Turkish media a shadow of former self under Erdoğan - analysis

The destruction of Turkish media has come full circle under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, culminating in the Demirören family, known for their close ties to the Turkish president and his ruling Islamist party, overseeing about a third of Turkey’s media outlets, wrote New York Times contributor Suzy Hansen in the Columbia Journalism Review.

The sale of Doğan Media Group, which included numerous liberal and progressive outlets, to Demirören Holding in March 2018, months ahead of Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections, was seen as marking the death knell for the last quasi-independent mainstream media group in the country. 

“The story of the Demirörens’ ascent illustrates how a country with democratic aspirations can so quickly succumb to autocracy, and how ordinary people find themselves conscripted into—or wilfully joining—the autocrat’s cause,” Hansen wrote, pointing out that Demirören in 2015 famously said that Turkey “can only progress with an authoritarian regime.”

It was as of 2008, when Erdoğan won his second term, that the Turkish president began targeting media and since then, the most vocal and talented journalists have been put on trial, thrown in jail, or chased out of the country, Hansen wrote.

A total of 69 Turkish journalists were jailed in 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists  and reporters continue to be targeted and harassed on social media, even being arrested for their tweets, she said.

Erdoğan Demirören took over the family business of importing auto parts in 1957 and later on expanded into cylinder, before investing in other sectors, including media, the article recalled. He owned 25 percent of Milliyet newspaper until it was bought out by Aydın Doğan, who for over a decade played a key role in Turkish media.

Turkish media was never entirely free. During the 80s and 90s, known as the Doğan years, “countless journalists and writers had court cases brought against them for “supporting terror” or “insulting Turkishness” (including, much later and most famously, Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Prize–winning novelist),” Hansen wrote.

However, the stakes involved in penning articles on what were deemed as controversial matters, she stressed, weren’t nearly as high as they are today. Newspapers could be lively and vociferously critical while journalists held prime ministers to account and picked fights with politicians they detested, she added.

Turkey’s Islamist AKP, which came into power in 2002, in 2007 began to take an authoritarian turn and by 2011, ‘’Erdoğan and his AKP had conquered Turkey’s government, its military, its judiciary, its police, and its intelligence agencies,‘’ the article said.

Demirören died in at the age of 81 in 2018 and his children now run the family media enterprise in Turkey, where, pro-government newspapers in the country make up 90 percent of the national circulation.

It is no longer rare for newspapers in the country have almost identical headlines day after day and their circulation has more than halved since 2002, reaching 3 million despite the 15 million rise in Turkey’s population. 

“You sit here and you watch A Haber and you’d think we live in Norway,” the article quoted a shopkeeper as saying. “Nope, no problems here whatsoever! Meanwhile, I can’t afford bananas.”

Decrees passed in Turkey’s two-year state of emergency period following the July 2016 coup attempt saw the shutdown of over 115 media outlets, including 54 newspapers, 6 news agencies, 24 radio stations, 17 television networks, and 20 magazines.