Local journalists in southern Turkey have been torn between mourning their loved ones and reporting the scope of destruction in their cities.
On the night of the earthquake on February 6, Sinasi Inan, a reporter based in Sanliurfa for the Ihlas News Agency, rushed outside with his wife and children and went to an area with collapsed buildings to report the damage.
After finding a safe place to leave his immediate family — an expansive lot across from his father-in-law’s house — Inan went to his hometown of Adiyaman, where he discovered about 40 of his own relatives among the dead.
“We came to the region without fully experiencing the pain of losing our relatives, and we continue to do our job,” Inan told VOA, noting that the importance of reporting the story is a journalistic reflex.
Kadir Gunes, who is based in Gaziantep for the Demiroren News Agency, described the hardship in the first days of the earthquake as he and his family used their car for shelter like other survivors.
“I produced my stories in the car and slept in the car,” Gunes told VOA. “We usually hear about an incident first and go to the scene. This time, we experienced the incident ourselves.”
Gunes’ wife and 2-year-old son later went to stay with her family.
The 7.8- and 7.6-magnitude earthquakes that jolted Turkey and Syria killed nearly 50,000 people. At least 26 local journalists in 10 Turkish provinces were among the victims.
As the reporters mourn their personal losses, they also think of the physical and mental impact the earthquake may have on Turkey’s media.
“It will be a long process for Hatay and its local media to recover from this, and it might take three or five years,” said Abdullah Temizyurek, owner of Hatay and Hatay Soz newspapers.” I do not know if those who live with this fear will return. But they must return. This is our homeland.”
Temizyurek noted that four people on his staff lost family members in the earthquake.
Since thousands of people have left Hatay, one of the worst-hit provinces in Turkey, Temizyurek believes local media must report on the aftermath, given that national and international media will eventually leave.
“I think we should continue to talk about Hatay. But everyone is in shock. I think we need to do our job and cover the news as much as possible,” Temizyurek said.
According to a 2021 Media Research Association report, local newspapers in Turkey have struggled through an economic crisis, rising printing costs and a decline in ad revenue and subscriptions. The earthquakes provided new challenges to their survival.
Mustafa Gonuleri, owner of Kent Media in Hatay’s Iskenderun district, said he lost all of his video and audio equipment in the earthquake, destroying his business. He now worries about how he will support his family and keep his media outlet running.
“Even after a few months, if [local media outlets] ask for subscription or advertisement support from the shopkeepers, they would kick us out. Your shop is gone, maybe your employees are dead. A local journalist comes … and asks for your support. You would kick them out,” Gonuleri said.
There is no public data on the number of Turkish media outlets impacted by the earthquake. On February 23, Cavit Erkilinc, head of Turkey’s state-run Press Advertising Agency (BIK), announced that 130 local newspapers had been affected.
BIK offered a $42,370 relief package to local newspapers in the damaged provinces. The agency has also exempted the newspapers from having to meet minimum circulation numbers to receive public ad revenues. That exemption remains in effect until January 2024.
The earthquakes also silenced Diyarbakir-based Can Radio and TV for 24 days — the longest interruption Turkey’s first Kurdish-language media outlet experienced in 28 years. Twelve employees are now unemployed.
“There have been short interruptions because of the [government limitations on] Kurdish broadcasts [in the past], but this is the first time we have experienced such a long interruption,” Ahmet Dalgic, editor-in-chief of Can Radio and TV, told VOA.
He said the outlet would have to cease broadcasting if he could not retrieve equipment and archives from the heavily damaged complex where the radio and TV station is located.