The International Press Institute (IPI) recently launched the new video reporting series “Journalism under the Shadow of the Pandemic: Turkey”. The project, which features a series of interviews with leading journalists and media experts about the pandemic’s impact on journalism in Turkey, is being carried out by IPI’s Turkey National Committee.

The third video interview is with Ali Topuz, the founder and editor-in-chief of the independent news outlet Gazete Duvar. The outlet was founded in 2016 and quickly became one of the most popular independent news sites in the country. Gazete Duvar was established on universal principles of quality journalism and press ethics. Before founding Gazete Duvar, Topuz worked as the editor-in-chief for now-closed independent newspaper Radikal, which was shut down due to financial problems.

“Our work has two dimensions”

The interview highlighted the challenges Gazete Duvar faced during the pandemic. Topuz underlined that their work had two dimensions during this period: Journalists and editors working from home, and reporters on the ground. Topuz said although the remote working conditions were not a problem, reporters on the ground faced various challenges finding stories and covering news, which Topuz described as “the backbone of journalism”.

“The difficulty of finding news and detailing the stories was felt deeply”, he added.

Independent media vs. “mainstream” media

Topuz said when it comes to comparing independent media and so-called “mainstream” media in Turkey during the pandemic, there is not much these two groups have in common, especially when it comes factual reporting and press ethics. “The pro-government media, which can be called the new mainstream media, was in a race to publish previously agreed statements by the government. They blamed and insulted all those who had been saying something outside the government discourse.”

“Our mission should be to provide the public with a flow of information to increase personal protection rather than incite panic.” However, since the official information that was spread through the mainstream media was flawed, Topuz said independent media found themselves in the position of having to prove that the situation was much worse than the official figures.

Long-term problem of access to information a leverage for the government

Topuz said that no specific censorship mechanism had been imposed around stories related to COVID-19. But he emphasized that the long-term problem of access to information was effectively used as leverage for the government. He added the government used the mainstream media to spread the information they want.

One of the biggest challenges the independent media faced during the pandemic was the financial aspect. “The first thing that changes when the economy weakens is the economic conditions of those who support you financially. Secondly, the first expense to be cut during the times of such crisis by those donors is advertising.” He added that there is also a political aspect behind the advertising drop, as most companies try not to give advertisements to media that they think the government doesn’t approve of.

When asked how independent media can survive this period, Topuz stressed the importance of the journalists’ unions in working to find a new model to fix the financial struggles of the independent media. “Otherwise, the only thing to do is to wait for the political situation to become more liberal, for which right now it seems like we can do nothing but pray.”

About the video series:

The interviews focus on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the quality and independence of journalism in Turkey and the working conditions of journalists. It provides first-hand experience from executives and editors from various independent media outlets in Turkey as they explain how the coronavirus pandemic affected their work on the ground and what they did to overcome the difficulties that have come with it. The video interviews are in Turkish and will be followed by a full written study on the topic in English. “Journalism under the Shadow of the Pandemic: Turkey” is being prepared and led by IPI’s Turkey National Committee. Previous video interview of this series is available here.