Leading names in European journalism assembled Monday at Reuter’s London Headquarters for the European Press Prize ceremony that “salutes and encourages the highest achievements in journalism” across the 47 nations of Europe.
This is the second year of awards, increasingly regarded as the European equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. It is the first time, however, judges saw fit to present a special prizes for “particular excellence” alongside existing categories. One of these went to Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar, columnist and former ombudsman of Sabah newspaper, for his efforts “to build trust in journalism”. Baydar was a joint recipient, alongside The Guardian and Der Spiegel for their publication of the Snowden files.
Baydar’s award was in recognition of his reader’s representative column that his newspaper refused to publish last summer at the time of the Gezi Park demonstrations. In one such column, Baydar took issue with Sabah’s front page coverage which sought to blame the intensity of the demonstration on agitation by foreign media rather than as response to police heavy handedness.
At the time, many Turkish press and television coverage came under international scrutiny for their reluctance to cover the demonstrations at all or their failure to give anything other than the government’s interpretation of events. A recent report by the Washington-based Freedom House watch-dog organisation paints an unhappy picture of media groups kowtowing to the government out of fear that their non-media parent companies would be punished by being excluded from government tenders and procurement contracts.
In July 2013, Baydar was sacked as ombudsman, a position which he had held since 2004.
“My duty as ombudsman was to uphold the integrity and independence of my newspaper. I was fired for trying to carry out that duty. That I have received this award should be an encouragement to all journalists in Turkey struggling to fight censorship, self-censorship and the unhealthy collusion of media proprietors and government,” Baydar said.
The panel of judges making the award included legendary ex-Sunday Times editor Sir Harold Evans, and Sylvie Kaufmann, editorial director and former editor-in-chief of Le Monde newspaper. The other members were Juan Luis Cebrián, founding editor of El Pais, Moscow New Times editor-in-chief Yevgenia Albats and Jørgen Ejbøl, vice-chairman of the Jyllands-Posten Foundation.
Since leaving Sabah, Yavuz Baydar has acted as one of the founding members of Platform24 (P24), an initiative to support media independence in Turkey. The organisation’s president, Hasan Cemal, who was in London to see Baydar collect his prize, described the judges’ decision as a timely reminder “that journalists must struggle to hold not just governments accountable but also their own profession.”
In London, Baydar added: “An outspoken and independent press is a pre-condition for both democracy and good governance. The press in Turkey is no longer free. The sad result has been the steady erosion of basic liberties and respect for the rule of law in Turkey. It is no coincidence that this has occurred in parallel with the rise of corruption on a massive scale.”
About the European Press Prize
The European Press Prize (EPP) awards “the highest achievement in journalism” in four different fields – investigative journalism, distinguished writing, commentary, and innovation. In addition the judges have the authority to confer a special award” recognising “particular excellence.”
The prize has been likened to the European Pulitzer.
The competition is open to journalists from all 47 nations defined by Council of Europe membership (though it has no links either to the Council nor to the EU). The award is the brainchild of independent foundations which support and practice independent journalism. These include Foundation for Democracy and Media (The Netherlands), the Veronica Association (The Netherlands), The Guardian Foundation (United Kingdom), Thomson Reuters Foundation (United Kingdom), Jyllands-Posten Foundation (Denmark), The Politiken Foundation (Denmark), The Media Development Investment Fund (Czech Republic).
About Yavuz Baydar
Yavuz Baydar began his journalistic career in 1980 in Sweden where he attended the Journalisthögskolan. He returned to his native Turkey in 1994 after a brief stint in London with the BBC. Since then he has worked for radio and television, as well as Turkish and international newspapers. He was the first ombudsman in the Turkish press and has served as president of the World Organisation of News Ombudsman. At present, he has a regular opinion column in the English-language daily Today’s Zaman, and contributes to a variety of broadcast and print media including BBC World, Swedish Radio-TV, NPR, and Al Jazeera. He is a member of the World Editors Forum, the Committee of Concerned Journalists and the UNESCO National Committee of Communications.
P24 is a not-for-profit, civil society organisation, registered in Turkey, which counts as its founders several experienced members of the Turkish press. Its broadly defined mission is to build capacity in the Turkish media, create a public appetite for media independence, and more specifically to encourage the transition to web-based journalism. Its objectives are:
- To encourage the publication of independent, quality and accurate news in Turkey at a time when this is in real jeopardy,
- To provide a forum for journalists of proven integrity who are being denied a voice,
- To promote best journalistic practice.
P24 aims to help break the unhealthy monopoly of government controlled media in Turkey and encourage balanced news coverage.