Turks turning to online news sources as independent media faces greater pressure: report

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Turks looking for different perspectives in a news environment dominated by pro-government voices have increasingly turned to online news outlets, social media and private messaging apps, while independent news organizations have faced greater challenges in the past year, according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021.

With a population of 83 million and Internet penetration of 83 percent in total, 81 percent of news followers in Turkey prefer online sources, including social media, while 60 percent choose to watch TV for news and only 30 percent read the print editions of newspapers, the report said.

Among the most popular offline news sources in the country are Fox TV, critical of the ruling Justice and Development Party; the 24-hour news channel CNN Türk; and the opposition Sözcü daily, with 54, 33 and 32 percent, respectively, the report said, adding that Sondakika.com, CNN Türk online and Sözcü online are the most used online sources.

While only 41 percent of Turks trust the news overall and 47 percent say they trust the news sources they use, Fox News and the Cumhuriyet daily in addition to NTV, an outlet seen as “relatively impartial,” according to the report, were the three brands respondents rated most highly in terms of trust.

International brands like the BBC, with 20 percent weekly use online, are increasing their presence in Turkey’s digital news market and providing more Turkish-language stories, the institute said, noting that social media sites such as Twitter, YouTube and Instagram were an essential access route for these brands.

According to the report, people reach news through Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram in Turkey with 40, 34, 34, 30, 30 and 13 percent, respectively.

The pandemic further damaged the political and financial conditions for independent journalism in Turkey, with journalists working for local and national news outlets prosecuted or detained for their reporting on COVID-19, the institute further stated.

Commenting on the report, NewsLabTurkey Research Hub Coordinator Dr. Sarphan Uzunoğlu told Deutsche Welle Turkish service on Thursday that the increasing interest in news consumption via social media, despite the stations that determine broadcasting policy based on government-provided information, showed that Turkish society was attempting to access accurate information.

Prof. Dr. Aslı Tunç from the faculty of communication at İstanbul Bilgi University argued that Turkey’s need for more independent news outlets couldn’t be considered independently from the political atmosphere in the country, where more than 90 percent of conventional media outlets are controlled by the government.

The Turkish government increased its crackdown on critical media outlets and journalists in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016, following which dozens of journalists were jailed, while more than 200 media outlets were closed down under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

The Council of Europe’s (CoE) annual report, “Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists,” in April called on Turkish authorities to cease all actions aimed at blocking or criminalizing independent reporting and take steps to restore judicial independence.

Turkish journalists face an ongoing campaign of judicial harassment, driven by the authorities’ intention to thwart critical reporting, which is exacerbated by the context of a lack of prosecutorial and judicial independence and impartiality, the CoE report said, adding that a high number of verbal attacks against journalists were made by Turkish officials during 2020.

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