Turkish opposition daily has advertising cut for story on Erdoğan spokesman

Turkey’s Press Advertising Agency (BİK) has served the prominent Turkish opposition daily Cumhuriyet with a 35-day advertising ban over a story about Turkish presidential spokesman Fahrettin Altun.

Cumhuriyet’s article entitled "There is a leak in the Bosphorus" was published on April 14 and said that on April 13 an Istanbul municipal team had knocked down illegal construction work that had been carried out on a property Altun had rented in the neighbourhood of Kuzguncuk, in Istanbul’s Üsküdar district.

In a statement, the BİK said that “the news does not reflect the truth” and that there was no public interest in the report, Cumhuriyet said.

The advertisement ban applies to Cumhuriyet’s newspaper and website. Cumhuriyet said its lawyers will appeal the decision.

On April 13, an Istanbul municipal team reportedly demolished landscaping work and a new pergola and fireplace that was illegally under construction on a plot in Kuzguncuk rented by Altun, a former academic who has risen to become one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s closest advisors.

The Istanbul Municipality reportedly halted the construction work after neighbours complained. Residents of the area were outraged that work was underway while the city’s 16 million residents were battling the coronavirus, Cumhuriyet said. 

After the Cumhuriyet report on April 14, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation into the newspaper’s reporter Hazal Ocak, photojournalist Vedat Arık, office manager Olcay Büyüktaş Akça, and Chief Editor İpek Özbey, who were accused of placing a target on Altun’s property for terrorist attacks, Cumhuriyet said.

Altun's lawyer Sezgin Tunç later filed a complaint with BIK about Cumhuriyet’s report and requested that the outlet be handed an advertisement ban, Cumhuriyet said.  

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) filed a legal complaint against Altun on April 13 after the CHP-run municipality in Istanbul's Üsküdar district reported illegal construction carried out on the aide's land and shared photos of the construction site on social media.

Altun responded with his own complaint against Istanbul provincial head Canan Kaftancıoğlu after she defended the municipality’s actions on Twitter.

CHP Üsküdar district head Suat Özçağdaş was also charged with violating the “privacy of personal life” for taking photographs of the communications director's property.

An Istanbul court had previously banned access to 273 articles on the matter, reasoning that the reports aimed to “disrupt or obscure our country’s success in the fight against the global coronavirus pandemic despite many European countries’ failure”, and “discredit the success of our nation and our state in the fight by diverting attention elsewhere via a regular event.”