May 21 2019

CNN Türk accused of cutting opposition mayoral candidate İmamoğlu interview

The opposition candidate for Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu’s interview on pro-government CNN Türk on Monday was marked by interruptions, tension and claims the network cut the programme short when İmamoğlu began talking about the lavish spending of the Istanbul municipality.

CNN Türk pulled the plug on journalist Ahmet Hakan’s interview with Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul mayoral candidate İmamoğlu half an hour ahead of schedule, causing social media users to lash out.

One Twitter user asked whose decision it was to end the programme at 11:30 when it was scheduled to go on until midnight.

‘’Hakan is attempting to benefit the government and not the people,’’ the user said, sharing a screenshot of the İmamoğlu’s visuals on the spending of the Istanbul municipality.

The 48-year-old CHP candidate was stripped of his mayoral mandate just 18 days after winning the March 31 mayoral race in Istanbul after the country’s top election body annulled the results over claims of “irregularities” by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and ordered a fresh vote for June 23. Just 13,000 votes separated İmamoğlu from the AKP’s candidate in Istanbul mayoral race, which saw numerous district recounts.

The CNN Turk anchor interrupted İmamoğlu as he began to talk about the lavish spending in the Istanbul municipality under the ruling AKP, discovered during his brief time in office.

Holding up placards depicting alleged waste, such as an exorbitant number of official cars, İmamoğlu said the CHP would focus on transforming such expenditures into savings.

İmamoğlu insisted on talking about the finances despite anchorman Hakan’s attempt to cut into a commercial.

The CHP candidate stressed that the interview was supposed to last 30 minutes more but was told it was a wrap.

Many social media users accused Hakan of being a ‘’bad journalist’’ after the programme.‘

“We see once against that ‘Unbiased Zone’ is actually ‘Biased Zone,’’’ one Twitter user said, in an apparent reference to the name of Hakan’s programme.

The Istanbul Municipality has denied İmamoğlu’s allegations on extravagant spending accusing him of “intentional distortion” to manipulate public opinion in statement it released on Monday.

CNN Türk also responded to the accusations of cutting the programme, noting that AKP’s candidate Binali Yıldırım spoke for 1 hour, 18 minutes and 40 seconds during his interview on May 13, as compared to opposition İmamoğlu’s interview that took 1 hour and 25 minutes on Monday.

Social media users responded saying the time quoted for Yıldırım was the AKP candidate’s total time speaking, whereas İmamoğlu’s quote included questions and breaks.

Some of the issues discussed during the programme included AKP’s claims of the opposition stealing votes in the March 31 Istanbul polls, a claim İmamoğlu says outright angered him.

When Hakan said the AKP had never come out and accused the CHP of stealing votes, İmamoğlu said, “You’re a member of the press with years of experience, when the president and Binali Yildirim says ‘they’ve stolen (votes)’, who do you think they’re talking about?” Imamoglu reminded Hakan that there is no mention of “stealing votes” in the YSK's preliminary report and also YSK  that the YSK rejected appeals for recounts all over Turkey.

İmamoğlu also said that plenty of mistakes made in the March 31 polls, which affected both sides, despite claims by AKP’s Yıldırım that he was the biggest victim of ballot box errors.

When asked whether he was angry due to the annulment of the Istanbul election, Imamoglu told Hakan, "I was furious in the name of Turkey’s democracy, but it's not in my nature to be angry, I focused on the task at hand.’’

The CHP candidate also stressed that before the elections, the ruling AKP had said the polling system was the most secure and reliable in the world, but that the party has taken a u-turn on the matter since losing Istanbul.

İmamoğlu on Tuesday spoke to opposition Halk TV saying he welcomed all questions by Hakan, but that it was frustrating to see an anchorman display partisanship.

"They had said the programme was to take place between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m., and we didn’t get a chance to cover the real issues we wanted to,’’ İmamoğlu told Halk TV.

CNN Turk has been criticised for its pro-government bias, with the channel announcing plans to work with CNN to ensure they adhere to the U.S.-based news network’s standards after the election campaign coverage before March 31. 

Demirören bought outlets owned by Doğan Media Group in 2018 and quickly fired hundreds of journalists just like the other newspapers he purchased in the past. 

The acquisition included Hürriyet, consistently the highest circulation newspaper in the country, and another daily, Posta, as well as the popular television channels CNN Türk and Kanal-D.

The $916 million sale was funded by credit from the government-controlled Ziraat Bank to the tune of $675 million. A few months after the purchase, Erdoğan Demirören, who had founded the firm and steered it to considerable success, passed away at age 80.

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.

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

© Ahval English