The International Press Institute (IPI) and several other leading press freedom organizations have initiated the second round of the I Subscribe international subscription campaign to benefit independent newspapers in Turkey. The campaign currently features the newspapers Evrensel and BirGün. The first round of the campaign featured the secular daily Cumhuriyet. IPI received the 2018 Press Freedom Award from the İzmir Journalists Association for its work on the campaign.
In the article below, BirGün Editorial Board Member Berkant Gültekin writes about the importance of the campaign, which aims to strengthen global solidarity around Turkey’s free press.
Independent journalism has been the foundation of BirGün since it started publication on April 14, 2004. BirGün was established with the support of 3,000 volunteer donors and has maintained its financial independence ever since.
During its 14 years of publication, BirGün has never made any concession on its commitment to independent journalism or the priority it gives to the public interest. This commitment has been met with great appreciation and gained hearts from many different parts of society, especially in the years following the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Amid a growing social awareness in the following years, BirGün increased the number of its readers significantly. In addition to growing print sales, the number of followers of our social media accounts increased considerably.
BirGün has always been one of Turkey’s most truthful and reliable sources for information. Our news articles and headlines have helped determine the country’s agenda. BirGün’s report on March 12, 2016, on a rape scandal involving 45 students within a religious cult in the Karaman district of Konya province is one of the most striking and revealing examples. The news was discussed for weeks and attracted massive attention not only in Turkey but also in Europe. Even though this scandal was not properly handled in the judicial system, our efforts contributed to raising awareness of the rights of children and the problems they face. Other examples include BirGün’s reporting on the troubling speeches of the Directorate of Religious Affairs praising incestual relationships and on alleged ISIS members’ being given access to public health care in Turkey.
Our daily newspaper continues to report on a wide range of topics, including politics, the economy, education, health, environmental issues and human rights. We pursue quality journalism in the name of the public’s right to access information and we reveal what others try to hide. That said, however, in a country where 90 percent of media ownership is directly linked to the government, BirGün’s story is not limited to journalism only. As in many other countries where oppressive regimes prevail, journalism is under heavy attack by political powers in Turkey, too. BirGün has been subject to countless criminal cases in the last few years as the government tightens its grip on the independent media. Yet, unfortunately, the courts have shown themselves to be neither independent nor objective. Since control of the Supreme Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors, which is the key to the judicial system in Turkey, is in the hands of the government, judges cannot break free from the government’s control. Hence, our newspaper has lost many cases despite the fact that no crime was committed. As a consequence, many reporters and staff members have been given jail sentences, while the newspaper itself has been fined hundreds of thousands of Turkish lira. The objective is to suffocate the newspaper financially and force it to end publication.
The constant criminal prosecutions continue today. BirGün remains one of the government’s main targets among the media due to its independent and critical journalism. This regime chooses to label every single opposition voice as “terrorist” including those expressing criticism via peaceful and democratic means. Therefore, we are still being exposed to smear campaigns and defamation by government officials and pro-government media outlets in an effort to silence us.
However, political pressure is not the only problem journalism in Turkey face. For independent media outlets without any financial support, like BirGün, one of the biggest challenges is economic sustainability. Independent journalism, which has been maintained under severe financial conditions for years, is being cornered by today’s economic crisis and its dramatic effect on the price of newsprint.
Turkey used to have a state-owned newsprint factory called SEKA, which was later privatized under the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which made Turkey import-dependent and means that newspapers’ ability to buy newsprint fluctuates with foreign exchange rates. The Turkish lira’s recent loss in value has dragged independent newspapers into an economic dead end. Like many others, BirGün eventually had to raise its prices by 25 percent.
Despite all of these obstacles, BirGün continues to dedicate itself to its readers and to no one else. We have vowed to do quality journalism without caving to any interest group. This is one of the reasons why we launched our online subscription page two years ago. Our readers who have supported us for 14 years have not deserted us either. Thousands subscribed online in order for BirGün to sustain its printing costs.
Today, being a part of IPI’s #ISubscribe campaign, which supports maintaining independent journalism in Turkey, is highly valuable. For a newspaper that has dedicated itself only to its readers, it is very important for us here at BirGün to know that our efforts to continue quality and balanced journalism are supported not only by Turkish readers but also by those abroad. Without a doubt, IPI’s #ISubscribe campaign will motivate us to move further and will contribute to the improvement of our English-language news page, BirGün Daily, to reach a wider and more international audience.
We would like to send our warmest regards to those who consider supporting our work by joining IPI’s subscription campaign. With the strength we gain from our local and international supporters, we will keep our determination for reporting the truth.
Views expressed in this piece are those of the author.