Habertürk photo causes controversy

October 09, 2011, Sunday/ 12:14:00

The Habertürk daily on Friday published on its front page an uncensored photograph of the body of a dead naked woman who was stabbed by her husband in the back with a knife, the blood and gore from the wound still visible, which the daily's editor-in-chief defended the next day as an attempt to highlight the hypocrisy of the general public, which he said had been desensitized toward violence against women. The uncensored use of the image was upsetting for a significant majority, and naturally caused outrage among many in the media, but it wasn't without supporters.

Writers on Sunday continued to cover the shockingly controversial and irritatingly daring move of Habertürk. Star's Fehmi Koru in his column said that “this is not journalism.” Koru referred to the statement “I would have used that image even if it was my own mother” written by Habertürk Editor-in-Chief Fatih Altaylı on Saturday in a defiant and unapologetic response to public reaction. Koru said he did not believe anybody would like to see the pictures of a loved one nude with a knife in their back on the front page of a national newspaper. Koru also wrote that he wondered whether there would be any legal consequences, comparing it to the case of British murder victim Milly Dowler, whose voicemail was hacked by a reporter from News of the World, a former British tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch. The paper was shut down by its owner in July of this year after the hacking scandal.

Milliyet's Hasan Cemal in his Sunday column wrote that the Habertürk photo only added to his concerns about the state of affairs in the Turkish media. “It was horrifying. I couldn't look at it. And I was ashamed as a journalist. I couldn't say anything when I read Fatih Altaylı's article defending that photograph the next day. I know, our media can be criticized for a lot of things. I can't overstate this enough, but as long as we, as journalists, collectively fail to uphold the values and fundamental principles of our profession, the media will not improve. If we don't, neither will our standards of quality improve nor will our relationships with political power centers normalize. All that can happen is us continuing to feel ashamed."

Interestingly enough, one of the few people who weren't upset by the photo of the violently murdered woman was a female writer, Ruhat Mengi of the Vatan daily, who was of the opinion that publishing that photograph was neither as offensive nor as wrong as people assert it to be. She quoted Serpil Sancar, head of the Ankara University Women's Issues Center, who said: “This photograph illustrates the violence women have to face. I don't think showing the truth is bad. Seeing blood sets the conscience in motion.” Mengi does, however, agree with concerns that the photograph of a woman stabbed in the back could be traumatizing to children, especially since it was on the front page.