The Cihan news agency, which is both domestically and internationally renowned for its successful election coverage over the past 12 years, was able to deliver the most accurate results from polling stations during the Aug. 10 presidential election, despite experiencing a number of cyber attacks.
Cihan General Manager Abdülhamit Bilici said the agency has faced obstructions and cyber attacks in the last two elections. The attacks started after the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government turned against the Hizmet movement, a social movement inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, accusing the movement of being behind the corruption allegations targeting the AK Party government. Cihan is affiliated with the Hizmet movement.
Bilici said the agency has filed complaints about the cyber attacks, but none of these complaints has yet produced any results. “Whoever is behind the attacks, they tried to render our IT infrastructure dysfunctional at the most critical moment. On Aug. 10, everything was locked for 40 minutes. I couldn't even open Google on my computer.”
However, he noted that against all odds, Cihan delivered accurate results that matched those provided by the Higher Election Board (YSK). Bilici also noted that in addition to journalistic coverage of the election results, Cihan has fulfilled the function of an independent election observer in the past eight elections.
‘People trust us'
Bilici said Cihan is a reliable news agency, which strives to serve its customers in the fastest and most accurate way. “And this is how we see elections. Our main mission is to bring accurate results to the public. When we do this, we also contribute to democracy, transparency and election security.
"Our success has been confirmed time and again by the official results. This is why the media, regardless of the ideological or political stance of their organization, trust us. The biggest responsibility I have to face is maintaining that confidence in our agency. Thanks be that we have never been embarrassed so far.”
The Cihan general manager also said that cyber attacks known as denial of service attacks have always targeted Cihan during elections, but the level of the attacks has intensified in the last two elections.
He further noted: “We filed criminal complaints against the attackers after the March 30 local elections. No outcome has yet emerged. Independent journalists, experts and the general public should really think about these attacks. We will also take legal action against the attacks that sought to paralyze our system on Aug. 10.”
He said he was pleased that another agency has started to cover election results in the past two elections. “But it is interesting that these cyber attacks began in the last two elections, when that other agency started covering poll results.”
He also recalled the claims put forth by some newspapers that the Interior Ministry ordered poll station security officials not to allow Cihan correspondents near the ballot boxes. “We are exercising our right given to us by the Election Law. The YSK [Supreme Election Board] approved our participation.”
Bilici also noted that the competing agency at some point initially announced an abnormal amount of votes cast. “They started at 69 percent [for Erdoğan] and they gradually brought it down to our results [about 50 percent] by decreasing it. They did not transmit any data for a full hour. They also announced the number of votes cast at about 3-4 million higher than the real number. They later brought that down with an update. At the end of the day, it became evident that we are the agency doing this with integrity.”
He said that those behind the cyber attacks attempted to hurt Cihan's reputation. “We will continue to take measures against cyber attacks in future elections. Independent agencies and the judiciary should analyze who is behind these attacks. We are not on the side of or against any party. The government itself used to be very happy with our work in the past. We start preparing for the elections two months ahead of the scheduled date, just like a political party. It is a difficult process. Our success belongs to all Cihan employees at the central office and in the regions and it is a result of their hard work and dedication. I want to congratulate them all,” Bilici said.
Published on Today's Zaman, 16 August 2014, Saturday