CNN says it will train CNN Turk in objective journalism – too little, too late?

CNN staff members will work with CNN Türk staff in the coming days to ensure CNN Türk adheres to the U.S.-based news network’s standards, a CNN spokesperson told Ahval in a written statement on Tuesday evening. 

Demirören Holding’s purchase of the Doğan media conglomerate, which owns CNN Türk, for $916 million in early 2018 was seen by many as the last nail in the coffin of independent media in Turkey, where estimates say over 90 percent of newspapers and television coverage is pro-government.

CNN Türk's election coverage since the takeover – the June 2018 national elections and last month's local elections – have heavily favoured the ruling party, showing almost blanket coverage of Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rallies during the campaigns. 

Observers strongly criticised CNN Türk for censorship when, two weeks before the March 31 vote, it suddenly cut a live broadcast featuring the opposition mayoral candidate for Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, and switched to a speech by Erdoğan.

Turkey’s main opposition party urged CNN to open an investigation into its Turkish branch for censoring its reports and broadcasting false news about the party's election campaign.

In the run-up to the elections, CNN Türk and other outlets owned by Demirören Holding published headlines that misrepresented statements by Sezai Temelli, the leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, to make it appear he had said his party would gain control of municipalities won by candidates from other opposition parties.

"We are aware of criticism from some Turkish media surrounding CNN Türk’s election coverage.  CNN Türk is an independent channel, which licenses the CNN brand, but as part of this agreement must also adhere to CNN’s standards,” CNN’s statement said.

“We are in contact with CNN Türk and they have provided assurances and evidence that they are making every effort to provide balanced coverage of the Turkish elections," it said.

So far, many questions about the CNN's investigation remain unanswered. From its statement, it appears CNN does not have any other issue with CNN Türk's broadcast apart from the most recent election coverage.

Early Wednesday, Ahval sent eight questions to CNN International's president, Rani Raad, whose remit includes CNN Türk, about the links between CNN and CNN Türk, including the franchise fee paid by the Turkish channel. Raad is yet to respond.

According to the policy of WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent company, "(at) CNN, integrity and accuracy are of the utmost importance to the brand, and systems are in place to maintain them. For example, stories are thoroughly reviewed by producers and particularly sensitive stories are reviewed further by a team of senior editors, standards and practices specialists, and lawyers before they are broadcast."

CNN Standards also promises to adhere to "comprehensive journalism" principals, adding that at the CNN Network "news brands are leaders in practicing, promoting and defending the highest principles of journalistic integrity."

A May 2018 report by Bianet revealed the dozens of reputable journalists and presenters fired by CNN Türk as soon as the station was taken over by the new owners.

These include İsmail Saymaz, Nevzat Çiçek, Ebru Baki, Aslı Öymen, Cansel Poyraz, Ali Obuz, Ahu Özyurt, Hüseyin Tahmaz, Alişer Delek, Batuhan Pozut, Gülay Özdem,  Saynur Tezel, Umut Alphan, Deniz Zeyrek, Ebru Baki, Taha Akyol, Süleyman Sarılar, Özgül Apaçe, Murat Güloğlu and other 10 more people from the programme Guloğlu coordinated. Hundreds more were fired in addition to these well-known journalists.

According to his own tweet from Ankara, Raad met with President Erdogan and his spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin on May 9, 2018, at Erdogan's palace in Ankara. The meeting took place just eight days before the Demiroren Group officially announced it was taking over Doğan Group, the former owner of the CNN Türk and other media outlets. In that tweet, Raad said "stand back." The reason Raad met the Turkish President remains unknown. 

Ahval will continue to follow CNN's response on CNN Türk links to keep it honest for readers.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.