Over the last few years Turkey has accumulated a bad reputation regarding press freedom. The pressures on the media led people to search for alternative platforms to speak on. But this is not the only reason why activist journalism is rising in Turkey.
Firstly, with the growth of digital technologies, everyone could express their opinions through social media. This gave activists the chance to spread their message among a wider audience. After the events of Gezi Park last year people began to take more of an interest in this power.
Secondly, the pressure on Turkish media has resulted in a rise in activist journalism. Activists who could not disseminate their messages through mass media, because of pressure on media, started to find alternative ways. So they began to publish their opinions independently.
Lastly, as more activists started to raise their voices some journalists started to help them. Others, who had lost their jobs because of political pressures, started to work towards social change with activist groups. 131 journalists lost their jobs because of political reasons last year. In the first six months of this year this number reached 304 according to the Independent Communication Network (BİA) Media Watch Report.
How can we combine activism and journalism in Turkey?
Activist journalism is not so easy in Turkey. For a long time, as a journalist, I have been hesitant about being active in a human rights organization. I am uncertain about how being an activist as well as a journalist would be welcomed. We do not know where the borders between the two lie. Even in my daily newspaper some articles reflect activism contrary to journalistic ethics without differentiating between social and political activism.
Does Activist Journalism Mean Terrorism?
Activists are interested in writing as a way of telling their stories. Whatever the medium, be it blogs, web sites, journals, news letters or reports, they need, at the very least, some basic journalism skills. These skills strengthen their ability to facilitate changes. On the other hand, journalists are inclined towards activism because it has some facilities that convey the message to the masses and encourages change. The other function of activism for journalists is that they can gather information about their specialist area. In many areas the two groups can enrich one another.
But there are some problems in Turkey. Maybe in some areas we must discriminate between social activism and political activism. Maybe we must discriminate between reporters and columnists too. In Turkey, there is a negative preconception of being an activist journalist. It can also be perceived as ‘terrorism’. The shortage of good examples can also feed this perception. What is the definition of activism and where are the borders between activism and journalism? We can look at the video of Turkish journalist Ahmet Şık’s kicking a police panzer in a demonstration. Another example is a journalist throwing stones at police with a camera in his other hand.
For many reasons activist journalism is on the rise in Turkey. I hope the reliance on the activist journalists will increase with good examples. It is up to journalists ourselves to destroy this negative image. We need activist journalists more than ever before, especially in these days of limited free speech.
*Salih Sarıkaya is Social Media Editor of Daily Zaman (Turkey’s Best Selling Daily). Today’s Zaman Blogger. Defence and Security Correspondent.