Internet search giant Google Inc. announced on Wednesday it will give funding to Turkish media organisation Demirören Media, a decision observers criticised as legitimising the pro-government group accused of unethical practises.
The Google News Initiative (GNI) uses a total budget of $1.93 million to provide funding of up to $150,000 to various news projects for the purpose of improving digital journalism.
According to the GNI website, the programme supports projects that contribute to the creation of a sustainable environment for digital news by developing new working models and interacting with readers.
The Demirören Group, a business conglomerate known for its close ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), had purchased Hürriyet and other media assets, such as CNN Türk and Milliyet, belonging to Aydın Doğan in 2017.
The move was widely perceived as the final nail in the coffin of free media in Turkey. Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) announced last week it will boycott CNN Türk for censorship and broadcasting false news about the party.
Following Hürriyet’s acquisition, 400 workers, including several high-profile journalists, were collectively dismissed from their jobs without compensation over a span of two years.
There are also criticisms that Demirören Media companies, especially Hürriyet and Milliyet, are not journalists but instead manipulate Google search results and generate digital traffic and advertising revenue.
A GNI statement was posted with regards to Demirören Media winning funding on Wednesday.
This project seeks 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 categorising text data will make indexing easier, both for internal uses and for search engine optimisation purposes. Such a service could also be sold as a service to other companies that need to categorise their text data.
Google’s move stirred criticism on social media.
“A simple Google Search could have helped folks at @GoogleNewsInit to see who not to award with the first ever challenge covering Turkey,” tweeted Baybars Örsek, head of a fact-checking initiative at Poynter Institute.
“Why is @GoogleNewsInit funding pro-government propaganda media network in Turkey instead of one of the many aspiring small news initiatives?!” wrote journalist Gürkan