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 second video interview is with Doğan Akın, the founder and editor-in-chief of the independent online news outlet T24. The outlet was founded in 2009 and today is one of the country’s largest in terms of staff, according to Akın. He previously worked for Cumhuriyet newspaper as well as Milliyet, a mainstream publication once one of Turkey’s largest before being sold to a pro-government conglomerate.

“Pandemic gave inspiration to find new ways”

The interview focused on the challenges and advantages T24 faced as an online news outlet during the pandemic. Akın underlined the changing working conditions and how T24 was affected during this period. Noting that T24’s offices haven’t been used since March 2020, Akın said that he sees the new remote working conditions as a plus since their work rhythm and methods have not changed dramatically. “On the contrary, the pandemic gave inspiration to find new ways to work and to open up new staff capacity that adapts remote working conditions”, he said.

Akın also highlighted the differences in COVID-19 coverage between independent and mainstream media. “For a very long time, there was no other source of information on the pandemic besides the Health Ministry … Unlike the mainstream media, news outlets like T24 did publish statements from independent doctors unions and reports covering all aspects.”

Akın noted that the site’s viewing traffic had increased since the beginning of pandemic, which continues a pattern they had previously observed during periods of crisis such as the Gezi Park protests.“This period showed us a little bit more how vital the truthful media outlets are”, Akın emphasized.

Censorship, access to information and manipulation

“It has always been hard for journalists to access official sources in Turkey. This has been this way traditionally because officials pretend as if the information you are asking for is something subjective or private’’, Akın said, underlining the importance of doctors and doctors associations as the first source of information during this crisis. Akın also noted that T24 did not experience specific censorship of their news coverage about the coronavirus pandemic, except for a few phone calls from ministry officials to correct factual errors.

When asked whether they saw any manipulation in the statistics provided by the officials, Akın said that the discrepancy in statistics eventually came out. Akın said that T24’s policy on publishing manipulative information was that it is better to publish less information than publish something wrong.

Stressing that the remote working conditions were inspirational for T24, Akın said that pro-government media had maintained its manipulative position during pandemic as well. “Other aspects such as fake news, hiding the truth, ignoring independent sources, and making government propaganda are not specific to COVID-19.’’

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.