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Turkey

Dismissed Turkish journalists launch campaign to subvert media censorship

Journalists from recently shuttered news outlets have launched a social media newscast to inform Turkish citizens of topics overlooked by an increasingly state-run media environment. Diego Cupolo reports from Ankara.

Following Monday's raid on Turkey's leading secular paper, "Cumhuriyet," and the shuttering of 15 opposition news outlets over the weekend, the nation's journalists are facing an increasingly restrictive media environment.

More than 160 news organizations have been closed since July's coup attempt for alleged terror links and charges of spreading anti-government propaganda. In response, a group of laid-off journalists launched a social media-based newscast to subvert state censorship and keep citizens informed.

Dubbed "#HaberSIZsiniz," the campaign is a play on words between "you are unaware" and "you are the news." Organizers held their first broadcast from the capital, Ankara, on Sunday via Periscope and Facebook live streams to report news excluded from mainstream media coverage.

"We are seeing new levels of oppression on journalism," said Aysegul Dogan, a former anchor for the shuttered IMC TV and main host for the event. "This movement has been created to help people raise their voices and to make sure events in Turkey don't go unnoticed."

Pressure increasing gradually

Speaking to a sea of smartphones, Dogan kicked off #HaberSIZsiniz by leading discussions with prominent journalists and politicians on the recent detention (and subsequent arrest) of elected officials in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir. The removal of co-mayors Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli sparked protests throughout the southeast, which have since been suppressed by a region-wide blockage of web communications and intermittent cell phone service.

Internet access has been coming and going in the southeast since October 26. Left without local media representation, residents have resorted to sharing news updates via SMS messages. According to Dogan, the state of free speech has never been worse in Turkey.

"After the coup [attempt], we were expecting investigations against us, we talked about the possibility of being detained, but we didn't expect our entire [news] operation to be shut down," Dogan said.

Dogan went on to say pressure on opposition media has been increasing gradually since the Gezi Park protests in 2013. The situation has become worse in recent months and now journalists associated with shuttered media outlets have been blacklisted by the remaining pro-government news services, rendering hundreds of dismissed reporters unemployable.

The same is true for Hayri Demir, a reporter for DIHA news in Ankara, who lost his job when his agency was raided on Saturday. As he spoke to DW, Demir said state officials were confiscating computers and recording equipment from his office.

Over the last 16 months, Demir said DIHA's website was blocked 49 times "without legal justifications," but the news team always found a way to get back online. Now out of a job and stripped of his gear, Demir is considering his options, saying he hopes #HaberSIZsiniz outgrows its nascent hashtag form to become a long-term project with a permanent presence.

"At this time, when journalism is forbidden, it is only more important for reporters to carry out their mission and provide news for the people," Demir said.

When asked about whether he expects a reaction from Turkish citizens regarding the ongoing media clampdown, Demir was unsure.

"It's hard to tell what the public is thinking because the society is highly polarized," he told DW. "The people are divided in half and the side that's not with Erdogan, has been silenced since the coup attempt."

Expedited censorship

Speaking after the newscast on Sunday, Saruhan Oluc, vice co-chair of press relations for the leftist, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), said it has never been easy for Kurdish and opposition media operating in Turkey, but the state of emergency declared after July's coup attempt has expedited the process of stamping out alternative voices.

As seen with the shuttering of 15 mostly Kurdish news outlets on Saturday, Oluc said executive decrees can be used to close dissident media organizations, circumventing traditional legal procedures required in the absence of a state of emergency.

"When else have we seen the state confiscate office equipment from a news organization?" Oluc told DW. "This is the private property of an independent company and the state is operating completely outside the law."

Protest Türkei Schließung Medienanstalten (DW/D.Cupolo)

Protesters rallied against the closure of media outlets in central Ankara on Sunday

Many of the media organizations closed in recent months were printing or broadcasting in the Kurdish language, including Turkey's only Kurdish children's TV channel. Oluc said the denial of information in a people's mother tongue is a violation of basic rights, and he is currently assisting HDP officials in filing legal complaints to the European Court of Human Rights.

#HaberSIZsiniz looking forward

While the launch of the #HaberSIZsiniz campaign was welcomed as a new avenue for alternative news reports at a time when many Kurdish politicians face trial and possible arrest, journalists at the event offered a dim outlook for Turkey's media freedom in the coming months.

Regardless, Dogan said she would continue leading social media newscasts on a regular basis, and hopes to bring other journalists on board. As Turkish media becomes increasingly one-sided, Dogan said there is a greater need for opposing voices to document and share news through all available formats.

Dissident websites and social media accounts are often targeted by state officials and blocked, but Dogan said she would continue the platform until the very end.

"When they raided our TV studio, we broadcasted until they shut down our cameras," she told DW. "We don't know what will happen in the future, but [with #HaberSIZsiniz] we will keep broadcasting however we can until the last second."

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