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Online Media

83 million 614 thousand 362 people live in Turkey (TurkStat February 2021). 65.80 million of the total population are active Internet users (approx. 79% of the total population). Internet connection rate is 77.7 percent. Compared to 2020, the number of Internet users increased by 6 percent (We are Social 2021).

92 percent of households have access to the Internet from home. This rate was 90.7 percent in 2020. In 2021, TurkStat measured the Internet usage rate as 82.6 percent in individuals aged 16-74. This rate was 79 percent in 2020. 87.7 percent of men use the Internet, compared to 77.5 percent of women (TurkStat August 2021). 

58.9 percent of the population used the facilities of the “e-state” online platform in order to get information from official websites.

Users in Turkey spend an average of 7 hours and 57 minutes on the Internet on any device. 60 million of the population are social media users (about 70.8% of the total population). YouTube is the most popular social media platform. YouTube is followed by Instagram and WhatsApp (We are Social 2021).

The tendency of the urban sample to turn to social media for news is on the rise. YouTube is one of the most widely used social networking and messaging applications for news consumption, followed by Twitter and Instagram (The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2011).

The same report says that the Internet ranked first in accessing news sources in Turkey with 85 percent in 2020. The Internet was followed by television with 68 percent. Printed publications stood at 58 percent. The rate of those who followed the news on social media was 42 percent.

While the rate of the urban population who regarded social media as a news source in Turkey was 66 percent in 2018, it decreased to 58 percent in 2020. Among the social media platforms, Facebook ranked first with 49 percent [in use] to access news. YouTube came second with 45 percent. In 2020, only 30 percent of users were using Twitter to access news. In the report, based on the urban sample data, online news consumption was 85 percent in 2020. 62 percent of the same sample were concerned about the bogus news and disinformation on social networks (Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020).

Media and advertising investments

13 billion 976 million TRY of media and advertising investments, which totaled 17 billion 469 million TRY in 2020, were media investments. With this ratio, digital media investments are in the first place (The estimated data of the Advertisers Association published in April 2021).

2 billion 940 million TRY in advertisements in 2019 were investments in digital media (33.3%). In 2019, among media investments, investments in digital media increased significantly (19%) (The estimated data of the Advertisers Association published in March 2020).

Online media in Turkey cannot benefit from official advertisement distribution. The new revenue models, such as promoting subscriptions and finding grants are tried by small-scale and independent media outlets due to restrictions on freedom of expression and biased advertising expenditures. These attempts are not effective, but they are still crucial for survival. Law No. 7193 on Digital Services Tax and Amendment to the Legislative Decree Numbered 375 came into force on December 7, 2019 and aims to ensure that digital businesses pay a tax that reflects the value that they derive from the Turkish market. There is no regulation on the usage of digital services tax revenues for sustaining media viability and pluralism in Turkey.

According to the Gemius Audience data that MOM used for the 2020 updates, the most visited news sites in 2020 were: hurriyet.com.tr (Demirören), sozcu.com.tr (BEME Media, - Estetik), milliyet.com.tr (Demiören), sabah.com.tr (Kalyon), mynet.com.tr (Mynet), haberturk.com (Ciner), haber7.com (Hayat Görsel), onedio.com (Onedio Bilişim), internethaber.com (internethaber), takvim.com.tr (Kalyon).

Regulatory mechanisms

Several articles of the new “social media law,” officially the Law No. 5651 on Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by Means of Such Publications, came into force on October 1, 2020. Accordingly, "social network providers" that have more than one million daily users are required to assign a representative in Turkey. WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are the main companies that are affected by the law, which specifies the number of gradual sanctions, including monetary penalties, advert ban and bandwidth restrictions, on the companies that fail to comply with the orders.

The regulation was interpreted as an attempt to silence dissident voices in Turkey.

With the new law, it is said that Twitter will be obliged to share personal data about the related account when a criminal complaint is filed and an investigation is launched about the posts that have been given an access block.

Turkey, citing Law No. 5651, sent 1,000 requests to Twitter during the military operation that it launched in October 2019 against Northern Syria. Of the eight removal requests to Periscope, 4 were from Turkey.

A total of 7,070 (57%) court decisions were sent from Turkey, out of 12,499 court decisions sent to Twitter in the 2012-2020 period. Turkey ranked first in this category. Turkey ranked first with 75 percent of all accounts in the ranking of accounts that were removed and withheld worldwide in the 2012-2020 period. As of the end of 2020, Turkey was again in first place with 40 percent of all tweets that had been removed and withheld. When we look at the other removal requests sent to Twitter around the world, it is seen that Turkey, following Japan, ranked second with 42,455 requests in the 2012-2020 period (The Twitter Transparency Report).

In 2020, Turkey sent 13,904 removal requests to Twitter. Twitter, on the other hand, announced that it withheld only 69 accounts and 330 tweets from Turkey in 2020.

According to the report called ‘The New Mainstream’ Is Rising (And It Seeks Support) by the International Press Institute (IPI), independent media’s digital reach (33.5 million users per month) is catching up with that of the pro-government media (47.8 million users). While the latter group’s reach has recently stalled, independent outlets continued to rapidly expand their digital user base (March 2021).

The same report indicates that in high-volume, news-related Turkish keywords and trending queries of the day, 90.6 percent of Google’s Top Stories slots were given by the search engine’s algorithm to three pro-government media outlets. The distinct algorithm of Google News appeared slightly less biased as it highlighted the pro-government media 73.8 percent of the time against the independent media’s 26.2 percent. These figures demonstrate that Google provides Turkey’s independent media outlets with significantly lower visibility, despite their broad digital reach, robust social media interactions, and faster growth compared to the pro-government outlets.

On June 11, 2020, Twitter announced that it had disclosed 32,242 accounts to their archive of state-linked information operations. Among them, 7,340 accounts attributed to the youth wing of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were in Turkey, mentioned above as pro-AKP trolls, for pushing propaganda by criticising the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and for spreading disinformation and targeting and discrediting critical accounts, individuals and movements.

On May 1, 2020, the AKP issued a twelve-clause ethical guideline that includes the principles not to use hate language and to fight against “disinformation” on social media. AKP Deputy Chair Mahir Ünal, who manages the AKP’s Publicity and Media, encouraged the use of a “green dot” emoji accompanied by the “Turkish flag” on Twitter profiles to signify that these accounts are “national” [milli] accounts, which is compliant with this guideline. This also means that these accounts openly support the AKP. On July 17, after a wave of threats targeting women journalists and politicians and dissemination of sexist statements, the AKP announced that it was ending “the green dot” campaign.

Since September 2019, online broadcasting organizations have been under the inspection of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK).

The regulation which requires the platforms broadcasting on the Internet to obtain a broadcasting license from the RTÜK entered into force on September 1, 2019 after being published in the Official Gazette. With this regulation, broadcasters can no longer provide broadcasting services without obtaining a license from the RTÜK. Accordingly, the license fee is 10,000 TRY (~1,290 US dollars) for Internet radios and 100,000 TRY for television and on-demand video broadcast. Digital platforms such as Netflix, BluTV and Puhutv came under the control of RTÜK. In November 2020, it was announced that Netflix and Amazon Prime Video were licensed by RTÜK. Finally, in December 2020, Netflix received a license from RTÜK.

Journalists working in the Internet media outlets

Journalists in Turkey work within the scope of the Law No. 5953, which was enacted in 1952. However, journalists working in the Internet media are not considered within the scope of this law and are registered in other business lines. In other words, there is neither a regulation on the recognition of journalists working in the Internet/digital media as journalists, nor any other legal regulation that they can benefit from.

Press credential requirements are not set by journalism organizations or unions, and they are not defined by established press laws and regulations, but by the Directorate of Communications, which has been affiliated with the Presidency since 2018.

Internet media employees who are not covered by the Press Law No. 212 cannot obtain a turquoise press card. Online media workers in Turkey only have the card provided by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), namely the International Press Card (IPC).

Blocked websites

Turkey has web portals such as freewebturkey.com, the reports of the Freedom of Expression Association (İFÖD) and @engelliweb [blockedweb] listing the increasing amount of Turkey’s banned content and websites in accordance with the Law No. 5651 on “Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Combating Crimes Committed by Means of Such Publication” and other provisions of the Information Technologies and Communication Authority (BTK).

Access blocking decisions are predominantly given by the criminal judgeships of peace within the scope of Articles 8, 8/A and 9/A of Law No. 5661.

According to the annual report of the Freedom of Expression Association (İFÖD), Turkey blocked 467,011 web addresses between the enactment of the Internet law in 2007 and the end of 2020. Some 408,808 orders to block access to web addresses were imposed by 764 courts and administrative institutions in the given period, the report shows. 7,500 Twitter accounts, 50,000 tweets, 12,000 YouTube videos, 8,000 Facebook posts and 6,800 Instagram posts are among the blocked addresses.

According to the report, as of the end of 2020, Hürriyet ranked first with 2,251 news blocked in the “most blocked news site” category, Sabah ranked second with 1,376 news blocked, Cumhuriyet third with 986 news blocked, Sözcü fourth with 918 news blocked, and T24 ranks fifth with 915 news blocked. As of the end of 2020, Hürriyet ranks first, Sabah is second, T24 is third, Takvim is the fourth and OdaTv is fifth in the category of “news sites that remove the highest number of blocked news” in total.

According to the BİA annual Media Monitoring Report published in January 2021, throughout 2020, Criminal Judgeships of Peace imposed access blocks on at least 1,358 news on issues of corruption, irregularities, drug dealing, sexual abuse and caderisation in Turkey. With a publication/broadcast ban, access blocks were imposed on 24 news websites.

In the report titled “End of News: Internet censorship in Turkey” published by Free Web Turkey in January 2021, at least 1,910 URLs, domain names, and social media posts were blocked between November 1, 2019 and October 31, 2020. While 870 of this number were blocked news URLs, a total of 26 news sites, some of them more than once, were blocked during this period.

According to the same report, in 2019, 408,494 websites were blocked from Turkey. Moreover, access to 130,000 URL addresses, 7,000 Twitter accounts, 40,000 tweets, 10,000 YouTube videos, and 6,200 Facebook content has been blocked pursuant to the Law No. 5651 and other provisions. In addition, it has been determined that approximately 50,000 content has been removed by content providers following access blocking decisions.

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