What would you do if you noticed giant tides were coming towards you? Would you sip your tea without the slightest concern over such concrete reality? Or would you run for your life? The climate crisis is as real and close to our home as these tides. The whole world is experiencing the climate crisis and its repercussions. Yet only the decision-makers are sipping their tea.
Cognizant of this fact, I have been working as an urban and environment reporter in Turkey for nearly eight years. In that capacity, I can tell you that rhetoric and action diverge starkly from each another. My beautiful city, Istanbul, has become a massive pile of concrete, and it continues to be desecrated thanks to the booming construction sector. As a result, it has become gravely vulnerable to the climate crisis. In the last three years, we have observed unprecedented weather events. Furthermore, the number and density of construction projects have increased in the last few years so drastically that heat islands have begun to form in the city, suffocating us. Ironically, the only remaining green areas in the city are cemeteries.
The common name of destruction: Profit
The general outlook on Turkey is not different than that of Istanbul. The mushrooming mining sites, coal plants—which are the primary contributors to climate change—and the nuclear plant that is currently under construction on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean determinedly destroy the environment and green areas. All these projects, which are being implemented with little care for the well-being of the living, have one common denominator: profit.
Against this backdrop, I started reporting on urban and environmental affairs while I was studying journalism at Istanbul University’s School of Communications. During my senior year, in 2013, the Gezi protests took place. I worked day and night during this period. Gezi was unequivocally the biggest demonstration carried out in Turkey over the sanctity of trees and against the construction frenzy. And this is when I became a reporter covering the city and environment news in 2014.
I have never made sense out of why people prefer concrete and money over nature since I was a child. And, I have yet to figure this out as a journalist living in Istanbul. Moreover, I have always asked this question as I have carried out my work. As a journalist, I have always approached news objectively. Nonetheless, I have always been on nature’s side – on the side of environment and life.
Nature always loses
How do I do my urban and environment reporting? First and foremost, I cover news from the entire country. I take a close look at local developments in particular. The local level is where we trace the first instances of violations of the most fundamental rights, and this is usually where the first protests rise up against such violations. I receive information from all corners of the country. Sometimes I construct my reporting on the research that I conduct following a scoop; at other times, I follow a lawsuit brought by a local resident. I observe the impact of the mega projects on the ground while talking to locals and conducting my own research on the entire process through open sources. As I prepare my story, my aim is always to attain the facts. I never report on anything unless I have the hard evidence.
My reporting experience on Turkey’s “mega” construction projects has shown me that nature and local citizens always lose. The most important underlying factor here is the reference made in official evaluations to the question of “public good”. When examining any project that harms water, land, or trees, one eventually discovers in the official “Environmental Impact Evaluation” a justification for the project’s approval that is based on its alleged contributions to “public good.” I have never understood this justification—not even back when I was building my expertise in this area—since there always seems to be a “public good” premise for environmental destruction. The underlying factor appears to be the contributions of these projects to the economy and industrial development. However, our nature and the air we breathe are by far more valuable and irreplaceable than these short-term gains.
I also want to draw upon the perks and challenges of urban and environmental reporting. Covering urban and environmental affairs in Turkey is one of those feats where there is no shortage of news and agenda items. Being the voice of nature, defending the rights of the defenseless against profit-seeking and destruction is the most critical responsibility that comes with this occupation. To remember this role in a world that has newly risen to the challenge of battling climate crisis; to raise awareness; and to motivate people to act and claim responsibility for our common future are critically important actions. I find it extremely valuable to take on this responsibility. I have always been proud of working and specializing in this area. Yet this does not mean urban and environmental reporting is free of disadvantages.
First, a large number of the media in Turkey have become the ruling party’s mouthpieces. The media tycoons have grown in number. The employers of most newspapers also are the owners of large corporations with investments in many other sectors. Therefore, if one happens to poke around on any development concerning environment destruction, that person will eventually find out that the other end of the string is tied to powerful corporate interests. This usually stokes concerns over income and advertisements on the media’s part. The press organizations that are part of this vicious circle often stay away from reporting on these issues to avoid confrontation. It is also not surprising that in a media sector that is more subjugated and desiccated with each passing day, the urban and environmental reporters are the first to lose their jobs. I have had many colleagues who were either fired or were forced to do other jobs. Furthermore, environmental reporting—especially covering inconsequential developments—can be used as a smokescreen to avoid angering certain actors in a news cycle that does not look likely to lose steam any time soon. Another disadvantage of working in this area is to set out a domino effect that may result in prosecution. In other words, I constantly face the threat of being prosecuted due to the news I cover, even though I have the documentation and evidence and I have confidence in the truth of my stories.
I am glad I have done it
I was honored with many awards in my ten years as a journalist—eight of which focused on reporting urban and environmental affairs. The most important one, which had been a lifelong dream of mine, was the Sedat Simavi Journalism Award—one of Turkey’s most prestigious journalism honors. Despite these awards and recognitions, however, I noticed that the government was not pleased with my bona fide and fact-driven articles. Their response was the numerous lawsuits brought against me. I had finally found out the price of digging up and reporting the facts. When I turn around and look back at the whole of the iceberg, I say to myself, “I’m glad I have done it.” And as a final word: I will continue to pursue journalism against all odds and report on facts despite all forms of repression and challenges.