We borrowed it from him when he was taking a break from playing games. And as for broadcasting it, we weren’t exactly a TV station. We called on a few technically minded friends to help us produce a programme for Periscope in the corner of our editorial office. We then posted it on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. When one channel was blocked, we posted on all the others. Ten thousand people watched our programme. While we were online on Periscope, the comments were equally divided between good wishes and insults.
When high-ranking German politicians and, soon afterwards, politicians from Turkey spoke exclusively to us, doors opened for Özgürüz. Politically, we were stronger, but our lack of infrastructure was glaring. Every time there was a different problem, either the lighting let us down, or the sound, or the transmission. I’ll never forget the shock when our director told me after an interview I had conducted with Norbert Lammert, President of the Bundestag, which was packed with phrases that were each deserving of a headline in their own right: ‘Unfortunately there was no sound.’
We all did our best, but we had to battle with all kinds of technical difficulties.
And soon we also had a security problem. It didn't take long for the Turkish secret service to find out our address, and a television team from a government-supporting channel in Istanbul was quickly sent to Berlin to attack us.
One day a presenter was on our doorstep with his microphone, telling the viewers: ‘Here is the nest of traitors!’ During our transmission the following evening, he named the part of town where our editorial office is located, described the building, pointed to the windows behind which we worked, and announced when we went in and out. We had been put in the pillory. My secretary quit, afraid that we could suffer a Charlie Hebdo-style attack. Another co-worker bowed to the pressure of her family, who begged her to quit. But we carried on with the staff who remained.
It didn't take long for the Turkish secret service to find out our address, and a television team from a government-supporting channel in Istanbul was quickly sent to Berlin to attack us.
And other brave people joined us. Soon reporters and camera operators were working for us in Istanbul, Ankara and Diyarbakir. Our disadvantage was beginning to be an advantage: people who were unable to make themselves heard in the mainstream media, who were silenced or censored, contacted us and continued to have a voice. Informants brought us reports that nobody dared to publish. It was hard to get established authors to write for us, but it was also a chance to find new comrades-in-arms.
Our brave local reporters were soon joined by civilian reporters. We tried to give people with something to say a platform on Özgürüz, we gave them our Periscope password. This led to some incredible scenes, such as when a woman who was arrested during a protest action sent a live stream from the police vehicle, reporting on what had happened via the Özgürüz account.
Together we experienced how an alternative medium set up in exile in a sea of impossibilities and inadequacies used technology to break down walls that were considered insurmountable and reached those who were thought to be unreachable. As excited as school students making their own TV programme, we repeated in the face of all the difficulties: ‘Isn’t it great that we’re journalists?’
In my office there was a TV where I could watch Turkish channels. Right next door was the studio where we broadcast our programmes. The country we were talking about was so different from the one I saw on the screen. Every time I walked the five or six steps from the studio back into my office it felt like I was crossing a huge gulf. Fear of Erdoğan had blindfolded the Turkish media. On top of all this, we were all beset by thousands of problems – passports, visas, residency permits, insurance, work permits, looking for apartments, opening bank accounts, catching up with our families.
The difficulties piled up and soon led to problems and cracks in our team. We then shifted the axis, turned our focus to Turkey and allowed the reporters to take the initiative. Now we tried out a local, free, non-hierarchical publication with ten people in four cities, who did not know each other but shared the same ideal and communicated via a WhatsApp group. They travelled with a small phone that served as a camera, microphone, recording device, intercom, computer, spotlight and loudspeaker.
Fear of Erdoğan had blindfolded the Turkish media.
This is how we maintained our right to information and reporting. The internet portal was followed by the Periscope account and then the monthly bilingual Turkish-German Özgürüz magazine. Then we set up the Özgürüz publishing house for books that could not be printed because they were considered questionable.
We also applied to set up a German/Turkish radio show. In this way, we gradually turned ourselves into a free media group that is exclusively run and managed by journalists. It is possible that the democratic media of the future will emerge from this original initiative, which grew out of the experience of repression.