Feb 17 2019

Media keeps pressure on CHP over İşbank shares - media roundup

On Monday Islamist pro-Erdoğan daily Yeni Şafak led with a message of solidarity with China’s Uighur Muslims, over a million of whom, reports say, have been sequestered in “re-education camps” in an assimilation drive by China’s communist government.

The Uighur cause has long been supported by the newspaper and, indeed, by Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, though last year the AKP refrained from criticising Beijing when reports of the camps surfaced.

That changed last week, when Turkey’s foreign ministry urged Beijing to shut down the camps after Uighur poet Abdurehim Heyit was reported killed in one. Ankara’s response, however, was possibly ill-timed, as the Chinese government produced footage showing the poet to be alive a day later.

This did not stop demonstrations in support of the Uighurs on Turkish streets, and these were the basis of Yeni Şafak’s front-page story.

Liberal Islamist daily Karar also ran with the story, though the majority of the pro-government press pool left it off front pages, perhaps due to confusion on the government’s precise stance in relation to the Uighurs. AKP deputies voted down an opposition-backed proposal to investigate reports of the concentration camps in China last year, and a pro-government reporter who visited Xinjiang, the eastern Chinese region that is home to many Uighurs, praised the Chinese government’s efforts in January.

The week’s big story hit headlines on Tuesday, as newspapers of every stripe reported on the government’s new initiative offering citizens cheap fruit and vegetables at mobile municipal sales points in Istanbul and Ankara.

The drive is designed to ease the burden on citizens who have found even staples like onions and tomatoes unaffordable due to rampant inflation. The government blames food price increases on “profiteers and stockpilers” whom it has likened to terrorists.

Opposition circles, however, say the blame for price inflation lies with the government. Secularist daily Cumhuriyet’s front page drew parallels between the huge queues at the sales points and similar queues experienced during periods of wartime rationing. Left-wing daily Sözcü likened the queues to the economic crisis period in the 1970s.

The pro-government newspapers naturally looked to the positives, with Star speaking of citizens’ “delight” at being offered affordable fruit and vegetables, and Güneş describing the sales points as a “blow to food terrorism.”

Pro-government daily Türkiye kept up the pressure on the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) over its 28.5 percent stake in Turkey’s largest private bank, İşbank, which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened to transfer to the treasury.

The party was granted the shares in the will of republic founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on the condition that proceeds are used only to fund linguistic and historical institutions. Erdoğan says they should belong to the Turkish nation and criticised the presence of four CHP officials on the bank’s board, though critics say the president is motivated by a need for funds during a period of economic pressure.

Türkiye led with a front-page story on the same subject on Wednesday, taking the CHP officials on the bank’s board to task for receiving a “double salary” from the party and the bank that it said amounts to 22,000 lira ($4,145) per month.

Star and Güneş’s front pages were devoted to comments on food prices from Erdoğan during rallies in the run-up to the local elections. Erdoğan repeated his party’s line blaming price increases on dark forces working against Turkey, accusing these unnamed powers of targeting his government through “food terrorism” after failing to achieve their aims by triggering sky high inflation in Turkey last year.

The AKP had hit back at “food terrorists” by offering the cheap food and vegetables through municipalities, the president said.

Cumhuriyet’s front page reported signs that voters may not be convinced by this rhetoric, with a headline that said the AKP’s alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) had hit trouble.

Recent polls have returned disappointing results for the AKP-MHP alliance, it said, forcing the two parties to return to the table to discuss 49 cities where they had previously agreed to run independent candidates. A new agreement has been struck meaning joint candidates will run in 20 of these cities, meaning one or the other of the parties will have to withdraw their own candidates, Cumhuriyet reported.

On Thursday Yeni Şafak led with a story on the fruit and vegetable sales points, which it said were in high demand by citizens across Turkey. With the sales points so far only established in Istanbul and Ankara, people outside the two big cities are still paying high prices for staple foods. The government has responded by offering sales at regulated prices from the national post office’s website, though stocks have been limited.

Cumhuriyet led with the news that a subsidiary of Demirören Holding, a business with close ties to the AKP government, had won the auction to operate İddaa, Turkey’s only legal betting company, sparking concerns about a serious conflict of interest.

Demirören Holding is owned by Yıldırım Demirören, the chairman of the Turkish Football Federation, a situation that Cumhuriyet said had provoked serious controversy.

On Friday Turkey’s pro-government newspapers lined up to praise Erdoğan’s efforts negotiating with the Russian and Iranian presidents in Sochi, each running with similar headlines declaring that the talks had brought a political solution to the Syrian conflict “closer than ever before.”

The newspapers failed to mention that the Turkish president had effectively come away empty-handed from the Sochi summit, where he had been seeking Russian assent for a third cross-border operation targeting Kurdish militias in the north of the country.

BirGün and Sözcü both led with reports on illegal buildings, which have become a hot topic since the collapse of a seven-storey building in Istanbul on February 6 that killed 21 people.

Both newspapers raised alarms over the extent of illegal and unregulated buildings in Turkey, many of which have been legitimised through “building amnesties” offered by the AKP government in recent years.