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Sale of Independent Media Outlet in Turkey to Group Tied to Erdogan Raises Concerns


Flags of the Dogan Media Group are seen outside the Dogan Media Center in Ankara, Turkey, March 22, 2018.

Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are among the most controversial issues in Turkey.

In the past decade, some mainstream media outlets have been sold to businessmen and groups with ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is also the head of the ruling AKP party. AKP has been ruling Turkey for 15 years.

After the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, some of the remaining media outlets, critical of Erdogan, were shut down, allegedly for having ties with terror groups.

The Turkish Journalists Association said that as of January 2018, 154 journalists had been jailed in the country, making it one of the largest jailers of journalists.

The recent sale of the largest media group in Turkey — Dogan Media Group — to a conglomerate with close ties to Erdogan has heightened concerns about the future of an independent media in Turkey.

Dogan Media, which has an operating value of $1.1 billion, was sold last week to Demiroren Holding for an undisclosed sum.

FILE - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting in Istanbul, March 26, 2016.
FILE - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting in Istanbul, March 26, 2016.

Dogan Media also owns a number of TV and radio stations, which include CNN Turk, as well as one of the highest-circulating newspapers, Hurriyet. CNN Turk has a license agreement with U.S.-based CNN International to carry its brand.

After the sale, media reports questioned if CNN would withdraw its brand name from CNN Turk.

Asked about the controversy, Jonathan Hawkins, CNN vice president for communications, told VOA Turkish Service, "We will be meeting with the new owners in due course to discuss the implications of the sale."

CCNN Turk was established in 1999 as a joint venture of Turner Media and Dogan Media Group. CNN Turk and CNN+ in Spain are two joint ventures CNN has taken outside of the U.S. with the CNN logo. Both of these TV stations can use the CNN logo and some of the contents provided by CNN Network via their license agreement with the CNN International. CNN Turk is broadcast under the Dogan Media Group umbrella.

Hawkins did not comment on the future relationship between CNN and CNN Turk once they are under Demiroren's management.

Demiroren had also purchased two major newspapers — Vatan and Milliyet — from the Dogan group in the past. When Dogan acquired the daily Vatan in 2008, the state-run Turkish Competition Authority ruled that Dogan Media had to re-sell Vatan within two years because the purchase violated antitrust laws regarding print media.

The purchase of Dogan Media by Demiroren, however, will create a new monopoly over print and visual media in Turkey.

"This sale means the death of pluralism and independent journalism in Turkey's mainstream media," said Erol Onderoglu, the Turkey representative for media freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.

FILE - Activists, one holding a recent copy of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, march in Istanbul, July 24, 2017, protesting against a trial of journalists and staff from the newspaper, accused of aiding terror organizations.
FILE - Activists, one holding a recent copy of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, march in Istanbul, July 24, 2017, protesting against a trial of journalists and staff from the newspaper, accused of aiding terror organizations.

Another daily newspaper, Cumhuriyet, whose editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu recently was released from jail after being held 496 days, ran the headline: "One man, one voice."

CNN vs. Fox News

Meanwhile, the sale of CNN Turk to a pro-government group has also become the focus of a clash between CNN and Fox News.

CNN president Jeff Zucker last week in New York criticized Fox News for its alleged pro-Trump coverage.

"It is really state-run TV. It is a pure propaganda machine, and I think does an incredible disservice to this country," Zucker said.

When responding to CNN's criticism, Fox News pointed to CNN Turk as an example of state-run media.

"Today, probably as Zucker was speaking, controlling interest in CNN Turk, CNN's cable station in Turkey, was sold to an arm of the regime," Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson said. "Jeff Zucker's network is now, in effect, in business with an authoritarian, Islamist and highly anti-American Erdogan government."

Carlson said with that sale, CNN Turk literally became state-run TV.

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