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The Changing Media Capital in the AKP Era

Benan Eres ve Hakan Yüksel


This report problematizing the role of the media in the formation and reproduction of reality of Turkey specifically focuses on the changes observed in the capital configuration of the media since 2002 when the AKP came to power.

The transformation of the media, in addition to other factors in political, economic and cultural planes, forms one of the pillars of AKP’s hegemony; this is so much the case that the new media system established by the AKP, which has to a great extent succeeded in maintaining the electoral support in every ballot in the last 15 years, has been strictly controlling every idea and news item communicated to the masses. The main role in maintaining this system was played by the media groups formed out of nothing after 2007 by using public resources as well as the mainstream media corporations which were rewarded when they acted in line with the government policies and punished heavily when they acted otherwise.

The report will first relate chronologically how today’s media structure has been formed and then provide an analysis of this very process as well as introduce suggestions open to elaboration. Within this context, the nearly fifteen-year process will be taken into consideration in terms of three specific periods: the first period covers the years between (2002-2007) when the social agreement was sought, the second period (2007-2013) when the AKP attempted to restructure social order as well as the media and the third one (2013-2016) when the AKP government underwent a crisis the repercussions of which were felt in the media. Though the aftermath of the coup attempt in July 2016 had radical reverberations in the media, this has been excluded from this study, believing that it deserves to be covered in more detail in another study.

The Restructuring of the Media in the 2002-2007 Period

As a result of the severe crisis that broke out in February 2001 one fifth of the exchange reserves in the Central Bank of Turkey eroded overnight, leading to a 50% loss of value in the Turkish Lira; in the following period over 20 banks went bankrupt, 1 million people lost their jobs and tens of thousands businesses closed down (Yeşil, 2016, p. 73). Out of this devastation rose the AKP and left its seal on the Turkish politics. Putting the blame on the politicians, the public punished the existing parties at the ballot box, enabling the AKP to rule the country after securing 363 deputies in the 550-seat parliament with 34,3% of the votes. To overcome the crisis-breeding system in the 1990s, the AKP government undertook comprehensive economic and political reforms; on one hand the neoliberal economic program was maintained in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on the other democratization process was expedited in line with the EU target. The AKP paid a lot of attention to social aggrement; with the growth rate figures on the rise and accession negotiations being launched, it enjoyed increasing public support.

In this honeymoon period prominent points in terms of structure of ownership in the media are the reconstruction of the sector by means of Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (SDIF) (Tasarruf Mevduatı Sigorta Fonu) (TMSF) and media investments by foreign capital. The mutual understanding established between the government and the capital holders is remarkable.

The Role of SDIF in the Media

Among the biggest media corporations that constituted the mainstream media prior to the AKP taking power were those that belonged to Doğan, Çukurova, Uzan, Bilgin, İhlâs and Doğuş capital groups (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 561; Yılmaz, 2016, p. 150). However, the 2001 crisis put these groups in a rather difficult situation, also leading to destruction of Uzan and Bilgin groups.

With the collapse of the economy, the media groups suffered drastic losses in the advertisement that had the lion’s share in their revenues. The volume of the domestic advertising market fell from 1 billion dollars to 500 million dollars since the banks which constituted 80% of the advertisement revenue were collapsing (Aydın, 2014, p. 133; Yesil, 2016, s 89). What is more, 10 of the 25 banks that collapsed were owned by media owners (Akser & Baybars-Hawks, 2012, p. 306; Sözeri, 2015, p. 11).

This being the case, the SDIF, which appropriated banks in return for their debts, suddenly became one of the biggest media groups by taking charge of three newspapers, three national TV stations and a number of radios (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 561; Adaklı, 2010b, p. 77; Yesil, 2016, p. 83). Foreign capital also took part in the tender bids organized by SDIF for the sale of these media corporations; new domestic actors appeared in the media market while some of the existing ones considerably increased their market shares.

Important figures in the sector such as Aydın Doğan, Doğan Group’s owner, made preliminary moves before the 2000-2006 period when tender bids were launched, by intensifying their lobbying activities for the removal of possession limits (Yesil, 2016, p. 89). Taking advantage of a legal loophole, Aydın Doğan managed to purchase Star TV of the Uzan Group from the SDIF (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 567; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, pp. 72, 81; Yesil, 2016, p. 89). Thus, even though against the law, the Doğan Group, who already owned Kanal D and CNN Türk, added a third national TV channel and consolidated its powerful status in the market (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 564).

Active in banking and automobile sectors, The Doğuş Group, which bought NTV, one of the oldest and most prestigious news channels in Turkey in 1999, also became a prominent figure by benefitting from the SDIF sales. Later on, the Group purchased Kanal E from the SDIF and Kral TV, a popular music channel owned by the Uzan Group (Adaklı, 2010a, 564; Yesil, 2016, s. 89).  After forming a partnership with the USA-based CNBC, the Doğuş Group turned Kanal E into a financial channel, changing its name into CNBC-E.  The Group would further increase its market share when it bought Star TV in the second period of the AKP.

The Ciner Group also entered the market as a new actor through the SDIF. The group, active in energy and transportation sectors, first purchased Sabah-ATV, the second biggest media corporation, from the SDIF. Though the main components of this corporation previously owned by Dinç Bilgin was the Sabah newspaper and ATV channel, the Ciner Group also got hold of many other newspapers, magazines and radio channels as a result of this purchase. When the sale was cancelled by the SDIF in 2007, the leader of the Ciner Group, Turgay Ciner, immediately bought HaberTürk TV, internet site and radio, all founded by Ufuk Güldemir, a prominent journalist of the 1990s. Before the 2009 elections, the group also incorporated HaberTürk news paper.

The Sabah-ATV handover is a turning point in the history of the Turkish media. Adaklı (2010a, p. 580) states that although Turgay Ciner later proved that the agreement with Dinç Bilgin which formed the justification for the SDIF to cancel the sale of Sabah-ATV was invalid, he did not take any action to repossess these media corporations. Adaklı observes that this may account for the fact that Ciner got rid of the 10-year debt agreement for the sale of Sabah-ATV, that he has learnt the rules of the game in the media and that he reached a point where he could attract media workers for his new media corporations.

Another important observation is that the seizure of the Uzan Group by the SDIF may have something to do with the success of the Genç Party (Young Party), led by group’s CEO Cem Uzan, in the 2002 elections (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 561-562). According to this, the AKP saw Cem Uzan, who gleaned 7% vote in 2002, and and his media assets as a threat and at the end took action. By the mid 2003 over 200 companies (in banking, media, energy and football) of the Uzan Group were seized.

The Penetration of Foreign Capital into the Sector

With its growing economy and its prospective EU membership, Turkey as an emerging market becomes an attraction for international capital. To this end international corporations begin to invest in the media assets owned by the SDIF.

In a 2005 tender bid the Canadian company CanWest purchased SDIF-owned Süper FM and Metro FM which were in the possession of the Uzan Group and a year later bought also Joy FM and JoyTürk (Adaklı, 2010a, pp. 562, 564; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2016, p. 72; Yesil, 2016, p. 83). Although foreign investors were not legally allowed to have shares in more than one company, CanWest gets around this hurdle by going into partnership with a domestic company, just as international media giant Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp would later do in order to purchase TGRT  TV channel owned by İhlâs Holding from the SDIF. (Yesil, 2016, p. 83; Adaklı, 2010a, pp. 579-580). Murdoch changed the broadcasting policy of his new acquisition and rebranded it FOX TV (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 588; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2016, p. 80).

The Doğan Group, the largest media corporation of this period, increased its international partnerships. In 2005 it was announced that 19.99% of Doğan TV were sold to Deutsche Bank for 150 million dollars; however, Radio and Television Higher Council (RTÜK) did not grant approval to this, upon which 25% of Doğan Medya was announced to have been sold to Axel Springer, the German media giant in 2006 (Adaklı, 2010a, pp. 568-569; Yesil, 2016, p. 83). Two partners who agreed on joint investment founded Romanian Kanal D, while the Doğan Group continued with its investments abroad, buying in 2007 67,3% of Trader Media, a corporation dominant in the advertising sector in Russia and Eastern Europe (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 569).

In that period the American fund management company Providence Equity Partner bought 47% of the shares of Digitürk, the first digital broadcasting platform in Turkey (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 579; Yesil, 2016, p. 83).

Loosening of the restrictions on the foreign media investment is compatible with the AKP’s neoliberal bent and EU-membership target. The AKP party executives stressed that prevalent position of domestic media magnates was unfavorable and that relationships based on mutual interest these people had with politicians was unwholesome (Yesil, 2016, p. 84). Therefore the sales under the supervision of the SDIF were presented as a means of establishing diversity and strengthening competition. This could at the same time be seen as the way the AKP, which still needed to reinforce its power in its first period, could defend itself against media giants that were in a position to shape politics.

Within this framework, the AKP prepared a motion with a view to remove restrictions in media ownership (Yesil, 2016, p. 84). 25%-ownership restriction was to be abolished and thus foreign investors would be allowed to buy 100% of the shares in a media corporation. On the other hand, foreign investors would be allowed to have shares only in one domestic media corporation, and not be allowed to operate in the domestic or regional broadcasting. In addition, the proportion of the foreigner within the total of media corporations was not to exceed 25%. Even though the AKP’s motion was approved in the parliament it was vetoed by the then President Ahmet Necdet Sezer. (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 596; Yesil, 2016, p. 84; Yılmaz, 2016, p. 152). Therefore the AKP had to wait until 2011 when Abdullah Gül, who was a member of the AKP, became president.

The Desire to Control the Media in the Period 2007-2013

The second period of the AKP that began in 2007 differs considerably from the first. Aydın, who observes that the “defensive” attitude that disregarded public accord was now put aside (2014, p. 135), further asserts the AKP and its Islamist allies (first and foremost the Gulen movement) aggressive restructured the military, the jurisdiction and the academia as well as the media in line with their ideals.

From this period onwards, the AKP did its best by mobilizing public opportunities and facilities   so as to support the mainstream media as well “cohort” media organs that are supportive of the party. The AKP gradually collected all the powers in its hands, as a result of which the new media corporations supported by the AKP became, in the words of Aydın, “new mainstream media” (2014, p. 134) themselves. Sözeri (2015, p. 12) puts forward that powerful media corporations find themselves between two alternatives, mainly either to obey the AKP or face retribution that jeopardizes their existence. Indeed, the severe punishment which the Doğan Group suffered from set an example, forcing other media bosses to adopt a more “obedient” attitude.

Therefore, two facts should be noted down regarding the media capital of the period: the birth of AKP media and “disciplining” of other media corporations by the AKP. Another important point that deserves to be mentioned with regard to this report is the reorganization of ownership relationships that came about with the new law issued in 2011.

It has been stated that 2007 was a turning point in the AKP’s attitude towards the media and from then onwards it has acquired a more oppressive nature (Akser & Baybars-Hawks, 2012, p. 308; Yılmaz, 2016); yet, we need to have a brief look at the social conjuncture in order to understand these developments better. As Aydın (2014, p. 137) remarks, 2007 was an important year for three reasons: first, the General Staff issued an electronic memorandum on its internet site against the plans to elect Abdullah Gül as president; second, a law suit was filed to close down the AKP; third, Nokta magazine published news about a group of soldiers planning a coup in the years 2003 and 2004.

When the presidential election turned into a crisis, the AKP decided to call early elections and on July 22, 2007 it increased its votes to 46.7 and won 341 seats in the parliament. Thus the AKP got the upper hand against its opponents. It is clear that there is now a powerful and legitimate government which everybody including media bosses has to pay heed to. Then the AKP embarked upon reshaping the state and the social life; concomitantly with the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases figures from the military, media, academia and politics were arrested on charges of planning a coup. In this process lawsuits and investigations were loudly criticized for targeting AKP opponents or people who have nothing to do with the coup allegations; nevertheless, the government and the “cohort” media try to refute such charges, saying that such critical voices are nothing other than “applauding the coup” (“Ahmet Şık’a”, 2011; “Televizyonda ‘Ergenekoncu’ suçlaması”, 2012; Alan, 2015). The changes in the ownership of media take place within this climate of reckoning and reshaping.

The Sale of Sabah-ATV to the Çalık Holding

In the words of Sönmez (2010, p. 98) the SDIF has been used as functional tool for the change towards “pro-government media” after 2007 (Akser & Baybars-Hawks, 2012, p. 306; Sözeri, 2015, p. 11). With the handovers through the SDIF, the pro-AKP media, or what the opponents call “cohort media” or “the pool media”, crystallizes and new actors come on the scene such as the Çalık Group, which bought Sabah-ATV.

The purchase of Sabah-ATV for 1.1 billion dollars by the Çalık Group from the SDIF in 2008 is assessed as a sign that AKP’s efforts to shape the media for its own interests reached a satisfasctory point (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 561). The only participator in the tender for the Sabah-ATV sale was the Çalık Holding, where AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son in law was an executive; the holding also received a loan of 375 million dollars from publicly owned banks, Vakıfbank and Halk Bankası (Sönmez, 2010, p. 91; Kaya & Çakmur, 2010, p. 537; Aydın, 2014, p. 134; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 74; Sözeri, 2015, p. 12; Yesil, 2016, p. 90). It turned out that the Çalık Group gathered the remaining sum from the Qatari El Wasaeel Group by offering 25% of the shares (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 583).

In 2008 Serhat Albayrak, the brother of Berat Albayrak, who was appointed as the CEO of the Çalık Holding in 2007, was also appointed Vice President of the Executive Board in the media group. What is more, grant holder of the Zaman newspaper Ali Akbulut is brother in law of Ahmet Çalık, the owner of the Çalık Holding.

The concerned parties have also interconnected economic activities. The assets of the Çalık Holding, which was first active in textile and later, entered energy, media, telecommunication, construction, and marketing and finance industries, increased dramatically under the AKP rule (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 583; Adaklı, 2014, p. 134; Aydın, 2014, p. 134; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 74). The Doğan Group, annoyed with assets sold openly to those who have close relationship with the AKP, printed articles and news in their dailies and periodicals that stressed the fact that the Çalık Holding received such big projects as Istanbul Subway and Samsun-Ceyhan Pipeline without even taking part in tenders (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 583; Aydın, 2014, p. 134).  A Republican People’s Party MP (the main opposition party, CHP) issued a parliamentary question concerning the terms of repayment of the loans granted to Çalık by public banks; the question was turned down on grounds that it concerns “confidential business information” (Sözeri, 2015, p. 12).

The Birth of “the Pool Media”

By the end of 2013 Sabah-ATV was once again put on the market. Adaklı (2014, p. 20) asserts that when thing went wrong after Sabah-ATV was dubiously “given away” to Çalık, the government intervened and sold this media giant to the Kalyon Construction Company of Zirve Holding, thus making sure that the media corporation remains in the hands of a pro-AKP group.

Sabah-ATV had a decline in advertising revenues and accepted sacrifice sales. ATV’s advertising revenue went down from 92 million Turkish Lira in the first quarter of 2011 to 62 million, with a 37% decline in the same period in 2012 (Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 74). Also after the fraud scandal at the end of 2013, eavesdropping records that were leaked onto the internet indicate that ATV was sold for 630 million dollars, which means that Çalık was selling off its assets even at a loss (Sözeri, 2015, p. 15).

Although taken seriously and examined by opposition MPs, the allegation that a capital pool* was formed by pro-AKP businesspeople for the sale of Sabah-ATV in 2014 was barred from being questioned by various means.

Therefore, apparently the Kalyon Group bought this loss maker; however, Çam and Şanlıer-Yüksel (2015, p. 75) and Sözeri (2015, p. 15) present information on how this loss was compensated. According to authors, the Kalyon Construction Company won very important tenders from the government, the major ones being the third airport construction and Çanakkale-Ezine-Ayvacık highway. In addition, various infrastructure and highway projects were given to this company. Like other media groups the Kalyon Group too invested in energy and built three hydroelectric power plants. In the last decade major tenders in Istanbul such as metrobus, Taksim Pedestrianization Project and Bakırköy Court House were given to the Kalyon Construction.

Illegal tape recordings that were leaked on the internet on the sale of Sabah-ATV provide abundant information on AKP’s media strategies as well as adding the new expression of “havuz medyası” (literally “the pool media”) to Turkey’s history which stands for pro-government media. The recordings reveal that the AKP leader Erdoğan takes the control of the media very seriously; even though international giants such as Time Warner and NewsCorp were interested in buying Sabah-ATV he personally intervened for its control; the AKP administrators asked supportive businesspeople to contribute to a capital pool  so that the Sabah-ATV could be handed over to their “friends”; there were also rumors that if Sabah-ATV cannot make profit, the businesspeople who contributed to the pool will be granted business tenders for compensation (Sözeri, 2015, p. 12; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 75; Yesil, 2016, p. 118).

The Albayrak Family and media

Before becoming the head of The Çalık Group’s media units, Serhat Albayrak was General Manager of Star Medya Group run by Ethem Sancak in 2006 (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 582). What is more the father of the Albayrak brothers, Sadık Albayrak was the owner of the daily Yeni Şafak.

The Albayrak Group, which always supported the AKP government from the very beginning, established the TVNET channel in addition to the daily Yeni Şafak (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 585; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 78). The Group which invested in construction, industry, logistics, service and football sectors won almost all the meter reading tenders in Istanbul and Ankara; they also won the tender for Tümosan Tractors and Motor Factory and the tender for the Altay Tank production from Ministry of Defense, the engine production for the first domestic airplane puller from the Air Forces Command, as well as fast train manufacture tender (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 585; Sözeri, 2015, p. 15).

The Story of Star Group

Previously owned by the Uzan Group, the daily Star was seized by the SDIF and sold in 2006 to the Cypriot businessman Ali Özmen Safa for 5 million 150 thousand dollars, a price much lower than the estimated 19.5 million dollars (Adaklı, 2010a, pp. 564, 585-586; Çam and Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 72; Sözeri, 2015, p. 13). When criticism was voiced about the sale price the SDIF demanded a rise in the amount, and Safa accepted to pay an extra 3 million dollars. Safa was also the partner of Alaaddin Kaya, one of the founders of Gulen Movement’s flagship Zaman newspaper and its publisher until 2000; after the sale, Safa began to run Star. However, Kaya would not be the only figure to establish the Star and Gülen Movement connection (“Rixos Otelleri’nin”, 2016).

The above mentioned researchers state that one year after the sale the then Director of Football Association Hasan Doğan and Ethem Sancak became partner in the Star newspaper, Safa retired from partnership, after Hasan Doğan’s death the management of the media group ceompletely fell into the hands of Sancak. Sancak became a partner with Fettah Tamince in 2009, the owner of the Rixos Hotels but left the media sector after selling all his shares to Tevhit Karakaya, an AKP administrator.[1]

Ethem Sancak, a left-wing figure before 1980 who was trying to establish a market presence in drug delivery market with the Hedef Group in 1987, openly confessed in 2008 that the reason why he entered the media sector was to support the AKP government, at around this time Erdoğan’s ex-advisor Akif Beki started writing columns in Star (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 586; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 72; Yesil, 2016, p. 90). Sancak called himself “a lover of Erdoğan”; his Star Media Yayıncılık Corporation bought a TV channel called Kanal 24.

The Sancak family did not break its ties with the Star Group. In 2013 Azerbaijani Oil Company Soccar bought 50% of Group’s shares from Tevhit Karakaya, however, a year later sold the shares they had bought with the other partner Fettah Tamince to Ethem Sancak’s nephew Murat Sancak (Sözeri, 2015, p. 13; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 13).

Flourishing of the Cemaat (Gulen Movement) Media

The media corporations of the Gulen Movement flourished greatly during those times when collaboration with the AKP worked well. Though the Gulen Movement covers a huge area it is multipartite; nevertheless, two main parts are prevalent in this structure: The Feza Group established in the 1980s and the Samanyolu Group established in the 1990s. Another “cemaat” media corporation is the Koza-İpek Group which became an actor in the media in the AKP era.

The Feza Press (Feza Gazetecilik), the owner of the Gulen Movement’s leading media outlet the daily Zaman, owned also other media assets such as Cihan News Agency (Cihan Haber Ajansı), Aksiyon magazine, Turkish Review, Yeni Bahar magazine (Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 75). As of 2006, the Group launched Irmak TV and began issuing Today’s Zaman, a daily newspaper in English (Yesil, 2016, p. 91). The daily Zaman claimed that it is the second best-selling newspaper during the second period of the AKP and harvested a considerable sum of advertisement revenue; however, it turned out that the number of issues sold was inaccurate since the daily was being distributed to its subscribers free of charge (Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 75).

One of the components in the Cemaat media, the Samanyolu Group launched new thematic TV channels such as Yumurcak TV, Mehtap TV and Tuna Alışveriş, it started to broadcast in the USA with Ebru TV, in Azerbaijan with Hazar TV and in Africa with Samanyolu (Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 76; Yesil, 2016, p. 91).

The Koza-İpek Group purchased the daily Bugün in 2005 and KanalTürk television in 2008 (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 588; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 78; Yesil, 2016, p. 90). The Koza-İpek Group continued to grow during the AKP rule; the group which produced at first invitation cards, postcards, notebooks, calendars and day planners, later went into mining sector and opened a new university (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 588-589).

The daily newspaper Taraf is an unusual example for a number of reasons. To begin with the newspaper, whose main aim was to fight military guardianship, was run by two figures that were not originally from the Gulen Movement. Of the two, Alper Görmüş who was later included in the daily’s management, was an editor in the Nokta magazine when it published the diaries that included coup plans (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 589). When the AKP leader Erdoğan sided with the Turkish General Staff in 2008 as a response to news concerning these claims, the daily Taraf did not abstain from opposing the government and printed the headline ‘Pasha’s Prime Minister”. Then Sabah daily began to cut back on the sales and advertisement revenues of the Taraf, which also lost its income from public notices.

The SDIF Once Again

The SDIF’s role in shaping of pro-government media still continued in 2013, which was visible in the handover of the media assets owned by the Çukurova Group. Burdened with debt, the Çukurova Group notified the SDIF of its wish to sell its media assets including Show TV, Akşam daily, Digitürk, SkyTürk 360, Lig TV and Alem FM to the construction conglomerate Kolin-Liman-Cengiz partnership/ private company; the notification was approved (Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 81). Later the SDIF seized the daily Akşam, Show TV and the news channel SkyTürk 360.

Businessman Ethem Sancak’s connection/affinity* with the AKP was crowned by his entry into the party administration in the party convention in May 2017.

However, things did not go as planned; upon the announcement of the sale, the Limak Company withdrew from the transaction (Adaklı, 2014, p. 21).

In response Ethem Sancak returned to the media sector and in 2013 bought Çukurova Group’s media assets except Show TV for 62 million dollars (Sözeri, 2015, p. 13; Yılmaz, 2016, p. 150). Show TV was sold to the Ciner Group. What is striking is that these sales were executed without tenders (Sözeri, 2015, p. 13; “Böyle İhale”, 2014).

Advertising and Management in the Media:

One of the ways by means of which the government supported its cohort media groups was public notices and advertisements (Adaklı, 2014, p. 19; Yesil, 2016, p. 90). For example, the state-owned Halkbank transferred the lion’s share of its advertising spending to the daily Star and Kanal 24, signing million dollars worth sponsorship agreements. According to data from Nielsen’s AdEx in the first half of 2014, three daily newspapers that received the most advertisements from the state were Sabah, Star and Milliyet. The opponent newspapers were deprived of income from public advertisement and notices.

It was seen that favored media corporations dismissed dissident voices, replacing them with more “trustworthy” figures in their editorial and administrative cadres. One of the best examples of this is the daily Sabah, run by Serhat Albayrak, the AKP leader Erdoğan’s relative; the figures such as Akif Beki, Yiğit Bulut and Yalçın Akdoğan, who have worked as advisors to Erdoğan wrote columns for this newspaper (Yesil, 2016, p. 91). From 2013 onwards the SDIF changed the administrative and editorial staff of some newspapers on its own even though they were not seized for handover. Along with dismissing dissident journalists, the SDIF appointed an ex-AKP MP to the management of the daily Akşam (“Akşam’da Küçükkaya”, 2013; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 81).

Two other examples inform us about the qualifications and activities of the pro-AKP cohort media managers. The first is İbrahim Eren and the second Mehmet Fatih Saraç. Eren, the AKP leader’s son’s classmate first became a manager at ATV, later had a position in the administration of the public-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) and finally became its general director in July 2017 (Yesil, 2016, p. 91; “Bilal Erdoğan’ın”, 2017). Under his management TRT broadcasted soap operas such as “Diriliş”, “Abdülhamit” and “Filinta”, which glorify the Ottoman history and conservative values; TRT World was established with a view to convey the government’s views to the world (“Bilal Erdoğan’ın”, 2017).

Adaklı (2014, pp. 21-22) and Yesil (2016, p. 117) present detailed information about Saraç, one of Ciner Group’s senior executives. With AKP’s initiatives, Saraç became an executive in Kasımpaşa Sports Club, which was bought by Turgay Ciner in 2012, later taking an active role as an executive in its media group and holding management. Saraç launched the supermarket chain BİM with AKP leader Erdoğan’s ex-advisor Cüneyt Zapsu and UCZ Mağazacılık Ticaret A.Ş. with Turgay Ciner. His brother Yekta Saraç was appointed as the head of Higher Education Council.

The Doğan Group Case:

The AKP government clearly showed what it can do to those who oppose it with its harsh treatment of the Doğan Group. Doğan Gropup, as the biggest Turkish media group, when faced with severe punishment and fines, was forced to align itself with the AKP.

Things went quite well up until the late 2007 for the Doğan Group (Adaklı, 2010a, pp. 570-571); its international investment accelerating, the company bought one of Turkey’s leading dailies Vatan giving guarantee to Competition Board (Rekabet Kurulu -RK) that it would sell it within two years; it launched D-Smart in 2007 as a rival to Turkey’s digital giant Digitürk, signing an agreement with one of Rupert Murdoch’s companies to get technological support. In the early 2008 the Doğan Group, which gleaned 34% of the total circulation of newspapers, 23% of TV ratings and 43% of advertising revenues, was the biggest media group in Turkey (quoted in Aydın, 2014, p. 135).

Things changed with a corruption scandal that broke out in 2008. Turkey-based Light House Association (Deniz Feneri Derneği) had also a German branch which was being investigated by German public prosecutors. The Doğan Group’s newspapers and television channels covered the news about the following allegations: Deniz Feneri e.V collected money and donations from Turkish citizens residing in Germany and transferred the collected money to Turkey and used it illegally there; part of the collected sum was channeled to the Beyaz Holding, established by Zekeriya Karaman, the manager of Kanal 7; Kanal 7 was founded with the alleged sums; the head of Radio and Television Supreme Council, Zahit Akman had a say and shares in the companies mentioned (Adaklı, 2010a, 79).

The AKP leader Erdoğan reacted sharply to these allegations. He said that the Doğan Group was making fake news and asked his followers to boycott Doğan’s media. (Akser & Baybars-Hawks, 2012, p. 311; Yesil, 2016, p. 92). Later he threatened to reveal certain information about the Group; the Doğan Group declared that the AKP is blackmailing (Adaklı, 2010a, 571). Upon this, Erdoğan said that the reason why the Doğan Group made such news is the fact the Group’s plan for alterations in Hilton in İstanbul had been cancelled and that the Group’s oil refinery project in Ceyhan and CNNTürk’s demand for terrestrial broadcast had been turned down (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 572; Kaya & Çakmur, 2010, p. 532; Akser & Baybars-Hawks, 2012, p. 311; Aydın, 2014, p. 135). What is more Erdoğan stated that Aydın Doğan is being investigated by Capital Markets Board (SPK) for paper smuggling (Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 82).[1]

Despite the compromises he had made to come to terms with the AKP, Aydın Doğan continued to be targeted by pro-government press.

After a short while the Ministry of Finance fined the Doğan Group huge sums that could jeopardize the group’s existence. In the 2009-2010 period first 500 million dollars, then 3.5 billion dollar fines are given, which in fact was supposed to equal the value of the Group’s total assets (Çarkoğlu & Yavuz, 2010, p. 618; Kaya & Çakmur, 2010, p. 532; Adaklı, 2010b, p. 79; Adaklı, 2014, p. 19; Aydın, 2014, p. 135; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 82; Yesil, 2016, p. 91). Although international press agencies and veteran journalists claimed that the fines were given because of oppositional news, the government stressed that there was tax evasion involved. By targeting the Doğan Group the government showed the other media bosses the party’s power and gave the warning not to cross the line (Yesil 2016, p. 92; Aydın, 2014, p. 135).

Suffering from the crisis with the AKP, the Doğan Group had to make substantial concessions (Kaya & Çakmur, 2010, pp. 532-533; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 87; Yesil, 2016, p. 92). On one hand the Group appealed to the court, undertaking long and technical negotiations, on the other hand Aydın Doğan resigned from his position in the board of directors to appease the AKP leader. Likewise, Ertuğrul Özkök, the editor of the daily Hürriyet, the Group’s flagship, resigned from his position he had held for 20 years. In the 2010-2011 period, the Group’s dissident newspaper Gözcü was closed down, oppositional journalists were fired from Hürriyet and Radikal newspapers; the dailies Vatan and Milliyet were sold along with Star TV. In a new move to establish a balanced relationship with the government, Eyüp Can Sağlık, daily Zaman‘s editor was appointed as the daily Radikal‘s new editor; also Erdoğan’s ex-advisor Akif Beki began to write for Hürriyet (Aydın, 2014, p. 135; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, pp. 83, 87; Adaklı, 2010b, pp. 79-80).

As a result of the conflict with the AKP the Doğan Group lost its most lucrative company Petrol Ofisi A.Ş. (POAŞ), on which a lot of emphasis has been laid (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 567; Adaklı, 2010b, p. 79; Aydın, 2014, p. 134). The Doğan Group, which became active in the media sector with the purchase of Milliyet in 1979, in fact garnered its income mainly from energy sector through Turkish Petroleum Corporation (POAŞ), thanks to which it had eluded the 2001 crisis relatively unscathed. During the privatizations in the 1990s, the Group had become a shareholder in POAŞ and in 2005 bought the shares of İş Bankası, thus became the sole owner of the company. However, after the tax fines the Group was forced to sell POAŞ to Austrian-origin OVM.

Due to the AKP’s policies pursued in this period, polarization in the Turkish media and society peaked; the treatment of the Doğan Group by the government led to various reactions, which shows the problematic nature of the relationship between politics and media. The AKP’s cohort journalists put forward that in fact Aydın Doğan’s emphasis on freedom of press was groundless since he uses his media power not to reveal corruption, but rather to complain about his inability to snatch concessions from the government as he did in the 1990s. (Yesil, 2016, p. 93).[1] Indeed in the 1990s when governments were built on shaky coalitions the Doğan Group had managed to receive significant concessions, whereas the AKP’s strong government did not allow such things.

Taming of the Mainstream Media:

It may prove very illuminating to look into the case of Demirören Group in order to see the AKP’s attitude towards other mainstream media groups, the kind of attitude which has its clues in the way the Doğan group sets an example to those opposing the government.

After the conflict with the AKP Aydın Doğan had to sell his dailies Milliyet and Vatan to the Demirören and Karacan partnership; in 2012 these dailies become the property of the Demirören Group run by Erdoğan Demirören (Sözeri, 2015, p. 12; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 80). When the minutes of the İmralı talks were published in Milliyet in 2013 the government was gravely annoyed. In those days the AKP leader in his public speeches was highly critical of journalism, to which experienced journalist Hasan Cemal from Milliyet responded saying that publishing true news was a right no matter how annoying it is for the government. After a while Hasan Cemal was fired from Milliyet. After these incidents the Demirören Group won important tenders; the Group, flourishing in energy and construction sectors, takes part in the third harbor project, Zeyport, to be executed in İstanbul Zeytinburnu (Sözeri, 2015, p. 16).[2]

The other mainstream media corporation “tamed” by the AKP is the Doğuş Group, it is a process which becames crystallized during the Gezi Park protests in 2013 and therefore it will be dealt with in detail in the later sections. Before that, however, in the period 2011-2012, the Doğuş Group channels got their share when the pressure the AKP exerted on journalists through the bosses of the media groups increased. Such prominent journalists in Turkey as Banu Güven, Can Dündar and Ruşen Çakır were fired from the Group’s NTV channel. Dündar, commenting these incidents as “a wholesale purge” in the Turkish media, stated that it would be very difficult for those to find new positions; and Güven emphasized the fact that self-censor has now become a commonplace in news centers (Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 81; Yesil, 2016, p. 94). Indeed, NTV news channel changed its policy, broadcasting more entertainment programmes.

Thus, we can say that the AKP directly interfered with the staff and broadcasting policy of media corporations, a job which the AKP leader Erdoğan personally undertook. It was himself who in a 2010 group meeting of his party openly addressed media bosses, saying “You pay him the money, keep an eye on your columnist. Don’t let him write, sack him!” (Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 87).[3] When Erdoğan demanded “sensitiveness” in 2011 about the coverage of terrorism and violence many media corporations saw no harm in it (Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 71).

Rating Disputes:

Because the most important income in the media is advertising, ratings are inevitably a paramount issue in this period when the Turkish media was being reshaped. Cohort media corporations continually made losses despite all investment and support from the AKP. They put up with their losses by saying that they are in media to support the government. Despite the great pressure on it, the Doğan Group still retained its lion’s share in advertising revenues and made profits. The allegations that the daily Zaman puffed up its circulation by means of distributing free issues (Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 85) were remembered and mirrored in the ratings of TV channels (“Türkiye’de Reyting”, 2008; Adaklı, 2010a, p. 584).

In an article titled ‘Reklam Bütçeleriyle Korunan Eski Medya Düzeni’ (“The Old Media System Preserved by Means of Advertising Budgets”) written in the 2011-2012 period when disputes over rating were ablaze, Mustafa Karaalioğlu (2012), a cohort journalist of the AKP, bemoaned that measurement of rating and circulation was not in line with the new Turkey created by the  AKP, stating that big holdings such as Koç and Sabancı continued to use their advertising budgets as if nothing had changed in Turkey at all. Karaalioğlu observed that “The amount of public notice that democratic and reformist media receives in return for each 50 thousand circulation is much lower than that received by the previous Turkish media in return for the same circulation. In other words, the amount of advertising that previous Turkish media in return for 1 point rating is always less than that of a TV channel run by democratic-conservative financiers for the same amount of rating”.

Rating disputes also has a criminal aspect. Rating measurements in Turkey were carried out since 1989 by AGB Nielsen, which operated in the USA and in many European countries; however, when prosecution office found out that the address details of 1,100 out of 2,224 households in the panel were leaked Television Viewing Surveys Corporation (TİAK) stopped working with AGB Nielsen as of December 20, 2011 and signed an agreement with TNS (Yalçın, 2015; Maviş, t.y). Soner Yalçın (2015), dissident journalist arrested in the OdaTV lawsuit, observes that the change in question was carried out by the members of the Gulen Movement in the police and media in order to remold the distribution of advertising revenues, and claims that the company that replaced the dismissed AGB Nielsen was under the control of the Gulen Movement which appointed new members from among the Movement followers.

New legislative regulation on Broadcasting and Press

Domestic and foreign capital made efforts so as to abolish ownership restrictions in the media for a long time; their wishes came true when the law No 6112 “The Law on the Establishment and Broadcast Services of Radio and Televisions” dated 2011 was enacted, a law which radically changed the structure of the sector in Turkey.

The new law prepared as part of the negotiation process with a view to comply with EU’s “Audio Visual Media Services Directive” dated 2007 was more capital-friendly; while no special emphasis was made on the public service function of radio-television broadcast the commercial aspect was comprehensively treated (Sümer & Adaklı, 2007, p. 143).

The law also introduced new regulations pertaining to ownership (Sümer & Adaklı, 2007, pp. 150-152). Accordingly, the statement in the law “A real or legal person can be a partner directly or indirectly to maximum four media service providers holding terrestrial broadcasting licenses” legitimizes “illegally” established ownership structure and encourages monopoly. Likewise the statement “… in case of partnership to more than one media service provider, annual total commercial communication revenue of those media service providers in which a real or legal person has direct or indirect shares, shall not exceed thirty percent of the total commercial communication revenue of the sector” is doubtful since how the total commercial communication revenue of the sector will be calculated is not clarified.[4] The new law increases the number of media corporations that a person or a company can own from two to four and the rate of foreign capital in media corporations increases from 25% to 50%. (Yesil, 2016, p. 85; Yılmaz, 2016, p. 157).

Beside this, the new law introduces another important change. While the old law (No 3984) precluded media corporations from taking part in public tenders, the new law that came about with the lobbying of all the big actors abolishes this restriction (Adaklı, 2014, p. 20; Sözeri, 2015, p. 14).

Government and media crises in the 2013-2016 period

The year 2013 is a turning point since it was then that the AKP government experienced two significant crises. The first in early June the resistance demonstrations of a handful of activists opposing the construction of a shopping center in Gezi Park, Istanbul Taksim, turned into a widespread uprising in which millions of people all over the country participated after the brutal response of the police. The demonstrations quickly became protests against AKP’s oppressive policies. The AKP, claiming that the protests were staged under the guidance of foreign powers and they were intended to bring down the government, opted for increasing the police violence and the protests were subdued a short while later (“Erdoğan: Faiz lobisinin”, 2013; “SPK raporu”, 2015).

The second crisis, involving corruption investigation, broke out towards the end of the year, on December 17. As part of the investigation, some bureaucrats and the sons of three AKP ministers were arrested. Later shocking details were revealed in the press. Some telephone tappings connected to the corruption scandal were released on the internet, which exacerbated the pressure on the AKP. Some of these recordings are of nature that could easily verify corruption allegations.

The AKP government held responsible members of the Gulen Movement in the judiciary and the police for the corruption investigation and the collection of tapping recordings; the AKP was a reliable partner of the Movement, yet they fell apart after a while. The party claimed that the recordings were fake and the investigation was a coup attempt designed to topple down the government (“Turkey PM Erdogan”, 2014).

These crises and the legitimacy problem created by these crises shook the hegemony of the AKP, whose response was to increase the pressure on ideas in circulation and the news, to further control media corporations and to eradicate Gulen Movement’s media. Building a very strict control over mass communication, the AKP government also took quick steps to reorganize tightly the internet which acts as a recourse for the oppositional voices.

Media during the Gezi protests

AKP government’s pressure on the media becomes more evident during Gezi Parkı protests. The owner of the mainstream media corporations who were frightened of coming into conflict with the government did not allow the coverage of the most widespread and biggest demonstrations in the recent history of Turkey on their channels. Even most entrenched news channels such as Doğan Group’s CNN Türk and Doğuş Group’s NTV broadcasted documentaries on penguins or culinary shows while millions are out in the street protesting (“Gezi Direnişi’nde”, 2014; “Konda’nın Gezi”, 2014). This is so much the case that journalists employed in domestic channels confessed that had to view the news on the protests through foreign channels (Yesil, 2016, p. 111).

Fear and cooperation prevalent among the mainstream media in this period was also visible in Doğuş and Ciner Groups. When the protestors came in front of the NTV building and chanted the slogan “Bribed Media” Doğuş Media Group’s CEO Cem Aydın admitted having been unfair to their viewers and promised that they would broadcast the protests but he was forced to resign within a couple of days. The Doğuş Group NTV closed down Tarih Gezi magazine, which published a special issue on the Gezi protests. When the AKP leader Erdoğan was not pleased with one of the captions in a program covering the protests broadcast on Ciner Group’s HaberTürk channel he called and reprimanded the editor of the channel Mehmet Fatih Saraç, who apologized and assured that whatever necessary will be done.

Another sign which shows that the media was manipulated by the AKP is that while the protests continued all the newspapers fattened by the AKP issued same headline– ‘We Would Die for Democratic Demands’ (Adaklı, 2014, p. 19). Alan (2015b) comments, saying that “On that day the front pages of HaberTürk, Türkiye, Sabah, Zaman, Yeni Şafak, Bugün and Star newspapers looked as if designed by the same chief editor” and adds that the Gulen Movement as well was supportive of the government in this period.

Pro-AKP newspapers exhibited utter unanimity during the Gezi Parkı protests. Newspapers of the Gulen Movement also contributed to this unanimity.

Turkish Journalists’ Union stated that in the aftermath of the Gezi Parkı protests at least 77 media workers were dismissed (Alan, 2015b). However, AKP administrators still talked as if there were no pressure on the press at all. Ayşenur Arslan in an article she wrote on July 28, 2013 in Yurt newspaper indicates that during the protests Prime Minister Erdoğan’s advisor Yalçın Akdoğan threatened Demirören Group to destroy them and demanded that Can Dündar be fired (quoted in Ülsever 2013). Akdoğan (2013) responds to this from his column in Star saying that “The AKP government definitely has no policy, program or whatsoever to create a cohort media, silence free press or get rid of its opponents”.

It becomes crystal clear that during the Gezi period, the media was under pressure and concealed the events. Therefore, masses distanced themselves from the mainstream media and opted for alternative news sources. Within this framework, the viewers of such TV channels as Kemalist Halk TV, independent İMC TV increased, concomitantly the circulation of oppositional newspapers like Cumhuriyet, Evrensel and Birgün multiplied (“Konda’nın Gezi”, 2014; Alan, 2015b; Yesil, 2016, p. 111). However, the real boom was seen in the popularity of internet sites and social media platforms. Oppositional internet sites such as T24, Bianet and Sendika.org, which cover the events, are flooded by viewers. In addition, because the mainstream media did not cover the protests, activists associated with Sendika.org established Çapul TV and broadcast online live from Gezi Park (Durdağ, 2015). Social media initiatives making citizen journalism such as Dokuz8Haber and 140 Journos flourished (Yesil, 2016, p. 112). The AKP’s reaction was to prepare new regulations that would enable stricter controls on the internet and employed trolls to manipulate on social networks (Sokullu & Demir, 2013; “Aktroller ne kadar”, 2015; Akdeniz, 2015; Karakaş, 2015).

Corruption scandal and the cemaat (Gulen) media

After the eruption of the scandal in December 2013, the Gulen Movement’s media without an exception began to attack on the government. Papers such as Zaman, Today’s Zaman and Bugün and TV channels like Samanyolu TV, KanalTürk, Bugün TV and Samanyolu Haber, which had supported the government during the Gezi period, suddenly adopted an oppositional attitude against the AKP. On the opposite camp there were the newspapers Star, Yeni Şafak, Akşam, Sabah, Akit, Türkiye and Takvim and TV channels ATV, A Haber, Kanal 24, Sky360, Kanal 7 and Ülke TV.

The AKP government launched an attack on the “cemaat” (Gulen movement); as a result, the media empire that had taken the “cemaat” so many years to develop began to crumble after various blows. On one hand, Radio and Television Higher Council (RTÜK) was put in place; in the early 2014 93% of the fines from RTÜK were given to the “cemaat” channels (Yesil, 2016, p. 131). On the other hand, Türksat, the public-owned satellite company stopped airing the channels that belong to the Feza and Samanyolu Groups, thus they experienced a serious drop in the number of viewers. (Yesil, 2016, p. 144). The daily Zaman, which had a huge sum of advertising revenue in 2013, received almost no advertising in 2014 (Sözeri, 2015, p. 18).

The AKP also made use of such methods as imprisonment, fining, seizure and assigning equity guardian ad trustee to Gülen media companies in its fight against the “cemaat”. For example, the daily Zaman and Samanyolu TV were raided and their chief editors were detained (Sözeri, 2015, p. 17). In October 2015 two newspapers and two TV channels of the Koza-İpek Group were seized and assigned equity guardian and trustee (Yesil, 2016, p. 144; Yılmaz, 2016, p. 151). Gold mines belonging to the Koza-İpek Group were also closed down. And by 2016 An equity guardian and trustee was assigned to Zaman (“Zaman Gazetesine kayyum”, 2016). Another example is the Taraf newspaper, which was fined 5.5 million liras for selling scrap paper of the unsold newspapers; this is rather strange and deliberate since it was the first instance of its kind in the history of Turkey; though many newspapers did the same thing, they were not fined. (Sözeri, 2015, p. 17).

Later, especially after the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, all the media corporations owned by the “cemaat” were closed down with decree laws (KHK) issued within the scope of state of emergency (OHAL). Famous journalists working there such as Nazlı Ilıcak, Ali Bulaç and Şahin Alpay were arrested. Moreover, the SDIF appeared on the scene once again. All the rights, licenses and transmitters of 86 radio stations and TV channels were closed down with decree laws on the grounds that they belonged to the “cemaat” and were handed over to the Turkuvaz Media Group (owned by Kalyon Construction), which also owned Sabah-ATV (“Cemaat’ten ‘havuz’a”, 2017). The stakes in question were so big that there are complaints about this handover. The daily Yeni Akit, one of AKP’s supporters in the media covered the story saying that “cemaat’s” media assets were handed over without a tender (“Yeni Akit’ten”, 2017).

However, one needs to state that the pressure on the media in the state of emergency period was not limited to the Gulen Movement’s assets. Many oppositional and left-wing publications were closed down (“İMC TV, Hayatın Sesi”, 2016). The pressure on such leading oppositional publications as Cumhuriyet and Sözcü further increased (“Sözcü Daily ‘ne”, 2017; “Cumhuriyet daily”, 2017).


A point frequently made by researchers studying the AKP era is the fact that though the press has never been free it was AKP which exerted a pressure on the media in an unprecedented degree (Akser & Baybars-Hawks, 2012, p. 302; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 71). Therefore, it can be put forward that a comprehensive yet quantitative change was experienced, but this was a change limited qualitative one. For this reason Çam and Şanlıer-Yüksel (2015, p. 67) state that “… although the picture is new, structurally from the viewpoint of state, politics and politicians relationships between government and media hardly changed, it is obvious that the only change was the actors”. Indeed, during the 1990s media owners were closely involved with the political government, as a result of which they obtained considerable profit from privatization tenders. And during the AKP era the political government provided the same privileges to those groups that favored it.

Sözeri (2015, p. 7) remarks that “Although it is commonplace that the media has never had free and competitive market conditions, the government, being in the hands of a single party, even a single leader, created the kind of media pressure like never before.” We might assert that there has been a comprehensive change in the power structure, which further intensified the already available relationship of dependence and pressure. Indeed, the AKP has established an unprecedentedly strong government in the recent history of Turkey.

The AKP government and its leader, though attaining a unique power, differ from their predecessors in terms of the attention they paid to the media. While previous governments preferred to have close contacts with the media, the AKP chose to manipulate directly property relations with respect to its own desires and depend on those relations (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 604; Adaklı, 2010b, p. 77). To this end the AKP leader Erdoğan has not abstained from personally taking the initiative (Adaklı, 2010a, p. 560).

It is also noteworthy that in AKP’s attitude towards the media that it has neutralized centers of competition* and intercalate the media as much as possible with its state-government integration project. Adaklı (2010b, p. 77), who focuses on AKP’s assault in its first period on the Uzan Group and its attack on the Doğan Group in the Deniz Feneri Derneği case, says that “in AKP’s strategic plan media sector was evaluated as a whole, hardly abstaining from openly tackling the groups that could rival with itself.” Çam and Şanlıer-Yüksel (2015, p. 92) state that “AKP dreams of a journalism that is articulated to the state and state mechanisms.  Therefore the AKP started to built up a media and a body of media workers that would be organized according to these new journalism ideals, a labor  union system that was directly supported by the government and nongovernmental organizations  that would operate in the media”,  they also highlight the founding of Media Workers Union (Media-İş) connected to Hak-İş Confederation, which supports the AKP and the fact that journalists working at offices like Anatolian News Agency (AA) intimidated so that they would become a member of this labor union. In other words, we can state that on one hand, the AKP articulates the media capital to itself; on the other, it regulates the labor in the media dependent on itself, thus reinforces the media’s dependent position in the state-government unification*.

From the viewpoint of the capital, having close relationships with the government is the easiest way to increase capital accumulation in Turkey where economy with its narrow base is under government control. Therefore, although the media is an investment area working far from rational profit logic and not being able to stand on its feet, business people invest in the media to respond to governments’ political needs and nevertheless in return they gain much more than they give in public tenders (Adaklı, 2014, p. 19; Sözeri, 2015, p. 14; Yesil, 2016, pp. 105-106). When the objective is to win public tender the media becomes integrated with manufacture and service sectors; therefore, Adaklı (2014, pp. 18-19) remarks that in the AKP era the media has been instrumentalized like never before and ultra-crosswise integrations have increased. In the 1990s when governments were fragile media bosses had more range of motion/ in the equation but with the AKP establishing its dominion in politics and economy the future of media capital became much more dependent on the government.

Such positioning of the media brings about the normalization of a partisan and polarizing broadcasting policy (Yesil, 2016, p. 105). Newspapers and televisions cease to ignore the opposition. This would lead to an increase of polarization in the social structure, which further increases the media’s role in the construction of ideological domination. It is not difficult to observe the existence of this vicious circle in Turkey. Çarkoğlu and Yavuz (2010) empirically reveal the increase in the partisan attitude of the media in the AKP era. Sönmez (2010, p. 91) states that with the increase of political polarization from 2005 onward the parties concerned take recourse to the media weapon more frequently. One must observe that as a result of this polarization, public corporations like TRT and AA turn into the instruments of the government (Adaklı, 2010b, p. 80; Aydın, 2014, p. 136; Yesil, 2016, p. 131).

Within this picture the solution lies in prohibiting, as in the past, media bosses from bidding in public tenders, which would be useful in helping establish a distance between the political government (and the media?). Nevertheless, EU Commission turned down a similar regulation in Greece on grounds that it would hinder competition (Sözeri, 2015, pp. 16, 25). That is to say, this suggestion is in conflict with current legal and political sanctions/agreements. At this point Sözeri cites (2015, p. 25) making the media ownership and public tender regime transparent as an alternative. Likewise, he also suggests enhancing journalists’ unionization. Indeed, thus journalists would be in a better position to defend their rights against their employers. Çam and Şanlıer-Yüksel (2015, p. 96) argue that for the sake of solution communication education/instruction ought to be developed in a fashion that focuses on citizenship ideal. This would be of great use since people would become more conscious about the biases and manipulations of the media.


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Appendix: Tables on Media Ownership Based on the Periods Studied[1]

National newspaper ownership (February 2016)[2]

Newspaper Owners/Controlled by Company
POSTA Aydın Doğan Doğan Gazetecilik AŞ
HÜRRİYET Aydın Doğan Hürriyet Gazetecilik and Matbaacılık A.Ş
RADİKAL[3] Aydın Doğan Hürriyet Gazetecilik and Matbaacılık A.Ş
HÜRRİYET DAILY NEWS Aydın Doğan Hürriyet Gazetecilik and Matbaacılık A.Ş
FANATİK Aydın Doğan Doğan Gazetecilik AŞ
DOĞAN HABER AJANSI Aydın Doğan Doğan Haber Ajansı A.Ş.
SÖZCÜ Burak Akbay Estetik Yay. Havacılık and Hava Taş.Tic. Ltd. Şti.
KORKUSUZ Burak Akbay Estetik Yay. Havacılık and Hava Taş. Tic. Ltd. Şti.
HABERTÜRK Turgay Ciner Habertürk Gazetecilik and Matbaacılık A.Ş.
MİLLİYET Erdoğan Demirören Bağımsız Gazeteciler Yayıncılık A.Ş.
VATAN Erdoğan Demirören Bağımsız Gazeteciler Yayıncılık A.Ş.
YURT Durdu Özbolat Ajans Başkent Org. Gaz. Rek.Mat. Ltd.Şti
YENİ ÇAĞ Ahmet Çelik, Ahmet Yabuloğlu Yeniçağ Gazetecilik and Matbaacılık AŞ
YENİ ASYA Mehmet Kutlular Yeni Asya Gaz. Mat. and Yay. San. and Tic. AŞ
ŞOK Mustafa Küçük ABC Medya Ajansı A.Ş.
FOTOSPOR Mustafa Küçük ABC Medya Ajansı A.Ş.
CUMHURİYET Cumhuriyet Vakfı Yeni Gün Haber Ajansı BY AŞ
MİLLİ GAZETE Ömer Yüksel Özek Yeni Neşriyat AŞ
AYDINLIK Mehmet Sabuncu, Metin Aktaş Anadolum Gaz. Bas.Yay.San. and Tic. AŞ
ÖZGÜR DÜŞÜNCE[4] ? Özgür Yayıncılık AŞ
TARAF Başar Arslan Taraf Gaz. San. and Tic. AŞ
TODAY’S ZAMAN Ali Akbulut Feza Gazetecilik AŞ
ZAMAN Ali Akbulut Feza Gazetecilik A.Ş
MEYDAN Levent Kenez (GYY) Feza Gazetecilik A.Ş
AKŞAM Ethem Sancak T Medya  investment  San. and Tic. AŞ
GÜNEŞ Ethem Sancak T Medya  investment  San. and Tic. AŞ
STAR Ethem Sancak Star Medya Yayıncılık AŞ
SABAH Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu Turkuvaz Gazete Dergi Basım A.Ş.
TAKVİM Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu Turkuvaz Gazete Dergi Basım A.Ş.
FOTOMAÇ Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu Turkuvaz Gazete Dergi Basım A.Ş.
YENİ ASIR [Yerel] Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu Turkuvaz İzmir Gaz. Der. BY AŞ
MİLAT Ali Adakoğlu Meka Gazetecilik Basım Yayın San. and Tic. Ltd
TÜRKİYE A. Mücahid Ören İhlas Gazetecilik AŞ
VAHDET Yener Dönmez Yeni Vahdet Gazetecilik Tic.Ltd.Şti
YENİ AKİT M. D. Uğurlu, R. F. Uğurlu
YENİ ŞAFAK Ahmet Albayrak Diyalog Gazetecilik San.Tic.A.Ş.
DİRİLİŞ POSTASI Ali Yıldız/ Mehmet Akosman[5] Akyıldız Gazetecilik Mat. San. Tic. Ltd. Şti.
BUGÜN Koza İpek Basın and Basım San.Tic. A.Ş. H.Akın İpek/Kayyım
MİLLET Koza İpek Basın and Basım San.Tic. A.Ş. H.Akın İpek/Kayyım
ANADOLU AJANSI GM: Kemal Öztürk Yarı kamusal mülkiyet
İHLAS HABER AJANSI A. Mücahid Ören İhlas Holding A.Ş.

National TV Ownership (February 2016)[6]

Channel Owners/Controlled by Medya Group / Company
KANAL D Aydın Doğan DTV Haber and Görsel Yay.A.Ş.
CNN TÜRK Aydın Doğan Doruk Televizyon and Radyo Yayıncılık A.Ş.
FLASH TV (Böl.) Ömer Göktuğ Göktuğ Elektr.Yay. San. and Tic. İşl. AŞ
OLAY TV (Böl.) Cavit Çağlar Olay Radyo and TV Yayıncılık A.Ş.
MELTEM TV Haydar Baş Meltem Radyo and Televizyon Yayıncılık A.Ş.
TV8 Ali Acun Ilıcalı Sekiz İnternet Alışveriş Paz. and Dış Tic. AŞ.
BLOOMBERG HT Turgay Ciner C Görsel Yayınlar A.Ş.
HABERTÜRK TV Turgay Ciner Ciner Medya TV Hizmetleri A.Ş.
SHOW Turgay Ciner Ciner Medya TV Hizmetleri A.Ş.
FOX Engin Güner [Rupert Murdoch] Huzur Radyo TV A.Ş.ve Alyans Ltd. Ş.
STAR Ferit Şahenk Işıl Televizyon Yayıncılık A.Ş / Doğuş Grubu
NTV Ferit Şahenk NTV Haber Ajansı Reklam and Tic. A.Ş.
CNBC-E Ferit Şahenk Enformasyon Reklam. and Film San.ve Tic.A.Ş.
KRAL TV Ferit Şahenk Kral TV Radyo and Televizyon Yayıncılığı A.Ş.
STV[7] Hidayet Karaca Samanyolu Yayıncılık Hizmetleri A.Ş.
S.YOLU HABER Hidayet Karaca Samanyolu Yayıncılık Hizmetleri A.Ş.
MEHTAP TV Ali Çelik Sem Haber Ajansı A.Ş.
A HABER Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu Turkuvaz Medya Hizmetleri A.Ş.
ATV Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu Turkuvaz Aktif Televizyon Prod. A.Ş.
YENİ ASIR TV(Böl.) Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu Turkuvaz Yeni Asır Televizyon Prod. A.Ş.
KANAL7 Zekeriya Karaman Hayat Görsel Yayıncılık A.Ş.
ÜLKE TV Zekeriya Karaman Beyaz İletişim A.Ş.
360 Ethem Sancak Atlas Yayıncılık and Tic. A.Ş.
24 Ethem Sancak Star Medya Yayıncılık A.Ş
TGRT HABER TV Ahmet Mücahit Ören TGRT Haber Tv AŞ
BEYAZ TV Ali Sabit Aksoy Ses Televizyon Radyo Yayıncılık AŞ
BUGUN TV[8] Hamdi Akın İpek/Kayyım Yaşam Televizyon Yayın Hizmetleri A.Ş.
KANALTÜRK Hamdi Akın İpek/Kayyım Yaşam Televizyon Yayın Hiz.A.Ş.
TRT Gn Md: İbrahim Şahin Kamu mülkiyeti



[1] However, Sözeri states that Sancak sells his shares in question in 2009.

[2] For example, Yavuz Baydar (2013), who wrote articles in pro-government newspapers, claims that “Turkey has one of the most independent medias in the world”. At this point it is very convenient to talk about the pressure on journalists. According to reports of international organizations, Turkey has the highest number of imprisoned journalists; the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) states that in 2016 there were 81 journalists in prison in Turkey (“En çok tutuklu”, 2016). And Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS) reports that in October 2017 there were 151 journalists in prison (http://tgs.org.tr/cezaevindeki-gazeteciler/).

[3] Sözeri at the same place gives information about tenders given to other AKP cohort media corporations. The İhlâs Group, receives the tender for Gaziosmanpaşa Urban Transformation Project and Bağcılar Municipality wide wireless area network and safe internet; the Beyaz Holding, the owner of TV channels like Kanal 7 and Ülke TV, was commissioned the job of running and organizing almost all the education and culture centers in AKP municipalities.

[4] This being the case it is not surprising that media corporations dismissed all employees who they believed were oppositional (Aydın, 2014, p. 140; Çam & Şanlıer-Yüksel, 2015, p. 80; Yesil, 2016, p. 94).  Ece Temelkuran, who criticized AKP’s Kurdish policy was fired from HaberTürk, Nuray Mert from Milliyet; Andrew Finkel, who asserted that the AKP became anti-democratic, was sacked from Today’s Zaman, Mehmet Altan lost his managerial position at Star; Ali Akel, who was critical of the Roboski attack, was dismissed from Yeni Şafak; Ali Gülen was fired from HaberTürk when Deniz Feneri scandal was covered. These names were only the tip of the iceberg. Sözeri (2015, p. 22), states that the government and the AKP leader Erdoğan was responsible for the dismissal or forced resignation of 339 journalists, writers and employees.

[5] What is more Sözeri’s (2015, p. 21) request on the clarification of these ratio was turned down on the grounds that it is confidential business information.

[6]  The Doğan Media Grup finally was sold to Demirören Holding in April 2018 and Aydın Doğan entirely left the media sector at the end. It appeared that Demirören receieved 700 million dollars worth loan from publicly owned bank Ziraat Bank to buy Doğan Media Group (ç.n.).

[6] The tables have been prepared by Gülseren Adaklı. We would like to express our thanks to her for allowing us to use them. The tables here contain latest information regarding the period in question. However, the given ownership compositions have changed considerably especially after the coup attempt on July 15.

[7] The white section/table shows newspapers supporting the Gülen Movement, the green one, AKP’s cohort media.

[8] The daily Radikal was closed down with its last issue on June 28, 2014, however, it appeared online for a while before disappearing totally.

[9]  Özgür Düşünce (Free Thought) replaced the dailies Bugün and Millet which was previously issued by the Koza-İpek Group. An operation was launched on 23 Koza İpek Group companies on the grounds that they received financial support from “Fetullahist Terror Organisation” (FETÖ) September 1 2015; and on October 25 upon the demand of Office of Chief Public Prosecutor in Ankara, all the companies (including media) of the Koza İpek Group were appointed a trustee. Later Bugün and Millet newspapers were prepared by a staff assigned by the trustee. Therefore the newspapers here have been included within the AKP media.

[10] Hakan Albayrak, one of the founders of this newspaper, was forced to resign after insistent pressure from the government.

[11] The white area designates TV channels affiliated with the Gülen Movement, the green area AKP media. Some channels in this table broadcast only via satellite.

[12] In October 2015 TV channels affiliated with the Gülen Movement were removed from all the digital platforms and cable systems.

[13] Because of the appointment of trustee, these TV channels are no more managed by Hamdi Akın İpek and therefore are included within AKP media.


Assoc. Prof.  Benan Eres: Born in Ankara in 1975, Eres graduated from Middle East Technical University Department of Economics with a minor degree in Political Science in 1998. He worked as a research assistant between 1998 and 2000. He started his doctorate studies in 2000 at the University of Utah, Department of Economics. After receiving his PhD in Economics in 2005, Eres started working at Ankara University, Faculty of Political Sciences, Department of Economics. He became assistant professor in 2008 and associate professor in 2013. He has worked on Marxist economic thoery, competition theory, political economy and banking system, publishing articles and book chapters in Turkish and international scientific journals. He was dismissed on February 7, 2017 with a decree-law. Eres continues to work as an independent scholar.

Dr. Hakan Yüksel: Born in 1976 in Ankara, he graduated from Galatasaray University, Faculty of Communication in 1999. Yüksel worked in various national newspapers and magazines. After receiving his Master’s Degrees from L’Université Paris 13 and Ankara University, Yüksel started working as a research assistant at Ankara University, Faculty of Communication in 2009. With his dissertation on Unformation society policies in the European Union, he received his PhD in 2013. Yüksel has written various articles on political economy of communication, history of communication and new communication technologies. He was dismissed with decree-law No 686.

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