The fragility of independent journalism in Turkey was further shaken on 21 March 2018 with the news that Dogan Media Company, one of the country’s leading media groups, had been sold to Demiroren Holding, a pro-government industrial conglomerate.
The sale sent shock waves through the country’s beleaguered media community where dozens of journalists are in jail or facing trial.
The move is likely to further limit the independence of Turkish journalism and will strengthen the influence of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government across the news media.
Demiroren Holding is a conglomerate with interests primarily in energy, construction, tourism and media but its media assets were boosted in 2012 when it snapped up two leading titles – Milliyet and Vatan – which Dogan was forced to sell in the wake of a $4.5million fine for unpaid taxes, a decision that was widely seen as an attempt by the Turkish government to punish it for its criticism of Erdogan who was prime minister at the time.
The latest sale includes Dogan Media’s newspapers Hurriyet and Posta, and two of Turkey’s main entertainment and news channels, Kanal D and CNN Turk.
According to the New York Times, the sale takes place after more government accusations that the Dogan Group was biased against it and the AKP governing party. The paper highlighted publicity given to a 2014 leaked phone conversation between Erdogan Demiroren, the owner of Demiroren
Holding, and Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Demiroren was heard apologizing for an article in the newspaper Milliyet.
“Did I upset you, boss?” Mr. Demiroren was heard to say, as Mr. Erdogan rebuked him for an article on the leaked minutes of a secret meeting between Turkish intelligence officers and leaders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Mr. Demiroren was heard weeping, promising Mr. Erdogan that he would find the source of the leaked minutes.
Journalists’ leaders and media commentators fear that this huge takeover puts the country’s mass media industry under the direct political in uence of President Erdogan and adds to concerns over the fate of dozens of journalists and activists who are in jail or facing trial.
The news will further reinforce efforts by international press organisations and media support groups like the Ethical Journalism Network, to work closely with journalists and media supporters to launch solidarity programmes in support of editorial independence.
“The news from Turkey makes the struggle for editorial freedom in the country that much harder,” said Aidan White, Director of the EJN who with EJN Treasurer Ashok Gupta visited Istanbul and Ankara in February 2018 to discuss new support programmes with local partners, “but journalists and groups striving to bring about democracy and respect for human rights will not be giving up on the fight for ethics, good governance and self-regulation in all media.”