When the Turkish troops attempting a military coup marched into the studios of CNN Turk early Saturday morning, the news channel’s staff broadcast the takeover to the world via Facebook Live.
The scenes of disoriented staff filing out of the newsroom with guns pointed at them is yet another reminder of the way social media is affecting world events.
CNN Turk, a sister network of CNN that is the product of a partnership with a local Turkish media company, had been broadcasting nonstop television footage of the coup and the crowds of pro-government civilians flocking to the streets.
Well aware that the coup plotters would eventually come for CNN Turk, they let their viewers know that they were likely to go off the air at any moment.
The cameras kept rolling right up until Turkish soldiers forced them to stop. CNN showed CNN Turk’s live feed of the empty anchors’ desk as managers of the Istanbul newsroom began organizing the staff’s exit.
Once the live feed went down, members of the CNN Turk news team began live-streaming the army takeover on Facebook Live. Hundreds of thousands of viewers watched the journalists narrate their departure under threat of force by soldiers.
Shortly thereafter, pro-government civilian protesters stormed the building, distracting the soldiers, and the pro-government police soon got involved, according to CNN.
Although no journalists appear to have been hurt, Ferhat Boratav, CNN Turk’s editor-in-chief, told CNN the encounter included some “very tense moments.” He described hearing at least one gunshot after soldiers confronted protesters.
CNN Turk resumed its official broadcast within an hour of being taken off the air, CNN reported.
Soldiers also stormed the newsroom of the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, which is housed in the same building as CNN Turk and owned by the same Turkish media company. Hurriyet is one of the few remaining Turkish news outlets that provides critical coverage of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It has been under sustained attack from his government for several years now.
A Hurriyet staff member documented the takeover on Twitter:
As former CIA officials told CNN, seizing control of the main national media outlets is typically one of the first orders of business during a military coup. The new would-be rulers seek to control communication with the public and simultaneously deprive the previous government of a platform.
CNN Turk’s broadcast suggests that social media may have made that task more difficult. In addition to CNN Turk’s Facebook Live video streams of the events, the network interviewed Erdogan via FaceTime hours earlier from a remote location where he was hiding.
Of course, while the coup’s efforts to silence the media may have failed, Turkey does not have a very free press environment under Erdogan either. Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey #151 in the world in terms of press freedom this year, out of 180 countries. (The U.S. is #41.)
CNN Turk has itself faced accusations of toeing the government line. During the Gezi Park protests of 2013, the network initially broadcast a documentary on penguins instead of covering the police crackdown on large-scale civil unrest in Istanbul.
Disclosure: The Huffington Post is one of several brands Facebook pays to broadcast live video content via the social network. We continue to report independently on tech and social media.