Increasing concentration and clientelism
Turkey has a media atmosphere that revolves around many contradictions. At times it gives hope since it has a dynamic youth and a coterie of well-educated and highly qualified journalists eager to do their profession against all odds. Yet, the other side of the coin is quite grim. Those journalists are trapped in a media system where the notion of integrity lacks on many levels. This research only emphasizes two indicators of media integrity: ownership and finances. It aims to provide some facts and figures leading the reader to comprehend a deeply dysfunctional media structure in the country. However, it has been almost impossible to get access to basic financial data on the Turkish media market. Reliable secondary sources, previous reports and in-depth news analyses have been used due to this lack of transparency of media finances. Media sector is just a part of a bigger problem which is the consolidation of the judicial, executive, and legislative branch. In such an environment, the media, ideally as the fourth estate, cannot serve public interest and fulfill its democratic functions.
At a glance, the Turkish media scene seems to be quite diverse since there are approximately 3,100 newspapers circulating in Turkey, including some 180 national papers.1 The total circulation of national daily newspapers is 4,304,906 copies in a country with a population of 77.6 million. The broadcasting scene also seems diverse. According to the 2014 data of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), there are 23 national, 17 regional and 205 local television stations, and 38 national, 100 regional and 921 local radio channels in the country. However, highly concentrated media ownership structure prevents the citizens from getting reliable and accurate information. Political clientelism has been at its peak for the last decade. This report details the close financial links between the political establishment and media conglomerates. Overall, this research indicates a country’s long and bumpy road to democracy. Undoubtedly, the media sector has been and always will be at the heart and core of this odyssey.
Every major newspaper or television channel is owned by a large conglomerate operating in various sectors, such as construction, energy, mining, banking, telecommunications. These conglomerates compete in public tenders and get contracts from the government. Thus, they use their media arm to promote government interests by making propaganda and manipulating facts.
1 MEDIA OWNERSHIP – LARGE CONGLOMERATES WITH CLIENTELIST TIES
During most of the past two decades, owning a media outlet had been a lucrative business. Media companies could make use of weak coalition governments for their own benefit and serve their business interests. With the tenure of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government since 2002, this is no longer true. The massive, imposing presence of a single-party government, and President Tayyip Erdoğan’s total intolerance to even the slightest criticism, has made it impossible for the media outlets to be seen as reliable sources of news and therefore to turn a profit. In simple terms, every major newspaper or television channel is owned by a large conglomerate operating in various sectors, such as construction, energy, mining, banking, telecommunications. These conglomerates compete in public tenders and get contracts from the government. Thus, they use their media arm to promote government interests by making propaganda and manipulating facts. In return for the promotion, the government awards the contracts to the conglomerates. These clientelist relations of media companies with the political establishment are definitely the greatest risk to media integrity, disregarding the democratic role of the media. Media ownership structure is currently highly concentrated in terms of diagonal cross-ownership that is elaborated in detail in the table 2 in the Appendix. There is no legislation requiring media to disclose ownership information to the public. Deals, tenders, and mergers are opaque. This has allowed an increasingly close relationship between the political establishment (particularly the ruling party AKP), the Islamic networks, and media conglomerates.2
The state news agency Anadolu Agency (AA) and public broadcaster Turkish Radio and Tele-vision (TRT) are the mouthpieces for the government, and their key personnel are appointed based on party affiliation. For instance, the director general Kemal Öztürk is the former press adviser to the government. Almost 50 percent of AA’s shares are owned by the Treasury and the agency never gets financially audited. On 24 July 2014, Republican’s People Party (CHP), the main opposition party, submitted a parliamentary question which revealed that pro-government media outlets have failed to repay subscription debts in the amount of around 1.2 million Turkish liras (approximately 423,000 dollars) to the AA.3
The Radio and Television Law (no. 2954) centralised the organisational structure of TRT’s body, removing representatives of academia, NGOs and professional organisations from the TRT board.4 TRT is funded by a combination of public and commercial revenues. The major sources of funding are broadcasting (license) fee generated from the sale of television and radio receivers, music sets and VTRs and 2 percent of the electricity fee paid by each con-sumer in combination with a share allocated from the national budget. TRT’s financing system and revenues have been questioned because of “its permanent endorsement of the official position of the state and/or government on almost any subject ... and careful avoidance from any engagement with controversial issues” (Barış 2005, 296).
At the same time, the regulator, RTÜK, despite its clear definition in the Constitution as an autonomous public legal entity, lacks independence because of its political composition. The council has nine members elected by the Parliament for a period of six years from a pool of candidates nominated by political parties. The number of nominees depends on the parties’ seats in Parliament won in the election.
1.1 (DE)REGULATION OF MEDIA OWNERSHIP
In order to prevent concentration of media ownership structure, RTÜK first focused on the share limit (Law no. 3984) whereby (i) a company was allowed to establish only one radio and only one television station; and (ii) a shareholder in any given station could not hold more than 20 percent of the shares, while if they owned shares in several stations, the 20 percent restriction of applies to their total stock. This provision also initially limited cross-ownership between print and broadcasting sectors. However, in 2002, big media companies began to lobby against these restrictions, and demanded amendments to the broadcasting regulations. As a result of intense lobbying and pressure coming from the broadcasters, the share ratios were redefined (Law no. 4756) in 2002.
According to the amended law, if the average annual viewership or audience share in a television or a radio enterprise exceeds 20 percent, then the capital share of a natural or legal person or a capital group in an enterprise should not exceed 50 percent. The highest share recorded at the time was 16 percent, indicating that the legal limit was almost impossible to reach for any broadcasting company. However, the most significant change was the removal of cross-ownership restrictions. Eventually, there remained no legal restrictions on media ownership. A research commissioned by RTÜK showed that the 2002 amendments enabled a media company to own 244 local and regional and 30 (medium-sized) national stations all at once (Cankaya and Yamaner 2006, 240). This was definitely a turning point in regulation of media ownership in the country.
In 2011, a new broadcasting law was introduced (Law no. 6112). Article 19 regulates the establishment of and share ratio in radio and television organisations. As with the previous law, the right to establish radio and television stations is granted to corporations only. Political parties, trade unions, professional organisations, co-ops, associations and local administrations are not allowed to own radio or television stations. Unlike the previous law, the share of commercial communication, advertising revenues and other sponsorships were considered as criteria for protecting competition and preventing monopolisation in the media market. This arrangement sought to prevent a media organisation from getting more than 30 percent of all commercial communication revenues on the market.
Besides these amendments, the Law no. 6112 increased the limit of the foreign shareholding rate in the broadcasting sector. Under the previous law, a foreign investor could not own more than 25 percent of the shares of a broadcasting enterprise and could not hold shares in more than one enterprise in Turkey. This provision had created a significant obstacle to the foreign capital that started to show interest in the Turkish media sector, and various methods were used to bypass the ban. Article 19, paragraph (f) of the Law no. 6112 raised the cap on foreign capital share to 50 percent and to two media service providers where foreign investors could become shareholders.
This liberal approach to regulating media ownership immediately resulted in national and international mergers. According to Ceren Sözeri (2009), 35 national and 30 international mergers and acquisition transactions took place between 2002 and 2008.
1.2 TELEVISION MARKET
Turkey’s television landscape is dominated by a handful of big channels (the three main channels enjoy a 34.6 percent audience share), and reception platforms are split evenly be-tween terrestrial and satellite platforms.5
Turkey by itself is the largest TV market in South East Europe with TV in twenty million households. Foreign investors also target the geographical areas where the Turkish language is spoken - that is, an estimated audience of 140-150 million people in the Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East.6
Since the majority in the country gets their news from television, prime-time news shows and hourly news bulletins are extremely popular. According to the media market research, Turkish people spend on average around 4.81 hours a day watching TV.
Turkish TV market comprises 678 television channels, including 25 national, 16 regional and 205 local free-to-air channels and 432 paid-per-view channels (139 cable and 293 satellite channels). Today, besides TRT, there are private channels like Kanal D, ATV, Show TV, Star TV and others, which air free of charge. There are also payable digital platforms like Digiturk, and D-Smart.7 Kanal D is the leading channel by an audience share of 10.77 percent in all day data.8 This channel is owned by Doğan Group which drew the government’s ire by extensively covering several scandals involving the AKP. However, because of the holding’s investments in the energy sector, Doğan Group acts cautiously to avoid receiving a huge tax fine as they did in 2009. ATV is strongly pro-government. It is owned by Zirve Holding, itself heavily involved in the construction sector (Kalyon Construction Firm).
Since the majority in the country gets their news from television, prime-time news shows and hourly news bulletins are extremely popular. According to the media market research (Marketing Türkiye 2014), Turkish people spend on average around 4.81 hours a day watching TV.9 Although the news reflects ideological stances of media companies, their ratings are quite high. There are also news channels such as CNNTürk which is a joint venture between Doğan Media Group and Time Warner. CNNTürk is Turkey’s first television channel founded through an international partnership and the first national CNN channel managed outside the station’s Atlanta headquarters. It is also the first channel to offer 24-hour news coverage in another national language.10 However, the public trust in this channel dropped drastically during Gezi Park Protests, a series of major anti-government social rallies, since the channel aired penguin documentaries while there were big demonstrations on Taksim Square. This became a symbol of government pressure on the mainstream media and online petitions were collected to urge CNN International to pull its name from the Turkish franchise.
Although all 24-hour news channels are not covered by the rating system, audience measurement research plays a significant role in allocating advertisements to certain stations. Television Audience Research Committee Joint Stock Company (TIAK Televizyon Izleme Arastirmalari Anonim Sirketi) measures the audience shares of major television channels.11 In 2011, there was a scandal revolving around the TV rating system in Turkey. The identities of the 2,500 households equipped by Nielsen with people meters to collect viewing data were widely leaked across the industry. Local production companies and TV stations were accused of sending the viewers lavish gifts in order to distort the ratings data in their favour. Thus, the reliability and credibility of TV audience measurement data was compromised. As a result, TIAK ended its contract with AGB Nielsen and made a 4-year contract with Kantar Media.12
1.3 PRINT MEDIA MARKET
The conflict of interest in relations between media companies and the government has be-come so deep that the news coverage of financial corruption and in-depth analysis of economic situation is almost nonexistent. In the mainstream dailies’ newsrooms, any news item, opinion, or photograph that might jeopardize their bosses’ close links with the government is removed with great care. Self-censorship has become a professional reflex and norm among editors and correspondents. Top editors-in-chief receive sky-rocketing salaries in order to prevent possible leaks to the public. Journalists and columnists who refuse to accept those conditions are often fired or harassed by criminal prosecutions.
A handful of newspapers insisting on critical coverage of the government face tremendous financial pressure. The most convenient and easy way for the government to manipulate the media is through the selective allocation of state advertising.
For instance, when the leading telecom provider Türk Telekom, which is partly owned by the Treasury, celebrated its 175th anniversary, it launched a major advertisement campaign in 16 pro-government media outlets. According to Nielsen Company AdEx, public ads given to pro-government dailies in the first quarter of 2014 amounted to 63 million dollars.13 Not surprisingly, oppositional newspapers, Zaman, BirGün, Bugün, Cumhuriyet, Meydan, Millet, Milli Gazete, Sözcü, Taraf, Today’s Zaman and Yeni Asya were not supported by the funding from the company’s print advertisements.
Zaman, Today’s Zaman, and Bugün dailies belong to the Gülen movement which turned against the government. In fact, until 2013, one of the key allies to the AKP government was the Gülen Islamist network (Hizmet Movement). Gülen network has enormous economic and social power through hundreds of schools and colleges in Turkey and abroad, and extensive business interests inside and outside the country. Gülen-affiliated media groups, such as Feza and Koza İpek also have a significant share in the media sector. Yet, their organic relations are never transparent. The alliance between Gülenists and the AKP government began to crumble as the government took a more confrontational stance towards Israel and pursued rapprochement with the Kurdish PKK, which the Gülen movement has opposed for decades.14
The conflict of interest in relations between media companies and the government has be-come so deep that the news coverage of financial corruption and in-depth analysis of economic situation is almost nonexistent.
BirGün is a socialist newspaper with a small circulation of 27,000. Unlike other dailies, it is funded by various unions, NGOs, and sponsors. It is widely read and circulated online by left-wing youth. Cumhuriyet has a long history of social democratic editorial line, is owned by the Cumhuriyet Foundation. In that way, it can retain its editorial independence.
1.4 SCANDALS THAT SHOOK THE MEDIA SECTOR
One of the major weapons to change the ownership patterns is imposing tax evasion fines on critical media outlets. Besides the major tax fine on the Doğan Group in 2009 (which will be discussed in the following section), the most recent tax evasion fine in the amount of 2.2 million dollars was issued to the Taraf newspaper in 2014. The newspaper was intimidated under financial audit for about fourteen months since 2012, and the paper was “accused of evading the VAT tax on its scrap paper sales to paper mills. Specifically, the VAT tax amount was registered as ‘0’ in these sales, which according to Taraf is legal and practiced by all newspapers.”15
President Erdoğan has been focused on getting major media into friendly hands, using be-hind-the-scenes pressure to control coverage and muzzle critical voices. Arbitrary tax penal-ties are assessed to force newspapers into bankruptcy after which they emerge owned by the President’s friends. The newspaper Milliyet was sold in 2011 to help raise money for a 3,800 million dollar tax fine levied by the government against the owner. The buyer, the Demirören Group, which runs a gas distribution business and a shopping mall, appointed former Erdoğan media adviser Akif Beki as head of the company’s media group in May 2012.
It is also commonly believed that Erdoğan forced a sale of the once independent daily Sabah to a consortium of businessmen led by his son-in-law. Sabah is now an unofficial government mouthpiece, employing Erdoğan’s son-in-law as a regular columnist.16
President Erdoğan has been focused on getting major media into friendly hands, using be-hind-the-scenes pressure to control coverage and muzzle critical voices. Arbitrary tax penal-ties are assessed to force newspapers into bankruptcy after which they emerge owned by the President’s friends.
On 17 December 2013, three ministers’ sons, a mayor, and several businessmen connected to the AKP were arrested on charges of bribery. The many suspects embroiled in the scandal were accused of bribery to facilitate construction schemes and of the illegal transfer of gold to Iran through the state-owned bank Halkbank. The probe immediately escalated and led to the resignation of several key figures in the AKP’s government, most notably of then minister of environment and urban planning Erdoğan Bayraktar on December 25. Then Prime Minister and now President Erdoğan’s name also surfaced during the investigation, as leaked wiretaps recorded calls between Erdoğan and his son suggesting that they were hiding illegally obtained money. While this scandal shook the whole country to its core, the police force and prosecutors who were in charge with the investigation and arrests were the known members of the Gülen movement. The long-time alliance between those two Islamist camps turned into a deep hostility. This crackdown made a huge impact on the media sector as well. Once big supporters of the AKP government, all media outlets turned their back to the ruling party. Today, the media controlled by the Gülen movement systematically face government intimidations through police raids, the arrest of journalists and accusations of terrorism and treason.
1.5 ONLINE NEWS MEDIA
In recent years, online media have become a refuge for liberal journalists having been fired or forced to resign from mainstream media outlets, the most prominent news portals being the T24 (t24.com.tr), P24 (platform24.com.tr), Diken (diken.com.tr), and Bianet (bianet.org). Although these portals provide critical alternative views and quality journalism, they have limited outreach and lack the financial resources to pursue investigative journalism.17
As an independent online news platform, T24, founded in 2009, emphasizes its financial autonomy by keeping their distance from any political party, organisation, or association. Doğan Akin, the founder of the site, stated that “it is possible to make a big change in Turkish journalism with a small amount of money. For instance Mehmet Barlas (a columnist in pro-government newspaper Sabah) gets a monthly salary of 25,000 dollars which can cover all our T24 expenses including office rent, bills, taxes, salaries of correspondents.”18
Bianet (Independent Communication Network) was established in 1997 for monitoring and covering media freedom and promoting independent journalism in Turkey. Funded mainly by the EU Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights, Bianet provides training to journalists, communication students and NGOs. It also publishes handbooks on peace journalism, broadcasts radio programmes for the local media, organises conferences, forums and international exchange programmes. Bianet continues to be one of the most reliable alternative news portals in the country.
In recent years, online media have become a refuge for liberal journalists having been fired or forced to resign from mainstream media outlets.
Most of these alternative news platforms try to survive with the assistance from the European Union funds, by raising donations or with the assistance by volunteers. In the midst of these struggles to keep high quality journalism alive, the government tries to find new ways to control the internet. For instance, with the amendments to the problematic Internet Law (Law no. 5651) regulating the internet, Turkey’s Telecommunications Authority (TIB) could have the power to block a website without a court order and a court order would have to be sought within 24 hours leaving the website closed for as long as a court order was issued. The law also required service providers to keep a record of individual internet activities for up to two years and make the data available to the authorities. Both provisions of the law were overturned by the Constitutional Court in October 2014. However, Erdoğan’s crusade on online news media does not seem to be at its end. According to a source which keeps track of blocked websites, a total of 87,387 websites have been blocked in Turkey as of 18 September 2015.19 Most of blocked websites are pro-Kurdish news portals where their financial links are unknown.
1.6 HANDING MEDIA TO ERDOĞAN LOYALISTS
The majority of the media, controlled by about five large conglomerates, as of 2014 have been Doğan, Doğuş, Zirve, Albayrak, Ciner (see the table 2 in the Appendix). These are the largest holdings since they have the largest shares in various sectors other than media. For instance, Doğuş Group is one of the top three stakeholders in Turkey's banking, construction and tourism industries. The group’s economic activities include public tenders for Marmaray, underground tunnel connecting Asia and Europe underneath the Bosphorus, as well as various dams, highways, and power plants. It also has interests in the banking, tourism and automotive sectors.
Albayrak Holding is another top conglomerate that started as a construction company, but since 1982 it has expanded into other sectors, including transport and logistics, waste management and media. Albayrak family is known to be very close to the government. Ironically, Berat Albayrak, who was the chief executive of Albayrak Holding until late 2013, is President Erdoğan’s son-in-law and decided to seek a government post in the national election on 1 November 2015.
Owners of the media companies in Turkey have always used their media outlets as a weapon for their investments in other sectors, such as construction, energy, telecommunications and banking. This is a widely accepted phenomenon in the country (Sönmez 2003, Bek 2004, Adakli 2006, Sözeri 2015).
Dominant media owners instrumentalised the media for private business interests disregarding public interest and the democratic role of the media. The media owners became eager to establish close links with governments for their business ventures in various sectors.
On the other hand, press has never been independent from the political establishment and free from political pressures ever since it began. This organic relationship between press and politics has created a profile of journalists who were on a mission to protect the benefits of the political authority. Since the establishment of the Republic in 1923, journalists had a mission to change the society, acted as part of the status quo, and were occasionally awarded seats in Parliament for their effort. If the journalists were not in harmony with the political authority, they would be punished by being sent to remote villages as minor government officials. In other words, journalists have always been an integral part of the political system.
The media ownership scene and the profile of the media owners changed radically in the 1980s. However, being close to the political establishment stayed intact. Dominant media owners instrumentalised the media for private business interests disregarding public interest and the democratic role of the media. The media owners became eager to establish close links with governments for their business ventures in various sectors.20
According to the memoires of Hasan Cemal (2005), a respected journalist, one of the oldest and biggest family business elites, Koç Holding, had thought of publishing a newspaper just to get an appointment from the President and Prime Minister in 1988. Although Koç Holding never entered the media sector, this indicates a long tradition on how the press is used as a tool for doing business in the country. Recently, the same motivation laid in Demirören Group’s acquisition of Milliyet and Vatan newspapers from Doğan Group despite the dailies’ poor financial indicators.
Although the financial records of the media sector are almost impossible to access, according to both 2011 and 2012 TESEV report,21 most of the media companies work in irrational economic circumstances, while many newspapers are in great deficit. Only a few large TV channels and newspapers make profit. Media owners consider their companies as a business expense in order to win lucrative public contracts. They compensate their losses in the media sector by enhancing their financial profits in other business sectors where their conglomerates are active. The price to pay for this quid pro quo is to please the ruling party and politicians by manipulated news coverage and biased editorial line.
2 THE OPAQUE WORLD OF MEDIA FINANCES
There are various problems in terms of getting access to key data on media market in Turkey. This definitely affects the transparency and reliability of media business. There is no specific body to regulate the media market competition. Instead, media falls under the category of an umbrella structure of the Turkish Competition Authority (Rekabet Kurumu). According to the 2011 MEDIADEM report, due to excessive number of complaints submitted to the Turkish Competition Authority regarding the media market, only 10 percent of all complaints can be taken into consideration. As the report underlines, there is obvious need for a more effective mechanism to regulate the competition rules in the media sector.22
In Turkey, only a handful of data can be found on advertising expenditures. According to the Turkish Association of Advertising Agencies (TAAA), there is a steady increase (64 percent) in total advertising expenditures between 2010 and 2014. An increase of 51 percent in television expenditures is also an indication of the television’s continuing dominance in the media market.23
According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), Turkey’s digital advertising invest-ment also grew by 24 percent in 2013 and reached a value of 521 million dollars.24 TV broadcasting has the highest share in total advertising revenues (51.4 percent in 2014).
TABLE 1: ADVERTISING EXPENDITURES BY SECTOR IN 2014
Source: Turkish Association of Advertising Agencies.25
According to the 2014 RTÜK Radio and Television Sectoral Report,26 the revenue shares of the top ten television outlets seem to decrease in 2013 in comparison with 2004 from 95 percent to 74 percent. Although this seems to be a promising development in terms of competitiveness and less concentration in the television market, unfortunately this is not the case. On the contrary, there are only four major holdings (Doğan, Ciner, Doğuş, and Çukurova) taking the majority of advertising revenue shares. The handful of conglomerates in the broadcasting scene have increased their economic power through vertical and horizontal mergers and pursued competition strategies by setting up cartels until 2001 when the economic crisis hit the country. This major financial crisis was followed by state regulation of the banking sector. Those media groups which had investments in the financial and banking sectors were particularly affected by the crisis. Some of them were completely wiped out while others were seized by the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (Tasarruf Mevduatı Sigorta Fonu, TMSF) established by the government (Kurban and Sözeri, 2011).
Most recently, the government dictated which holdings would purchase the Sabah-ATV media group in exchange for a multibillion-dollar contract to build Istanbul’s third airport. TMSF was also used to transfer media assets to supportive businessmen when Ethem Sancak, a Turkish businessman with close ties to President Erdoğan, bought three media outlets previously owned by the Çukurova Group from TMSF in November 2013.
In July 2015, Discovery Communications entered into a strategic partnership with Doğuş Media Group. Doğuş will be responsible for selling Discovery’s entire commercial portfolio, including local versions of Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and Discovery Science, as well as securing sponsorship opportunities from Turkish advertisers. This is a recent example where the scale of foreign investment to Turkish television sector is on the rise.
Digiturk was acquired by BeIn Media Group in 2015. However, there was no official disclo-sure of the amount of money that BeIn Media agreed to pay, albeit press reports made refer-ence to an amount close to 1,500 million dollars. Digiturk was put up for sale in May 2013 when the government-controlled TMSF seized assets belonging to the Çukurova Group. The seizure of assets came as a result of the failure on the part of Çukurova to serve a 450 million dollar debt to the State. The acquisition of Digiturk is the latest in a string of investments by the Qataris in the Turkish media market. In 2011, BeIn’s parent company (the Al Jazeera Media Network) paid 40 million dollars for the pay-per-view TV channel Cine5, which was rebranded as Al Jazeera Turk. In April 2013, Al Jazeera Media Network paid 20 million dollars for a digital terrestrial license for Al Jazeera Turk. In the first quarter of 2014, the Qatari company launched a new portal (Aljazeera.com.tr), new mobile applications and a digital magazine.27
2.1 DUBIOUS FINANCIAL DEALS IN THE MEDIA SECTOR
The media owners are increasingly winning important public tenders in proportion to their sizes. In terms of media integrity, this also explains why the media owners please the gov-ernment at every possible occasion and why self-censorship is so widespread in the media. This financial pattern is one of the biggest problems that prevent media integrity, pluralism, healthy public debate, and freedom of expression. According to the 2013 report “Overview of Corruption in Turkey” prepared by the Turkish chapter of Transparency International (Şeffaflık Dernegi, TI-Turkey), the accountability of the government continues to be low and problems with public procurement have increased in the last decade. The same report said that the number of “exceptional procurements” (closed tenders) made by public offices has increased by 24 percent since 2001, which is much higher than the international average.28 As a result, public procurement and public tendering are the main channels of corruption.
In 1994, a ban was imposed preventing media owners from participating in public tenders, but it was lifted in 2002 (amendments in Law No. 4756) after fierce lobbying by media companies. Besides, the AKP government has amended the Public Tender Act 37 times since it took power in 2002 in order to better manipulate and control the system. The deals, tenders and mergers where the media companies are involved are often opaque as there is no regulation to guarantee the financial transparency. The reason for this opaque system is due to extensive favours to pro-government media companies through public works’ contracts, including huge urban construction projects in Istanbul. The Prime Minister’s office directly controls the Privatization High Council (OİB), the Housing Development Administration (TOKİ), and the Defence Industry Executive Committee, which together account for tens of billions of dollars in procurement contracts per year.
In 2013, Doğuş Holding with many media outlets (see the table 2 in the Appendix) showed interest in marina businesses both in Turkey and overseas by placing the highest 702 million dollar bid for the privatisation of the Istanbul Salipazarı Port Area, commonly known as Galataport, thus winning the right to operate the port area for 30 years. Salipazarı, one of Europe's 10 largest ports, will be converted into a sleek shorefront area complete with hotels, cafés, retail shops and space for cruise ships to dock.
Pro-government Star Media Group’s partner Fettah Tamince is also the founder of Rixos Hotels, a tourism sector giant active in eight countries. Tamince is known for his close links to President Erdoğan, who usually spends his holidays at one of the Rixos Hotels. He won the Haliçport (shipyards in Istanbul’s Golden Horn) tender in 2013 by submitting the highest bid of 1,350 million dollars plus taxes. In 2014, he sold his 50 percent share at Star Media Group to its previous owner Ethem Sancak, a businessman listed as one of the 50 richest people in Turkey according to Forbes magazine. The Star Media Group’s close relations with the President still continue.
Simultaneously with rewarding loyalties to cronies, the AKP government systematically uses financial tools to punish dissent. The most important case was the tax evasion fine imposed on various Doğan Group companies in 2009. The ban was imposed when the state tenders’ board said Petrol Ofisi, then a Doğan company, breached the conditions of a contract with the Energy Ministry. Doğan sold Petrol Ofisi to Austria’s OMV AG the next year after being slapped with a tax fine of about 3,800 million dollars. That fine also followed public clashes with Erdoğan, after Doğan-owned newspapers reported in late 2008 on alleged corruption at an Islamic charity with connections to government officials.
More recently, in May 2015, Doğan Holding was once again banned from government ten-ders. The Energy Ministry ordered Doğan and Petrol Ofisi, a fuel retailer Doğan owned until 2010, to serve 237 days remaining from a one-year ban imposed in 2009. Not surprisingly, the penalty comes as Erdoğan repeatedly bashes the company’s media group, saying it represents an “old Turkey” in which newspaper headlines could bring down governments.
As seen in Chart 1, the change of media structure through public tenders triggered a collective data and digital mapping project, Networks of Dispossession, aimed to pursue the relations between capital and power in Turkey. The interface of the web site also allows the researcher using functions like advanced search, filter and share through social media.
CHART 1: PROJECTS OF DISPOSSESSION
The structural problems in the media ownership in Turkey have been embedded in the political system since mid-1980s. With the AKP government’s tenure, the “media pool” of uncritical government support was formed and the major media outlets were pacified by means of financial threats, self-censorship or increased job insecurity.
The most substantive problem involves the economic interests of media owners. Although Article 29 of Law no. 3984 restricts media owners to hold shares, owners who have stakes in other business sectors have been seen to influence cover-ups to favour their outside business interests. A significant number of media owners in Turkey belong to industrial conglomerates with interests that go beyond freedom of press and opinion – in addition to the close relationships between the government and some of these industrial conglomerates.
Groups previously uninvolved in media activities have stepped into the sector, a move which has facilitated the development of oligopolistic structures. Indeed, an increasing concentration in media ownership – most notably regarding the activities of the Doğan, Doğus, Zirve, Albayrak, Çukurova, and Ciner Holding – can be easily observed in recent years. The holding companies have conflicting economic interests, as they are shareholders in a variety of business sectors such as construction, energy, telecommunications, mining, and banking.
At the same time Turkey’s legislation to ensure transparency of media ownership as well as their financing is deeply dysfunctional. Deals, tenders and mergers where the media companies are involved are often opaque as there is no regulation to guarantee the financial transparency of the media in Turkey.
Media ownership and financing are at the core of Turkey’s freedom of press problems, and as such have to be addressed through urgent and complex policy measures.
• The government must introduce laws limiting media cross-ownership in order to establish diversity, fair competition and pluralism in the media sector.
• The media owners must be exempted from participating in public tenders and making financial deals with the government.
• The government should stop using the threats of tax inspections and prosecutions as a tool to control and intimidate the media. The enforcement of tax legislation should be as transparent as to avoid its misuse in targeting media outlets critical to the government.
• The state broadcaster TRT and the state news agency AA should be radically re-formed and turned into a genuinely independent public service.
• Appointment processes for regulatory agencies (RTÜK) should be structured so as to minimize political influence over appointments.
14 Freedom House, Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media, and Power in Turkey, 2014.
17 P24, a non-profit, civil-society organisation formed to support and promote editorial inde-pendence in the Turkish media is a partner in SEE Media Observatory Project.
21 Kurban and Sözeri, Does media policy promote media freedom and independence?
22 Kurban and Sözeri, Does media policy promote media freedom and independence?
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Aslı Tunç holds a PhD in Media and Communication at Temple University. She is currently a Professor of Media Studies at Media School, Istanbul Bilgi University. Tunç contributed this report as a researcher engaged by the Platform for Independent Journalism – P24, Istanbul, Turkey, a partner organisation in the SEE Media Observatory.