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.
The second Interview is with an Istanbul based correspondent for a French newspaper who has been in Turkey since 2014, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity. The interview was conducted on
Since you are based in Turkey, which topics do you mainly cover?
I started only recently to work for my current newspaper so I still don’t know exactly what they want. I am asked to cover the political, social and cultural news. If something happens at the border [with Syria], I guess I would have to go there.
Are you given directions on your editorial line?
No, they consider that we know
Do foreign journalists in Turkey collaborate between each other? Do you also get help from local journalists?
There is solidarity between us. We help each other sometimes, when we work on the same topics, for example during the 2017 March for Justice. But a collaboration… The great thing is that there isn’t any competition between journalists in Istanbul, as there is in Erbil or in New Delhi, for example. Meanwhile, I work with Turkish journalists more often. When I was working in the south-east in 2016, for example, I collaborated with two Turkish photographers. For many reasons. First, they have an understanding of the region which I don’t, so it allows me to avoid saying something wrong. Then, because I only do writing and photography is necessary to enrich a story. Local journalists follow the news more, they are better informed, especially on matters of repression and politics. It is important to have personal experiences, so I try to ask for their opinion.
Some government representatives are afraid to talk
Can you count on the Turkish government to get information?
Personally, I assume that the government is the legal and legitimate authority because it was elected. If they claim to be a democracy and to represent the majority of the people, then I have to go and talk to them. The problem is that some representatives of the government and of the AKP don’t necessarily want to talk, because they don’t want to compromise themselves by saying things they shouldn’t say or that aren’t in line with the party. I also think that some of them are afraid, and don’t want to put themselves forward. Besides, the international media doesn’t have a good reputation within the regime. There are some preconceived ideas according to which we like the Kurds better than them, we have an imperial approach, that kind of things.
Since you started working in Turkey, did you notice any changes in the practice of journalism?
I arrived during the post-Gezi period, before the June 2015 elections. Peace negotiations in the south-east were still ongoing, so it was quite calm then. It was getting more and tenser progressively, but was quite easy. From the moment the conflict resumed in the south-east, the repression of Turkish journalists quickly accelerated, with a lot of arrests. Even binational journalists were put in jail. So we became more careful, especially on the use of sources. More and more, I tried to make sure that I could use certain information that I had been given to avoid to put my sources in dangerous positions. But it got calmer these last months. The people I interview in the streets, even conservative people, are less on the defensive, less distrustful. I think that it’s due to the fact that the regime is more consolidated and less in danger, even though it wasn’t much in danger before.
Could you compare being a journalist in Turkey with being a journalist in countries where you already worked?
I have never worked that long in a country than I have in Turkey, so I can’t really compare on the long term. My first job was in India. There, it’s very complicated to get a press card. Three fourths of journalists were working thanks to tourist visas or “visa runs” with Nepal or Pakistan. So, there was a different kind of pressure. In Turkey, when you get your accreditation, you are allowed to work. Of course, there are topics you can’t write about, you feel being watched by the authorities, and there is a kind of pressure you don’t experience in other countries, like in Armenia or in Kazakhstan, for example. But the Turkish authorities let you work as a journalist. In India, you had to avoid the police by all means. In Turkey, I can work next to them.
What is your opinion about the Turkish press?
Although it is repressed, the oppositional Turkish press still exists. The fact that Cumhuriyet became ultranationalist again doesn’t mean that they don’t exist anymore. It is hallucinating how quickly the French media declared that there wasn’t any free Turkish press anymore. It may be due to the fact that some
There is a lot to learn from Turkish journalists
Do you see a difference between the content of the Turkish independent media outlets and the content of the traditional opposition newspapers?
Newspapers like Cumhuriyet remain the old guard of journalism, which obviously doesn’t prevent them from doing good journalism. Medias like Diken bring new ideas to the table. The creation of these new medias by former journalists from Cumhuriyet or Hürriyet shows that they weren’t satisfied there, and that they needed something different. It brings up new perspectives. Given that traditional newspapers were either repressed or bought, they are now condemned and strongly limited in their field of expression. New platforms must appear, because it allows to make these big monoliths move. It pushes the society to question itself. The fact that journalists create something new leads to the self-criticism of the press, which is important and which has to be done, in Turkey as well as in any other country. In France, the emergence of Mediapart contributed to the criticism of the press by providing a new format, new kinds of investigations and longer stories. I would also like to add something about the Turkish press. Given the context they work in, oppositional journalists who work on sensitive issues become more and more vigilant to the validity of their facts. Because they know that they can’t afford to make mistakes. It makes their work more rigorous. I think there is a lot to learn from Turkish journalists.