Turkey heads towards landmark presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14. To shed light on journalism during election times, the International Press Institute (IPI) Turkey National Committee, in partnership with Columbia Global Centers | Istanbul, hosted a webinar as part of a series of discussions addressing challenges of journalism amid political, social, and technological developments in the world.

Tülin Daloğlu, a seasoned journalist with experience at prominent publications such as The Washington Times, The New York Times, and Foreign Policy, moderated the discussion with Kaya Heyse, news coordinator at Medyascope, and Şebnem Arsu, reporter for Der Spiegel Turkey.

Daloğlu began by emphasizing the significance of impartiality in election reporting. She questioned the meaning of impartiality in situations where democratic principles and values are under threat, which poses new difficulties for journalists.

In response, Heyse stressed the fundamental nature of impartiality in journalism and highlighted the significance of verifying information by directly accessing its sources. Heyse noted that the mere discussion of impartial journalism assumes the existence of biased journalism. “The crucial aspect is to prioritize the pursuit of truth, which forms the essence of journalism,” Heyse said. He added: “Journalists should strive to obtain accurate information without getting overly entangled in assessments of journalistic impartiality.”

On election reporting, Heyse suggested that journalists should engage with individuals and focus on what emerges from these spontaneous conversations. He underlined that to get closer to the truth during elections, it is crucial to cover all regions of Turkey comprehensively. “There are more than 60 million voters in Turkey’s 81 provinces. It is crucial to have comprehensive conversations with citizens in each province. This is the only way of escaping the echo chambers. Data lies at the heart of journalism. Our aim is to attain that data.”

Arsu noted that with the shrinking of democratic space, the boundary between impartiality and apathy can become indistinct. She said that journalism can only be practiced in an environment where both journalists and their sources can freely express their views. As Turkey has become more polarized, the subject of journalistic impartiality has grown more contentious. Arsu added that the notion of impartiality as standing between two opposing sides is no longer considered valid in Turkey, and that international media outlets approach the relationship between journalism and impartiality in a different way.

The speakers also addressed the challenges of journalism, the impact of disinformation and the increase in divisive language during elections. Heyse stated that in comparison to the United States or Brazil,  the extent of disinformation spread through social media was not as widespread in Turkey. Arsu cautioned against overestimating the influence of social media, stating that “for the majority of voters in Turkey, television is the main source of news”.

The speakers also highlighted that the election period is a vibrant and colourful time due to the interactions between opposing political sides. Daloğlu emphasized that traveling to different provinces and speaking with the locals is an opportunity to build connections and foster communication between people.

Click here to watch the webinar in Turkish.

Speaker biographies:

Tülin Daloğlu (moderator) has been a journalist and foreign policy commentator for nearly three decades. She hosts Dünya Gözüyle, a news show on KRT television channel, and was among the first contributors to Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse website between 2012 and 2015. She lived in Washington for more than twelve years where she represented Habertürk, Star and TV8. Between 2005 and 2009, she was a columnist for The Washington Times. Her articles also appeared in The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Foreign Policy, Daily Caller, Daily Star, Middle East Times and SAIS Turkey Analyst Report. Daloğlu holds a BA and MA in International Relations from Bilkent University. She completed a second master’s degree in journalism at the American University in Washington, DC.

Kaya Heyse is the news coordinator of Medyascope. He began his journalism career in 1997 and gained recognition for his coverage of the early 2000s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, receiving several awards. Heyse graduated from Boğaziçi University, Department of International Relations.

Şebnem Arsu is a seasoned journalist with over two decades of experience in reporting for international media outlets. Following her work as the Turkey representative for Associated Press Television, she joined Reuters Television in Turkey. In 2000, she transitioned to print journalism and served as the first Turkish correspondent for The New York Times for 15 years. Her work has also been published in other prominent news outlets such as BBC, Politico, The Independent, Deutsche Welle, and EU Observer. Since 2020, Arsu has been working as the Turkey correspondent for Der Spiegel magazine.