This interview is part of IPI’s series profiling our 10 new Executive Board members.
Emre Kızılkaya is a Turkish editor and researcher who was a journalist and manager at one of Europe’s largest media groups for more than 10 years, where he led digital content strategy and user engagement. Today, he serves as a project editor at journo.com.tr and the chair of IPI’s Turkey National Committee. He’s also the author of several reports of the future of journalism in Turkey.
At last month’s IPI World Congress in Vienna, Kızılkaya was elected to IPI’s global Executive Board and later named an IPI vice chair. We asked him for his thoughts about journalism’s future and IPI’s role in developing it.
IPI: What are the big challenges for independent journalism today, including in your country?
EK: The technological transformation has severely damaged journalism’s conventional business model, created an oligopoly of information gatekeepers, and undermined the public’s trust in democratic institutions and processes. Independent journalism around the world was forced into a mood of constant soul-searching, seeking to find new relevance and models to flourish. Only a few media outlets have managed to put themselves on a sustainable track amid these challenges.
Turkey does not have any unique challenges per se, although it is a remarkably harsh ecosystem for journalists. What does make it stand out is the fact that almost all possible challenges from around the world can be observed in Turkey. It is like a laboratory: journalists are being jailed like in China, physically or virtually assaulted like in Russia, and are forced to self-censor like in many Asian and African countries. Independent media outlets are shut down or heavily fined like in Iran, the cronies of the government capture newspapers and TV outlets like in Hungary, and the public broadcaster is under heavy government influence like in Romania and Bulgaria. Independent journalists are labeled as “traitors”, and pro-government media spread fake news like in Serbia, while defamation laws are weaponized by the ruling elite like in Poland.
IPI: How might IPI make a difference? What do you see as IPI’s strengths?
EK: IPI’s mission, which is to defend media freedom and support independent journalism wherever it is threatened, as well as its global family of members comprise its strengths.
Defending media freedom and supporting independent journalism should work on multiple levels — from speaking up against press freedom violations as a global family to monitoring and encouraging the free flow of news by innovating new solutions for journalists and media outlets around the world. IPI has been doing all of these since its inception. This can be seen in IPI’s countless interventions to protect journalists on six continents over the past seven decades. IPI’s 1953 report “The Flow of the News” was the first global research of its kind.
IPI: What makes you feel optimistic about journalism?
EK: From the Philippines to Hungary, the ongoing resilience of independent journalists, and their global solidarity as part of IPI, make me feel optimistic despite all the challenges. In Turkey, too, we have seen that we can change the media ecosystem for the better by clinging to quality journalism.
IPI’s Turkey National Committee dates back to the 1950s, as one of the founders of IPI was Turkish journalist Ahmet Emin Yalman. Since then, the most prominent media personalities of Turkey have served on the IPI board, including the legendary journalist Abdi İpekçi. I am honored to fill İpekçi’s seat now as IPI vice-chair from Turkey.
As the IPI Turkey of our time, our work in the early 2000s had focused on elevating the standards of journalism. As early as 2005, IPI Turkey was organizing digital journalism training for Turkish journalists. We also organized “Peace Journalism” conferences to create bridges between various groups of news producers and consumers, including between Turkish and Kurdish journalists, and between media outlets in Turkey and Greece, to reduce polarization and incentivize ethical journalism. We also worked hard to promote gender justice and equal pay in Turkish newsrooms.
IPI: What do you hope to achieve in your term on the IPI board?
EK: Together with all the members, we will “challenge the challenges” that media freedom and independent journalism face globally.
Both of these challenges are posed by powerholders, and they can be categorized under two main lines: The first one is the state’s hard power, which turned, in many countries, into an authoritarian force that has been targeting journalism and democracy. The second one is the commercial interest groups that monopolize the world’s communication infrastructure and interfaces, like Big Tech, which also undermine the public interest through their soft power.
On behalf of the global journalism community and the democratic public, we must monitor, understand, engage with, and — when needed — force these powers to change for the better or hold them to account to defend media freedom and support independent journalism.