A journalist, says Fatih Özyar, doesn’t just write an article about something he isn’t sure about. True, that’s how it should be. But is that really what happened?
Özyar writes for the biggest daily newspaper in Turkey, Hürriyet. He is the correspondent for Hürriyet in the Netherlands. A few days ago he reported that a journalist from the Netherlands, Armand Sag, was fired from his job at a journalism website because he denied the Ottomans committed genocide against Armenians in and around 1915. Interesting, but the story didn’t contain any reaction from the concerned website, which is weird because it’s a journalism rule to always let the other side speak too. And this was quite an accusation.
So I decided to contact the website myself. I asked the editor in chief, Joshua Livestro, if it was true that Armand Sag didn’t write for the site anymore, and if so, why? Livestro’s reaction came in an email: ‘We never employed Armand Sag, he only contributed to our readers pages, like many other people. Since we didn’t employ him, we also couldn’t fire him. And if he wants to, he can still publish on our website.’
Livestro mentions that Sag was warned once after, in an articles, he selectively quoted a Dutch liberal politician, turning him into somebody supporting the Turkish stance on the Armenian issue, while in reality this politician believes there was genocide committed against the Armenians, thus actually opposing the Turkish state’s view. But that’s all. Livestro: ‘This story about me firing Armand Sag is totally made up by the Turkish nationalist press.’
My duty was clear: contact the other side. I sent Armand Sag (not a journalist, but a young historian) an email, and I called Fatih Özyar. Then I went to the opening of the festivities for Istanbul Cultural Capital of Europe 2010, and just as I got home, Özyar called me back. He said that a journalist of course doesn’t just write an article about something if he isn’t sure about the facts. ‘I got a press announcement from Armand Sag, with some attachments. There was an email from Joshua Livestro to a columnist at the website who also knows Armand Sag, and in that mail it is said that Sag should stop writing stories about the Armenian genocide. It turned out Sag had two options: either apologize for what he had written, or stop working for the site. Then Sag drew his conclusions and decided not to work for them anymore.’
But, I insist, the site says he never even worked for them and that Sag is still welcome to publish on the readers pages. Özyar says he doesn’t know the details about that. But yes, he admits that he based his story only on information coming from Armand Sag. How about asking the website for their side of the story? Özyar: ‘I mailed them several times but I couldn’t get any reaction from them.’
Weird, since the editor in chief mailed me back within an hour. And Armand Sag himself? Besides mailing him, I also contacted him via a fellow-student of his, with the request to answer my email within a day. The answer came, not from Sag but from his fellow student: ‘He is fed up with all the journalists and has turned his phone off till Tuesday.’