Media for Democracy & Democracy for Media (M4D) Project has published its media monitoring report for the second quarter. Report featured increasing attacks on journalists as well as public funds allocated to pro-government media and official balance sheet of the Press Advertising Agency (BİK).

Executed by the Association of Journalists and funded by the European Union, the Media for Democracy & Democracy for Media (M4D) Project continues to monitor press freedom in Turkey. Media Monitoring Reports by the Project are published every three months, relying on trimester data. Report covering the period April, May and June has been published and is now available in English. 

Report states at least 16 journalists were arrested in the scope of three months, while 179 journalists and press workers stood trial in 81 cases. In the second quarter, the number journalists who were put on trial, has ongoing trials, or had their trials concluded on charges of “insulting the President” is 18. Report features; verdicts by courts and high courts on press related trials, as well as sanctions by Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) and Press Advertisement Agency (BİK), economy-politics of media and how it’s interrelated with politics and also, obstacles hindering the way in news production in Turkey.

Report underlined that many were accused of being “terrorists, pro-coup, fifth power, enemy of the state.” Among those were retired admirals, HDP members and affiliates and fugitive crime-boss leader Sedet Peker. Report also underlined the manipulative disinformation campaigns carried out by various means of communication, including social media, in the second quarter. Messages by public officials were disseminated through fake/bot accounts on social media. Details on the matter are further elaborated on the report.

The threat to the safety of journalists in Turkey is increasing. Politicians and public officials continue to target journalists, so much so that killing a journalist with dog poison was suggested. Politicians adopting antagonization and marginalization as political tools and targeting journalists have serious consequences. The acrid rhetoric often reflects on the physical attacks on journalist, while impunity fuels the audacity behind such attacks.

According to the M4D Report, number of journalists who were attacked in the first half of the year hits 55. In the second quarter at least 15 journalists were attacked countrywide. Attacks are further elaborated on the report. Journalists were also subject to violence while under custody. The circular issued by the General Directorate of Security prohibiting filming or recording police officers on duty during public demonstrations was cited as ground for attacking journalists covering events. Latest example was photojournalist Bülent Kılıç of AFP. Kılıç was forcibly arrest while covering the pride march in Taksim/Istanbul. Mistreatment of Kılıç was condemned by professional press organizations. 

In Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, mistreatment and arrest of Kılıç was protested upon a call by 15 professional press organizations. Joint statement read: “Lately, our colleagues are increasingly being subject to violence while on duty. Many journalists following the event in Taksim were battered, attempted to get arrested, restrained from filming and previously taken images were tried to be deleted. Kılıç was unlawfully restrained from doing his job and police risked his life by kneeling on him.” At the protest organized in Ankara, Vice President of the Association of Journalists and Director of the Media for Democracy Project Yusuf Kanlı stated: “We journalists gathered here today to peacefully demand our rights. But sadly, response we had form the police was firm and far from considerate, we condemn this. If the purpose of these attacks against journalists is to sicken them and prevent them from doing their jobs, it is worthy to once again underline, it will not happen. Journalism is not a crime, and we will continue doing our job. We will never be inured to violence nor concede.”

Media in Turkey is still very much polarized. Media outlets are either positioned as pro-government or anti-government. While number of broadcasts are high, it is not possible to observe media pluralism. One of the reasons behind this is cross-media ownership. Being the ultimate form of monopolization in media; ownership of newspapers, radio, television, digital platforms, books, printing, distribution channels and advertising, inevitably leads to a one-sided media practice. “Political-economy of the media” chapter of the report focuses on media ownership and how it is interrelated with the government and takes a closer look on public funds allocated to pro-government media. It was stated that the biggest obstacle hindering way of media pluralism in Turkey is in fact media being dependent on public funds.

M4D Project conducted a detailed study on public advertisers. Being the first study in Turkey ever to take on the matter, said study was published as an article and was timely as media transparency was the highlight of the second quarter. Study triggered parliamentary questions and motions for research, while setting the national agenda around transparency, accountability and press freedom.

Study conducted on 2020 public advertisement data revealed that, regardless of their circulation numbers or rating, media outlets that do not adopt a pro-government stance were deprived from public funds. Known for having close political and economic ties with the government, the Turkuvaz Media Group stood out as being highly dependent on public funds. Serhat Albayrak, brother of the then Minister of Treasury and Finance Berat Albayrak, serves as the CEO of the Turkuvaz Media Group and is also a partner. Findings on the governmental support on how Turkuvaz Media Group became a monopoly in newspapers, magazines, and television were made public with the study.

Report also featured newspaper circulation numbers. According to this, total circulation number was 1 million 824 thousand 250 in January 2021 while the number was down to 1 million 790 thousand 362 for 31 newspapers in June, when pandemic measures were lightened. In 2019, overall decrease in circulation was %17,76 while in 2020 it was %21,14. Decrease seems to be persistent in 2021 as well, and the pandemic is not the sole reason behind it. Report questions the reasons behind the decline in the interest in print media, how it is intertwined with the decreasing trust in newspapers, digitalization, and obstacles in freedom of expression.

It is no secret that the government and mainstream media in Turkey leave no room for opposing views. Those who seek for alternative voices turn to online news platforms, social media, and messaging applications, as it was stated on the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Digital News Report, 2021. Due to the increasing restraint on various news mediums, usage of closed messaging services such as WhatsApp and Telegram for news purposes are becoming more common.

Turkish government is drafting a new end extensive law that focuses mainly on social media. The new law increased concerns over state control on alternative media and punishment towards users, under the pretext of “combating fake news and disinformation.” The M4D Report features the latest developments about the new law, which is expected to be a new form of punitive censorship on social media.

In the second quarter, Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) imposed penalties citing Article 8 of Code of RTÜK, on the grounds of; impartiality, rule of law, national and moral values, separatism, discrimination, incitement to hatred and enmity, insult, and slander beyond the limits of criticism, unfair interests, violation of human dignity and privacy. Article in question has been criticized on the grounds that it enables punishment based on subjective interpretations. RTÜK issued two penalties for two different TV shows aired on TV channel Kanal D, on the grounds of “disregarding Islamic sensitivities, as well as social values.” TV channels Show TV and TV8 were fined once while channels with a critical stance were showered with penalties. TV channels FOX TV, Halk TV and KRT TV were fined three times each while Tele 1 was fined once.

Most prominent development regarding the Press Advertising Agency in the second quarter of the year was the disclosure of advertisement bans and cost of announcement allocations of the Agency. It is the first time since 2017 that data on announcement allocations and advertising bans are being disclosed, as said data has been kept private with an implicit secrecy. Said disclosure is particularly important as data on the income of the Agency, as well as its financial ties with the media and also support programs offered by it, were kept private for the last four years, making this study the first dataset in several years.

According to 2020 Annual Report of BİK, pro-government media was allocated %78 of announcement and advertisements while the ratio was %22 for media outlets with a critical stance. Detailed tables on official announcement revenue of newspapers are further elaborated on the report. BİK issued 324 days of advertisement bans in 2019, the number went up to 808 in 2020. According to the 2020 penalty balance, Cumhuriyet was given 128 days, Evrensel 68 days, Birgün 61 days, Sözcü 34 days and Korkusuz 25 days advertisement bans.

Full report can be downloaded from the link below: