A controversial pro-government media group has been named as the only recipient from Turkey for Google’s journalism innovation fund.
The Google News Initiative (GNI) was originally launched by the U.S.-based platform “to help journalism thrive in the digital age” and “to inject new ideas into the news industry.” For the first time in its history, GNI Innovation Challenges had included Turkey in the list of countries in its public call last year.
The Demiroren Media Group was named as the only Turkish applicant selected for the program by Google, according to the GNI website that was updated earlier this week. The website stated that Demiroren’s “project seeks to to detect the entities a reader is interested in, and recommend news regarding the same person, company or place they are reading about, in real-time.”
“Keeping the reader on the site will increase ad-revenues while categorizing text data will make indexing easier, both for internal uses and for search engine optimization purposes. Such a service could also be sold as a service to other companies that need to categorize their text data,” the brief statement added.
Google opted to omit the details about its upcoming funding of 108 projects from media outlets in 39 countries this year, including the amount that it planned to pay to Demiroren. The search giant’s earlier statements had said that it will fund selected projects up to $150,000 and will finance up to 70% of the total project cost.
Demiroren Media blasted as partisan, manipulative
Google’s helping hand to a Turkish media outlet, whose critics slam as partisan and manipulative, was widely criticized on media on Feb. 19. Some social media users blasted the “unbelievable” decision over Demiroren media outlets’ recent violations of free speech and basic rights. The news website Haber3, on the other hand, pointed to another type of alleged abuse by Demiroren’s news websites, including their “manipulative and misleading content” aimed at gaming Google’s search engine.
Demiroren’s flagship newspaper, Hurriyet, had fired 45 of its unionized employees, including several senior journalists, in October 2019. Vahap Munyar, Hurriyet’s editor-in-chief, had resigned in protest over the firings, which were ordered by the newspaper’s board of directors outside of his knowledge. The fired journalists had then sued their former employer for not paying their legally-sanctioned severance fees. The case continues.
‘Openly supporting’ Erdogan’s ruling AKP
The Demiroren Group purchased all the media assets of the Dogan Group for $916 million in March 2018. It is currently the largest media group in Turkey. The company’s shares are entirely owned by the Demiroren Family, “which openly supports” Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), according to Reporters’ Without Borders.
The family has apparently close ties with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. The recordings of alleged phone conversations between the founder of the Demiroren Group and Erdogan were leaked in May 2014, in which the then-Prime Minister scolds Demiroren for a news story, asking for those responsible to be fired. Dozens of journalists have been fired by Demiroren since then.
According to the International Press Institute (IPI), the freedom of the press in Turkey has been continuing on in its downward spiral in 2019, although the country was already near the bottom of the global press freedom indexes.