Jean-Paul Marthoz: Commercial interference in the European media

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”81193″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Commercial pressures on the media? Anti-establishment critics have a ready-made answer: of course, journalists are hostage to the whims of corporate owners, advertisers and sponsors. Of course, they cannot independently cover issues which these powers consider “inconvenient”. Actually such suspicion is widely shared: In France, according to the 2017 La Croix barometer on media credibility, 58% of public opinion consider that journalists “are not really able to resist pressures from financial interests”.

The issue is not new. In 1944 when he founded the French “newspaper of record”, Le Monde, Hubert Beuve-Méry fought to guarantee its independence from political parties but also from what he called “the wall of money”. “Freedom of the press belongs to the one who owns one”, New Yorker media critic A.J. Liebling famously said. However, “while media academics have long looked at the question of commercial pressure, ownership (…) in shaping coverage”, writes Anya Schiffrin in a 2017 CIMA report on “captured media” press freedom groups’ focus had been mostly on the governments’ responsibilities and on criminal non-state actors.

In June 2016 Reporters Without Boarders made a splash with its report on oligarchs in the media. Proprietors’ interventions may have indeed a very negative impact on journalism’s proclaimed commitment to report the news without fear or favour. Pressures are particularly acute when the media are owned by conglomerates who dabble in other economic sectors. In France, for instance, a military aircraft manufacturer (Dassault), the luxury industry leader (LVMH), telecoms giants (SFR, Free), a powerful public works and telecoms company (Bouygues) directly own key media companies.

Ownership provides a powerful lever to influence media contents. Cases of direct intervention or of journalists’ self-censorship are not exceptional, even if they are often difficult to prove. In France, Vincent Bolloré, owner, among others, of TV channel Canal+, has been regularly accused of using his powers to determine content. It led the French Senate’s culture commission to invite him to a hearing in June 2016, but he firmly denied all allegations of censorship.

In other European countries, the landscape is much clearer. In Turkey, during the June 2013 Gezi Park events, major TV stations failed to report police repression live. They chose instead to broadcast animal documentaries, for which they were rewarded with the nickname of “penguin media”. In fact, they turned into “proxy censors” for Erdogan’s government who had the power to determine their economic fate by rewarding them -or not- with public works contracts or financial favors. The worst of the worst flourishes in some former communist eastern European countries where major media outlets have been snatched by oligarchs allied with political parties or even, allegedly, with criminal organisations.

Big companies may be ruthless. Advertising budgets can be cut when a media covers “inconvenient news”. In November 2017, according to satirical weekly Le Canard enchainé, Bernard Arnault, the boss of LVMH (luxury products, owner of Le Parisien and Les Echos), canceled his advertising budget in Le Monde until the end of the year after his name appeared in the Paradise Papers global investigation, which named people who had offshore accounts in tax havens. LVMH denied it was cutting all advertising in the paper, adding that it was currently “reflecting on its advertisement policy in classical media”.

The unraveling of the legacy media’s business model has increased their vulnerability to outside pressures. Advertising money is shrinking, therefore increasing the temptation to dismantle what was presented as an impassable wall between “church and state”. Differences between advertising and the news are also being diluted into ambiguous advertorials, sponsored content and “native advertising”.  

Such pressures however are not automatic. “Suffering pressures does not mean ceding to them”, says Hervé Béroud, director general of leading all-news TV channel BFMTV. Due to the way journalism actually works, the freedom to report, even against the owners’ interests, cannot be systematically crushed. In fact, as a former editor in chief of Belgian newspapers and magazines I was confronted with radically different forms of “advice” from my successive owners. While some were very protective of editorial independence others were blunter and ready to compromise with advertisers’ “wishes”. The existence of journalists’ societies, co-owners of the so-called “ethical capital” of the paper, provided some protection, but much was left to individual wrestling between the editor and the proprietor.

At the end, this issue comes down to defining who “owns freedom of information”. In 1993 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe stated that “the owner of the right is the citizen, who also has the related right to demand that the information supplied by journalists be conveyed truthfully, in the case of news, and honestly, in the case of opinions, without outside interference by either the public authorities or the private sector”. A far cry from A.J. Liebling’s sentence…[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Survey: How free is our press?” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”|title:Take%20our%20survey||”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-pencil-square-o” color=”black” background_style=”rounded” size=”xl” align=”right”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]

Are you a working journalist? Do you want to see better protections and freedoms for reporters?

This survey aims to take a snapshot of how financial pressures are affecting news reporting. The openMedia project will use this information to analyse how money shapes what gets reported – and what doesn’t – and to advocate for better protections and freedoms for journalists who have important stories to tell.

More information[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.

Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook) and we’ll send you our weekly newsletter about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share your personal information with anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″]

[/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1513691969537-ee852610-8cb0-8″ taxonomies=”8996″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Turkey: Erdogan tightens the digital screws on free expression

Former Turkish Prime Minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to tens of thousands of supporters during a presidential campaign rally in Istanbul in early August. (Avni Kantan / Demotix)

Former Turkish Prime Minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to tens of thousands of supporters during a presidential campaign rally in Istanbul in early August. (Avni Kantan / Demotix)

Seven months after a previous amendment was introduced to Turkey’s contentious 5651 law governing internet activity, new restrictions were passed late on September 8. Before the February amendments were signed into law by then President Abdullah Gül, a protracted approval process over the course of a few weeks helped bring attention to the proposals. In contrast to the online and street protests against internet censorship that preceded the amendments’ approval earlier this year, last week’s changes to the 5651 law were rushed through a vote before word could spread about them.

The newest restrictions are only two articles tucked into a lengthy omnibus reform bill: in a total of seven sentences, amendments number 126 and 127—part of a list of 146—succinctly make way for invasive data logging and the speedier blocking of access to websites. Nihan Güneli, an Istanbul-based technology and media lawyer, said the hurried vote on the bill kept opposition to the internet regulations muffled. When the details of the earlier 5651 amendments were first presented in January, Güneli said, “everybody was protesting it. I believe that was one of the main reasons Abdullah Gül rejected these two main articles. But this time we didn’t have any time. We just saw the article and everybody was shocked.”

Before approving the last amendments in February, Gül urged legislators to adjust two of its articles: one measure allowing for Turkey’s Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) to block access to some websites within four hours – without a court order, was changed to require judicial review. Another measure that gave TİB the right to collect internet users’ data was changed to restrict access to user logs.

Former Prime Minister Erdogan replaced Gül as Turkey’s new president on August 28. Less than two weeks after his inauguration, these newest internet restrictions allow for websites to be blocked within four hours if their content is ruled a threat to national security or public order, or if restricting access to them can prevent a crime. Under the new amendment, TİB is also allowed to store internet users’ traffic logs and metadata. In an attempt to make the February bill amendable to critics, these two most offensive parts of the previous amendments to 5651 were dropped at Gül’s request. Now exactly those measures have been quietly put into effect under Turkey’s new president.

The targeting of websites determined to be threats to national security comes after the Turkish government struggled to suppress a series of leaked phone recordings earlier this year that spread on social media. The wiretapped phone conversations featured what appeared to be the voices of Prime Minister Erdogan and people close to him, and pointed to their implication in an ongoing corruption scandal. Other recordings ostensibly showed Erdogan’s meddling in the judiciary and with owners of major media outlets. In March, a leaked recording from a meeting at Turkey’s foreign ministry detailed the government’s considerations for military involvement in Syria. Shortly after that recording was posted on YouTube, access to the platform was blocked entirely in Turkey.

YouTube is one prominent example of access restrictions prior to the most recent legislation reform—the website was previously banned for over two years up until 2010. The possible effects of the newest amendments’ measures for blocking websites are still unclear, although the implications for access to information are startling. A number of small, alternative news websites have been aggressively covering the Turkish government’s recent corruption scandal. With no offline distribution form, their livelihood would be put at risk if their websites became inaccessible.

The news website Diken was founded in January 2014 and has since gained a following for its alternative reporting. In June, Diken was named “internet newspaper of the year” by an environmental organisation. Editor in chief Erdal Güven says Diken published almost every one of the leaked government phone recordings earlier this year. So far, Diken has not been shut down or admonished by authorities, which Güven suggests may be because the website is still less than one year old and may not be considered a sufficient threat. Diken risks being targeted by TİB at any point, though, says Güven. “It depends on an advisor to a minister, an MP, the president. Just to read a story of ours and then complain to the legal authorities,” Güven said. Referring to the fines media companies can face for publishing information deemed illegal, Güven added, “They can ask us to pay a huge amount of money. We don’t know what they will do. We don’t have a huge amount of money, we have a tight budget. Of course this would affect us.”

Because of their editorial choices and coverage of government scandals, alternative news sources and social media are the main targets of the new restrictions on website access. Elif Örnek, a reporter for the leftist newspaper soL, says that journalists are often pressured or face censorship, and in reporting on issues that the government is trying to suppress, like the leaked phone recordings, the stakes can be especially high for the media. “The main thing is that when you’re thinking about the public interest, there are some dangers you have to risk,” Örnek said.

For internet users, TİB’s broad collection of metadata is a newly legal tool for monitoring online activity. Nihan Güneli says it’s impossible to predict how TİB will purpose users’ traffic logs. “Within six months, maybe we’ll hear about a case, maybe somebody will be arrested or someone committed a crime and we’ll see this traffic information in court. Then we’ll know what they’re doing with it,” Güneli said. Censorship of websites within Turkey is not new, making it hard to predict whether the new bill’s other article, which gives TİB the authority to block sites within four hours, will have palpable effects on access to information. “TİB has power right now and nobody knows what they’re going to do with it. I don’t think they know either,” Güneli said.

Media violation reports from Turkey via


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This article was posted on 24 Sept 2014 at


Erdogan’s threat to shut down social media is warning for media freedom in Turkey

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Philip Janek / Demotix)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Philip Janek / Demotix)

In February, Turkish president Abdullah Gül prompted intense criticism when he approved restrictive new amendments to the law that regulates internet activity in Turkey, known as 5651. Since then, the Turkish government has continued to threaten internet freedom, placing added pressure on social media platforms. Earlier this month, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested that his government could block access to Facebook and Youtube after municipal elections on 30 March.  

With over 34 million Facebook active users, Turkey is among the top 15 countries on the platform, and both the prime minister and Gül each have over four million Twitter followers. One day after Erdoğan’s statement during a live television interview, Gül countered that blocking access to social media was out of the question. Last week, Erdoğan followed by backtracking on his own comments.

Considering the already strained relationship that Erdoğan’s government has to social media, the turnaround on his comments is still no promise that there may be less restrictions on internet freedom to come in Turkey. In recent months, a number of wiretapped telephone recordings, allegedly of Erdoğan’s conversations, have been leaked onto social media platforms, including YouTube, SoundCloud and Vimeo, suggesting the prime minister’s meddling in corruption and intimidation of mainstream media. On the day that Erdoğan’s television interview aired, a new phone conversation was leaked onto YouTube, purportedly featuring the prime minister berating the media magnate Erdoğan Demirören for coverage in his daily Milliyet of a 2013 peace talk with Abdullah Öcalan of the separatist Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).

Erkan Saka, an assistant professor at Istanbul Bilgi University and a researcher on new media, says

Erdoğan’s comments about Facebook and YouTube reflect his interest in controlling Turkish media. “Most of the mainstream media is already under their control, so this seems to be the only way now for people to express their opposition,” Saka said. With leaks appearing on video or audio sharing websites and spreading through Twitter and Facebook, social media platforms have become instrumental for circulating information related to the ongoing government corruption scandal.

Shutting down entire websites as Erdoğan suggested would mean going beyond the very recent amendments to law 5651 that make possible URL-based blocking of individual web pages ruled offensive, without restricting access to entire websites. YouTube was previously censored in Turkey for over two years after a video was posted on the site that was deemed insulting to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Earlier this year, Vimeo and SoundCloud were both temporarily shut down within Turkey following leaks that were published on those websites. Lawmakers from Erdoğan’s party, the AKP, have defended the controversial new version of 5651 because it allows for an alternative to restricting access to entire websites. Supporters of the law claim that with URL-based page blocking, defamatory content can instead be removed selectively.

In the run up to the elections at the end of this month, the recurring leaks and violent protests around Turkey threaten to tarnish Erdoğan’s popularity with voters. Responding aggressively in the televised interview, Erdoğan’s derision of social media platforms is personal, tactical, and aimed to discredit the websites as a threat to internet users’ safety. “We will not leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook,” the prime minister said in his interview with journalists on broadcaster ATV. Calling the websites immoral, Erdoğan added, “they don’t have limits.” By casting social media websites as damaging to all internet users in Turkey, Erdoğan set the stage for potentially restricting access to those sites on moral grounds. Even after correcting his statement, Erdoğan’s suggestion that social media platforms are a source of danger is in line with his government’s use of internet filtering programs and ad campaigns that portray the internet as debauched to justify restricted access to content it considers harmful.

Aside from facing access restrictions, websites operating from Turkey are forced to comply with other laws that compromise their users’ privacy. Sedat Kapanoğlu, founder of the popular satirical, user-generated online dictionary Ekşi Sözlük, says internet companies in Turkey are put under pressure by laws requiring them to share user data. “A successful platform must create a free environment which protects its users’ rights. We are not able to do that. We are forced to provide IP addresses to prosecution even for completely legal content,” Kapanoğlu said.

One of the social media websites that Erdoğan singled out in his interview, Youtube, which is owned by Google, has an office in Turkey, while other large platforms like Facebook, SoundCloud, Vimeo, and Twitter do not.

Although he later rescinded his original statement, Erdoğan’s recent threat is alarming because it shows that in Turkey’s precarious climate for media independence, it might be plausible for his government to increase control of social media. With elections approaching this month, Erdoğan is himself coming under more pressure to win votes while facing a corruption scandal playing out on social media. The amendments to 5651 already make it easier for the Turkish Directorate of Telecommunication (TİB) to remove web pages from the internet. As more leaks continue to emerge, there is a lingering risk of new restrictions targeting social media platforms that have been at the centre of freedom of speech debates in Turkey.

This article was posted on 19 March 2014 at

Turkey’s proposed internet law met with strong opposition

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Philip Janek / Demotix)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Philip Janek / Demotix)

Turkish authorities have this week come under severe criticism for their proposed amendments to the country’s internet law, which among other things, would effectively allow the government to block websites.

The changes, tabled by the Family and Social Policy Ministry of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, “would give the transport and communication minister the power to block websites deemed to infringe privacy, as well as compelling internet service providers to retain information of their customers’ movements on the net,” reports The Financial Times. “The measure, attached to an omnibus bill, increasing its chances of passage, would also require ISPs to restrict access to proxy sites, which can allow users to circumvent censorship,” it added.

DW reports that “the director of Turkey’s internet regulatory agency would be allowed to act immediately and unilaterally “in case of emergency”. After 48 hours, those decisions would theoretically have to be approved by a judge.” It also states that “under the new law, the government would also be allowed to block individual URLs instead of entire websites” — meaning they could technically block individual social media profiles — and that ISPs would be forced “to join a state-controlled association in order to continue doing business”.

The move comes after a high-profile corruption scandal which has implicated parts of the country’s political elite, and as the government is also trying to increase its power over the judicial branch. However, it is also believed to be part of an ongoing crackdown on internet freedom, and connected to the widespread use of social media during the anti-government Gezi Park protests last summer.

“According to Google’s most recent transparency report, the Turkish government requested the removal of 9,610 items from the internet in the first half of 2013, the most in the world and about three times as many as the United States, which had the second-most,” writes Slate. “Google complied with only 13 percent of Turkey’s requests, which included “a court order to remove any search results linking to information about a political official and sex scandal,” “a Google+ profile picture showing a map of Kurdistan,” and “17 YouTube videos and 109 blog posts that contained content critical of Ataturk.” YouTube was blocked entirely over videos deemed insulting to Ataturk in March.”

Only last Friday, video sharing site Vimeo was blocked. “The blocking of Vimeo came after protesters frequently used the website to share videos covering the nation-wide anti-government demonstrations during month-long Gezi protests in last summer,” writes Cihan. “The move is seen by many people as silencing internet tools to prevent dissidents and citizen journalists from sharing video footage regarding any social and political activity,” they add.

The proposal has been met with high-level opposition.

“The law, which results in limiting the individual’s fundamental rights and freedoms, has also been subject to a ‘rights violation’ ruling of the European Court of Human Rights,”the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) said in a statement, reported by Hurriyet Daily News. “In such a situation, the planned amendments to the law are concerning and will increase censorship on the internet. The draft should be cleared of articles that could harm the fundamental rights and freedoms and the internet economy that is growing every day.”

The head of the Turkish Informatics Foundation (TBV), Faruk Eczacibasi has also spoken out: “We have been saying since 2007, when this law came into force, that it would harm our country’s chances of becoming a society based on knowledge. In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights also ruled that this law violated the freedom of expression as well as other human rights,” reports Al-Monitor, adding that “at a time when we continue to call for these mistakes to be corrected, and for human rights to be respect while monitoring the internet, we regret to see the exact opposite happening”.

However, the government has hit back. “With the new legal arrangement, we intend to protect individual rights. Let’s say one of our citizens has become a victim [of a privacy breach]. He won’t have to wait for an answer from the provider of the content. He can directly apply to the court for it,” said Transport and Communication Minister Lütfi Elvan, reports Turkish Weekly.

“This legal arrangement is by no means a regulation that brings censorship. It is one that helps [Turkey] to reach the standards of developed countries and makes the present law more functional.”

But lawyer Serhat Koç, a spokesperson for the Pirate Party of Turkey told bianet: “If the draft will be implemented, the life will harder for internet users in Turkey. Censors on citizen journalism, scientific research and social media will be a routine.”