Three-D Issue 27: Are citizens journalism’s last resort? Activist citizen journalism under the Turkish state of emergency

Ever since the first newspapers were published in Turkey, journalism has been an occupation trying to survive under censorship, threats, arrests, exile, and even assassinations. At the same time, mainstream journalism has always served the interests of certain capital groups and remained partisan. Alternative/opposition media institutions continue to struggle at the intersection of approaches – “another world is possible” and “another media/journalism is possible” – on a stage under the shadows of military coups and unsolved murders, they continue to be the inevitable living and discursive spheres of counter-publics.

This stage expanded and diversified with a new alternative media practice that emerged during the Gezi Resistance, which attracted millions of participants in the summer of 2013. Alternative and activist new media initiatives, and those using social media for activist citizen journalism, have clearly demonstrated that the paradigm of journalism in Turkey need to be transformed radically. Meanwhile, along with the Gülenist Movement (which was deemed responsible for the failed coup attempt on 15 July 15 2016), alternative (new) media organisations and citizen journalists became the target of a purge carried out during the State of Emergency declared after the attempted coup.

The Independent Communication Network (BA) provide media survey reports listing threats, attacks, arrests, and charges against journalists in Turkey, whilst press freedom indexes and reports from Freedom HouseCommittee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) that detail the pressures on the media, particularly after the failed coup, indicate how unsafe the country has become in terms of journalism and free speech. In a country where journalism could be deemed – both by the president and the prime minister – a crime promoting terrorism, journalists are easily accused of being terrorists and social media seen as a trouble to be eradicated.

Alternative media initiatives that increased and came to the fore after the Gezi Resistance in Turkey have a paradigmatic difference in terms of their organizational structure, internal relations, content production and distribution processes, short and long term goals, and even with venues and locations they prefer. In this respect, they also strictly differ not only from mainstream media, but also from many traditional alternative media that are often the media organs of leftist parties based on commercial and usually hierarchical organizational structures. They have been formed as grassroots organizations, directly and autonomously, in accordance with the nature of the Gezi Resistance. In addition, the aforementioned grassroots movement also includes activist citizens who report news as well, and who do not have a direct, regular connection with the media collectives. However, it is noted that there is a cooperation based on sympathy between the collectives and these activists. In recent studies on journalism, these individuals are defined as “citizen journalists”. For example, according to Radsch, “citizen journalists have emerged as the vanguard of new social movements dedicated to promoting human rights and democratic values.” These individuals “have been using self-publishing tools to create transnational and subnational activist networks to draw attention to the plight of citizens still waiting for democratic access to public sphere participation in the public space through the use of their own means” (2011: 61).

Others have attempted to create an activist citizen journalist definition that takes into consideration the conceptualization of both network society and activist citizenship.Activist citizen journalists are voluntary reporters acting in an internet-based decentralized symbolic network of the resistance, following news related to the event to collect information, recording it, and sharing reports as part of a collective consciousness and feelings of solidarity, as well as making news in their surroundings as activists and acting as news media through their accounts (web sites, blogs, micro-blogs).

screen_shot_2016-12-15_at_09-07-48The oppressive regime in Turkey constantly gives rise to new forms of resistance, and activist citizen journalist practices continue to emerge. In this respect, the case of Nuriye Gülmen is of utmost importance. A research assistant at Konya Selçuk University, Gülmen had returned to her post after winning the legal struggles she initiated against all the injustice she suffered throughout the previous years, when she was again suspended via a new legislative decree passed with the excuse of the recent coup attempt.

Gülmen is only one of thousands of civil servants and academics who have been suspended during the same period. Yet, Gülmen’s attitude towards what she has been through has been unique. With a text titled “Call to Resistance: Now it’s our time to create new stories”, on 8 November 2016, she invited all the unjustly treated and victimized employees to a sit-in in front of the Human Rights Monument in Ankara, Turkey. In the same text, she also announced that she was going to make a press statement. However, no one other than a few alternative media institutions that were still active in Turkey at that time answered this call. On top of that, she was taken into custody for 19 days solid because of this statement – purportedly for “unlawful acts.”

Only two news sources reported this process. First, her own resistance blog (https://nuriyegulmendireniyor.wordpress.com/), and also Seyri Sokak, which has been publishing since the Gezi Movement as a citizen journalism initiative. Gülmen produces her own news and through support for videos and photographs published by Seyri Sokak itself. Indeed, most of the videos and photographs in the journal now stem from Seyri Sokak.

screen_shot_2016-12-14_at_22-18-57This journalism practice, empowered by Nuriye Gülmen’s durability and resistance, has begun yielding its first fruit. The police arrests have come to an end, and the number of supporters and participants in front of the monument is growing. Two MPs from the main opposition party came to support the resistance, and they made speeches for “Seyri Sokak”s cameras. This is how the resistance has been growing day by day since the beginning of December.

In short, activist citizen journalists who act with the desire to defend and empower democracy appear as an oasis of journalism. They are articulated to both traditional and alternative new media. Based on this perspective, citizen journalism should be regarded as a vital journalism practice in order to support the bond between the media and democracy and becoming more than just a support unit aiming to strengthen such relations. And not just in Turkey, but in all similar democracies that are under the threat of neoliberal authoritarianism! Therefore, in such countries, where violence has become an ordinary part of daily life, the future and safety of alternative (new) media and citizen journalists against threats, pressures, censorship, layoffs, being taken into custody and arrested, kidnapping, physical attacks, torture, and murder are important matters to consider regarding the health of democratic mediasphere.

References

Radsch, C. Courtney (2011). Arab bloggers as citizen journalists (Transnational). In J. Downing (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media, (pp. 61-64). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Posted by Einar Thorsen