Mainstream media in Turkey are losing their monopoly in agenda setting with the emergence of digital news sites, while fear of state surveillance has led Turks to opt for closed messaging services such as WhatsApp when sharing news over social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report for 2017 said.
Underlining that in the wake of a failed coup and subsequent referendum giving Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sweeping new powers, online websites, blogs, and social media have emerged as a centre of opposition, the report said that Turkish mainstream media remain largely controlled by the government.
According to the Turkey chapter of the report, which was written by Turkish journalist Servet Yanatma, who is also visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, nearly 150 media outlets including 55 newspapers, five news agencies, 16 TV channels, 23 radio stations, 18 magazines and 29 publishers have been shut down in Turkey using state of emergency powers introduced after the failed coup in 2016, the report said. But there is still a high level of interest in news, alongside a similar level of desire to avoid news, the report found.
According to the report, Turks tends to be deeply divided into supporters or opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – and the same level of polarisation applies to the media. People in either camp prefer to trust what they want to believe without questioning the reliability and accuracy of the news. To illustrate this, the anti-government Sözcü is read mainly by people who self-identify on the left (50%) and only a few who identify on the right (9%). At the same time, around four in 10 (39%) of its readers think it is best for accurate and reliable news.
Trust and distrust in Turkish media are neck and neck, with 40 percent saying they trust news in the media and 38 percent saying they do not, according to the report.
The spate of newspaper closures has surprisingly not adversely impacted general sales at the newsstand, but advertising revenues for newspapers have taken a hit. The share of printed media (14,8%) continued to decrease in 2016, whereas digital advertising (24,2%) continues to grow and is now second to television (51,2%), stated the report.
The report points to a sharp decline in the use of Facebook and Twitter in sharing news, stating that this may be motivated by fears of government surveillance. The Turkish government has arrested hundreds of people over the past few months alone on charges of terrorist propaganda after they criticised the country’s ongoing military offensive in Syria.
‘’Use of Facebook for news fell by 10 percentage points in the last year with Twitter down by five points,’’ the report said.
Roughly 90 percent of Turkey’s media is now under the control of the government or Erdoğan’s business allies after a series of takeovers, most recently this month’s takeover of the Doğan Media Group by Demirören Holding, known for its close ties to the president.
“In such a political atmosphere, they (new media) largely focus on pursuing free journalism and not on business models,” Servet Yanatma said. “This era can be seen as a transition period, given that there is not a stable legal environment for media investment, as it only requires an order from a judge for a website to be blocked and closed entirely. It seems that it will take time for significant online investment, particularly from big companies and international players,” added the report.
Online subscription seems generally to be the best business model, but there is major doubt about whether it can work in Turkey, where paying for online news is extremely rare, Yanatma said. Efforts so far have yet to be successful, he said. “There is little prospect for anti-government publications to make money, as it is so easy for the authorities to block websites or find other ways to cut off funding or readership,” he said.
Turkey introduced new legal measures this year requiring news websites to apply for a license from the television and radio watchdog in order to operate legally. The measure was criticised by opposition figures as a further step by the government to control free expression.
Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday. If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 258 journalists and media workers were in jail as of April 29, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 199 were under arrest pending trial while only 59 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down about 200 media outlets after a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.