Turkey’s ''Whatsapp journalism'' destroying press freedom - IPI

Turkey’s government departments are increasingly sharing news items with journalists via WhatsApp groups, ready to be “copied and pasted” in the next day’s paper, reported International Press Institute (IPI) website.

Media remains under the choke-hold of the Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey which ranked 157 out of 180 countries in April in free speech advocacy group Reporters Without Borders annual report on global press freedom. Around 90 percent of Turkey’s newspaper coverage is pro-government.

Press advisers to government spokespersons ask journalists to share their questions in these WhatsApp groups ahead of press conferences, it said, citing Cumhuriyet journalist Sinan Tartanoğlu, a member of the WhatsApp group formed by the prime minister’s office.

While journalists covering government press conferences are permitted to ask questions not previously mentioned in the WhatsApp groups, they prefer not to for fear for losing their accreditation and press card.

“I asked myself repeatedly whether I would lose my accreditation after asking a question about Turkish soldiers allegedly burned by ISIS militants”,  Cumhuriyet’s Tartanoğlu is quoted as saying. “I did not lose my press card, but I felt fear in my very bones.”

Foreign media also have difficulties accessing news sources and barely manage to get quotes from government officials, IPI reported.

One foreign journalist who chose remain anonymous said once Turkish officials warned the journalists that his request “completely disrespected (our) foreign minister, especially in a meeting where we are the host state” while another recalled that the Ministry of Health once offered a prize for the article that was most pleasing to them in a whatsapp group.

However, many journalists working for independent media outlets are not included in the WhatsApp groups at all. Similarly, they are not summoned to meetings or accredited for NGO gatherings attended by the president or other government officials.

One correspondent for Sözcü daily said she only managed to attend a recent meeting held by President Erdoğan and opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu by using her personal connections.

“We cannot even get answers to the most ordinary questions. No one takes our phone calls or replies to our emails,” she shared.

Kaya added that even when journalists (like her) get a hold of government documents and wish to write about them, they are unable to because they can’t get the documents confirmed.

Burcu Cansu, a reporter with left wing Birgün noted her newspaper doesn’t even apply for accreditation from government departments.

“They will not accept the application anyway”, she explained, adding: “Even if our accreditation were to be accepted, we wouldn’t find it acceptable to submit ‘government-approved questions’ in advance. This doesn’t sit well with journalism ethics or with press freedom.”