Last week, the mainstream daily Hürriyet newspaper fired dozens of journalists by sending emails or letters to their homes, in a startling move that marks yet another blow to the already-troubled state of the Turkish media. The ensuing backlash included the resignation of the paper's editor-in-chief and some of its most notable columnists.
At least 43 journalists from the paper were notified of their termination via letters sent to their home on October 30 and 31. Editor-in-chief Vahap Munyar subsequently resigned from his position at the head of the paper.
In its report on the firings, the opposition news portal OdaTV referred to the situation as something which had “never been witnessed in the history of the paper.”
Being a member of a journalists union main reason for firings
The 43 journalists were members of the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS), which in a statement referred to the firings as a “liquidation” of the union members working at the paper.
“We are calling upon prosecutors: this reckless administration, which fired journalists who were undergoing cancer treatment or who were on maternity leave, is in violation of the constitution. The freedom to organize is a constitutional right. [Hürriyet's owner] Demirören holding has committed a crime,” TGS said in its statement.
“Our members will defend their rights on the streets, in the courts, and in the international arena until the end. We will teach bosses to respect the rights of their employees,” the TGS said.
Well-known scriptwriter, actress and columnist Gülse Birsel announced her resignation via Twitter following the news. “I'm announcing here that I have decided to resign from Hürriyet. I apologize to my readers and hope to greet you with other columns [elsewhere] in the future. My warm regards to everyone,” Birsel wrote.
Ayşe Arman, among the paper's most senior and popular columnists, known for her interviews with celebrities, also resigned, informing her followers of her decision in an Instagram post: “Filled with energy and kindness, I have been doing Sunday interviews for 27 years. From now on I am going to share them here rather than from the newspaper. Hürriyet is finished, but the job I love will continue,” Arman wrote.
After the forced sale of last year the editorial line has changed significantly
Once one of the country's most notable and best-selling newspapers, Hürriyet was sold last year by the Doğan holding group to the Demirören group, the latter of which is known for its friendly relationship with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling-Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
Prior to the sale, the paper and the Doğan group faced considerable pressure due for years to its critical coverage of the government. The company's owner, Aydın Doğan, was slapped with a $2.5 billion tax fine in 2009 in a move that was widely interpreted as a punishment for the paper's criticism of Erdoğan, and a warning to move in a different direction.
In 2015, one of the paper's most popular columnists, Ahmet Hakan, was attacked by four men as he was arriving home in the Istanbul neighborhood of Nişantaşı. Hakan remained with the paper but significantly tempered his critical stance toward Erdoğan and the AKP following his attack.
Just weeks prior to the assault on Hakan, Hürriyet's headquarters in the Istanbul district of Bağcılar was attacked by a group of around 200 people who hurled stones and were armed with sticks. The attack occurred after several prominent pro-government journalists accused the paper of not sufficiently criticizing the banned militant Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), and called for a demonstration to be staged in front of the headquarters.
One of the recently-fired journalists, Kenan Başaran, shared the letter he received with notice of his firing, which informed him of the decision in two brief sentences. “The Hürriyet newspaper, where I have worked since 2013, has terminated my contract. I will share my 'last article' regarding the subject in the upcoming hours. Thank you to all those who have supported me and my colleagues,” Başaran wrote on twitter.
“As of today, I have parted ways with the Hürriyet newspaper, where I have worked for 25 years. I will continue on the path that I know to be true without diverging,” wrote journalist Emre Özpeynirci on Twitter.