Top networks launch Turkey YouTube channel as local media tamed

Recep Tayyip Erdogan giving a speech in Istanbul. (AFP pic)

ISTANBUL: International networks including the BBC and Voice of America unveiled a YouTube news channel dedicated to Turkey on Monday, in a sign that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tight grip on domestic media is creating an opening for foreign broadcasters.

Deutsche Welle and France 24 will also produce video content for +90, named after Turkey’s international dialling code, representatives of the companies said in Istanbul.

All four organisations receive government funding in their respective countries.

The channel is the first of its kind both for Turkey and its creators.

It’s being launched as businesses close to Erdogan have taken control of the majority of Turkey’s media organisations, providing largely favourable coverage of the government.

Authorities have intensified efforts to eliminate criticism since an attempted 2016 coup, purging tens of thousands of government workers alleged to follow the self-exiled cleric Turkey accuses of plotting the military intervention, and stifling media outlets.

“There are tensions around journalism and the press freedom is in danger,” Deutsche Welle director general Peter Limbourg said when asked about the political climate in Turkey. “I can only hope journalists can do their jobs but I am optimistic.”

The objective of +90 is to provide independent and reliable information, and promote freedom of speech, according to a statement from the four broadcasters.

Limbourg said the channel would aim for a young audience.

Gallagher Fenwick, head of France 24’s English service, said it hoped to “reconnect” people in an era characterised globally by deep divisions.

More than a hundred Turkish news outlets, many of them aimed at the minority Kurdish population, have been closed following the attempted military takeover, and journalists jailed.

The country ranks 157th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders 2019 World Press Freedom Index.