Independent journalists in Turkey, who already work under difficult political conditions, are also increasingly worried about their financial security due to the country’s media facing significant business pressures, with devaluation fueling a 20-year high in inflation, according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2022.
The report said many newspapers in Turkey, which are faced with falling revenues and increased paper and other costs as the Turkish lira has fallen almost 50 percent against the US dollar over the past year, are struggling to survive.
Anti-government media are more vulnerable to the economic crisis than pro-government outlets, the report said, adding that it is because government organizations advertise almost exclusively in pro-government outlets, and those critical of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, such as Fox TV News, Tele 1 and Halk TV, are repeatedly fined by the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), the country’s broadcasting watchdog.
“… These fines amounted to nearly $2m in 2021, leaving independent media outlets in an even more difficult position,” the report added.
Political censorship places additional pressures on independent media, according to the report, with online news outlets continuing to be occasionally blocked or asked to remove content deemed inappropriate or offensive, such as stories about abuses of government contracts and the impact of increasing inflation.
“Further, prominent independent journalists are constantly detained or face lawsuits for reporting on issues not approved by the government. … Even more concerning is the increasing physical violence against journalists. Several journalists were physically attacked because of their reporting. In February, the owner of a local newspaper which reported on local corruption was murdered in his office,” the report said.
It further underlined that international news outlets in Turkey had also come under increasing political pressure within the past year, with RTÜK requiring the Turkish services of Euronews, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America to obtain broadcasting licenses for their websites and Euronews removing video content from its website to avoid the need for a license, while DW and VoA’s appeals are due to be decided in court.
“Given all these attempts to affect citizens’ rights to access news in Turkey, it is unsurprising that only 23 percent of respondents think that media are independent of political influence,” the report said.
News consumption via social media continues to grow in Turkey, a country with a population of 83 million and Internet penetration of 83 percent in total, and is important for independent media, according to the report, with Instagram and YouTube proving to be particularly useful for visual content and generating traffic for social and economic issues, such as women’s rights, which are largely ignored by the pro-government media.
Among the most popular offline news sources in the country are Fox TV, critical of the ruling AKP; the opposition Sözcü daily; and the 24-hour news channel CNN Türk, the report said, adding that the pro-government A Haber news channel was at the bottom of the list.
Fox TV News online, Sözcü online and Sondakika.com are the most used online sources, according to the report, which also said that only 36 percent of Turks trust the news overall and 44 percent say they trust the news sources they use.
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.