Turkish journalist and former Reuters Institute Journalist Fellow
The ruling party has strengthened its control of the Turkish media over the last year with the sale of the leading media group to a pro-government businessman. Television remains the most important source of news in Turkey while social and digital media are an important outlet for alternative and critical perspectives.
The sale by the main Turkish media mogul Aydin Dogan of all his media outlets to Demirören Holding, a pro-government conglomerate with interests primarily in energy and construction, was the most significant development in Turkish media over the past year. As with the sale of Turkuvaz Media in 2008, the transfer took place with the help of credits from the state bank.1 As expected, several experienced journalists were fired, editors were changed, and the coverage became pro-government in all media outlets in the group.2 Although Dogan Group’s capability for criticising the government of President Tayyip Erdoğan had already eroded before the sale, coverage has become more explicitly supportive of government lines. The fact that the transfer included the internationally known daily Hürriyet is particularly important. Its coverage reflects the political transformation in the country.
The second development was the ending of the print edition of two newspapers, Habertürk and Vatan, in mid-2018 due to reduced sales and rising costs. The former was one of Turkey’s largest-circulation newspapers, and its CEO explained the move saying: ‘The cost of publishing a newspaper has become unsustainable at a time when advertisements are mainly channelled into digital media outlets and broadcasters.’ The circulation of Turkish newspapers and their share of advertising revenues has been declining steadily, while printing costs have also risen as a weak Turkish lira makes imported newsprint more expensive.3 Other newspapers have either reduced pagination or axed their Sunday supplements. Some local newspapers have also ended print editions. Annual total circulation of printed newspapers and magazines fell 33% from 2013 to 2017.4 Given this background, it would be no surprise if other newspapers were to close in the near future.
The most popular online media listed in this year’s survey include only two outlets which are critical of the government (Sözcü and Cumhuriyet), along with foreign media like the BBC. The independent watchdog Freedom House classes Turkey as being ‘not free’,5 and in this context social media and smaller internet sites have become the main platforms for alternative news. The opposition parties, for example, primarily used social media to reach the electorate during the presidential election campaign in 2018 and municipal elections this year.
While small-scale digital-born brands continue to provide alternative perspectives, they have not managed to achieve significant reach. Many showcase stories from international brands such as BBC Turkish, DW, and Euronews as they have limited staff to generate original content. Other perspectives are provided by foreign media like Russian-backed Sputnik, and a new Turkish version of the (UK-based) Independent, financed and run by the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG) that has close links to the Saudi royal family.6
More widely, the high levels of political and media polarisation in Turkey have been a fertile breeding ground for misinformation over the last few years. In this context, we’ve seen the emergence of a few credible fact-checking organisations such as Teyit.org.
Podcasts too are becoming increasingly popular, not only in news media but also in sectors such as sport, literature, science, and learning English. All of the main social media platforms are popular with young people in Turkey. WhatsApp and Instagram are particularly popular for news – but that cannot be explained simply by the fear of government surveillance, since they are also used widely by supporters of the ruling party.
*Data are from urban Turkey, rather than a fully nationally representative sample. This will tend to represent richer and more connected users.
Although online news is widely used by our urban-based sample, across Turkey as a whole television remains the most important source of news. Print newspapers also continue to be well read by international standards, though use is declining. Smartphones are now easily the most important device for accessing online news.
Overall levels of trust in the news increased by 8 percentage points, although there doesn’t seem to be any obvious explanation for such a dramatic change. TV news sources like Fox and NTV – along with critical voices like Cumhuriyet and Sözcü – tend to be most highly rated for trust. Pro-government media tend to be trusted less, though they have higher scores from those that use them.
- www.gazeteduvar.com.tr/ekonomi/2019/02/23/ziraat-bankasindan-demirorene-kredi-aciklamasi-paramiz-vardi-verdik ↩
- www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/why-turkish-medias-credibility-dead ↩
- www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-daily-haberturk-decides-to-end-print-edition-134085 ↩
- Yanatma, S. 2018. Digital News Report: Turkey Supplementary Report. https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/our-research/digital-news-report-2018-turkey-supplementary-report ↩
- https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/turkey ↩
- www.theguardian.com/media/2018/jul/19/independent-joins-saudi-group-to-launch-middle-east-websites ↩