Fatih Yağmur: The price of good journalism

Fatih Yağmur: The price of good journalism
Fatih Yağmur may have won the 2015 EU Investigative Journalism Awards in Turkey, but he has also learned the hard way to be careful what he wished for. His dream to break out of the family business to attend journalism school and work for a national paper turned into a nightmare of being fired of, facing numerous charges in court. His charge? Being that little bit too good at his job and landing a story of national importance.
Yağmur was born in 1986 in Adana province in the Turkish south. Although he dropped out of secondary school to work in his family's trading company, he never gave up on his childhood dream to be a journalist. After four years of what he calls “not being happy” he went back to study, eventually enrolling in the communications department of Marmara University. From there he landed a job at Turkey's Radikal daily – a paper owned by the Doğan media group.
This was 2010 – a time when the Turkish press was already coming under pressure to self-censor stories that might embarrass the government. Yağmur ignored those pressures and four years later, one hot August day, he paid the price. He lost his job not for doing it badly but too well.
Yağmur's story “TIR Tutanakları” (Truck Logs), a report on a prosecutor's logs on weapon-laden   trucks owned by the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MİT), appeared in Radikal on Jan. 3, 2014. Two days before that date, Turkish gendarmes in Hatay province had stopped a truck, discovered to be full of munitions, allegedly en route to Syria. Prosecutors went to the site, but the drivers, MİT operatives, continued on their way, following a phone call from the Hatay Governor's Office ordering the gendarmes to release the truck. Yağmur's report detailed the prosecutor's account of what happened, the official logs the prosecutor filed on the failed truck-search and a phone call traffic between local bureaucrats and army officers. 
At the time, Efkan Ala, the Turkish interior minister, denied there was anything other than humanitarian aid for the Turkmen community in the truck.
His government was to revise that story. Some eleven months after Yağmur's story appeared, two journalists – Cumhuriyet's Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and the same newspaper's Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gül – were put into prison, charged with treason for publishing actual photographs of the truck that showed it was carrying munitions – with allegations that the arms were intended for armed groups in Syria fighting Bashar al-Assad. The two men were charged despite these photos being in the public domain. They had been published by Aydınlık newspaper some 11 months earlier. Dündar and Gül have been held in pre-trial detention since Nov. 27, 2015.
Critical journalists have been fired
The media conglomerate that owns Radikal, Doğan Media Group, as almost every other press institution, has cracked under government pressure. Several critical journalists have been fired over the past few years from newspapers of the group, which has faced allegations of tax evasion and has since been trying to mend ties with the government.
Although Yağmur was spared jail time for informing the public on the Turkish Government's alleged involvement in  Syria's bloody civil war, as the first journalist to have brought public attention to the story; he has faced harassment, threats and unemployment following his report. 
He remembers: “I was targeted incessantly by the government-affiliated media and Justice and Development Party (AK Party) supporters. I also received threats [from government supporters]. I was psychologically worn out after being fired. Winning the award, in this sense, was a really important morale booster for me. It also was a firm answer to some in my family who'd said I should have never been a journalist, or that I should have sided with the government. The only thing you get in Turkey for doing your job as a journalist is punishment with court cases, investigations, unemployment or worse, with being arrested as in the case of Dündar and Gül.”
Yağmur is still unemployed. He resides in Adana with his family and spends a good deal of his time in courtrooms or police stations, testifying to prosecutors in investigations he faces over his report on the trucks. “Winning the EU Investigative Journalism Award was the only good thing that happened to me in the two years after my report on the trucks was published,” he says. 
The conflict in Syria, now in its fifth year, has claimed more than 400,000 lives. 
The Turkish government still denies having sent weapons to armed groups in Syria.