Expression Interrupted

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ANALYSIS | Same voice throughout Turkey: Local journalism on its deathbed

ANALYSIS | Same voice throughout Turkey: Local journalism on its deathbed

Closures and mergers due to financial issues, the loss of editorial independence and judicial pressure have brought local journalism in Turkey to the point of extinction




As difficulties journalists and journalism face in Turkey mount every day, these challenges are exacting a heavier toll on local newspapers and journalists. Local newspapers face a unique set of problems as they struggle to survive in the increasingly severe economic crisis.


According to Turkish Statistics Institution (TÜİK) data, there were 3,100 regional, local and national newspapers in 2013. In 2020, the number had fallen to 2,071. There were 1,971 local newspapers in 2020, which dropped to 1,884 in 2021 and 1,688 in 2022. The number of regional newspapers fell from 53 in 2020 to 42 in 2021 and 41 in 2022.


According to data from the Public Advertising Agency (BİK), in October 2023, only 670 newspapers ran public adverts and announcements from the Press Announcements Institution. The announcements issued by the Press Announcements Institution serve to fill an important financial gap, especially for local newspapers. However, this support is far from being sufficient.


Economic pressure in the west, judicial pressure in the east


Local newspapers, which face a dead-end due to the rising economic burden resort to merging with other newspapers or shutting down. We have spoken about the problems local papers face with local newspaper representatives and journalists from around Turkey.


While economic costs are the most fundamental problem in western Turkey, judicial pressure begins to replace economic issues as one goes to the east of the country. The common complaint of all the people we spoke to was “Local journalism is on its deathbed”. 


Yeni Adana Gazetesi is the most recent newspaper to decide to end operations. In August, the newspaper had to cease 105 years of publishing. The reason was economic. The newspaper’s last managing editor Vahit Şahin had begun practicing journalism at the paper. Having worked at Yeni Adana Gazetesi since 1985, Şahin was also an employee of the newspaper when it shut down. Since the newspaper has shut down, he is an unemployed journalist.


“Expenditure is more than double the income”


Şahin said that the licensed publishers had tried for long not to shut down the newspaper but were forced to due to increasing costs and added “Our only income was that from the Public Advertising Agency. It amounted to between 60,000 and 70,000 TL a month. The number of advertisers and subscribers was gradually falling. This situation is the same for every newspaper. There aren’t as many advertisers as there used to be. Our only source of income were official announcements. The monthly expenditure was nearly double the income. With the latest economic issues, the decision to shut the newspaper down was taken.”


Şahin added that there were other newspapers which decided to shut down for similar reasons and stated “Local newspapers face shutting down due to solely economic reasons. When you add social security, taxes, rent, monthly fixed costs, printing costs, the price of paper, it makes for a hefty bill. With all this taken into account, expenditure is more than income. Then, we are forced to shut down. This was not an easy decision to take. I’ve felt empty since 1 August. The problems of local journalism are completely economic”. 


“Readers’ support is crucial”


According to Şahin, the announcement fees paid by the BİK are not sufficient to keep local newspapers going. Readers need to support the newspaper: “Readers need to play a role of course. They need to own their newspaper. Even if they just subscribe, the newspaper may survive. Private advertising is also a significant form of support.”


Şahin points out that local journalism has started experiencing major problems especially with the spread of the internet media: “Local journalism is disappearing in the face of new technology. The internet was the hardest and final blow. It is very difficult for local journalism to recover now. Those who publish local newspapers at the moment are heroes in my opinion. I wonder how they manage to publish when they do not have the strength to put up with economic pressure.”


“BİK support is insufficient”


According to Macit Sefiloğlu, the editor-in-chief of the İzmir-based Dokuz Eylül Gazetesi, while BİK support is important, it is insufficient to keep newspapers going in the face of economic issues: “Although the financing issues are partially solved for local newspapers which receive this support, there are problems in two fields. The first is that when the BİK does not act impartially, newspapers run the risk of being limited in their activities. The second is the increasingly heavy cost of financing journalism. For this reason, we need private advertising or support. Newspapers try to receive some support from the local administrations in their area. But this too may be seen as a political handicap. Because when they receive such support, it becomes more difficult to practice independent journalism.”


“Local journalism is losing its independence”


Sefiloğlu, who has been a journalist for 43 years, deems the current situation of local media as “being on its deathbed”: “In the past, newspaper announcements and adverts were very significant. If they got these, newspapers were not that concerned about money they received from the state or local administrations. Therefore, they had greater editorial independence potential. Now, we are going through a process in which this independence is threatened from two sides. In Turkey, if you rely on the economy directed by political institutions, practice journalism through private sector adverts, you still run the risk of losing your independence somewhat. What we are going through today is just this. There has been a vicious circle since the 2000s and this is the greatest handicap we face.” 


“Journalism should come back to life”


Sefiloğlu adds that some other important problems local journalism faces are low salaries and journalists employed in the sector transferring to other fields after a while. Sefiloğlu summarizes the situation as follows: “Local newspapers have faced the issue of no experienced personnel being raised in the sector for a long time. Newspapers which publish without the support we talked about do not even enter into a press contract with their journalists. Therefore, people who come into the sector after graduation do not stay in the sector. Our more experienced colleagues have been leaving the sector for a long time. They go into subsidiary fields or other sectors. Therefore, we face the issue of finding experienced personnel. It is also difficult to retain experienced personnel. I think this is one of our handicaps. The second is the pay scale: journalists still have to work for very low pay. There are those who are forced to work for less than the minimum wage. With such a pay policy, our colleagues prefer getting a position at the press office of a municipality or a similar job, rather than staying in the profession.”


Sefiloğlu finally underlines two things as being very important: “The first is independent journalism and the second is the return of the profession of journalism. It is as though it has to come back to life.”


Mergers, instead of shutting down, is a method local newspapers have resorted to in the face of the economic crisis. Some local newspapers have continued to publish by merging with another newspaper in the same town, especially after the deeper economic crisis following the Covid-19 pandemic: According to a study carried out by the students of Prof. Dr. Süleyman İrvan of Üsküdar University in 2019, mergers have been rising since 2012. According to the study, in the seven years between 2012 and 2019, the number of newspapers in 27 provinces fell from 323 to 120 due to mergers. It is thought that the decline might have been steeper in the last two years due to rising costs.


In Zonguldak, which had five local papers until recently, the İnanış, Pusula and Halkın Sesi newspapers decided to shut down and merge with the Yeni Adım newspaper and have had to continue publishing as a single newspaper.


“Commercial journalism goes hand in hand with self-censorship” 


While this is the view from the three coastal areas of Turkey, in Kurdish cities the situation is somewhat different. In this region, judicial pressure is added to the problems faced by local journalism due to economic difficulties.


Oktay Candemir, who practices as a freelance journalist in Van province, has had his share of judicial pressure. Candemir is currently on trial in five cases. He faced more than 50 investigations during the state of emergency period.


Candemir says: “While journalists throughout Turkey face a lot of economic problems, in our region judicial pressure becomes the main issue. There is incredible judicial pressure on journalists. We see that it is especially intense on opposition journalists.”


According to Candemir, while local newspapers receive announcements from the Press Announcements Institution, this makes their independent journalism debatable: “The money for announcements completely takes away journalists’ and newspapers’ ability to approach things critically or to report on rights violations. This shows that it is not really journalism that is being practiced. It is commercial journalism, as it were. They do not feel the need to inform society or to convey correct information to society. Because they think of it as a trade in which they will receive their pay from the state every month, they do not practice journalism in the true sense. This leads to self-censorship. Our colleagues who work as local journalists always voice this fact, saying, ‘We cannot write about this; if we did, I’d be out of a job.’”


Candemir offers himself as an example of how journalists facing trials develop self-censorship: “Journalism in the region needs to be evaluated in the context of self-censorship too. For example, when I report on something or write an article, I read the Turkish Penal Code and the Anti-Terror Law. Just to make sure if my writing will be evaluated under a particular crime. Or I call up a lawyer and send them my writing. We write lawyer-approved articles. This leads to self-censorship. This is because you can face trial over an article you least expect.”


Candemir says solidarity is key in overcoming problems experienced by local journalists and states: “To escape this environment, sensitive circles, institutions working on the freedom of the press and the democratic society need to be more sensitive towards journalists. They need to own up to the journalists. Journalists are the voice of this society. They undertake the difficult work of conveying information to society. Therefore, journalists always need the support of the public.”