards for stories published in 2016, organized in Turkey by the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24), were presented to the winners at an award ceremony in Istanbul on 31 May.
Deputy head of the European Union Delegation to Ankara, Gabriel Munuera Vinals, said at the ceremony the EU was following developments regarding press freedoms in Turkey and the trials of many imprisoned journalists, adding that the EU is prepared to support journalism and investigative journalism efforts.
The jury, chaired by communications professor Arzu Kihtir, comprised veteran journalists Hasan Cemal, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, Çiğdem Toker and human rights lawyer Fikret İlkiz. They had to make a tough selection out of 40 investigative stories submitted this year.
The first prize went to Müzeyyen Yüce, a reporter from the Antalya daily “Antalya Körfez,” for her news story “Children from Nusaybin to Cizre whose future is under siege,” about the situation in the country’s predominantly Kurdish cities following security operations held under months-long curfews.
Yüce said: “I remembered why I chose this profession in the first place as I walked through the streets of Nusaybin and Cizre.”
The Jury statement about the first prize winning story reads:
“Most of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish provinces during 2016 were subject to curfews, during which security operations and many rights violations allegedly took place. Many journalists were intimidated from reporting in the area. The author of this report, a reporter from a local news outlet in a major tourism centre of Antalya, ignored these pressures to report from the area. The result was a sound and needed assessment of the situation of cities under curfew, based on factual and insightful reporting of the present, but also on a deep understanding of the past. This story is an example of how good reporting goes beyond official statistics. In addition to interviews and observations about the contemporary state of siege, ignored by so many media, the reporting analysed the history of the conflict. On top of this, it was supported by good photography.”
Second prize: Protecting the rights of children
The second prize went to Serbay Mansuroğlu from Birgün newspaper for the report “45 students abused in Karaman” which uncovered a child-abuse scandal at a religious institution in the Central Anatolian province of Karaman.
The jury in its final evaluation of the report noted:
“This story shed light on the horrific child abuse in a religious institution and succeeded in provoking a nationwide debate about child abuse. The story, thus, had major impact, creating a national outcry against the scandal. Hundreds of thousands of subscribers even cancelled their plans with a GSM operator that sponsored the religious institution named in the story. Many officials also waded into the debate, unfortunately making statements in support of the institution. Ultimately, however, the story helped protect the interests of children by lifting the veil on a hitherto hidden scandal.”
Birgün reporter Mansuroğlu said:
“I receive this award in honor of children who are turned into refugees because of wars, or other children who are subject to abuse for various reasons.”
“Many of my friends and colleagues are in prison today. [Birgün accountant] Mahir Kanaat is being kept in prison on charges that have absolutely no basis. İbrahim Aydın and Berkant Gültekin of Birgün are currently in prison. Many of our colleagues are in prison. I would also like to send my warmest regards to them.”
Young journalist award goes to environmental report
In the Young Journalist award category, this year’s winner was Hazal Ocak from Cumhuriyet for her report “One forest two countries,” a report documenting differences in Bulgarian and Turkish environmental legislation to conserve the Strandzha forest, separated by the borders of the two countries.
The jury in its evaluation of the report noted:
“This story, painstakingly reported and supported by meaningful photographs, shows the differing impact of different environment legislation in Bulgaria and Turkey by focusing on the example of the Istıranca (Strandzha) forest either side of the common border. The story shows the stark contrast and the heartbreaking attitude of Turkey which allows mining and other industrial activities in this area, one of the most important ecosystems in southeast Europe. and of Bulgaria, which adheres to strict protection rules befitting a nature reserve. The story will also be a strong document for future generations, displaying the brazen attitude of today’s rulers towards environmental protection.”
“The Strandzha forests have survived the Ice Age, and they are among the most important forests of the world. While they are being protected by strict legislation in Bulgaria, it is very different for us.”
Stating that she had dreamed of becoming a good journalist since she was eight, Ocak added: “This award is very meaningful for me.”
A large number of journalists, civil society organizations and consul-generals or other representatives of foreign governments attended the event.
The EU award for investigative journalism is awarded in each of the seven EU-Enlargement countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey, for works published in the period between 2014 and 2016. The total award fund for all seven countries is 210,000 euro.
The award in Turkey is coordinated by Platform for Independent Journalism (P24), while the regional partnership is headed by Peace Institute in Ljubljana, both organizations being SEENPM members.