Recordings show Erdoğan having influence over sackings in media

Two new audio recordings, purportedly between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the editor-in-chief of Star daily Mustafa Karaalioğlu, have provided further proof of Erdoğan’s high-handed control over the media.

In the recordings, uploaded to the Internet by Twitter user “Başçalan” (Prime thief), Erdoğan is heard talking with Karaalioğlu in a rather admonishing tone over articles by two Star columnists, Mehmet Altan and Hidayet Şefkatli Tuksal, both of whom were later fired from the paper. Star released a press statement on Tuesday to reject the claims and said the aforementioned writers left the paper of their own will.

Erdoğan admitted his involvement in the editorial policies of certain newspapers and TV stations when he was asked in a press conference a few months ago about leaked recordings in which he called Ciner Media Group Deputy Chairman Fatih Saraç over anti-government stories published in the Habertürk newspaper and TV station. Numerous taped phone conversations have been leaked in the last three months regarding Erdoğan’s extreme interventions across a wide range of media in Turkey. The prime minister has outright control over seven national newspapers and 12 national television stations. In addition to them, he also exerts influence over and interferes in the broadcasting and publication policies of stations and newspapers that don’t offer ready support for his policies. The daily Star is known to be one of the most ardent supporters of the government and Erdoğan.

In the first recording, Erdoğan lashes out at Karaalioğlu for allowing Altan to continue writing such critical opinions about a recent speech the prime minister had delivered recently. He accuses Altan of dealing with the issue by isolating certain words from their context, without considering the whole essence of the speech. Altan, a liberal intellectual who used to be a supporter of Erdoğan’s policies especially when his stance was critical of the representatives of the undemocratic tutelage of the established state in the past, was criticizing the prime minister over his remark “We are self-sufficient.” Erdoğan told Karaalioğlu that this expression wasn’t just referring to the economy but was used to emphasize solidarity in the political, military and economic spheres as a whole.

Karaalioğlu is heard in both recordings constantly attempting to appease the prime minister and he starts and ends many of his sentences with the word “efendim” (sir).

Erdoğan clearly wants Star’s editor-in-chief to show Altan the exit and let him find another place where he can sell his ideas. “You are right. An author must keep it together; write his articles in consideration of all the details, without a doubt. Especially lead writers,” said Karaalioğlu in response. Erdoğan further accuses Altan of chasing his personal interests, adding that such people should not be allowed in newsrooms.

Altan spoke bitterly about the leaked audio that shows Erdoğan pressurizing the newspaper manager to fire him during a TV program on Mehtap TV last night. He asked what the difference is there between Erdoğan and Çevik Bir, a former general who was also famous for his intervention in the media coverage during the Feb. 28 coup process in 1997. “I hail him when he does something right and criticize him when he commits fault,” he said. Altan said Erdoğan no longer minds about rights and liberties.

In the second conversation, Erdoğan is heard grilling Karaalioğlu about Hidayet Şefkatli Tuksal, a female columnist, known for her conservative lifestyle. He lambasts the Star’s top manager over his insistence on keeping Tuksal in the paper despite her critical expressions about him. Karaalioğlu tells Erdoğan that he was “certainly right” but Erdoğan responds by saying: “Hey! What? You are telling me ‘You are right,’ while keeping her there. Are we going to keep them here, to [let them] damn us?”

Erdoğan also asks whether any editors are checking the articles before they are published. “There was negligence,” Karaalioğlu answers, but this draws further ire from the prime minister: “What do you mean by negligence, man! Aren’t you looking at this paper, my friend? Are you not checking these articles?”

Conversations about journalists Altan and Tuksal

Conversation about columnist Mehmet Altan

Erdoğan: Hello?

Karaalioğlu: Yes, Sir.

Erdoğan: Mustafa, are you available?

Karaalioğlu: Yes, Sir, I am.

Erdoğan: Today there is another article by Mehmet [Altan]. This guy is actually taking a certain part of something without knowing its background or outcome, and doing… Erm… I mean, you know what I say in my speeches, “We are sufficient for ourselves.” That expression isn’t just for the economic sphere, our thing there was the part that concerned the economy, but I had already explained that in other speeches.

Karaalioğlu: You explained it, Sir, I know.

Erdoğan: We have always emphasized our solidarity in the political, military and economic spheres. This (man) is picking over only one part of it and giving a speech about it. Fatih Altaylı did the same thing. Is he in competition with Fatih Altaylı?

Karaalioğlu: Well, about that issue you mentioned yesterday, you know, this is the season of the…

Erdoğan: If this man is running after the season, good riddance, then. Let him go to a place where he can catch it.

Karaalioğlu: You are right. An author must keep it together; pen his articles in consideration of all the details, without a doubt. Especially lead writers…

Erdoğan: If he assesses his opinions by taking his own interests into account, I mean, he shouldn’t exist in those places [newsrooms].

Karaalioğlu: I am on it. You know I did that thing for you…

Erdoğan: Do it, do whatever is necessary, there is no need to wait that long.

Conversation about columnist Hidayet Şefkatli Tuksal

Erdoğan: Mustafa, there was this woman about whom we spoke the other day.

Karaalioğlu: Yes, Sir.

Erdoğan: My friend, why are you still [keeping] them there?

Karaalioğlu: You are certainly right, Sir.

Erdoğan: Hey! What? You are both telling me “You are right,” but keeping her there.

Karaalioğlu: Appropriately…

Erdoğan: Are we going to keep them here, to [let them] damn us?

Karaalioğlu: That was wrong, you are right.

Erdoğan: After all that, aren’t you examining these articles? Do you really need to publish every piece of writing?

Karaalioğlu: There was negligence, Sir. You are right.

Erdoğan: What do you mean by negligence, man! Aren’t you looking at this paper, my friend? Are you not checking these articles?

Karaalioğlu: No, we are checking them, sir. But sometimes…

Erdoğan: But, you… Sorry, but who is editing them? Who is taking care of the editorial side there?

Karaalioğlu: They are being taken care of, from top to bottom. But sometimes…

Erdoğan: How are they checked, man!

Karaalioğlu: Authors may have their thing, a caprice. We have to tolerate that sometimes.

Erdoğan: Look at what you’re saying, man! Does she have any right to damn me? Who does she think she is?

Karaalioğlu: We will take care of her, Sir, it is on our agenda.

Erdoğan: Who entitled her to slander me in the name of the people? Does she have authority as a beacon of truth, has it been given to her?

Karaalioğlu: That was wrong, Sir. We will take care of it.

Erdoğan: I mean, she is kind of deifying herself while saying this nonsense, as if she is trying to gain authority. Is that her goal?

Karaalioğlu: Yes, it is incredible. It is incredible. You are right. We will take care of it. Sir, it is already on my agenda. It was already on my agenda even before you brought it forth.

Erdoğan: Since when has it been on your agenda?

Karaalioğlu: Just recently, it happened to be…

Erdoğan: This is not the first time, my friend, this is what she always does. She does it on TV programs and in the paper.

Karaalioğlu: Yes, Sir.

Erdoğan: Well, okay. Have a nice day.

Karaalioğlu: Thanks, Sir, good day to you, too.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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