The distribution of opposition papers and access to local news, as well as the jobs of many journalists, are at risk following the sale of Turkey’s largest media group, Doğan Media, to a businessman with close ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Posta and Hürriyet newspapers, the television channels KanalD and CNN Turk, as well as Dogan News Agency (DHA) and the distribution company Yay-Sat have been passed to the Demirören Group as a result of those sales. The sale means the absolute control of AKP and president Erdoğan on Turkish mainstream media, as it brings the proportion of media companies affiliated to the government to 90 percent according to data quoted by RSF from the Media Ownership Monitor.
The implications of the sale on independent journalism have been discussed throughout the week, yet there are other negative side effects of the sale, which are largely unknown to those who are not particularly interested in how the Turkish media functions in practice.
At the moment, there are two media distribution companies in Turkey: Turkuvaz, belonging to the pro-government Sabah group, and Yay-Sat belonging to the Doğan Group. Yay-Sat was the only alternative for the distribution for opposition newspapers like Cumhuriyet and Birgün, as well as Karar newspaper, which is published by a group of cautious opposition names inside the AKP, mostly allegedly linked to former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Hence, the sale also means a pro-government monopoly in distribution and it is uncertain at the moment if those newspapers will still have be distributed in Turkey.
Moreover, most of the newspapers in Turkey are dependent on the income raised through advertisements of Press Advertisement Institution, a state agency which distributes the public sector’s advertisements among newspapers according to circulation numbers. The sale will decrease confidence in circulation numbers since those figures are recorded and announced by the distribution companies, as Sami Menteş, a journalist at left-nationalist news site Oda TV, warned on Wednesday. According to Menteş, some of the newspapers intentionally push their circulation numbers higher than the real figures in order to increase their share in advertisements. Hence, since such pro-government newspapers will have more freedom to fake those numbers, as Menteş points out, the fair functioning of the system will be in jeopardy.
DHA was established in the late 1990s by the merger of the local bureaus of Hürriyet and Milliyet newspapers – which at the time both belonged to the Dogan Group – a move then regarded as a huge blow to local reporting. From that date on, opposition papers who could not afford to keep their local bureaus open became more and more reliant on the local news reporting of semi-official Anadolu Agency, DHA, and Gülen-linked Cihan News Agency.
With Cihan News Agency shut down as a result of the purge against the Gülen movement, which was held responsible by the government of orchestrating the failed coup attempt in July 2016, DHA became the only relatively trustworthy local news agency left on the ground. Hence, with DHA also being taken over by a government ally, it will become very difficult for opposition newspapers and independent broadcasters to follow local news.
This also means the security of elections in Turkey will be in danger, as there will be no alternative source to confirm the election results provided by the state-run Anadolu Agency. Voters will have to depend on opposition parties’ election watchdog systems during the 2019 presidential and parliamentarian elections.
Many opposition journalists in Turkey have tried to explain the gravity of the situation by drawing attention to those two consequences, as well as the expectation that many journalists will be sacked as a result of this sale.
“Despite our criticisms, the sale of Dogan Group is a big loss, a big breaking point” said Ceren Sözeri, an academic working on communications and media, pointing out that a lot of journalists will lose their jobs as a result.
“Of course, Dogan Media Group has sacked many journalists up to the present day. Moreover, it is the group that brought an end to trade unions within the Turkish media,” noted the chief editor of Evrensel Newspaper Fatih Polat, but despite that, “it provided a space to breathe partially as even under the government’s hegemony, it opened its pages to different news and opinions to a certain extent,” he added. Polat also pointed out that within the last three years his outlet have found a way to advertise their campaigns for the release of the imprisoned journalists in Doğan media outlets, as the only platform left for the opposition parties to make themselves heard.
Polat also wrote that how the sale will affect newspapers like Evrensel will be understood more clearly in the future – even if Yay-Sat continues to distribute opposition newspapers, there will always be a risk of being excluded from distribution on days when the headlines disturb the ruling party. Polat emphasised that now was the time to seriously consider the establishment of another distribution network.
Journalist Neşe Edil, a former editor of Hürriyet news, posted a tweet on Wednesday reading “We should remind those who are glad about Doğan Media Group’s sale: There are lots of people working there aside from those famous figures. Editors, reporters, page secretaries who do not support the group’s policy but work there because they are obliged to”.
“They will first say business will continue as usual, but in a short time, we will hear about journalists being laid off. In time, those layoffs will become ordinary news, followed by more extensive personnel reductions. The operation will be completed before we enter the election process,” said journalist Mehveş Evin in an article for Artı Gerçek.