State-backed Western news outlets launch Turkish YouTube channel

This article has been updated. 

German, French, British and U.S. news outlets launched a joint Turkish-language YouTube channel on Monday, aiming to present European values in Turkey and expand freedom of speech in a restricted media environment.

Deutsche Welle has partnered with the BBC, France24, and Voice of America, all publicly financed broadcasters, to create a news outlet that will cover a range of topics to viewers in Turkey and Turks living abroad, according to a DW report.  

"Our four media outlets will provide a comprehensive offering of news, partly with the aim of strengthening freedom of speech and the press," said DW Director General Peter Limbourg. "This is a truly unique collaboration with global media outlets aiming to deliver content to a Turkish-speaking audience that is interested in international politics, business, science and culture.”

The channel, called +90, went live during a Monday press conference in Istanbul, with several videos immediately available, including on Turkey's construction crisis, child brides, unemployment, and ethnic Uighurs living in Turkey.

Erkan Arikan, a Turkish-German journalist who was recently appointed head of DW’s Turkish-language news, will oversee the channel’s content, along with Işıl Nergiz.

"We are concentrating on topics that people talk about in Turkish society," said Arikant. "The channel does not aspire to deal with current events like a news channel would. Instead, the longer narrative format of YouTube will allow us to take a deeper dive into those topics and let us highlight new aspects of them."

The project is part of DW's 2018-2021 Strategic Plan. "Contrary to the hopes of many, the Turkish government now leaves little doubt about its authoritarian course,” said the report. "Journalistic work in Turkey is becoming increasingly tough; potential new partners reject any cooperation with independent Western news providers.”

The Turkish government has intensified its crackdown on the media over the past three years, shutting some 175 news outlets and imprisoning dozens of journalists in the wake of the failed coup of July 2016.

Some 90 percent of Turkish media outlets are now pro-government. Last week, six staffers for the newspaper Cumhurriyet returned to prison on charges of aiding a terrorist organisation.

"The world’s biggest prison for professional journalists, Turkey (157th) has managed to fall another two places in the past year, which saw a succession of mass trials," Reporters Without Borders said in its Index 2018.

Turkish officials and media outlets have also been targeting Western news outlets.

Last year, Turkey’s state-run broadcaster TRT World published a study that found that Western media, including the Washington Post, New York Times, Guardian and Financial Times, had run intense campaigns against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ahead of the June 24 election.

“Another attempt to delegitimise Turkey’s president and AK Party,” the report said.  

Last month, Erdoğan accused western news outlets of failing to adequately cover the New Zealand mosque shootings, arguing that the western media had prepared the alleged shooter’s manifesto and handed it to him, according to a BBC report.

A few weeks later he took a similar stance. “Some Western media outlets are in efforts to describe our economy as collapsed, finished," Erdoğan said earlier this month, in reference to a Financial Times article that questioned the Turkish central bank’s decision-making.

Pro-government news outlets have been reporting that western media outlets had launched a smear campaign targeting Turkey’s economy.

Part of the mission of the new joint outlet, said the DW report, is “opening a window on Europe”. State-funded Russia Today has a popular, and relatively credible, Turkish-language news site. Qatar launched Al Jazeera Türk in 2014, but the site was shut down three years later.

The new YouTube channel is the first to unite four major state-financed broadcasters, said DW. DW and its partners reach 320 million people every week, while France24, the BBC and VoA reach 275-280 million each.

Earlier this month, German lawmakers expressed support for the project, calling its creation long overdue, according to DW.

"We want to use our YouTube channel to provide viewers with credible information that will help them form their own opinions," said Limbourg.