Turkey's Struggle for Media Freedom: Medyascope

10 minutes to read
Article
Ugur Dulger
16/09/2019

In 2015, Rusen Cakir started creating videos from his office at Haberturk newspaper. He made commentaries about the Turkish political agenda and over a couple of months invited his friends to speak on camera. This project became Medyascope.tv, which was officially initiated on August 20th that year. Since then, Medyascope.tv has improved rapidly. Today it has a semi-professional studio with live broadcast equipment, around 30 paid employees and more than 50 different programs that are broadcast regularly. It can be considered an alternative news medium in the Turkish public sphere.

Rusen Cakir (57) is an experienced journalist who published a number of books and articles on conservative politics of Turkey, even before the movement become prominent in Turkish politics.

The alternative that Medyascope.tv created is recognized by international organizations, and was awarded the International Press Institute’s Free Media Pioneer award in 2016, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and TV5MONDE’s Press Freedom Prize in 2017 (Medyascope.tv n.d.).

Medyascope.tv won Reporters Without Borders and TV5MONDE Press Freedom Prize in 2017 and IPI Free Media Pioneer Prize in 2016.

With the slogan Medyascope.tv is always free (word-for-word translation: 'because its free'), Rusen Cakir (2018) repeatedly underlines that they do not do activism on Medyascope.tv, but exclusively free, neutral, and honest journalism:

"Medyascope was founded with the aim to address issues surrounding freedom of the press in Turkey, along with the vision to introduce independent journalists to the right digital tools and to provide them with a self-sufficient, easy to use and sustainable platform to reach large audiences in a swift and uncensored manner.” (Cakir 2016)

Medyascope.tv is one of the rare examples of alternative journalism which incorporates many digital platforms and operates in a discourse of freedom instead of opposition. This article analyses the form of Medyascope.tv, the types of content that it creates and disseminates, the social media outlets and tools that they utilize, and the sources of its income as well as current challenges that limit this impact.

Method and Content

Medyascope.tv operates in six different languages. While the majority of the videos are in Turkish, there are weekly programs which originally are broadcast in English, Kurdish, and Arabic. In addition to these, some programs are translated afterwards from Turkish to German and French as well as English, Kurdish and Arabic.

Aylin Yardimci's program 'This week in Turkey' is being broadcasted in English every week with different guests speaking on actual events.

Seven different online platforms are actively used by Medyascope.tv, in accordance with those platforms’ characteristics. Most of their content consists of live broadcasts (be it a debate, news or interview), and these live feeds are broadcasted from Medyascope.tv’s Periscope and YouTube accounts. Audio files of those programs are also uploaded to Soundcloud and Spotify as podcasts.

Along with their own website, where they publish text-based news or translations, Mediyscope.tv also shares announcements and links for programs on Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, the platforms that include video (or audio) content also serve as a database for older broadcasts as well. Among these platforms, Periscope has become prominent as it is the initial starting point for broadcasts as well as an inspiration in naming Medyascope.tv.

Currently, Medyascope.tv has more than 120.000 followers on Twitter, 113.000 subscribers on YouTube, nearly 52.000 followers on Periscope, 16.000 on Facebook, and 3.000 followers on Soundcloud. Sadly, Spotify does not share its statistics. It should be noted that these numbers do not show a total sum of people that follow Medyascope.tv since the same people could follow them across multiple platforms.

View numbers are also observable on YouTube. These numbers can vary greatly, depending on the reputation of producer as well as interviewee and the specific topic. For example, while the cultural broadcasts like cinema programs have between 200 and 1.000 views, Rusen Cakir’s daily commentary videos on the political atmosphere might get up to 90.000 views, but generally around 30.000, depending on the topic of the video. Other veteran journalists such as Kadri Gursel and Kemal Can, who recently lost their jobs in mainstream Turkish media, also get high numbers of views compared to content created by less-experienced journalists.

Funding

As Rusen Cakir (2018) states, the majority Medyascope.tv's income is funded by international organizations. On its website, four organizations are listed as supporters of Medyascope.tv. Three of them are NGOs: the Chrest Foundation from the United States, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung from Germany, and The European Endowment for Democracy. The state funded Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency is also among the supporting organizations (Medyascope.tv n.d.).

Apart from international funding, Medyascope.tv uses a crowdfunding platform called Patreon. This is an online platform that enables people to support creators in a monthly-paid subscription system. Subscribers are called ‘patrons’ and they decide how much money they want to give. Currently, there are more than 2 million active patrons, funding more than 100.000 active projects in the system (Patreon n.d.).

It is possible to see the amount of money that Medyascope.tv collects from Patreon, since their income is transparent on their Patreon page (Patreon n.d.). Medyascope.tv has 615 patrons who grant $3.919 per month as of June 2019. For a realistic calculation: $3.919 corresponds to nearly 22.500 Turkish Lira (TL) with current exchange rate. This amount equals fourteen times the minimum wage for 2018, which was around 1.600 TL (240 Euros) per month.

While getting a 5% fee for its service, Patreon leave the intellectual property rights of contents completely to creator. In this system, some creators can choose to only provide content to their subscribers.

On its website, Medyascope.tv has an explanation with photos of how people can support them by using Patreon. They also provide a detailed text description of all their videos on YouTube. Medyascope.tv also accepts support by Bitcoin, but there is no further information about whether they ever get payment in the form of cryptocurrency.

Cakir (2018)  states that Medyascope.tv gets equipment donations from its supporters. While showing a progressive line in terms of the amount of content created, as well as studio activities and rising numbers of paid employees, Cakir explains that the funding barely covers the costs. A recent report from Reuters Institute confirms his statement. The report mentions Medyascope.tv as one of the digital outlets that operates freely. But it also points at the fact that these digital outlets do not constitute a sustainable model and “cannot afford to employ full-time experienced reporters for investigative journalism” (Yanatma 2018, 108).

Problem of Exposure

Medyascope.tv's biggest problem, similar to every other media outlet that does not broadcast state propaganda in Turkey, remains the financial one, as they cannot get advertisement money due to the government's political pressure on company executives. Cakir (2018) states that although they want to extend the range of broadcasts to include things like weekend and morning programs, this financial weakness results in the inability to make these kinds of extensions.

But Cakir (2018) also underlines that Medyascope.tv's finances have proceeded well over the years since the working conditions eventually changed from voluntary to paid employment. Another main problem of Medyascope.tv's is exposure. Although the number of subscribers rises regularly, it is still low for a country of more than 80 million people, with nearly 10 million university graduates (TUIK 2018) and an Internet penetration rate above 70% (Yanatma 2018, 109).

Elections and Beyond

On the bright side, Medyascope.tv's advancement is in accordance with Turkey's democracy struggle in the recent elections period. Since February 20th 2019, supporters of Medyascope on Patreon have risen by 44% and the funds grew by 42% (425 patrons and 2.750$ of income by then). During this period Medyascope.tv broadcast a program specifically prepared for the elections called 'Acilan Sandik'. It was coordinated by Irfan Bozan (2019), and includes periodical analyses for the upcoming elections as well as field interviews with candidates and voters in 50 different cities. These were conducted by 36 Medyascope.tv reporters in the 86 days before the March 31st elections. These were also continued during the re-elections campaign leading up to June 23rd.

Recently elected mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu (on the left) was also a guest for Medyascope.tv while there was a blackout on him from mainstream media before 31st of March municipal elections.

One of the most viewed videos before the March 31st elections was a broadcast by Rusen Cakir (2019), named "The Calmness of Ekrem Imamoglu." It was viewed by nearly 182.000 people on Cakir's personal Youtube channel in addition to 65.000 viewers on Medyascope.tv's primary Youtube account. In this broadcast, Cakir points out the resemblances between the current media blackout against Ekrem Imamoglu and the media blackout against Recep Tayyip Erdogan 25 years ago. Cakir constantly emphasized the importance of ‘calmness’ in various broadcast activities, which evidently seems to be one of the major factors in winning Istanbul elections for Imamoglu.

While the income of Medyascope.tv remains insufficient for employing experienced investigative journalists, it is also possible that this circumstance might carry a positive impact as it protects the organization from outside influence and enables the creation of its own intellectual tradition in long term basis.

There are many experienced interviewees that join Medyascope.tv's broadcasts either from the studio or online via Skype. Karadag (2017, 91) claims that the interviewees of Medyascope.tv are generally the people who “usually do not find a place in mainstream media”. However, it should be underlined that this invisibility does not originate from those people’s personal merit. Rather, most of the people that give interviews to Medyascope.tv (or join the debate program as guest commentators) can be considered public intellectuals, who definitely were visible in the mainstream media before the authoritarian shift in state politics.

In this sense, Medyascope.tv covers a very important ground for the people who cannot share their opinion anymore on mainstream media as well as for the people that try to reach those ideas. Even if its exposure is still limited to a specific audience, the medium contributes to the shaping of Turkey's alternative public sphere.

References

Bozan, Irfan. 2019. Yerel Secim Ozel Yayin-1 31 Mart 2019 19:00. 31 03. Accessed 06 2019, 27.

Cakir, Rusen, interview by IPI. 2016. IPI Q&A with Rusen Cakir of Turkey's Medyascope.tv (01 03). Accessed 06 27, 2019.

Cakir, Rusen, Isin Elicin, and Tamer Durak. 2018. Medyascope 3 Yasinda. Istanbul, 17 08. Accessed 06 2019, 27..

Cakir, Rusen. 2019. Ekrem Imamoglu Sakinligi, Istanbul, 20 03. Accessed 06 2019, 27.

Council of Europe. 2019. Democracy at Risk: Threats and Attacks Against Media Freedom in Europe. Council of Europe.

Karadag, Gokmen Hakan. 2017. “Reporting and Interviewing Styles of Professional and Citizen Reporters on Periscope.” Edited by Ozden Cankaya, Hulya Yengin and Deniz Yengin. Communication and Technology Congress. Bologna: Editografica. 88 - 104. doi:10.7456/ctc_2017_07.

Karlidag, Serpil, and Selda Bulut. 2019. “New Media Income Sources and Digital Media in Turkey: Business Models, Issues and Suggestions.” Erciyes İletisim Dergisi, January: 555 - 572.

Medyascope.tv. n.d. “Kunye.” Medyascope.tv. Accessed 06 27, 2019.

Patreon. n.d. “About.” Patreon. Accessed 06 27, 2019. https://www.patreon.com/about.

—. n.d. “Medyascope.tv.” Patreon. Accessed 06 27, 2019.

TUIK. 2018. Population by Attained Education Level and Sex, 2008-2018. Turkish Statistical Institute. Accessed 08 20,2019.

Yanatma, Servet. 2018. Reuters Institute Digital News Report. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 108 - 109