Sacked in Turkey

By Casey Bukro

Ombudsmen in journalism are seen as scolds, nit-pickers, snitches and nuisances — if they do the job right.

People are paid for doing that job right, and sometimes they are fired for the same reason.

The most recent example is Yavuz Baydar, who was the ombudsman for the Turkish  newspaper Sabah. He was criticizing the government and his newspaper, and management decided that either he desist or find work elsewhere.

Baydar was quoted in The Guardian newspaper that his “sacking” was an attack not just on journalism, but on Turkish democracy and freedom of expression.

There are echoes in this from the departure of Patrick Pexton as the Washington Post’s last ombudsman — a job title that had lasted 43 years at the Post.

An ombudsman works on behalf of the public, and keeps an eye on their organization’s ethical standards and relationship with its audience.

In his own departure remarks, printed in the Washington Post, Pexton said “the power of truth is the power to humble governments, to obtain justice, to foil hypocrisy, to help the downtrodden, to reveal the world as it is, not as we might like it to be.”

Baydar’s ousting was noticed worldwide, causing commentary on the difficult role of ombudsmen and shedding light on journalism in Turkey.

Baydar is fighting back, saying he “will take the firing decision to court.”

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About cbukro

Casey Bukro was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 2008 for outstanding contributions to Chicago journalism, after a 45 year career with the Chicago Tribune. Bukro retired from the Tribune in 2007 as overnight editor. He had pioneered in environmental reporting and in 1970 became the first full-time environment specialist at a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States and covered major developments on that beat for 30 years. He won the newspaper’s highest editorial award in 1967 for a series on Great Lakes pollution. The Society of Professional Journalists awarded Bukro its highest honor, the Wells Key, in 1983 for writing that organization’s first code of ethics. He is a past president of SPJ’s national ethics committee and a past president of the Chicago Headline Club. Bukro graduated with bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In 1998, he received the Northwestern University Alumni Association’s alumni service award for 17 years of volunteer service to the university. He has lectured in environmental journalism and journalism ethics at Northwestern, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Columbia College, Columbia University and others. Before joining the Tribune staff, Bukro worked at the former City News Bureau of Chicago and the Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wis.

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