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New media outlets expanding in Turkey, still face online hurdles - report

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Newer media outlets in Turkey are reaching a wider audience but the practices of big tech gate keepers such as Google and Facebook are slowing their efforts to catch up with mainstream, mostly pro-government media, a report said on Wednesday.

Algorithms that direct news searches online and on social media sites and videos platforms such as YouTube tend to favour established media outlets, the report by the International Press Institute (IPI) found.

Some 90% of major media in Turkey is now owned by the state or is close to the government after more than a decade of pressure by President Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party that has included fines, taxes and litigation.

Turkey is also one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.

Independent media outlets, most of which are digital, have multiplied rapidly in recent years, with many prominent journalists joining them from more traditional news providers.

The IPI report, which analysed 28 outlets and the data of more than 16,000 online users, found new media have a less diverse demographic audience but are expanding rapidly.

The newer and more editorially-independent media outlets reached 33.5 million users online versus 47.8 million by the more pro-government media, which has recently seen growth stall.

ALGORITHMS

The newer and more independent media offers a broader range of views compared to what the IPI called the “monolithic” pro-government media.

But the trend has slowed because of “social media algorithms that... prioritize pro-government media at the expense of independent and diverse views”, the report added.

The IPI, which promotes media freedom worldwide, found 90.6% of Google’s so-called Top Stories were allotted for just three pro-government outlets.

“Google and Facebook have so far tended to be very government-friendly in Turkey,” said Emre Kizilkaya, a report author.

“We don’t know their intentions. Perhaps they are just unaware of the severity of the problem that tarnishes their reputation as well,” he said in a webinar presentation.

Facebook and Youtube, which is owned by Alphabet Inc’s Google, have agreed to appoint representatives in Turkey under a new social media law that critics say will muzzle dissent on digital platforms.

Twitter has not complied with the new law, incurring fines and an advertisement ban. Its bandwidth could be narrowed by up to 90% in coming months, essentially making it inaccessible in Turkey.

Representatives of Google and Facebook were not immediately available for comment on Wednesday on the IPI report.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones

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