Following the government-led decision to seize Koza İpek Holding and appoint partisan trustees to take over the management of its companies on Monday, police entered the İpek Media Group's headquarters in İstanbul on Wednesday and took the Kanaltürk and Bugün TV channels and the Kanaltürk radio station off the air.
Police officers forcibly entered the building housing Bugün TV and Kanaltürk, the media group's two flagship stations that have long been a main platform for opposition politicians, and took them off the air in what some commenters have speculated in a move designed to ensure that pro-Justice and Development Party (AK Party) trustees appointed to run the channels can control what they broadcast.
Immediately after the police and trustees entered the Kanaltürk broadcast room, they cut station's live broadcast and aired a public service announcement. However, Kanaltürk and Bugün TV then launched a joint broadcast lasting more than 10 hours, despite the police's persistent efforts to cut it. The police then evacuated the floor of the building from where Kanaltürk broadcasts and the cables that transmit the live broadcast were unplugged. A number of supporters staging a protest in front of the building were dispersed with pepper spray and water cannon. Police finally managed to cut the broadcast at around 4:40 p.m.
Bugün TV and Kanaltürk General Manager Tarık Toros and journalists for the TV channels prevented the police from entering the Bugün TV broadcast room for several hours. "Dear viewers, do not be surprised if you see police in our studio in the coming minutes," a Bugün TV anchor said as he narrated the unfolding drama. Hundreds of people, most of them journalists from media outlets affiliated with Koza İpek Media Group, thronged outside the headquarters of the company to protest the seizure of the companies by the Turkish government.
Before police entered the building, a number of representatives of opposition parties and other media groups arrived to criticize the takeover and show their solidarity with the Kanaltürk and Bugün journalists. A live broadcast by Bugün showed violent altercations between protesters attempting to stop the authorities from entering and police, who sprayed water to disperse the crowd. After dispersing the group, police entered the building by cutting the chains on the door of the building.
A number of people including journalists were detained by police, with several of them being punched and kicked. Two reporters were hospitalized by the police brutality, one with severe injuries to his internal organs and the other with a broken leg.
After a request from Prosecutor Musa Yücel, Judge Yunus Süer of the Ankara 5th Criminal Court of Peace ruled on Monday for the takeover of the administration of the holding's 22 companies, Including the two television stations, two newspapers and one radio station that have a critical editorial position toward the government.
Mahmut Tanal, a lawmaker from the Republican People's Party (CHP), tried to negotiate with the police officers, but the riot police proceeded to enter the building, where at least five media outlets are operating. CHP deputies Barış Yarkadaş and Eren Erdem also participated in the protest. Tanal and Erdem were slapped and kicked by the police along as were other protesters, Tanal told the media.
A reporter from the Bugün newspaper posted a photo of his bleeding hands on Twitter after he was injured when attempting to prevent police from entering his office. Fatih Akalan, an editor at the newspaper, shouted at the police outside the building. A number of reporters standing outside openly cried as they watched the takeover.
An anchor from Bugün TV said, "Look. This is the entrance to my office. But it is occupied by the police now."
The takeover of the management of Koza İpek Holding's companies comes just days before Turkey's repeat parliamentary election on Nov. 1. The move has intensified concerns about the deteriorating state of freedom of speech and media in Turkey.
Many politicians and civic movements have strongly protested the controversial seizure, which they consider to be a part of systemic efforts by the interim AK Party government to silence the critical media outlets since the country's worst corruption scandal went public on Dec. 17, 2013. With only a few days left to a key election, Bugün TV would have been a significant free voice in the media reporting on both the election and candidates.
On Wednesday morning, before it had been taken off air, the TV station continued live its live broadcast despite police pressure, mostly featuring people condemning the takeover.
Trustees try to replace Bugün TV with pro-gov't ATV channel
Toros, who continued with the Bugün TV broadcast despite the attempts by police to take it off air, said during a program that the trustees were trying to replace Bugün TV with broadcasts from the pro-government ATV channel.
"We are broadcasting under extraordinary circumstances in a very small, 16-square-meter broadcasting room, resisting the police crackdown and trustees' efforts to merge the Bugün TV broadcast with ATV via a device brought from the ATV headquarters," Toros explained minutes before the broadcast was cut.
The left-wing news channel Halk TV set up a joint broadcast with Bugün TV before it was cut to simulcast what was happening in the Bugün newsroom and the forcible seizure of the channel. Halk TV anchorman Ayşenur Arslan criticized the takeover, saying in a live phone conversation with Toros: " Tarık, I can see that the hairs on your arm standing on end. The media, which is a vital and indispensible element of democracy, is now under attack. All media outlets should stand together against this cruelty. We should all raise our voices together. We are in contact with our colleagues at CNN Türk on the matter. CNN Türk is continuing to feature the incident. I don't know whether NTV and Habertürk have adopted a similar stance but I will ask them to show solidarity with Bugün TV."
Speaking to Today's Zaman on Wednesday about the takeover, the Bugün daily's Editor-in-Chief Erhan Başyurt said that the police breached Article 30 of the Constitution, which bans the confiscation of media outlets even though it has committed an offense.
"When the police and trustees arrived at the building, they did not have a single official document authorizing the replacement of the management board of the İpek Media Group with trustees. Even if they had such a document, their assignments should have been published in the Turkish Trade Registry Gazette. However, no such decision has been published by the gazette. The raid by the police and trustees on the media group is unlawful, brutal and violent. The seizure is clearly politically motivated," Başyurt said.
All trustees appointed to Koza İpek Holding are pro-AK Party
All the trustees appointed by the court to the boards of directors of the companies that make up Koza İpek Holding are either members of or support the AK Party, even though trustees appointed to companies seized in this manner are required to be independent and objective.
One of the trustees appointed to the new board is a former advertisement manager at the Sabah newspaper, a staunchly pro-government newspaper run by the brother of the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, news reports have said.
Speaking live on Bugün TV on Wednesday shortly before it was taken off air, Toros told a group of police officers and trustees who had entered the studio: “You do not have the legal authorization. You do not have properly processed papers and so cannot remove me from my position. I am the general manager of Bugün TV. This broadcast will continue. You cannot meddle in our broadcast. The broadcasting manager makes such decisions, not you."
One of the trustees, Ümit Onal, replied: "I came here to see you. Let's go." Toros refused and told the trustees not to intervene in the broadcast and leave the building, repeating that they had no authority to take over the channel.
Toros then asked the trustees to show him an official document proving that they have authorization to take over the channel, but they were unable to do so.
While the doors of the building were being broken down, CHP deputy Erdem warned a police officer who gave the order to enter the building that they had no official written order giving them the authority to enter. In response, the police officer said: "What is an authorization? I write on a piece of paper and thereby authorize officers. That's it.”
Published on Today's Zaman, 28 October 2015, Wednesday