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 wishes to remain anonymous and works in Turkey for a European news outlet. The interview was conducted on 29th of January this year.
Since you are based in Turkey, which topics do you mainly cover?
I cover Turkey’s politics, foreign policy, economy, environment, culture and society.
Are you satisfied with working in Turkey?
I love working here. Turkey is a wonderful country. It is interesting and challenging to report on. There are a lot of clichés about this place in Europe and I find it rewarding trying to present a more nuanced picture to the outside world. However, working here is very difficult. There are many obstacles placed in the path of foreign journalists. For Turkish journalists the situation is a hundred times worse.
Can you count on the Turkish government to get information?
Not really. Many officials from the government and the ruling party are not willing to speak to foreign journalists. Perhaps they are scared. Perhaps they don’t trust us. But I think that refusing to engage is counter-productive. The government complains that they don’t like the international media coverage about Turkey. But talking to the media and building a rapport with foreign journalists could help them to convey their perspective better. In other countries, the government will work to present their side of the argument. Here, I feel that efforts to do that have almost totally broken down.
Opposition more willing to talk as not many Turkish outlets will give them a voice
Apart from the government, what are your main sources of information?
Often, to find the government’s perspective or provide balance in my reporting, I have to work with public statements by ministers. But that has its limitations, because politicians’ position on an issue in private might be more subtle or complicated than what they would say in a public statement aimed at the general public. Paradoxically, the opposition is quite open. They want to talk to the foreign media, they want to get their side of the story out, because there are not many Turkish outlets that will give them a voice.
Since you started working in Turkey, did you notice any changes in the practice of journalism?
It has definitely got harder. I would say it has been gradually been more difficult over time.
Could you compare being a journalist in Turkey with being a journalist in countries where you already worked?
The government in my own country can be obstructive and frustrating. That is true, in many ways, of all the countries I have reported from. Not many politicians enjoy having their actions put under scrutiny. But the situation is much more worse in Turkey. Turkish journalists face so much political pressure. Almost every major outlet is controlled by businessmen whose economic interests depend on keeping the government happy. The result is that many important things go unreported. There is very little good analysis. There is very little investigative work. There are still good journalists who do amazing work but they represent a tiny proportion of the total.
Facts are not always checked properly, even within the opposition media
Would you still consider some Turkish media outlets as reliable?
Not really. I think that in general, the quality of media outlets is pretty low. Even within the opposition media, the facts are not always checked properly. Many outlets simply copy stories that were reported by another newspaper or TV channel without attempting to verify them. I do think that the opposition media is still usually better than the pro-government media. Some pro-government outlets publish stories that the reporters and editors must surely know are completely false.
TV most influential, Twitter essential but not an alternative
In this context, 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?
Social media is very important in Turkey. When I arrived here, I couldn’t believe the importance of Twitter. So many people are on it. But you have the same problems with it here that you have everywhere else. There is a lot of misinformation. And, as is the case in many countries, Twitter users largely stay within the safety of their own ideological bubbles. There is a government bubble, an opposition bubble, and they talk mainly to themselves. While Twitter is an essential tool, I don’t see it as an alternative to a healthy, free and thriving news landscape. I think that TV remains by far and away the most influential media here, and the government has enormous influence over the TV narrative. And let’s not forget that Twitter is not a totally free space. Here, the government prosecutes people for what they say on social media. Users engage in self-censorship. So even if Twitter is freer than the traditional media, it is not totally free.