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The ninth episode of IPI’s podcast series IPI Freedom Dialogues: Turkey is out now!

In the ninth episode of IPI Freedom Dialogues: Turkey podcast, host Cansu Çamlıbel and her guest, Cüneyt Özdemir, a news anchor and broadcast journalist with 30 years of experience, spoke about his journey from conventional journalism to online journalism, and the circumstances in Turkey’s media environment that led him where he is today with his popular news channel on YouTube.

Previous episodes of IPI’s Freedom Dialogues: Turkey podcasts are available here.

Özdemir previously worked at prominent TV channels in Turkey including CNN Türk and Kanal D and wrote for now-closed newspaper Radikal extensively on political affairs, global issues, Middle East and Europe.

“I’m doing journalism on YouTube because of the critical conditions in Turkey, it was out of necessity”, Özdemir said, highlighting problems around media ownership and the restrictive economic and editorial freedom of news outlets after large media outlets were bought by conglomerates close to the government.

He explained: “Since these businessmen work in various areas, they use these outlets as a tool to make their business benefit, or sometimes to praise the government or to beat the opposition”.

Bringing in his own previous experience of the shift within mainstream news outlets, he said that when he was the New York correspondent for CNN Türk in 2017 he was told not to follow the trial of Reza Zarrab, a Turkey-based businessman implicated in high-level corruption and money laundering and arrested in the U.S. The case had a huge impact on Turkish politics since Zarrab was known for his close relationship and business affiliation with AKP government officials and ministers. He said he reminisces about that moment as “the day he faced the truth of Turkey.”

The tide turned for Özdemir that day and he started to use his YouTube channel for regular reporting rather than just a digital archive. Özdemir said social media became the new mainstream for journalism in Turkey.

As a journalist who now works for CNN Türk on a freelance basis but also has his own channel where he makes critical comments of economic and political developments in Turkey, Özdemir said he is naturally afraid of the circumstances. But he added that the threat loses its effect over the years. “You don’t have to be a journalist to be scared of going into prison in Turkey”, Özdemir noted, observing that a random citizen was recently detained over critical comments in a street interview. “Who would not be afraid? It is not easy to live in fear but you get used to it”, he said.

Özdemir’s guests on his YouTube channel have created some controversy within the journalism community in Turkey. Host Çamlıbel asked the reason behind some of the choices he’s made. He emphasized that he doesn’t want to bring just friends and people with whom he shares a similar opinion.

If advertising were to be cut to social media platforms under Turkey’s new social media law – which may potentially happen by January 2021 – there will be no income from social media not just for small businesses but also for journalists, Özdemir stressed. “No one actually realizes how this new social media law will lead the country into a quagmire.”

Topics covered in the podcast include:

  • Major shift in Turkey’s media from conventional media to online media
  • Effect of changes in political, economical and capital structures on journalism
  • The reasons and circumstances that led Özdemir to become an online broadcaster
  • Intimidation of journalism in Turkey
  • Turkey’s new social media law and its potential effects on online journalism

Highlights from the episode (Cüneyt Özdemir):

  • “I was let go from Kanal D not because of my failure, but because the content of the news I made was disliked or unwanted.”
  • “I did not do anything different online than what I did as an anchorman, but objective news was no longer welcomed in the changing media ownership.”
  • “In journalism, if you don’t have economic freedom, you don’t have editorial freedom either.”
  • “If you are being managed by businessmen, you cannot be free.”
  • “Journalism is being used as a tool in the hands of holdings; either as a gift or beating stick.”
  • “7 million new young voters will vote in 2023 elections, whom we call Generation Z. Turkey has a large young population. Putting myself into shoes of an AKP MP, [the new social media law] is shooting yourself in the feet.”