Last week, following deadly events on the Kurdish-Turkish border, a ‘spontaneous’ demonstration occurred in front of the American embassy in Brussels. Blogger and freelance journalist Mehmet Köksal was on the scene when some Grey Wolves (a jingoistic youth organisation) recognised him and tried to lynch him. He escaped, severely beaten.
No English-speaking media reported it except for some hard-line Armenian sites.
On Monday, Köksal wrote his last post. He quits blogging, “victim of [his] blog’s success” and intimidation. Without downplaying his long-lasting courage and works, one cannot but notice he ceases publication to protect himself and his family.
As a journalist, Köksal reclaims his subjectivity, he said in an interview last year, and his anti-extremist opinions make his articles especially interesting. As a blogger, he wrote with a dry and humorous wit to entertain his readers.
Now, extremists tend to display an underdeveloped sense of humour. On the other hand, they display a higher-than-average propensity to react by violent or illegal means when they consider their cause to be under attack.
Within large news organisations, such risks are shared between the journalist and its editor, at least. When actions are needed, unions come to the frontline, usually with much-advertised support from local politicians.
Several Belgian bloggers, such as Damien Vanachter, expressed deep regrets at Köksal’s decision and deeper anger at the local authorities’ inaction. Journalistic work is hampered on a regular basis, with more or less intensity. But we prefer to think of such peril as a fixture of exotic governments.
Moreover, Belgium scored 5th on the 2007 World Press Freedom index, 139 slots above Russia. So where’s the problem?
This story represents a huge disincentive for ambitious bloggers. They may enjoy more influence and address a wider influence than traditional news outlets. They, however, hardly enjoy any protection from such power.
Governments not considering the right to blog as an integral part of the right to freedom of expression is yet another symptom of administrative backwardness. But its consequences may be far more significant than your local MP not reading her email.
This article was written by Nicolas Kayser-Bril, one of the Online Journalism Blog’s Virtual Interns.