How Erdoğan crushed the mainstream media

Last week, another bunch of journalists were sacked from daily Hürriyet newspaper, which is still considered as the “flagship” of the mainstream media. In fact, Hürriyet lost its prestige long while ago. It doesn’t really matter who the editor in chief is now. Or why and how journalists were sacked. It is the final nail in the coffin. The mainstream media resembles the living death.

Last week, another group of journalists were sacked from the daily Hürriyet newspaper, still considered as the flagship of Turkey's mainstream media. But Hürriyet had long lost its prestige.

The newspaper's fate was sealed when the business magnate was forced to sell Doğan Media Group (DMG) to the pro-government Demirören in March 2018. Already before it was bought out by Demirören, Hürriyet and the DMG group encountered much censorship and encroachment in its editorial independence.

It came as no surprise that Hürriyet's sales and journalistic standard dwindled under its patronage. Many journalists and editors as well as the ombudsman were fired or forced to leave in the wake of the sell out. Hürriyet employees still constantly discuss about when they will be sacked and whether or not they will receive their severance packages.

What did come as a surprise however was the manner in which staff was laid off. Some were informed by letters they received at home. Others found out when their mailboxes were cancelled. The daily's editor in chief Vahap Munyar himself was unaware of the lay-off.

Munyar, who had been appointed by the Demirören Group last year as Hürriyet's editor in chief, resigned a few days ago. Popular columnists and senior journalists also announced they'd quit.

The new editor: a symbol of the AKP era

Soon thereafter a new editor in chief was announced: Ahmet Hakan, a popular columnist at Hürriyet and TV host for the CNN Türk channel since 2005.

Hakan's journalistic endeavor itself serves as a symbol for Turkey's transformation under the rule of the AKP and President Erdoğan.

From 1995 to 2003, Ahmet Hakan was the anchor of Kanal 7, a moderate Islamist channel that supports the AKP. Back then, the two most influential papers were Hürriyet and Sabah, both very critical of the newly elected AKP government.

Hakan was the anchor of Kanal 7, a moderate Islamist channel supporting the AKP, between 1995-2003. Back then, the two most influential newspapers were Hürriyet and Sabah, both very critical of the new AKP government. Hakan first became a columnist in Sabah before being transferred to Hürriyet.

Back then, Hürriyet was slammed for hiring an Islamist writer and pro-AKP voice. Still, thanks to his liberal style, Hakan became popular within a few years, especially after he became a host at CNN Türk.

During the noughties, the Doğan Media Group was particularly influential. It provided critical coverage of the news and of the AKP's governance. Yet Aydın Doğan soon became Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's archenemy, then prime minister. The Doğan conglomerate was faced with tax cases involving heavy tax fines worth millions of dollars

Aydın Doğan went at great lengths to get on good terms with Erdoğan. He hired more pro-governmental journalists and sold the Milliyet and Vatan dailies to Demirören in 2011. Doğan also shut down the newspaper Radikal.

The final nail in the coffin

But ties between Doğan and Erdoğan further worsened following the elections of June 2015 when a peace-process between the state and the PKK, and initiated in 2013, collapsed. The Doğan Media Group became an immediate target since it gave space for critical voices.

In September 2015, Hürriyet was twice attacked by groups of Islamists who broke windows and damaged the building. Abdurrahim Boynukalın, an ex-AKP MP and AKP Youth Group leader was openly involved in the attacks, though no investigation was carried out.

Ahmet Hakan was also physically assaulted in front of his house, his nose and ribs were broken.

The message was crystal clear: Hürriyet's editorial line had to become pro-governmental if they wished to survive. Hakan swiftly joined the pro-governmental choir and began to lambaste the opposition.

Later, the Doğan Media Group was one of the targets of the coup-plotters during the coup attempt of July 15 2016. A group of soldiers raided the building and took journalists as hostages. Hundreds of fuming AKP supporters flocked there to protest as well.

Upon coup's failure, a state of emergency that was introduced allowed for a vast crackdown on all opposition voices. What was left of the country's critical and independent media was wiped out.

In 2016, the mailboxes of the Doğan Media Group CEO and that of Aydın Doğan's son-in-law Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ were hacked. The hacking revealed Yalçındağ had been discussing the Doğan Media Group with Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan's son-in-law and Minister of Finance since 2017. The prospect of appointing Ahmet Hakan as Hürriyet's new editor in chief had already been raised. Yalçındağ has since resigned, though he maintains close ties to the AKP government.

The fate of the Hürriyet daily captures what has happened to Turkey's mainstream media. As the journalist Ruşen Çakır put it, the appointment of Ahmet Hakan as editor in chief were the final nail in the coffin. The mainstream media is now akin to the living dead.

What is worth noting is that some journalists paved the way for the tragic end result. Those who were willing to accept anything in order to cling to their positions. They were those who nailed their own hands, one by one, into the coffin.