Mar 13 2019

Foreign reporters in Turkey say restrictions tight, but harder for Turks

Foreign journalists in Turkey must abide by certain rules and are not always able to get input from the government or ruling party, but overall feel they are treated fairly, especially in comparison to Turkish journalists. 

Independent Turkish news outlet Diken this week posted interviews with three foreign journalists, Giuseppe Didonna, Turkey correspondent for Italian news agency AGI, Maximilian Popp, a German journalist, and an Istanbul-based French journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

All three agreed that reporting had gotten a little easier since the post-coup attempt state of emergency was lifted last summer. 

“During the state of emergency, everything was a bit harder,” said Didonna, who has been working in Turkey for five years. “Everybody was more careful. I had troubles with the Turkish police a couple of times.”

The foreign journalists acknowledged that the Turkish government had certain rules, like getting proper accreditation to cover specific events. After five years in Turkey, the French journalist feels restricted in his work. 

“There are topics you can’t write about, you feel being watched by the authorities, and there is a kind of pressure you don’t experience in other countries,” he said. 

Popp, who has been working in Turkey for nearly three years, said apart from a few minor hassles, he had been able to work freely. “I know that others had worse experiences and have been in serious troubles. There have also been foreign journalists in jail. I don’t want to downplay any of that, it’s horrible, and shouldn’t happen,” he said. 

He pointed to the strong connection between Germany and Turkey, largely because Germany is home to the largest Turkish diaspora community, of some 4 million people. This helps explain why German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called Turkey’s late February rejection of press credentials for three German journalists “unacceptable”. 

Obviously, the relationship between Turkey and Germany is a very emotional one, because there are so many Turkish people in Germany,” said Popp. “So, sometimes Turkish issues become less a matter of foreign policy than a matter of domestic policy. That’s why the debate is sometime more heated, and that’s obviously reflected in the reporting as well.”

Didonna acknowledged that Turkey’s refusal renew the German journalists’ press credentials sent a clear warning.

“It’s unfair and impossible to tolerate,” he said, adding that he hoped the denials would be reversed. And indeed, on Tuesday, one of the three German journalists received their Turkish press accreditation. 

All three agreed that it was difficult to get information from the Turkish government and officials from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). 

“The problem is that some representatives of the government and of the AKP don’t necessarily want to talk, because they don’t want to compromise themselves by saying things they shouldn’t,” said the French journalist. 

Popp saw it differently. The Turkish government sometimes feels unease with the foreign journalists because they think they are unfair, unbalanced and too critical towards them,” he said.

Perhaps that’s because Turkey criticism pays. “In Europe, it’s much easier to sell your articles if you criticise Turkey,” said Didonna. 

All three also agreed that work was more difficult for Turkish journalists than for foreign reporters, and that Turkish media, despite being predominantly pro-government, had shown signs of life. 

“The freedom I or we, as foreign correspondents, enjoy, is so much bigger than anything Turkish journalists would experience,” said Popp.  “It almost feels weird or ridiculous to complain.”

Ankara has either shut, taken over, or brought into line the majority of previously independent news outlets. Turkish newspapers are now largely pro-government. “They are now all shaped and driven by a certain agenda,” he said, citing two long-admired outlets, Hürriyet and Cumhuriyet. “The government has its own channels, its own tools to spread their point of view. That’s why they are not dependent on foreign media.”

Yet all three foreign journalists saw signs of hope for Turkish media, in new independent outlets like Diken. 

“New platforms must appear, because it forces these big monoliths move. It pushes the society to question itself. The fact that journalists create something new leads to the self-criticism of the press, which is important and which has to be done,” said the French journalist.