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Social Media Doesn’t Kill The News Media, It Raises The Game

A sharp eye is not needed to see a strong relationship between new media growth and repressed news environments. Or is it fragmented societies in anxious times seeking out information silos? Or is it opportunistic propagandists looking to tear apart civil societies? All of this, certainly, and there’s more to come. Some of it could actually be quite good.

Istanbul demoA year has passed since an abortive coup in Turkey sent twirling a spiral of reprisals against individuals, including many media workers, and institutions, many media outlets. Turkey is a changed society and deeply divided. The recent Constitutional referendum only raised the stakes.

In the void Turkey is a swirl of fake news and hate speech; some opportunistic, much intentional. Syrian refugees are increasingly targeted. Consequences have been mortal; a pregnant Syrian refugee and her young child were pointed out, hunted down and murdered by neighboring villagers, reported Cumhuriyet (July 6).

“We are strongly condemning all media organizations, reporters, writers and social media users who use racist language that continues the same immorality and informal attitude in the news they have done following this terrible murder,” said a statement from leading media watchers quoted by timeturk.com (July 9). “As media representatives… who are disturbed by this, we are cursing this ugly, discriminatory and racist media discourse towards our brothers and sisters. A language that serves social polarization is not journalism.” The undersigned included broad-based coalition of the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC), the Press Council, the Press Advertising Agency (BIK) and the General Directorate of Press Information.

Local reporting critical of the regime has all but disappeared. What rises above the many pro-government sources are independent, often voluntary groups. One, turkeypurge.com, tracks journalists arrested since the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, currently 231. In its 2017 Press Freedom Index Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) ranked Turkey 155th in the world: "Journalists engulfed by the purge."

Another notable addition to the critical media landscape in Turkey is Medyascope, relying mostly on video and audio reports. Veteran Vatan and Habertürk journalist Rusen Çakir founded Medyascope (with a few others) in August 2015 as a multi-platform news media project. Last year the International Press Institute (IPI) honored Medyascope as Free Media Pioneer 2016.

A Periscope app was used to power a web-feed before a Turkish court banned the social video app in March. Twitter, which owns Periscope, foiled that ban by changing the service’s name. A recent Ampere Analysis survey, quoted by Broadband TV News (June 14), showed 15% of Turkish internet users watch videos via Periscope, compared with a 3% average among 12 other countries. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are all more widely used in Turkey than elsewhere. Turkish authorities have banned or restricted all of these.

“Although the actual impact cannot be measured by any sort of metric, we believe that we have modelled an important case study on how digital innovation can empower journalists and allow them to create an independent and uncensored platform to reach large audiences,” said Mr. Cakir in a statement coinciding with the IPI award. “We make a great effort to stay clear of the tendency to create “popular” programs so that we can attract large audiences. If a program is interesting and meaningful to us, we will always broadcast it and won’t be counting the number of views it brings.” Medyascope has about 20,000 daily video subscribers, according to socialblade.com (July 10).

The nearly month-long, 450 km “Justice March” led by secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu beginning in Ankara ended with a rally in Istanbul Sunday (July 9). It may have attracted a million people. Major media largely ignored. “Turkey is no longer the country of 25 days ago, where an outside observer could see only President Tayyip Erdogan and listen to what he said as Turkey’s political voice,” wrote English-language Hurriyet Daily News (July 10). The government is planning “ceremonies” to mark the anniversary of attempted coup.


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