Social media emerges as key news source for urban Turks
ISTANBULSocial media has emerged as a key alternative news source for Turkey’s urban residents amid a crackdown on media freedoms that triggered a reduction in trust for media outlets, according to a report published by the Reuters Institute.
“While the Turkish government [Justice and Development Party - AKP] intensifies its suppression of media outlets, social media has increasingly become an alternative platform for news,” the report said in its section concerning Turkey.
Based on a survey of over 50,000 participants across 26 states, the report is said to be the largest ongoing comparative study of news consumption in the world.
However, as the survey was conducted online, it warns that it inevitably under-represents the consumption habits of people who are not online and, for the case of Turkey, people who are not living in urban parts of the country.
In its findings, the institute underlined that a government crackdown on the press coupled with a decline in circulation of print media have made it difficult for media outlets to pursue editorial policies independent of political or commercial interests.
“They [newspapers] tend to be subsidized by owners who need to do deals with the government in areas such as energy and construction, or are heavily dependent on advertising from public companies,” the report said, singling out daily Hürriyet as a business that remains profitable.
The report underlined that two media groups, Zaman and Koza İpek, were seized by government-appointed trustees while pro-government dailies sprouted despite the unfavorable media environment, causing urban Turks to seek news elsewhere.
“Despite the restrictions and occasional blocking, social media has emerged as a key communication tool for following national developments,” it said, noting that the weekly news reach of social media, at 73 percent, was second only to television at 80 percent. Print media lagged behind with only 54 percent, down 4 percent from last year.
The study also noted that the perception of social media as the main source of news was even higher among younger people, as 28 percent of Turkish citizens aged between 18 and 24 said they considered social media as the prime news source. Television came second with 24 percent.
Only 40 percent of the participants, who conveyed their opinions through an online survey, meaning they were mostly representative of an urban population with internet access, said they trusted news “most of the time.” Trust for news organizations and journalists were even lower.
Similarly, only 29 percent said they believed media is free from “undue political influence,” while some 27 percent said it was free of “undue business influence.”
The report also praised digital-born news brands for providing a free space to express opinions and for providing a platform for sacked journalists to continue their profession.
The role of medyascope.tv, which broadcasts via Periscope, was especially highlighted as a growing platform for free journalism where even former ministers join the debate for lack of alternative platforms.
The 2016 World Press Freedom Index prepared by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) saw Turkey decline by over six points compared to last year due to “systematic censoring” of the media in addition to a sharp rise in charges of “insulting the president” and loosely defined “terrorism.” Turkey lagged behind Russia, Cambodia and Qatar in the index’s “bad” section, while performing slightly better than Iraq and Egypt.
Similarly, Turkey was listed as a “not free” country in U.S.-based think tank Freedom House’s 2016 report on press freedom, with its score going up six points and thus signifying a “deteriorating” trend.