Presidency's Director of Communications Fahrettin Altun said, "The sole purpose of journalism, whether on conventional or digital media, is and should be the ‘truth’. Journalists should practice their profession with the awareness and sensitivity that they are the 'representatives of the truth' on every medium."
Organised online by the Presidency's Directorate of Communications, the "Workshop on Internet Media and Journalism" was attended by members of the Internet media, sector executives, representatives of public institutions and universities.
In the opening speech of the workshop, Director of Communications Altun stated that the developments in Internet technology had added a new dimension to mass communication.
Stating that under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as in every field, significant investments were made in communication infrastructure, and digitalisation gained speed and prevalence in Türkiye, Director of Communications Altun noted that Internet technologies, which are used more and more by the public day by day, have become an integral part of journalism.
Expressing that while polyphony increased in the media thanks to the strengthening of democracy and the development of broadcasting in technical terms in Türkiye, digital journalism began to be accepted more and more by the broad segments of the public with its fast and easy access, Altun continued as follows:
"This picture, which indicates the transformation in the media sector, is, of course, a positive development in terms of access to news and the freedom of expression. Although digital journalism is more involved in our lives than yesterday, it still lacks a fully official framework in our country today. While digital journalism gains such prevalence, it is essential that the relevant legislation be harmonised with the new reality. This step is, above all, an obligation to protect the reputation of the profession and the dignity of journalists who do their job properly. As the Directorate of Communications, we will continue to work with the sector in the matter of manifesting the professional standards of digital journalism and arranging this field in a rational and transparent manner."
"Distortion journalism based on lies causes serious harm to democracy"
Emphasising that society's access to real, accurate and reliable news about the developments in the country and the world was essential for a healthy democracy, Altun said, "Therefore, while truth-based journalism strengthens democracy, manipulative journalism based on distortion and lies causes serious harm to democracy. At this point, the journalists, who are representatives of the truth, have also undertaken an important responsibility. I believe that members of the media perform a critical function in informing individuals and the society in a healthy, complete and fact-based manner and protecting the right to receive information."
Pointing out that members of the media also have important duties in the fight against national and international disinformation attempts targeting Türkiye, Altun noted:
"On the other hand, with the development of digital opportunities, we witness that manipulation and fake news can spread easily and that this opportunity can be exploited for malicious purposes. This predicament necessitates a structural transformation of the media industry and the journalism mentality. Digital journalism that lacks self-control, as well as journalism principles and professional standards, can sadly result in a medium where the truth can be easily distorted, and manipulative content can be propagated. In digital media, people's rights or institutions' reputations can be readily targeted through deliberate distortions, black propaganda, and false information. Unfortunately, some international media platforms and their internal extensions, which are tools of malevolent objectives, are targeting our country with black propaganda. This situation points to a critical issue for our democracy, as well as public perceptions of the media industry and professional quality."
Stating that Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel emphasised that the first obligation of journalism was the pursuit of the "truth" in their work entitled "The Elements of Journalism", Altun added that Kovach and Rosenstiel drew attention to the fact that citizens were the first authority that journalists would be loyal to, and that the discipline of "verifying information" lied at the core of this profession.
"The only objective of journalism is the truth"
Altun shared the view, "Therefore, the sole purpose of journalism, whether on conventional or digital media, is and should be the ‘truth’. Journalists should practice their profession with the awareness and sensitivity that they are the 'representatives of the truth' on every medium."
Expressing that even the 5Ws and 1H rule, which is the most fundamental principle of journalism, could be thrown aside and it was seen that perception management operations or trigger pullers could be carried out under the guise of journalism, Altun continued his words as follows:
"What exactly are the 5Ws and 1H? Journalism is an activity of translation. The questions of 'what, when, where, who, why and how' asked during the translation of an event into a news story are indispensable for news. While rumours and lies are being circulated under the guise of 'alleged reporting,' it is forgotten that news cannot be written without the 5Ws and 1H. Unfortunately, so-called journalism, that is based on rumours and circulates rumours, has the potential to turn into a culture, and once this negative trend becomes a culture, sensation becomes a major part of this process. The digital ecosystem and society are being poisoned by desk-based news generated with the goal of creating sensation and more clicks without the need for any research or verification. On the other hand, certain politicians, ostensibly in the name of opposition, have set up a system of supporting their fake politics with fake news, devoid of any moral or political principles. Unfortunately, at this point, the Internet media can be utilised as a tool for ideological fortification. This is nothing more than exploiting humans' 'hunger for knowledge' with falsified news."
"It demonstrated us how far it can go when it comes to lying"
Relaying that the latest examples of distortion of the truth were fake news stories titled "Exam-free medical education for Qatari students" and "Firearms in the girls' dormitory", Altun continued as follows:
"The news piece titled 'Exam-free medical education for Qatari students', which was published for the first time on a website and is an utter lie, was obviously an attempt to mislead the public opinion and provoke the exam-taking students against our Government. This piece of lie spread virally because of the nature of the Internet. Many other websites also copied and used this provocative content verbatim. The leader of the main opposition party, too, followed this lie and even acted as an advocate for it. We immediately revealed that the news piece was not true. Although we proved it wrong, the website that had published the news responded only 27 hours later and said, 'We were wrong, sorry.' Moreover, they said, 'We also apologise to those who have made statements by taking our news as a reference point.' But the apology came 27 hours later, and the perception management operation had been already completed. Although the truth was revealed, the opposition members who became a part, and even the centre, of this lie continued burying their heads into the sand by not apologising in any way, although the truth was revealed.
The fake and false news titled 'Firearms in the girls' dormitory'... The website that published this news piece also showed us how far they could go in telling lies. I beg your attention; there are no such kinds of examples in the history of the media. Our public should document these attempts to service lies as a framework for negative examples that should not be allowed to manifest again. This distorted and twisted news aimed to cause public unrest by presenting imitated weapons used in a documentary shooting as 'real weapons' is also a complete example of media terrorism. This disorderly order based on fabricated news clearly threatens our societal peace and also needs to be considered as a national security issue. We do not, and cannot, view it as an unintended mistake or error. Those who aim to misdirect public opinion and provoke our citizens through systematic lies will definitely pay the price of their offences before the law. Our justice system will definitely bring those to account for these offences. It is, of course, possible to prevent these crimes through a robust media structure based on laws and regulated by rights and responsibilities. We will continue to fight against these perception operations, disinformation campaigns, lies, and distortions in all platforms by chanting 'Long live, truth', and we will continue upholding the truth."
"There is a need for new legal regulations in terms of digital journalism"
Stressing that the debate on press ethics was one of the issues to be addressed in terms of digital journalism, Altun said, "News reporting on the Internet media done for the sole purpose of fast delivery, scooping, sensationalism, and click record and lacking professional ethics and a proper supervision comes up as an important issue today."
Noting that research showed that one in three news was produced to increase the click record, Altun said, "This system, which is seen as a view counter and thus as a source of funds due primarily to advertisement revenues, unfortunately, paves the way for the service of deliberately misleading and low-quality content. This, without a doubt, brings along the debate on the limits of the freedom of information. We witness that visuals and expressions that cannot be used in the traditional media due to the overseeing mechanism are serviced in the Internet media in an uncontrolled manner. The veracity and reliability of the content and related copyright and other ethical issues may also become hot debates in terms of digital journalism."
Expressing that another ethical issue is the right to "reply and rectification," which is lacking or needs to be strengthened in digital journalism, Altun said, "Certainly, dealing with all of the issues is critical for society's right to accurate information. Regulating and enhancing the rights of Internet media, which is increasing prominence in informing society through faster and more extensive journalism, as well as their representatives, is critical as well. We are, in fact, organising this workshop towards that end. Without a doubt, powerful journalism under assurance will have more robust connections to the truth."
Stressing that in light of this reality, it is known that new legal arrangements are required today in the field of digital journalism, Altun noted, "Starting with what the legal status of Internet newspapers should be, it is of paramount importance to set the professional standards for digital journalism, to provide a suitable working environment and to firmly construct the necessary framework to protect the rights of employees. Therefore, it is essential to eradicate the wrong practices and shortcomings in Internet publishing, provide solutions and improve the quality."
"We hope to propose solutions too"
Recalling that they pointed out the significance of digital journalism activities and the need for regulation at a previous Digital World Workshop, which was organised with the contributions of the Directorate of Communications, Altun said, "I once again would like to point out that professional standards of digital journalism must be established. It is vital, in my opinion, to separate journalists who professionally do their tasks in accordance with the professional and ethical standards of journalism. This, I believe, will also ensure the continuity and institutionalisation of digital media. Without question, the existence of continuous and institutionalised media outlets represents a significant advance in the struggle for truth."
On the other hand, expressing his appreciation for the contributions that Internet publishing will make to the media sector in terms of producing more diverse and more affluent content through technological means, Altun stated, "Following and copying conventional media content and releasing only these contents to the Internet constitutes a misreading of digitalisation. As a result, I believe that Internet media should take a leading role by providing unique and distinct information and concepts. Once this method establishes a proper climate for itself, we will all see the ramifications on traditional media and see a major transformation."
Noting that with this awareness, they organised "Workshop on Internet Media and Journalism" as an indicator of their willingness to establish a more solid and quality structure in media and in all spheres of communication, Altun expressed the following:
"With this workshop, we intend to deal with our gains in the media sector in the digitalising world as well as to provide solutions to the sector's issues. We will have an essential exchange of views with subject specialists, including you - respected media and sector representatives, eminent academics, and institution representatives. I truly believe that the outcomes of this initiative will considerably contribute to eradicating the sector's shortcomings."