Turkish broadcaster pressured into alignment with ruling AKP – VoA

Olay TV’s short stint as a Turkish opposition network has highlighted the dependence of media outlets in Turkey on government-controlled bodies, creating pressure to conform to the official narrative.

The network broadcast for a total of 26 days before the licence holder, former minister Cavit Çağlar, pulled the plug on the project, saying news coverage had been too biased towards the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

However, Süleyman Sarılar, Olay TV’s then-editor-in-chief, said Çağlar had been under government pressure to make changes, a claim denied by the former centre-right politician.

Few days after the network shut down, journalist Ismail Saymaz reported on rumours that Çağlar had been called to the capital and “advised” to fire left-leaning employees including presenter Nevşin Mengü and reporter Alican Uludağ, and to replace them with pro-government Kanal 7’s foreign news director Taha Dağlı and his team.

Investigative journalist, former HDP deputy and current independent lawmaker Ahmet Şık tweeted in a similar vein, saying Çağlar had been threatened with the seizure of his companies.

Before Olay TV started broadcasting nationally, in Sept. 2019, allegations surfaced that Istanbul’s popular mayor from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ekrem İmamoğlu, was a shareholder in the network. İmamoğlu denied the claim, and later said Olay TV would have avoided a shut down had he been a partner.

Olay TV’s licence came from Çağlar, and the initial capital investment came from businessman Hüseyin Köksal, who agreed to provide the logistical infrastructure –including the network’s building, equipment and staff. After broadcasting started, Çağlar was planning to transfer his shares to Köksal after broadcasting started, Sarılar told Voice of America.

This set-up was necessary as it is increasingly more difficult in Turkey to obtain a broadcasting licence from the media watchdog Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK). “In theory,” wrote journalist Ezel Şahinkaya for VoA, “an independent outlet that meets RTUK’s requirements and files the appropriate documentation should be given a license.” This is not always the case, though, and RTÜK may fail “to meet impartiality and independence because of political interference.”

The watchdog has nine members, who are nominated by party groups in parliament proportional to the number of seats they have. This means that since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, it has had control over RTÜK, as any government would.

Human Right Watch’s (HRW) Emma Webb-Sinclair called RTÜK’s structure “problematic,” as it allows such government control.

RTÜK director Ebubekir Şahin said in May that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had never given him any orders or suggestions, but that he would consider any such request to be direct orders.

According to former RTÜK member Faruk Bildirici, RTÜK put up arbitrary roadblocks for those it deemed non pro-government.

Government circles had told Çağlar not to go forward with the team at Olay TV, Sarılar told VoA.

HDP’s parliamentary inquiries on the matter were left unanswered and government officials have refused to comment on the matter.