With devaluation fuelling a 20-year high in inflation, Turkish media are facing significant business pressures. Independent journalists who already work under difficult political conditions are also increasingly worried for their financial security.
The Turkish lira has fallen almost 50% against the US dollar over the past year, and these challenging economic conditions have hit newspapers already reeling from a 14% decline in print consumption since 2020. Faced with falling revenues and increased paper and other costs, many newspapers are struggling to survive.
In a move to ease public concerns about inflation, President Erdoğan abolished the 2% tax on electricity bills previously used to fund TRT, the state broadcaster. Anti-government and alternative media are more vulnerable to the economic crisis than pro-government ones. This is because government organisations advertise almost exclusively in pro-government outlets and also because outlets that are critical of the AKP government, such as Fox TV News, Tele 1, and Halk TV, are repeatedly fined by RTÜK, the broadcasting regulator. According to a recent report, these fines amounted to nearly $2m in 2021, leaving independent media outlets in an even more difficult position.1
Political censorship places additional pressures on independent media. Online news outlets continue to be occasionally blocked or asked to remove content deemed inappropriate or offensive. For example, stories about abuses of government contracts are either blocked or removed by rapid court decisions.2 While independent outlets regularly cover the impact of inflation, pro-government outlets focus on more positive news, such as the increase in pensions. Further, prominent independent journalists are constantly detained or face lawsuits for reporting on issues not approved by the government.3 For instance, the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency of Turkey, along with other organisations, lodged criminal complaints against 26 individuals, including several journalists, who had criticised the state of the Turkish economy on social media. 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.
International news outlets have also come under increasing political pressure. BBC News online is the only one that registers on our top brands list with 16% weekly use this year compared to 20% last. The regulator RTÜK required the Turkish services of Euronews, Deutsche Welle, and Voice of America to obtain broadcasting licences for their websites. Euronews removed video content from its website to avoid the need for a licence whilst 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% of respondents think that media are independent of political influence.
News consumption via social media continues to grow and is important for independent media. Instagram and YouTube are 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. Mainstream opposition outlets such as Sözcü, and the Turkish-language services of international providers such as BBC Türkçe, have large followings on Instagram, and share stories and posts with links to their YouTube channels or websites.
However, false and misleading information online remains a widespread concern (62%) and our respondents report mainly having seen false information on politics (53%) and Coronavirus (46%). Social media platforms continue to work with fact-checkers in Turkey. TikTok, which is increasingly popular in Turkey (21% report using TikTok for general purposes), started collaborating with Teyit, a Turkish fact-checking organisation which also works with other platforms, such as Facebook and WhatsApp. Some outlets, such as Hürriyet, have also ventured into TikTok but the popularity of news content on this platform remains to be seen.
Amongst the major brands, Fox TV News continues to be both the most popular and trusted news source in Turkey. Sözcü, an anti-government newspaper, and CNN Türk, the Turkish-language franchise of CNN, are also popular. Online news consumption follows a similar pattern to offline consumption, with prominent mainstream and opposition brands leading the way.
Senior Research Associate, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
Social media have replaced TV as the most widely used source of news for the first time, indicating the decline of traditional media sources with our urban-based sample. The further rise of YouTube (43%) and Instagram (40%) for news presents both an opportunity and challenge for the independent news media in Turkey.
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Overall news trust is down by five percentage points in the last year at 36%. Fox TV News and brands such as Sözcü and Cumhuriyet, which are among the few remaining outlets that are not pro-government, are most trusted by our respondents. Most brands have lost trust since last year.
% who think media are independent from undue political or government influence (change from 2017)
% who think media are independent from undue business or commercial influence (change from 2017)
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1 https://m.bianet.org/bianet/medya/255485-rtuk-2021-de-cezalari-hep-ayni-kanallara-kesti ↩
2 https://www.birgun.net/haber/medyaya-sansur-talimati-erdogan-in-sozleri-buyuk-zamdan-sonra-buhar-oldu-382445 ↩
3 https://www.mlsaturkey.com/tr/t3-vakfinin-cigdem-tokere-actigi-tazminat-davasinda-tarik-balyali-tanik-olarak-dinlendi/ ↩