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Turkey: huge pressure on journalists

When the Gezi protests broke out in Istanbul on 31 Mai 2013 and tear gas was fired on thousands of demonstrators, the news channel CNN Türk responded by showing a report about penguins while NTV aired a documentary about Nazi Germany. This was the moment when many Turks first realised the true situation of the media in their country.

Graffiti in Istanbul.

Since the Gezi protests hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs for critical reporting, and many, roughly a dozen of them Kurds, are currently in prison. The Islamic-conservative AKP government has massively stepped up the pressure on journalists in recent years, increasingly banning reporting on politically sensitive issues. Self-censorship is also widespread in the media.

Around 70 percent of the Turkish media are owned by a few large media groups, most of them in the hands of concerns engaged in non-media sectors such as construction, finance or energy. Information that runs counter to their business interests is often suppressed, and in order to win lucrative state contracts they also prevent government-critical reporting. The largest media group Doğan, which owns the daily Hürriyet and the television channel CNN Türk, was ordered to pay billions in fines for tax evasion in 2009. Up to that point its coverage had been highly critical of the government, but since then its commentaries have been toned down.

Alongside the established media groups, Islamic-conservative companies with close ties to the government have increasingly been buying up major media organs since 2010. The high-circulation Sabah and the television channel ATV have thus become government mouthpieces.

The main medium is television: Turks watch an average of five hours of television a day. But there is almost no critical reporting on television any more. The tone is generally polemic, often with nationalist overtones. Only 18 percent of the population reads a newspaper.

Independent media have a hard time and can only survive by pursuing alternative business models. Here the Internet is of growing significance. Internet portals like T24 or Bianet report on topics about which the established media remain silent. Social media have a very high status: 80 percent of Internet users are on Facebook, and there is scarcely any other country in Europe where twitter is used as extensively as in Turkey. Most of the news about the Gezi protests was disseminated not through the established media but via these networks.

Press Freedom Index:

Reporters without Borders: 149th place (2015)
Freedom House: 134th place (2014)

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