Penguins became the symbol of the government’s grip on the media in Turkey in 2013, when during the Gezi protests many news channels aired documentaries, one of them on CNN Türk about penguins. Since then the main media have become even more obedient to and openly supportive of President Erdogan and his ruling AK Party. But does he really control the majority of Turkish media outlets – and if yes, how could he manage? Answers to this question can be now found in the Media Ownership Monitor (MOM), a research and advocacy project carried out by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and its local partner bianet over three months and presented in Istanbul today. The detailed results are now available to the public on the MOM website at http://turkey.mom-rsf.org in English and Turkish.
“Since the failed coup attempt, closures of news outlets and mass imprisonments of journalists have become the most visible side of the Turkish government’s long-running crackdown on media”, said Christian Mihr, executive director of RSF Germany. “But there is a much deeper dimension of economic leverage, which allows for almost complete control of mass media in this country. It is very difficult to find any family of a Turkish media tycoon in which President Erdogan has not attended a wedding or served as a marriage witness.”
In the MOM online database, ownership structures of the most important media outlets in Turkey are displayed and traceable to individuals, whose political and economic interests are also displayed. According to the research, most of those media owners are depending on the government for public contracts in other industrial sectors where they are active, like energy, transport and construction and thus refrain from any criticism. In Turkish television, still the most relevant type of media, seven of the ten most important owners are politically affiliated with the ruling party.
Apart from personal profiles of Turkey’s most influential media owners, MOM also sheds light on some failures of the media market as such, hinting at additional, undue political influence. The distribution of public funds on advertising for example, being one existentially important source of income for smaller papers, remains hidden. MOM’s request on this topic was turned down by the Turkish Right to Information Assessment Council, citing “trade secrets” as a reason. The same happened with a request regarding Turkey’s state-owned broadcaster’s (TRT) finances.
“The way of economic and political streamlining we see in Turkey results inevitably in self-censorship by many journalists, who don’t want to lose their jobs. If you need to make a living in this profession these days, you cannot be critical,” said Evren Gönül, bianet’s coordinator. “So in most cases, the government does not even have to pull the leash any more. Economic pressure is much more efficient.”
One example of the politico-economic ties enmeshing the Turkish media market is Albayrak Yayın Holding, which runs the Yeni Şafak newspaper, seven magazines and two TV channels. Six brothers of the Albayrak family, Ahmet, Nuri, Bayram, Kazım, Muzaffer and Mustafa, are shareholders of the conglomerate that has won dozens of public tenders, especially from municipalities, since the mid-90s, some of which were subject to claims and investigations of corruption. Tümosan, a vehicle company owned by the group, was awarded with a 190 million Euro tender to deliver tanks for the Ministry of National Defence in 2015. Albayrak group is active in such diverse sectors as construction, waste management, ports, textiles, IT, tourism and advertising. It is known to have close ties to the ruling AK Party and President Erdoğan, who was Nuri Albayrak's daughter's wedding witness in 2002 and attended his son's engagement ceremony in 2012.
Another example is the case of Ethem Sancak, who started a small medicine business in the 80s that grew to an internationally operating conglomerate including a hospital chain. His media group owns three national newspapers, three television channels, two radio channels and two magazines, as well as several websites. Sancak is openly supportive of the ruling AK Party and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He famously said he's "in love" with Erdoğan and would sacrifice his family for him, and has admitted to having entered media to support him.
In 2013, Sancak bought the newspapers Güneş and Akşam as well as Sky360 TV, along with two radio channels and various magazines from the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF), which had seized them from Çukurova Group. In leaked phone conversations attributed to Sancak, he can be heard complaining that he had to acquire these bankrupt media outlets. In 2014 he also bought all shares of the Star Media Group (that owns Star newspaper and 24 TV) from businessman Fettah Tamince. Sancak also purchased BMC (via a public tender where he was the only participant in 2014), a company that has won many tenders including producing tanks and water cannons for the Turkish army and police. He has held an ombudsman position in AK Party since 2012.
“With the MOM website, media users now have an easily accessible and searchable source to find out whose interests are behind the news they watch, read or listen to,” said bianet’s Evren Gönül. “Transparency in this field is indispensable.”
In September, RSF published a report outlining the unprecedented degree of reprisals against journalists since the start of the state of emergency in Turkey. However, the situation had been worsening before July already with Turkey ranking 151th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index published last April.
The Media Ownership Monitor Turkey was carried out by Reporters Without Borders in partnership with IPS Communication Foundation’s bianet in Istanbul between July and October 2016. The project studied the legal environment, media concentration and ownership structures of the country’s 46 most popular national media outlets.
MOM is a global initiative launched by the international press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders. It has been or is being carried out in eight countries worldwide, including Tunisia, Ukraine, Peru, the Philippines, Columbia and Cambodia. The project is funded by the German Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ).
- RSF press releases about Turkey: https://rsf.org/en/turkey
- RSF report on the state of emergency in Turkey: https://rsf.org/en/news/rsf-urges-turkey-rescind-draconian-state-emergency-decrees
- bianet: http://bianet.org/english
Reporters Without Borders Germany
Ulrike Gruska / Christoph Dreyer / Anne Renzenbrink, media relations officers
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