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 fifth video is with Merdan Yanardağ, the founder and editor-in-chief of independent and critical TV channel TELE1, established in 2017. Yanardağ, who has 35 years of journalism experience and is also the founder of the online news outlet ABC Newspaper, talked about how TELE1 made it through the difficult conditions of the pandemic as a news channel.

Keeping up the pandemic without financial support

Yanardağ explained the measures TELE1 took throughout the pandemic and underlined that the channel put the health of its staff above everything despite the financial challenges it brought. Yet the fiscal problems did become serious. “[The government] doesn’t care whether the public receives the news or not”, Yanardağ said, emphasizing that the government did not provide media outlets with any support. On the other hand, Yanardağ mentioned that local administrations – mainly run by opposition parties – offered important assistance and support during the crisis. He gave the example of the Istanbul Municipality coming to TELE1 twice a week and disinfecting the building free of charge.

According to Yanardağ, the first decline came in advertising and sponsorship revenues in critical periods. “Advertisers and companies stayed away from us due to the pressure from the government”, Yanardağ said and added that the pressure stems from TELE1’s critical coverage of government policies. “[But] this is a democratic criticism. We exercise our right to freedom of press and expression guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Punishing the truth

Regarding the censorship imposed by the media regulatory bodies to free press during the pandemic, Yanardağ explained how the Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK) fined TELE1 for “causing panic” and “not complying with the Health Ministry’s data” upon publishing a statement of the previous president of Turkish Medical Association reporting that the coronavirus cases increased rapidly in Istanbul. “RTÜK is trying to find excuses to impose fines on us”,  Yanardağ said and stressed that the station nevertheless keeps fighting to reveal the truth. In this example, according to Yanardağ, the authorities did not release the correct information, which he said was clearly demonstrated by the incompatibility between Health Ministry’s and Istanbul Municipality’s data.

Yanardağ also underlined the challenges of reaching official sources and information. “This is not a specific challenge only for TELE1. It is almost impossible for journalists in general to find the data from official and public resources in Turkey”, he said.

People need to embrace independent media

Yanardağ stressed how the government tried to turn the pandemic into an opportunity by trying to find new ways to silence the opposition and to break the power of independent media. He added these practices have shown that ”the public needs the independent media as much as they need water and air” and emphasized the need for national and international support for independent media to thrive.

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.