Conflict & Justice

Ã?apul TV: Turkey's Alternative to Mainstream Media

When Turkey's mainstream news networks failed to broadcast the first days of the protests and police crackdown that swept the nation, demonstrators and viewers were outraged. A few of them took matters into their own hands and created their own alternative media outlets.

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Mustafa Aldemir is 30-years-old. By day, he is a software engineer. But at night he transforms into a goggle and gas mask-wearing citizen journalist. "We actually are activists, we say that we are activists and that we are doing journalism because the journalists are not doing their jobs," Mustafa says.

His engineering skills come in handy running the live-stream online channel, Ã?apul TV. He and his friends launched it to show the protests in Gezi Park that the Turkish mainstream media were ignoring.

In just two weeks, Ã?apul TV has gotten over 2 million views, tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, and donations from over the world. They have received two high definition cameras, an audio mixer, a laptop and some microphones. Their studio is mobile so they can broadcast from wherever.

When police cleared Gezi Park last weekend, Ã?apul TV was live inside the park. A teargas canister landed in their makeshift studio. The crew donned gas masks and continued to broadcast until the police kicked them out. Then they went to another part of town and broadcast clashes there between protesters and police.

"Of course we are scared but we take our cautions like wearing a helmet and a mask and running as fast as we can when needed," Mustafa says. "We believe that we should do it, someone should do it and because no body else is doing it, so we have to do it."

At this point Ã?apul TV only broadcasts when people are around after work, like in the evenings or on the weekends. Right now, they're airing from different parks throughout the city, where protesters are holding forums to discuss reforms moving forward.

Mustafa says they'll need more volunteers to keep it going longer-term. "I hope that after some time, some professional guys will come and take this job back and do good journalism," he says.

Korhan Varol says he was ready to go live from Gezi Park when the police first tear-gassed the peaceful demonstrations. But his network wasn't. He is a senior correspondent for NTV, one of Turkey's largest TV news outlets.

Korhan says when he got back to NTV headquarters, the network only gave him 30 seconds of airtime to report the news. "I was angry, the people were are angry," he says. "The protesters were there and they said 'show this show this,' we were shooting but we were not live. So it was a bad day for me, really, because something was happening there and I could not report it live."

He still covered what was happening. Korhan live-tweeted what he saw to his few thousand Twitter followers.

Eventually, NTV did start broadcasting news of the protests after they drew international attention. The company's head even issued a public apology for failing to broadcast the initial events. But for the protesters, it was too little too late.

Demonstrators in Istanbul marched to NTV's headquarters on June 3, three days after the initial police crackdown. Protesters chanted, "Sell out media," waving cash in their hands. NTV aired that live.

The waving cash was a jab at Turkey's media tycoons, who have big investments in industries that rely on government contracts. Korhan of NTV says that's probably why they're leery of angering the government. As a result, there's self-censorship, as well as heavy-handed government control.

NTV was not the only outlet getting criticized. CNN Turk aired a documentary about dolphins and penguins while people were out demonstrating. So critics started using penguins as a symbol of the media's silence.

Korhan says protesters have been unforgiving even after channels started broadcasting the demonstrations. "For many people the target is you," he explains. "Why? Because of your company, I think it's horrible."

But he doesn't blame the protesters for their anger. He's even impressed with the live stream channels that have sprouted up. "I think this shows us that if something happens like this from now on," Korhan says. "They will make their own media, a protest media, let's say."

Mustafa says he can imagine a permanent place for some kind of protest media, but he would still like the mainstream guys to do their jobs.

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