Metro exclusive report from Turkey: Taksim TV, revolutionary-style
When I enter the cafe that serves as a makeshift command central for the revolutionaries of Taksim Square and Gezi Park, Esra Arslan is asleep on a sofa. In fact, the whole room is full of sleeping protesters who’ve done the night shift.
Arslan has been doing the nightshift as a TV producer. Yes, the Turkish revolutionaries have their own TV station. “We saw that the mainstream media was doing a poor job bringing news from here”, explains Arslan, a 20-something who has been in the camp since Day 2. “Facebook and Twitter weren’t enough either, because rumors spread so easily. We realized that we needed a TV channel that could present the facts.” On the day the protests erupted, a large Turkish TV channel opted instead to send a documentary about penguins.
Four days later, they had an internet TV channel, Capul TV, running. One of its symbols: a penguin. Six people aged 24-30 volunteer as producers, two as presenters. It’s a rudimentary set-up indeed: the team’s only professional equipment is the TV camera. When the police attacks, they can easily pack it up, along with their computer. “But a couple of days ago, when they threw gas bombs in here, we just put on gas masks and kept broadcasting”, Arslan reports.
The channel has, in fact, become the go-to source for professional broadcasters, too. On busy days it beams news from Gezi Park and Taksim Square around the clock; on other days only 15-16 hours. Even then, it’s much more than professional channels produce. “Everyone who wants to know what’s going on in the park is watching us” says Arslan. “We’ve interviewed lots of parliamentarians and celebrities. One day, the Mayor of Istanbul tweeted that there would be no attack on the park, and the very same moment the police came. We broadcast that, too.” Her producer colleague Kemal Okur, who keeps track of viewer statistics, tells me that to date over 700,000 unique visitors have watched the Gezi channel.
When I visit, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has issued a “final warning” to the protesters to vacate the park, while at the same time offering to put the future of the park to the voters in a referendum. “But there’s an ultimatum from the government every day”, notes Arslan. “Of course we worry about it, but this is a resistance for freedom.” Shortly thereafter, riot police cleared out the camp and protesters moved to occupy nearby streets. “We started broadcasting the clashes at 3am [on Sunday], Arslan tells me as a reach her. “And now we’ve moved to a different location and will resume broadcasting again.”