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The political meaning of the sale of Turkey’s biggest media group

Translated by: Alphan Telek, Edgar Şar, Cansu Şafak, Sinan Akgünay, Aylin Yardımcı, Melissa Clissold
Subtitles: Elif Akbıyık
Click CC in the bottom right corner for English subtitles.

Hello, good day! The news has not been denied, meaning that it is true. People have already been talking about it for some time. Doğan Media Group was sold to the Demirören Group. If it were unfounded, such news that caused a huge speculation in the stock market would certainly be disclaimed. We may assume that it is true. The details may not be so, though. People talk about certain numbers. It is said that the Demirören Group is not the sole buyer. These are ambiguous. Seemingly, it’s the Demirören Group that bought the Doğan Media Group. So the Doğan Group has withdrawn completely from the media sector, as many have long expected. What does this mean? There is much to say on this but I have also my doubts about whether it is worth talking too much on this.
What is obvious is that with the withdrawal of Doğan Group from the media sector, an era ends in Turkish media. That is for sure. But I don’t think that a new era begins. Because what I call the desertification, the decrease in quality, in media, cultural life, education and so on is a process that has already been underway. And this is a new stage. Turkish media has long been in this process and the Doğan Group was a part of it. Yet, some people who were still hopeful about it attached a big importance to Doğan Media Group and particularly CNN Türk. Now they will no longer do this. I believe that this is not a new era but the acceleration of a process that has already been underway. I have worked in both groups as a journalist. I was already a journalist, when the Doğan Group entered the media sector. I worked with them different times in different projects, such as during the foundation of CNN Türk. I have worked for Daily Milliyet, before the Doğan Group sold it to Demirörens. I have only not worked in Hürriyet. The Demirörens entered the media sector after they bought daily newspapers Milliyet and Vatan, of which I was a part at the time. I witnessed it too.  So I happen to know what kind of bosses Doğan and Demirören are.
I am a person who knows that there is a great difference between the two actors. For one thing, from the very beginning Aydın Doğan has always had a concern for journalism. As soon he entered the media, with the daily newspaper Milliyet, he very rapidly expanded his strength. He accomplished this growth with the resources of the media. Through journalism, he managed to open up to other sectors. Therefore, as he owed his strength to journalism, he always kept the issues of journalism in consideration.
Yet, this does not imply that he didn’t make concessions on journalistic values. During certain periods, he used the media as a weapon against political parties and his opponents. However, as I said, because he grew strong with the media, he always had a concern of looking after the media. For example, the Doğan Media Group had journalism principles. It is controversial on how much the group obeyed these principles. Yet, there was an advisory committee which determined these principles. For Demirören we cannot say such things. Before entering the media sector, Demirören had already made significant achievements in different sectors, especially in the energy sector. In order to become closer to the government and Erdoğan, Demirören took responsibility and bought several newspapers. It was also rumoured that he was going to enter the TV sector; he did not or could not.
When we look back at Demirörens performance within the media sector, the most striking case is the Milliyet newspaper. Once upon a time Milliyet somewhat fulfilled its motto: “Trust in the Press”. However the situation they are in today is very clear. For quite some time Milliyet is not considered as an important part of mainstream media. Demirören did not have an approach of generating money and growing stronger through journalism. The group aimed to become closer to the political government through the media. Despite several tensions which we all know, Demirören was at the service of the government through obsolete newspapers. Now we will be witnessing a similar story. For Milliyet and Vatan this didn’t happen right away. Rather it happened after a certain phase.
It is very likely that we will see this in Doğan Group gradually; we will witness the withering away of quality. The quality was already down in comparison with world standards. Now it will go down deeper and there will be no expectation from the group. We will witness the more extreme versions of what recently Hürriyet or CNN Türk did. It is very likely that we will see newspapers and televisions that do not stir up trouble do not disturb the government and a media group who competes with other media groups to find favour in the government’s sight.
Of course, all of this will not happen right away. The situations and future of many people, who work there, from the bottom to the top, will be uncertain. Furthermore, there will be some people who covet the certain opportunities and prestige of Hürriyet and Channel D. We see that they already covet these opportunities. Somebody will leave, someone else will and there will be nothing in the end. There will be faster desertification. We do not know what Aydın Doğan and his family will do with the money that they will get.
But I can predict that – which many people are probably also thinking – the Demirören Group, just like it did in Vatan and Milliyet, will see these institutions as places to acquire more privileges and benefits in some sectors, especially the energy sector rather than seeing them as profit making places. Anyway, Hürriyet and Channel D hold an important place in the advertising sector of Turkey. I do not think that this standard will continue. Where will be the new places which advertisers prefer to go? Since I am not sure of the new places, as there is nowhere to go, the advertising potential of Hürriyet and Channel D may not be harmed.
So what is the outcome of this? It shows that the government has invested in the 2019 elections in a serious manner and it takes these elections very seriously; there is a ‘crisis’ that I have been arguing for a long time.
We see here a government which is unable to accept the Doğan media group as it is, ahead of an election that can easily be won. And this is the sign of a crisis. I have been saying for some time now that the mainstream media in Turkey has lost its mainstream status a long time ago.
This is, in any case, the final nail in the coffin of something that is already dying. There wasn’t any hope here, in fact. Objective news, original and cool-headed commentary were long gone, and the media had ceased to care about people’s right to information, or about enlightening confused individuals in Turkey. Right now, everything has in fact come to an end.
And what’s going to happen next? Actually, Doğan group’s withdrawal from the media may in fact relieve us to a significant extent. We can say that a pantomime is now over. But on the other hand, outlets that are addressing people’s freedom of information are disappearing one by one. Even the pantomime is disappearing. People will no longer be able to find consolation in live debate shows. And at that point, all eyes will be on social media. But we already know that social media doesn’t have it easy either. For instance, after the news of Doğan group’s sale, some people have pointed at Medyascope, saying “you are all that is left” – although few other names are also listed alongside Medyascope. But these aren’t very realistic comments. We have been trying to do something here at Medyascope for two and a half years – almost three years, actually. We have made a name for ourselves, this we accept.
But the number of people who want free and objective news and original commentary in Turkey is either not too high, or if they exist, these people are not ready to show effort for this.
This shouldn’t mean that we are not happy with our current state. We are happy where we are. But I can say this very clearly: there is a great disparity between those who encourage us and those who walk with us. This is in fact a general tendency in Turkey. That’s why the sale of Doğan media group doesn’t interest us too much.
This marks the closure of another parenthesis for those of us that want to engage in free and independent journalistic work. However, it’s important to remind those that, as a consequence, expect us to take on more responsibility and obligation that they too need to also take certain responsibilities.
We have just witnessed the end of all mainstream media in Turkey. It is simply not possible to suggest that there is any, from today onwards. Everywhere is pro-government media. That we can say. There is a very small section of the media, and the sales of their newspapers, the viewership of their channels make this obvious. Many people, one after another, will lose their position, that’s not hard to predict either. But this had already been the case in Turkish media for a long time. The desertification will be completed. It will be given a name. And the public’s freedom to and need for having access to news will continue. Gaps are always filled. Who will this be filled by, and how? Someone will surely do it. We are in an effort to do something about this within our own means. So are others. But this needs to be said: This is not something that can be done with big bosses or big capital anymore, in Turkey. Everyone needs to see and accept this with great clarity. If citizens really have an expectation, a need and yearning for this, then they need to contribute to the creation of platforms that will allow this. This needs saying. This is not something that will happen just by wishing, or by lamenting. While one part of the world is talking about citizen journalism, another part is talking about the kind of journalism that the citizens help form, and take ownership of. Turkey is a place that makes this necessity very clear. We’ll see what happens. I would say let’s hope for the best, but there is nothing good here. Everything’s happened as expected. Aydın Doğan, after a long period of ruling the media in Turkey, is now leaving without looking back, as I understand. We know that those who replace him, those that take his position will never be able to create the sort of hegemony and domination in the media as the Doğan Group did. Because, no matter how many newspapers you have, how many channels you own, when you put these side by side, they do not add up to power. Even if there are others alongside the Demirören Group, I don’t think they can create that situation. Yes, what’s done is done. We carry on doing our job.
That’s all I’ve got to say, have a good day.