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.”