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.
The last time President Erdoğan, who is 66 years-old, physically took part in a meeting was a week ago. Nobody asks whether the President and his close circle have been tested for coronavirus. And of course, no one dares to ask what happens if he gets sick, and what the Turkish Presidential System would bring.
The Covid-19 will inevitably affect a much wider population, and Turkey’s limited testing is dramatic. Scientists, doctors unanimously urge for a radical testing procedure. In Istanbul, a city of 16 million, there are only four hospitals conducting tests. Meanwhile, states of emergency, strict restrictions and bans are anything but new in Turkey!
As he traveled back to Turkey from Azerbaijan, Erdoğan ominously announced a new wave of repression. A few days later, Osman Kavala was re-arrested, the mayor of Diyarbakır Selçuk Mızraklı was sentenced to more than 9 years in jail and 7 journalists were arrested.
Again we see them on the news, migrants flocking to the borders and the human traffickers going about their “business” in front of the cameras. As thousands of migrants seek to cross the border from Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria- some getting injured and dying whilst doing so - authorities talk of them as if they are cheap tokens. Not only in Turkey but in the EU countries as well.
The pro-governmental media in Turkey, which usually targets well-known individuals or critics, targets ordinary people as well. But what’s perhaps more worth talking about is how the life of the poor living in cities has changed — and how they are perceived. They, too, want to live a good life. Or just to be a part of it, even for a few seconds. And they, too, want to show off.
Just as Kavala was preparing for his release after 840 days spent in the Silivri Prison, the prosecutor’s office announced the philanthropist would be questioned on “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order." This proves how partial, arbitrary and politically involved the Turkish judiciary is. Yet the dynamics of this process remain unclear.
It’s hard to voice opposition to war when the coffins of slain soldiers are being sent back from Syria and when the nationalist mood is in full swing. However HDP deputy and former journalist Ahmet Şık, who has been jailed twice and is still tried on the Cumhuriyet case, says that they have the responsibility to question why so many young people are dying for.
The watchmen will not operate under a specific law or the constitution but under the government’s direct orders. Opposition parties thus warn of a “parallel police force” that enjoys unprecedented powers. At night, the watchmen could well turn into the state’s moral police.
Although the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled for his immediate release on Dec. 10, 2019, Osman Kavala remains as the only defendant under detention at the Gezi trial. So the question is whether the Council of Europe (CoE) and member states will stand up. If they will not do that, what is the function of the ECHR and why should other states bother to follow its rules?
Well-known economists have questioned how Kanal Istanbul will be financed, but they haven’t yet received any answers. Prof. Dr. Haluk Levent from Bilgi University believes that Kanal Istanbul is a Ponzi scheme, but with a difference: in a Ponzi Scheme, everything must be on the record, but this is not the case for Kanal Istanbul. The scheme is changing the town planning and zoning.
The media almost totally neglects or misinterprets cases related to July 15 in fear of being targeted themselves. On the other hand, high-ranking Gülenists, who have long fled the country, are in fact using the cases and prison sentences for their own PR.
Despite the government's pledge to combat femicide and domestic abuse, 474 women were murdered by men in 2019 in Turkey. Women’s rights advocates have repeatedly said the system is too weak to protect women.
Data from the last two years in Turkey points to a steady decrease in almost every aspect of a functioning, healthy democracy, such as freedom of speech, quality of education, gender and income equality, and the rule of law. It’s no surprise that society has become unhappier compared to 2017. Surely the AKP-MHP alliance is responsible for this great social, economic and political collapse.
Two days ago I went to the forth hearing of the Gezi trial in Silivri, where Kavala is the only imprisoned suspect among 16 civil society activists accused with ‘organizing and financing Gezi protests to overthrow the AKP government’ back in 2013. These trials are top examples of how rule of law is undermined and how human rights abuses are executed.
Kanal Istanbul is not only critical for Erdoğan financially. It also represents a political battlefield in which he wishes to beat his opponents, in this case the new opposition Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu.
General elections appear to be on the agenda in 2023. That is what statements from President Erdoğan and his alliance partner, the MHP leader Bahçeli, suggest. Yet, the prospect of snap elections also looms. Many politicians, economists and journalists claim snap elections will be held in 2020. While snap elections may not seem logical, logics don’t apply to Turkish politics.
The severe violations of sick prisoners rights are against the law and contradict with international agreements Turkey partakes in. Human right advocates accuse the government of being unwilling to address these problems and point to the The European Council, which remains silent.
Just a few hours before police teargassed women in the streets of Istanbul, Emine Erdoğan, wife of President Tayyip Erdoğan, was giving a speech that denounced violence against women on the occasion of the International Day for Eliminating Violence against Women. However, Mrs. Erdoğan has also stated that the rise in violence against women is just a perception and that today, thanks to the AKP, women can ask for their rights.
As a journalist, I find it to be embarrassing and paradoxical that President Trump, not known to be a supporter of the free press, mocked the Turkish press.
Yet his words, “You sure you’re a reporter? You don’t work for Turkey with that question?” reflect the truth regarding the group of people Erdoğan took along with him to Washington. These words sum up the status of the Turkish mainstream media.
Turkey generally does not rank high in suicide rates. One reason is religion; in Islam suicide is a sin. Culture and family ties also are among strong reasons why people refrain from taking their lives according to experts. However figures show that there is a rise in suicide rates in Turkey. The society does not only suffer from economical crisis and neo-liberalism, but also a harsh transformation from a hybrid democracy to a more authoritarian state.
By looking at mainstream media, military salutes of popular figures or twitter trending topics, one might assume that Turkish people were heavily supporting the military operation in Northern Syria -officially called “Operation Peace Spring” ending in 8 days- no matter what the rest of the world says. When there is any military action in Turkey or outside its borders, it becomes even harder for critical voices to be heard.
Associate Professor Şık was the deputy director of the Food Safety and Agricultural Research Center at Akdeniz University. Then, due to his scientific research, he became an enemy of the state.