Over 180 Turkish news outlets have been closed since the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Those that have managed to continue publishing – despite all odds – now face crippling economic conditions, with print revenues shrinking, a still-unprofitable online sphere and fines slapped on news outlets critical of the Turkish government. The problems have escalated even more due to recent currency fluctuations that have severely impacted the cost of newsprint.
Those challenges and the need for sustainable business models were highlighted last week by a wide range of Turkey-based journalists at a conference in Berlin organized by the International Press Institute (IPI) in partnership with the German newspaper WELT.
Erk Acarer, a journalist with the independent newspaper BirGün, said during the event that the Turkish government is increasingly using financial pressure as a punishment for media that do not comply with the government agenda.
“Companies are punished if they advertise with us”, Acarer said. “It is getting more and more difficult, but we keep on writing.”
With the price of newsprint soaring, another independent daily, Evrensel, has been forced to consider cost-cutting measures to stay afloat.
“We have decided not to increase the price of the newspaper, but we have considered reducing the number of pages”, Fatih Polat, Evrensel’s editor-in-chief, said.
Evrensel and BirGün are both currently supported by IPI’s I Subscribe campaign, which encourages anyone to subscribe to independent Turkish media outlets to support their work.
“It is not just the financial support – the spiritual solidarity is also very important to us”, Polat said in Berlin.
Acarer commented that Europe should show more solidarity to Turkey and be more concerned over the deteriorating freedom of expression situation in Turkey.
“Turkey is going into darkness. Tomorrow the same can happen in Europe as well.”
Breaking a harmful cycle
Mustafa Kuleli, secretary general of the Journalists’ Union of Turkey, said that the financial struggles of the Turkish media are a result of a cycle that keeps repeating itself. The cycle starts with inefficient business models and low circulation numbers of the print papers, leading to lower salaries and thus attracting mostly unskilled journalists. As a consequence, the quality of the paper may deteriorate, resulting in unsatisfied readers and a further decrease in revenues.
“It is not about doing journalism as a hobby or as activism. We need a real solution, which should include an economic strategy”, Kuleli said. “Who is going to pay for our journalism, our work?”
Kuleli estimated that Turkish journalists earn on average 300 euros a month.
162 journalists are behind bars in Turkey, with no evidence says IPI Turkey Advocacy Coordinator @CarolineStockf1 at IPI #Turkey #pressfreedom conference Berlin. #FreeTurkeyJournalists pic.twitter.com/MYrcpq1FXZ
— IPI (@globalfreemedia) November 28, 2018
Ciğdem Toker, an economic correspondent with Sözcü newspaper, expressed concern about the impact of the media financial crisis on young journalists entering the field. Fewer and fewer young people seem to aspire to a career in journalism, she said.
“The number of applications from young people to the union of investigative journalists is decreasing”, Toker said. “It is very sad.”
Kuleli said that the Journalist’s Union of Turkey has tried to offer newsrooms help in various ways.
“We are building training programs on digital journalism, offering consultancy on project managing skills, as too many independent media outlets are using European funds but don’t know how to manage them, and helping to build reader’s communities and to get money from them.”
Kuleli named the British newspaper The Guardian as a benchmark for Turkish media in turning reader communities into a source of revenue. The Guardian now receives a significant amount of revenue from readers outside the UK.
Small media should join forces
Nurcan Baysal, a Kurdish journalist and human rights activist, pointed out that Kurdish media in particular suffer severely from a lack of financial resources in addition to the ongoing conflict in southeastern Turkey.
“It is difficult to be a journalist in Turkey, but it is even more difficult to be a Kurdish journalist there”, Baysal said. “If a Turkish journalist gets 300 euros a month, for us it is much less.”
Baysal emphasized that the crippled state of the Kurdish media has led to a situation in which it is hard to get news confirmed. As a result, information is published that may turn out to be false, which further deteriorates the public’s trust in the media.
“It is difficult to be a journalist in Turkey but it is even more difficult to be a Kurdish journalist there” says @baysal_nurcan at IPI #Turkey #pressfreedom conference in Berlin#FreeTurkeyJournalists pic.twitter.com/a6c8ZUY91E
— IPI (@globalfreemedia) November 28, 2018
Mehveş Evin, a journalist who collaborates with the Turkish online news site Artı Gerçek, based in Germany, and the newly established pro-Kurdish newspaper Yeni Yaşam, urged small media outlets to join forces in order to survive and reach a bigger audience.
“The more we are scattered, the easier it is for the mainstream media acting as the government’s propaganda machine to criticize us”, Evin said.
Evin also pointed out that applying for funding from international donors is the only way for many media outlets to keep on reporting, but doing so successfully is not easy.
“It is very difficult for some (media) to meet the criteria to get the funds” she said. “There should be more discussion about how to do it.”
However, Bülent Mumay, the former digital editor of Cumhuriyet, told the audience, questioned the sustainability of relying on funds from international bodies, including EU institutions.
“We cannot run a media economy that is run by external funding”, he said. “It can lead to demonizing the media (receiving these funds) because it can become very difficult to be perceived as independent.”
International investment debated
Mumay suggested that international media companies could invest in media in Turkey.
“It would be harder to prohibit or ban them than us”, Mumay said, naming Turkish Fox TV, associated with the American Fox Broadcasting Company, as an example.
Other panellists cautioned that international media companies would not be convinced to invest in Turkey purely in the name of press freedom.
“Of course, they care about the rule of law, but they want to see a return of investment”, Toker said.
Kuleli stressed that ultimately the Turkish media should find a way to make its content desirable for the general public.
“The right sense should be that we produce quality content which you have to consume if you want to know what is going on in Turkey.”