ARTHUR DIDIER DEREN
It has become commonplace, within the foreign media, to declare Turkish journalism hopeless, and to limit their analysis to flashy headlines underlining the number of journalists who were arrested. If the situation of journalists in Turkey is indeed to be denounced, pontificating from afar isn’t useful to fully understand it. What is the opinion of those who work on the ground?
We interviewed foreign journalists based in Istanbul working for big newspapers or as freelancers to ask them about their experience in Turkey, and to get their view on Turkish media.
Our interview series continues with a journalist, who works for a European newspaper, wishes to remain anonymous, and has a decade of experience in Turkey. This interview was conducted on the 1st of February.
Since you are based in Turkey, which topics do you mainly cover?
I mainly cover politics, international relations, economy and the refugees. I also cover sport sometimes.
Do foreign journalists in Turkey collaborate with each other? Do you also get help from local journalists?
I have mainly worked with journalists from my country, generally for organizational stuff and saving expense. But I mainly work alone. I sometimes get help from Turkish journalists. I used to interview some in the past. I have some local journalists as contacts in the regions I want to report. They are helpful and I still get some support but not so much. The network of private news agencies used to be better in the past.
Government used to be more media friendly
Can you count on the Turkish government to get information?
We are in touch with the government, but they talk less and less everyday. The government and the AKP used to be more media-friendly. It still wasn’t easy to talk to them but it was easier than it is now. Nowadays, it’s easier to contact people in the opposition. They have spokesmen. So, my main sources of official information are official statements and the national TV. It was very different when I was working in other countries, where they would have spokesmen who would talk to you. They would tell you whatever they want, but at least, they would talk to you. Here, there has always been this fear of talking to the press, even more when talking to the foreign press. They have some kind of a ban to talk to news outlets – even on topics that wouldn’t especially be harmful to them. This is an obstacle to our work.
Did you notice other differences between being a journalist here and in countries where you already worked?
Yes, mainly on the openness of people. In Middle Eastern countries, people are not so willing to talk. I have been to some places where people would get shocked If you’d ask them questions in the streets. In former Soviet countries, people are not really willing to talk too. In Greece or in Cyprus, people won’t accept to be photographed or interviewed. Here, people would love that, even if it’s less than before.
Would you say that people in Turkey become more cautious to talk to you?
Yes. You wouldn’t have any problems talking to people before, anywhere in Turkey. They were quite open to foreigners and they were happy to see you. After the Gezi protests, they became more suspicious towards foreigners. This anti-foreigner rhetoric always existed, but you would here that rather on the nationalist side. As the government started to use this rhetoric too, it got more and more difficult for us. On one side, people who support the government comply with this rhetoric. On the other side, those that don’t sympathize with the government may be afraid of being quoted.
I wouldn’t stay anonymous ten years ago
Since you started working in Turkey, did you notice any changes in the practice of journalism?
The situation was improving until 2010. Then, starting from 2013, the situation started to worsen, this deterioration accelerated after the coup attempt. I had to be more careful. It also depends on the region you work. If you want to report in the south-east, you can’t just show up and interview people in the streets. Journalism is a public job, meaning you can’t hide what you are doing. So, in your communications, you tend to be more careful. I am doing this interview anonymously. Ten years ago, I would probably not prefer to stay anonymous.
Plurality has decreased, all comments are one sided
What is your opinion on the Turkish press?
The Turkish press was quite good when I arrived here. From the far-left to the far-right, from the seculars to the Islamists, you used to have good newspapers. Turkey also had good TV news channels, such as NTV. Before each election, two months in advance, they would go to each province to interview people from different opinions and backgrounds. They would ask them about their opinion on the elections. They had deep analysis, and that was interesting to watch. Now, the ownership of media outlets is being concentrated. A lot of journalists were fired. Plurality has decreased. Now, comments are mostly one-sided. Even the opposition channels, they only cover opposition crap. They too are not doing proper journalism.
Pro-government media is now like an organ of the AKP
Would you still consider some opposition newspapers as reliable?
Before, I would read two or three newspapers each morning. I don’t see the point of doing so, nowadays. Let’s say I am writing an article about economy issues. I would read a pro-government newspaper which would say that 850 companies went bankrupt. Then I would read the opposition newspapers which would say that there are more than 3000 companies that went bankrupt. Who should I trust? I can’t get any confirmation from the government because they never answer. Regarding the opposition newspapers, where did they take this number from? Did they invent it? You can’t really know. So, for every media, you have to check every information. Yes, I still use them, but much less when compared with before, and I think they are less and less reliable. Even the pro-government newspapers became less reliable. When I arrived in Turkey, Yeni Safak was already supporting the government, but they were quite independent. Now, they are like an organ of the AKP.
The internet can ease the way of doing journalism, but you need money for real journalism
Do you think that new technologies and new platforms of journalism have a role to play to counterbalance the influence of the government on medias?
Yes, they do. Because, in a way, the internet allows more independence and freedom from the state regulations. Therefore, with the new Turkish platforms of streaming, for example, you can see more sex, alcohol and blood in the TV shows. But journalism is an expensive area. If you want a network of correspondents, if you want good reporting, you need a lot of money. And these new media platforms don’t have money. They can’t afford to do real journalism. The internet can ease the way of doing journalism, but you need money if you want to do real journalism. So far, what you have on the internet are click-based media outlets which give opinions on different topics. It’s good and important but it’s not real and complete journalism. Besides, the internet is a place where fake news spread rapidly too.
Some Turkish independent news outlets base themselves on opinion pieces
Do you think that journalists from traditional newspapers have a role to play in developing these new independent media outlets?
This is difficult to say. Traditional newspapers should, and will remain. There are a lot of people who still need these. The problem with these news outlets is that they are smaller and read by a smaller proportion of the population. I work for both; a traditional newspaper and a smaller independent media. Without the first one, I wouldn’t be able to survive. The other problem with some Turkish independent news outlets, is that they base themselves on opinion pieces. They often republish what has already being discovered or said by another newspaper, and they will add comments on it. They don’t make the news. Therefore, even if they have readership, they can’t replace traditional newspapers, because even though the form changed, the basis of journalism is still the same. I would add that it doesn’t only depend on journalists. It depends on readers too. If readers prefer to read some tabloid news more than investigations on what is happening in a specific region, then some people must write about it. Generally, independent media outlets don’t talk about these kinds of things, so this limits their audience. It’s sad for journalism, but it’s the reality.