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Al Jazeera Expands Global Footprint With Turkish Digital Operation

Al Jazeera Turk will start as a digital operation and plans to become a broadcaster in a year

Al Jazeera is expanding its global footprint, bringing its brand to Turkey and the world’s 140 million Turkish speakers with Al Jazeera Turk, which will launch as a digital operation with plans for a TV channel to follow roughly a year from now.

Al Jazeera Turk will go live at 6 a.m. Turkish time tomorrow, January 22, 2014, at aljazeera.com.tr, and also as mobile apps and a digital magazine.

The move makes Al Jazeera probably the first major network to go digital before broadcast, and also the first in Turkey not owned, even just in part, by any Turkish enterprise.

Al Jazeera Turk’s competitors will include CNN Turk, which is 50 percent owned by Dogan Media Group, the country’s largest media empire, and the other half by Turner Broadcasting systems. CNN Turk is not known as a free press bastion.

The Qatari network, winner of awards for its Arab Spring coverage and respected for its hustle and pride in shaking things up politically, could bring a breath of fresh air to the media landscape in Turkey which a 2013 report from the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked the world’s leading jailer of journalists, followed closely by Iran and China.

During protests last spring and summer in Istanbul’s Taksim Square more than fifty journos were fired, according to a tally released by the main party that opposes prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. When the protests first broke out CNN Turk famously aired penguin documentaries and cooking shows while  hell was breaking loose, and were mocked even by Anderson Cooper.

But Erdogan’s grip on the media is slipping, even though much of the mainstream news media continue to back him, due to a proliferation of Internet-based media outlets.

Al Jazeera Turk News Director Gürkan Zengin in a statement underscored how journos at its digital news center in Istanbul will have the opportunity to work without any political or commercial considerations to produce “accurate and objective news” and “equal treatment of different opinions.”

“We are establishing a groundbreaking model with our digital news center,” boasted Can Tüzüner, the Head of Online at Al Jazeera Turk. “All the news produced at the news center will be available for use on both digital and visual media. Once we start television broadcasting, we will be able to share news from the same news center.”

Al Jazeera, which has more than 70 bureaus in 40 countries, already operates four separately branded news operations, Al Jazeera Arabic, English, Balkans, and, most recently, Al Jazeera America.

Al Jazeera Turk Managing Director Ismail Kizilbay said that they have defined their target audience as any area where Turkish is spoken which, besides Turkey, also means Europe, the Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Al Jazeera Network Executıve Director, Strategy and Development, Yaser Bishr called Al Jazeera Turk “an important new member to the Al Jazeera Network, serving an important geopolitical market.”

Turkey, which has 18 million TV homes and spans Europe, Asia and the Middle East, has a booming economy and a young and highly wired demographic.

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