self-censorship

Online news sources in Turkey: the shocking truth

Online news sources in Turkey: the shocking truth

Since my last post two important and related things have happened.

First, the government passed a new Internet legislation. It is currently waiting to be approved by president Abdullah Gül. If he does not use his veto, this law will pull Turkey many steps back in terms of freedom of expression. The law will then be used as a tool for the government to silence the opposition before the elections and avoid people getting access to critical information about it’s corruption and wrongdoings.

Secondly, just some hours ago, during the evening of February 10th, an interview on the TV channel CNN Türk with Fatih Altayli was aired. In this interview he openly admitted that the AKP government is putting enormous pressure on Habertürk to report in their favour. Altayli also told that this was the case for all media outlets. For any one who has been following Turkey the recent years, this comes as no surprise. But Altaylis statement is still important. The cat is further away from the bag than ever before!

I decided to use this moment, these breaking news, to scrutinize the biggest online news sources in Turkey to evaluate how they had reported on the matter just some hours after the interview was aired.

My intention was to expose to what extent the Turkish online newspapers fulfilled their journalistic duty. I wanted to find out which ones were pro government and which ones were reporting critical.

The nineteen largest news websites in Turkey

The nineteen largest online news websites in Turkey and their style of reporting!

Above is a compiled table with the 19 most visited Turkish news sites according to Alexa, column 2 (click on the picture for larger view). The third column shows the estimated number of visits for the last month, just to get an idea of the volume to these sites (not unique visitors). I took these numbers from Traffic Estimate, and they are not always following the Alexa rank exactly, but should be looked upon as a crude way to measure the relation between the sites in terms of Internet traffic. The last column contains my own evaluation of the sites in terms of reporting style.

How the news site reported on the interview with Fatih Altayli mentioned above was one indicator. My continuous coverage of the sites for more than half a year, was another.

Critical: the site reported fair about what Altayli said + have a history of critical reporting towards the government.

Self-censored: reported rather fair about what he said, but never deals with too sensitive subjects. In terms of western standard many of these sites would be regarded more as entertainment websites.

Pro government: reported nothing about the interview or reported a heavily skewed and censored version of what Altayli said + have a history of extreme pro government reporting.

There are many things to be said about the table above and I will probably come back to some of those it in later posts. But one comment would be that the most visited news sites do not follow the most circulated in printed media. For example, Zaman is by far the largest printed newspaper in Turkey, but its website, zaman.com.tr is only on the 9th place of the most visited new sites. And Milliyet.com.tr that is on the second place of most visited news sites is on 10th place when it comes to printed media. Another thing that is striking is the rise of only-online actors, such as Haber7.com and Haberler.com. These are not available in print.

Based on the visits to the web sites I now ask how many of all visits to Turkish online newspapers came to a site with a critical reporting style. Here is the result:

Percentage of visits
Pro-government

%36,43

Self-censored

%49,08

Critical

%14,49

It is in many ways shocking that only %14,5 of each visits to a news website in Turkey goes to one that is reporting critically about the government doings. It really put forward the question how much a source of enlightenment Internet is for the Turkish Internet users. It is especially remarkable considering that the 50% of the Turkish population that has access to internet belongs to the well-off and educated part.

One explanation why the critical news sites such as sozcu.com.tr, odatv.com and radikal.com.tr are not more popular is their affiliation with ultra kemalist and nationalistic political views, that might scare away a big chunk of more moderate internet users. This makes me wonder:

Is it time for a new independent online newspaper in Turkey?

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The continuing self-censorship in Turkey

The self-censorship and the fear of the Turkish media is well illustrated in Hurriyet Daily New’s sunday interview with the journalist Sedat Ergin. Reading the interview you get the impression that the real problem in Turkey today is that Gülen has loyal people within the police force. This is vividly discussed and elaborated.

And the elephant in the room?

Over 500 police officers have been sacked without good reasons, ministers are being accused of corruption, one of them implicating Erdogan as the ringleader after being fired, Erdogans son are among other businessmen close to the government involved in a second, bigger probe, which the government directly intervened in to stop. I repeat: the government is directly intervening in the judicary system!

Naturally, neither Sedat Ergin nor the interviewing journalist Barçın Yinanç is to be blamed here. But the interview makes a qoute by Noam Chomsky come to mind

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum…