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.
The first interview is with Maximilian Popp of German magazine Der Spiegel.
Maximilian Popp is a German journalist. He was posted right after the coup attempt in 2016. The interview was conducted on
Did you choose to come to work in Turkey or were you assigned here?
I applied for the job, and they picked me.
Since you are based in Turkey, which topics do you mainly write about?
90 per cent of my stories are about politics. I would like to write more about cultural and social things, about the ‘other Turkey’, but the last two years have been very busy, with everything going on here. There wasn’t much time left.
Can you count on the Turkish government to get information?
The relationship between the Turkish government and Der Spiegel is not always easy. I have people speaking to me and I appreciate that. I have sources which are directly part of the government or part of the AKP. Official requests are not very helpful. If you write an email to a ministry,
Do you think there is a special relationship between the Turkish government and Der Spiegel?
No, I wouldn’t go that far. It’s the foreign media in general. The Turkish government sometimes feels unease with the foreign journalists because they think they are unfair, unbalanced and too critical towards them. That is an issue Der Spiegel has, but that is an issue many others do have too.
Do you consider that the close ties between Turkey and Germany interfere in your work as a Turkey correspondent for a German newspaper?
Obviously, the relationship between Turkey and Germany is a very emotional one, because there are so many Turkish people in Germany. So, sometimes Turkish issues become less a matter of foreign policy than a matter of domestic policy. That’s why the debate is sometime more heated, and that’s obviously reflected in the reporting as well. It sometimes gets more controversial than it would get in other countries.
Since you started working in Turkey, did you notice any changes in the practice of journalism?
Not in my case, to be honest. I came here after the coup attempt. It was already a time when things were tense. People were already afraid of giving their names. To be fair, I must say that the freedom I or we, as foreign correspondents, enjoy, is so much bigger than anything Turkish journalists would experience. It almost feels weird or ridiculous to complain. I can still work quite freely. I am doing my job more or less as I would do it in Germany.
Sometimes, I have troubles, of course, mostly when I travel to the south-east. There, there is a high military presence, checkpoints and all of that. I know that others had worse experiences and have been in serious troubles. There have also been foreign journalists in jail. I don’t want to downplay any of that, it’s horrible, and shouldn’t happen. But I can only talk from my own experience. I have been working here for two and a half years without too many troubles.
Can you compare being a journalist in Turkey with being a journalist in Germany?
Regardless of the country, being a correspondent is different from being an editor in your home country. However, I think being a correspondent in Turkey is a very special
When it comes to Turkey specifically, of course, there are millions of differences, for good and for bad. On a social level, I was surprised to see how open people still are and how they are still willing to talk. Everywhere, you are most of the time very welcome, here. People talk to you, and this is very different from Germany.
To sum it up, I may sound strange, but I really enjoy working in Turkey as a journalist. This country is much more modern, open, diverse, and fast-changing than how the German clichés see it.
What is your opinion about the Turkish press?
I think everyone knows what the state of Turkish media is. What is important to point out, is that there are still media outlets which are trying to do it in a different way. You are working for one of them. Diken is a good example. It shows that people are under huge pressure, but that they are still fighting for seeking the truth.
In the Turkish media, there was always the problem, even before Erdogan, that it was partisan. Now, it still is, but there’s not so much on the other side left. To be honest, I’m not that pessimistic because you can see that with the internet, with social media there is some sort of counter-narrative. People are following Twitter, people are following Diken, people are following other projects. Twitter is successful here and it became an alternative platform.
It’s obviously tough, and again, I don’t want to paint it more colourful than it is, but it’s not completely dead, as it is sometimes presented to be.
Would you consider the Turkish independent media outlets as reliable?
To start with, it is less established. They don’t have a tradition. They don’t have the credibility yet, that the big press institutions would have. Given that this is a very difficult environment, you must make some compromises. I read them as a source of information, with an open and critical attitude. I wouldn’t take them word by word as if it was pure truth. To be honest, the newspapers here, such as Hürriyet or Milliyet, are not my number one source of information.
About these traditional Turkish newspapers, do you think that they still provide with good stories and reporting?
They do, but they are now all shaped and driven by a certain agenda. Hürriyet has been bought by Demirören, a family close to the government. It was an important and well-established newspaper which now isn’t independent anymore. What happened to them is quite sad. Cumhuriyet had its own problems.
It doesn’t mean that there isn’t good reporting anymore, but it’s partisan.