By Deniz Güven
Point of no return for decision makers inside last “independent” news organization in TurkeyAs many of you who follow developments in Turkey know, Irfan Degirmenci – one of Kanal D’s most well-known faces – was fired on Saturday due to the fact that he publicly spoke out against the proposed presidential system. In a twenty-tweet post, he explained why he plans to vote “no” in the referendum. The same day, Hakan Çelenk, a columnist for daily newspaper Posta, was fired for the same reason. On Sunday, Ertuğrul Albayrak, who was working with Degirmenci, revealed that he resigned. Public outcry and further polarization followed this, with people accusing the Dogan Media Group of being biased and not remaining loyal to its own principles by pointing out that Fatih Çekirge, a journalist working for Daily Hürriyet, was not dismissed despite publicly saying that he will vote “yes.”
But it isn’t just Fatih Çekirge. This goes all the way to the top as we witnessed a couple of months ago when RedHack started publishing emails written by Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s Energy Minister. The emails showed that Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ maintained correspondence with Serhat Albayrak, who is Berat Albayrak’s brother and the CEO of a rival newspaper, during his nine-month period as the CEO of Dogan Media Group in which he deliberately tried to shift the editorial line. And it wasn’t just that. Yalçındağ even described his own employee, Hürriyet’s Ankara representative Deniz Zeyrek as an “enemy.” Eight months after that email was sent, Deniz Zeyrek was replaced by the Ankara bureau chief of CNN Türk, Hande Fırat.
Yalçındağ described the leaks as an “ugly scam” and insisted on presenting himself as a victim of a cyber attack that didn’t actually happen. He further promised to publish a comprehensive technical review, however after four months, this so-called review still has not been published. His resignation can be described as a public stunt, and perhaps damage control. After all, in comparison with what Irfan Değirmenci wrote publicly, Yalçındağ left the group on good terms for what he wrote secretly.
To be fair, the group’s fear of a potential crackdown and a chain of arrests is legitimate since we know that Berat Albayrak received two audio files in two separate emails from his brother Serhat Albayrak in the early morning hours of June 14, 2014. Those audio files lasted for a total duration of 11 minutes and 2 seconds in which Aydin Doğan, amongst a number of other topics, criticized the critical voices of Hürriyet for making a habit out of bashing the government in their journalistic pieces. By extracting the metadata out of those two audio files and cross-checking its content, it was clear that both files were probably recorded at Hürriyet’s headquarters in Istanbul by a female employee during a non-public meeting with Aydin Doğan on the same day the Daily Hürriyet celebrated its 66th anniversary. The context – not the content – of these records is significant. We live in an information age where the people who hold the real power are those who control the flow of information, not those who speak the truth. Engaging in espionage is exactly that and is often followed by attempts to engage in sabotage, as we saw when three active and former executives of Doğan Holding were arrested in a Gülen-linked probe during the last two months. Barbaros Muratoğlu, the Doğan Group’s Ankara representative, remains under arrest with no hard evidence presented yet, as is the case for a number of journalists at the moment in Turkey.
With the country moving forward, we are witnessing how Prime Minister Yildirim’s administration, President Erdogan, as well as talk shows are trying to create a narrative in which those who oppose the proposed presidential system are put in a box with terrorist groups, and even the devil. This begs the question; does the Dogan Media Group still have the right to call itself independent when the group itself doesn’t recognize its own principles by dealing with its policy decision like a one-way street and only punishing those who might end up on the government’s agenda?
Editor: Leyla Magdalena Amur