Other media institutions which have refused to be inside the grip of government control have been getting a smaller share of advertisements. Anti-government media institutions have been punished by the government with unfair distribution of commercials, and also deprived of private companies’ advertisements. The government has even told private companies to break trade ties with these newspapers and TV stations.
Another way that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his advisers have reshaped the media is by directly calling the heads of TV stations and newspapers. The government’s frequent interference in reports and even small stories in recent years came to light after recordings of phone conversations featuring Erdoğan were uploaded to the Internet, greatly troubling the AK Party government.
However, the AK Party government has found a quick fix for its social media problems by passing Internet legislation that gives the government opportunities to eliminate criticism targeting the AK Party. The newly passed Internet legislation has raised concerns about censorship, because according to the law, the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) head will be authorized, without first obtaining a court order, to block access to a web page if there are concerns about violations of the right to privacy.
The AK Party government’s use of the Press Bulletin Authority (BİK), which addresses a large part of the nation, to control local media is among the allegations circulating in media circles. Günseli Ocaktan, a communications specialist, told Sunday’s Zaman that using advertisements as a tool of oppression is erroneous, and supporting media institutions that run public advertisements more than other newspapers and TV stations is risky. According to her, distributing advertisements unequally also leads to significant polarization in the society.
Drawing attention to misleading and false reports run after Dec. 17, ATV and A Haber TV stations and the Sabah newspaper, known for their pro-government stance, have been getting the biggest share of public advertising.
The real owner of the Sabah-ATV group, which was bought with the help of a pool formed by very wealthy businessmen, is still not known; however, it is obvious that the two holding companies are directed by Erdoğan and his advisers.
According to Nielsen Company’s AdEx data, between the dates of Jan. 1 and Feb. 16, state-run institutions such as Emlak Konut Real Estate Investment Partnership (Emlak Konut GYO) and Turkey’s largest state-run banks Halkbank and Ziraat Bankası gave a total of 10.76 seconds of ad space to A Haber and 5.2 seconds of ad space to Kanal 24, another pro-government TV station that gets lower rating than A Haber. While also giving small-scale advertisements to other pro-government TV channels, Emlak Konut did not give ad space to TV stations that oppose government policies.
Between the dates of Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, pro-government TV channels such as ATV, Kanal A, Kanal 24, Kanal 7, Show, TV Net and Beyaz TV received the biggest share from advertisements of Turkish Airlines (THY), Halkbank, Ziraat Bankası, Emlak Konut and Türk Telekom — Turkey’s largest telecommunications company — and the Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat).
The distribution of advertisements to newspapers is even more depressing. Between Oct. 1 and Feb. 16, the Sabah daily had the highest number of public institution advertisements, even though it has a lower circulation than Zaman, Hürriyet and Posta.
During the same time period, while THY gave most of its advertisements to Sabah, it did not place any advertisements in Zaman, the newspaper boasting the highest circulation in Turkey. Between October and February, THY financially supported pro-government dailies Yeni Şafak, Yeni Akit and Akşam by placing advertisements in these low-circulation newspapers.
Ziraat Bankası, Turkey’s largest public bank, also placed most of its advertisements in Sabah during the same time period. Other pro-government periodicals, Star, Yeni Şafak, Yeni Akit, Takvim, Akşam and Türkiye, also received the biggest share of Ziraat’s ad space.
Star, Sabah and Akşam also ranked among the newspapers running the most advertisements for VakıfBank. Another big public institution, Halkbank, placed most of its advertisements in pro-government Yeni Şafak. The Sabah and Star dailies followed Yeni Şafak in running Halkbank’s advertisements. Sabah also published most of the advertisements of Emlak Konut GYO.
After the Dec. 17 corruption and bribery investigation, phone conversations between public officials and media executives released on the Internet exposed that a number of state banks had been financing various media outlets with loans.
A recording of a telephone conversation between the general manager of a public bank and a pro-government businessman suggests that the loan limits for two companies were inappropriately increased to assist the effort to collect the money required for the December 2013 purchase of the Sabah-ATV media group by pro-government businessmen.
The transcript of the conversation indicates that Limak Holding and the Kalyon Construction Company were instructed by the government to provide $100 million each to a pool that was formed to buy the Sabah-ATV group in accordance with the wishes of the government. These two holding companies were provided with this amount in loans from Ziraat Bankası, according to reports circulating in the media.
One incident that has posed a great challenge to press freedom is Erdoğan directly calling media executives to interrupt unfavorable reports. Erdoğan’s interference with the news was exposed in a phone recording recently uploaded to the Internet. Erdoğan gave phone instructions to Fatih Saraç, deputy chairman of the Ciner Media Group to which the Habertürk news station belongs, to stop a news ticker in which Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli had called on President Abdullah Gül to intervene and decrease tensions during the Gezi Park protests that rocked the country at the beginning of last summer.
Erdoğan admitted that he had interfered in the report and said that he had also called other media institutions before to raise his objections over reports. Fatih Altaylı, editor-in-chief of the Habertürk daily, also admitted that there is tremendous government pressure on the media, stating, “Instructions are pouring down [on media outlets] every day from somewhere.”
A recent book by Derya Sazak, former editor-in-chief of the Milliyet daily, also tells of Erdoğan’s interference in the media as written in his recent book “Batsın Böyle Gazetecilik,” which can loosely be translated as “Damn This Kind of Media.” He wrote that because of Erdoğan’s interference, both he and Hasan Cemal — another former columnist for Milliyet — were fired due to government pressure.
The Doğan Media Group, Turkey’s largest media group, also became an open target for Erdoğan and his colleagues.
In a recent column in the Radikal daily, Cüneyt Özdemir said an unnamed columnist had told him over the phone that he had seen files that were part of an investigation into Özdemir, who would be in trouble if he continued to remain neutral. “When he [the columnist] saw that I was totally uninterested in his threats, he told me that my name had been included in a Prime Ministry Inspection Board report. When I asked why my name had been mentioned there, he said, ‘I personally saw the report and it said you were being deceived by Hizmet’,” wrote Özdemir.
Most columnists writing in the pro-government newspapers have been trying to intimidate newspapers, TV stations and writers that criticize the government’s policies. Changes in the reporting styles of NTV, Habertürk and Milliyet, which have been under heavy pressure from the AK Party, have also caused great concern regarding media freedom and freedom of speech.