Media Battle over The Independent: Turkısh and Saudi Conflict

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Media battle over The Independent between the Turkish and the Saudi governments has been proceeding. The Independent has found itself in the middle of a weird tit-for-tat press freedom war between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The whole story began after authorities in Ankara banned the British publication’s Turkish-language site over its links to Riyadh.

The move came soon after Turkish authorities charged 20 Saudis over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Hence, the incident spoiled and damaged relations between the two countries.

What does The Independent Have to do with the Battle?

English-language readers know The Independent is a former print newspaper that has transformed itself into an online publishing giant. In doing so, the newspaper aggressively used social media. But, it also has a series of sister sites aimed at readers in the Middle East.

Media battle over The Independent. (Image Credit-The New Arab)
Media battle over The Independent. (Image Credit-The New Arab)

A part of the deal arranged this which saw a 30% stake in the London-based Independent. Then, the owner Evgeny Lebedev sold the gazette to an offshore Cayman Islands company controlled by a Saudi Arabian state bank. A publishing company with close ties to the Saudi state founded a series of foreign-language publications. All the publications have been under the Independent’s brand and a Saudi publishing house administered them all.

What is the Accusation for The Independent?

Claims on the tie between Saudi authorities and the newspaper have accelerated the tension between the two governments. However, the Independent strongly denied these claims. They stressed that the outlets are editorially independent and overseen by established reporters.

This weekend the Turkish authorities banned Independent Turkish from being accessed by the country’s internet users. The Turkish authorities came up with an idea that there is a strong connection between the site and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This ban has also affected other outlets including Sky News Arabia. Sky News Arabia, by the way, is a joint venture between London-based Sky and an Abu Dhabi company.

When did Tit-for-tat Developments Begin?

The media battle over the Independent came days after Saudi Arabia and the UAE blocked several Turkish media sites, including the state-owned Anadolu Agency. Turkish media has lashed out at Riyadh in recent weeks. They accused the Saudis of mishandling the Covid-19 crisis by not acting quickly enough. This accusation was based on the deficient effort of the Saudi government to halt the flow of Muslim pilgrims to and from the kingdom.

The Editor of the Independent: “Unfair Decision”

Nevzat Çiçek, the editor of the Independent Turkish. (Image Credit-Milli Gazete)
Nevzat Çiçek, the editor of the Independent Turkish. (Image Credit-Milli Gazete)

The editor of Independent Turkish, Nevzat Çiçek, said the court order banning his outlet was an “unfair decision”, given his site has editorial independence. He said the ruling was retaliation for Saudi Arabia’s recent decision to stop its citizens. Moreover, accessing material from Turkey’s state-owned Arabic-language rolling was the real motivation.

The Truth Behind the Media Battle over the Independent

According to the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, both Turkey and Saudi Arabia rank near the very bottom for press freedom. Sadly, neither country has a strong record of upholding the tradition of free independent media.

Press Freedom Index 2020. (Image Credit-Reporters sans frontiers)
Press Freedom Index 2020. (Image Credit-Reporters sans frontiers)

Last year the media regulator Ofcom held an extensive investigation into the offshore investments in both the Independent. Further, the investigation also included its sister newspaper the London Evening Standard. It concluded that the new investors had close ties to the Saudi state. On the other side, there was no evidence of them influencing output at the English-language publications.

A separate government competition investigation was abandoned following the Ofcom report. And what’s more, following a tribunal ruling that ministers had left it too late to intervene in the takeover.

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