The State of Emergency (SoE) imposed in Turkey after the July 2016 coup attempt lasted for two years and saw many human rights offences as well as a huge media crackdown in Turkey. Today, the SoE is officially over but the media are still experiencing severe oppression, censorship and punishment.
While mainstream media are under the control of the government, there are a few small critical newspapers left. Journalists who lost their jobs in the mainstream media mostly try to survive in the digital media sphere, which has its own limits. They usually work with no accreditation, no press card, and most of the time, little job security.
Left-leaning and pro-Kurdish digital news sources are constantly stonewalled and closed down. Reporters who work in the field do so at great risk.
While press freedom is under constant, multidimensional attack, we journalists are asked frequently: “How can you still do your jobs?”
I asked journalists and editors from four media outlets – the daily newspaper Evrensel; ARTI TV, a TV and web platform based in Germany; Medyascope, a news and analysis portal broadcasting via Periscope; and Duvar English, a newly launched English edition of the news portal Gazete Duvar – to describe in their own words how it is possible to survive financially and morally.
‘EVEN TURKISH BUSINESSPEOPLE IN EUROPE ARE AFRAID TO ADVERTISE IN INDEPENDENT MEDIA’
Celal Başlangıç, editor-in-chief of ARTI TV and artigercek.com:
“Before the coup attempt, a couple of journalists and I decided to start up a new, pluralist media fit for a democratic country of the future. However, the events quickly showed that it was impossible to start such a media in Turkey, forcing us to look for support outside the country. Arti Media Foundation, which was founded in the Netherlands by business people from Turkey, offered us help.
“They already had a license to broadcast in the Netherlands and the UK, so we made a deal with two TV channels that had been shut down by decree, TV 10 and Yol TV. They agreed to share their studios in Cologne, Germany and we started broadcasting in April 2017, via Hotbird satellite and YouTube.
“We received financial support from Arti Media Foundation and contacted business people from Turkey in Europe. So far, we haven’t sold any ads as Turkey businesses seem to prefer to donate to the foundation rather than risk identification through advertisements.
“We started to receive financial aid from EU programmes that support independent media and further funds were raised through crowdsourcing. We also organized several meetings with our readers and viewers in European cities to understand them better.
“Our goal is to provide Turkey’s public with uncensored news. Journalists working for ARTI TV and artigercek.com know this and accepted to work for modest salaries. We don’t define ourselves as journalists in exile, but journalists who are adamant about doing their jobs from Europe.
“As a veteran journalist, I can say that press freedom in Turkey was never as undermined as it is today. The AKP government changed the whole media sphere by gaining total control through media ownership. The sustainability of web-based journalism is in the hands of President Erdoğan. Under such circumstances, real journalists are at risk of being detained, tried and jailed.”
‘OUR GOAL IS TO DELIVER NEWS FREE FROM PROPAGANDA’
Cansu Çamlıbel, editor-in-chief of Duvar English:
“Duvar English recently became part of Gazete Duvar, an independent media platform. Two businessmen who invested their savings into Duvar say that it has been successful despite extraordinary and negative developments: ‘Duvar as a trademark is far more valuable than the money we have invested so far’, they say. Only 20 percent of the expenses are covered with advertising revenue. There are no major funds or donations to support the cause.
“There are very few Turkish media outlets in English. The Daily Sabah deserves to be named as the official media of the Presidency, as its writers, including the president’s advisors, work to defend the government’s views. After the Demirören family bought Hürriyet Daily News, where I worked writing and editing, it sadly became similar to the Daily Sabah.
“You can imagine that this outlook is confusing for people who want to follow what’s happening in Turkey. Foreigners read English-language media from Turkey to understand Erdoğan’s agenda and thinking. But social and political issues that are ignored and concealed by the government are also ignored by the pro-government media.
“When we started Duvar English, we aimed to deliver content to foreign readers free from government control. If we succeed, our respect and standing will follow.
“Although pluralism is on the rise in digital platforms, it does not mean good journalism is being practiced. Due to political oppression, independent platforms struggle to receive ads and employ journalists. The young but inexperienced start to write news without learning what journalism is. As a result, the standards of independent media are often low, a byproduct of censorship in general.”
‘WE SURVIVE THANKS TO COLLECTIVE ALTRUISM’
Fatih Polat, editor-in-chief of Evrensel daily:
“Along with sales revenues, advertisement and e-newspaper subscriptions, Evrensel readers conduct social events to support the newspaper. We’re going through a tough period and have financial difficulties, so we try to get loans in order to survive. I have to stress that all our staff get their social security benefits and the salaries from top to bottom are modest. Thanks to this collective altruism, we have managed to carry on for 25 years.
“While press freedom is under severe threat, Turkey is a country where journalists form solidarity groups. Although under heavy financial blockade, censorship and fines, a few papers and the digital media which are open for opposition voices, occupy a space which makes the government uncomfortable. I’ll conclude with Gramsci’s wonderful words: ‘The pessimism of the intellect, the optimism of the will.’”
‘PRESSURE FROM OPPOSITIONAL GROUPS CAN BE VERY TIRESOME, TOO’
Ruşen Çakır, editor-in-chief of Medyascope TV:
“At Medyascope we have almost no advertising revenue. Contributions from viewers amount to around 4,000 dollars per month. It’s not exceptional but symbolically it’s very important. Our main revenue comes as financial aid from the U.S. and Europe including foundations and some consulates.
“There are around 40 permanent staff and our broadcast is video-based, which means production costs are very high. The business is run with whatever we can get.
“We have loyal followers who are mostly content with what we do. But we mostly encounter problems from people or organizations who see us as “oppositional” and want us to act as they think opposition broadcasters should. I have to say they can be very tiresome.”