November 3, 2015

Trustees dismiss 71 journalists after unlawful İpek Media Group seizure

Seventy-one journalists were dismissed early Tuesday from the İpek Media Group, which was unlawfully seized in a government-led police operation in late October with the assignment of a number of trustees to the organization, a move drawing the ire of the dismissed journalists and civil society groups.

Millet daily news desk editor Bülent Ceyhan, who is also among the journalists fired, along with reporter Kamil Maman, who was assaulted by the police and then detained during the police raid on the group's headquarters, announced on Tuesday morning that they were forced to go on compulsory leave for several days after the trustees were assigned but are now not allowed to enter the media group's building.

In a live Periscope broadcast, Ceyhan said private security guards blocked journalists returning from leave and a number of other journalists from entering the headquarters. The security guards allegedly work on behalf of Ethem Sancak, the owner of the pro-government Star Media Group.

Maman also posted consecutive tweets announcing that the trustees had prepared a list of those "to be sacked" and that 58 people are on that list. The dismissal orders for Ankara bureau officers were issued in the evening hours. Thirteen journalists and a tea maker working in the Ankara bureau of the İpek Media Group were dismissed, raising the number of sacked journalists to 71.

"Fifty-eight journalists working for Bugün TV and Kanaltürk were dismissed today by order of the trustees. Did someone say there would not be revenge?" Maman wrote in one of his tweets.

In another tweet Maman stressed that an undated document has been presented to the journalists to sign showing that they have been fired.

Following the government-led decision to seize Koza İpek Holding and appoint partisan trustees to take over the management of its companies on Oct. 27, police raided the İpek Media Group's headquarters in İstanbul on Oct. 28 and took the Kanaltürk and Bugün TV channels and the Kanaltürk radio station off the air. The group also owns the Bugün and Millet dailies.

Despite the fact that the trustees had no authority to fire any worker, the editors-in-chief and general managers of the TV channels were told they were sacked. Furthermore, the assignment of the trustees has not been published in the Turkish Trade Registry Gazette, making the takeover decision null and void. Some of the decisions to fire staff were made on a public holiday, an act which is against the law.

Evaluating the manner by which the journalists were fired by the trustees on Tuesday, Erhan Başyurt, who is still legally the editor-in-chief of Bugün but who the trustees dismissed immediately after the takeover, stressed that the events have been marred by unlawfulness from beginning to end.

"The mass firing of the journalists confirms that the trustees have no intention of turning the media group into a more profitable company but aim to damage its profitability. With these firings, the country's experienced journalists were blocked from doing their jobs," Başyurt noted.

Speaking to Today's Zaman about the process to unlawfully cancel his and his colleagues' work contracts, Ceyhan said his name was taken off of the daily's masthead two days after the unlawful seizure on Oct. 29 and he was told that he has been dismissed despite the fact that the trustees have no authority to do that, let alone on a public holiday.

“The trustees later realized that they had made an unlawful decision by dismissing the journalists on a public holiday, so they turned the dismissals into four-day compulsory leave. On Tuesday, I returned from leave to continue work at the daily at around 10 a.m. but I was stopped at the door of the building by several private security guards and police officers. They told me that my name is on the list of ‘those fired',” Ceyhan noted.

“I was not allowed to enter the building. They later took me, along with my colleagues, to the security personnel office, where an employee from the human resources department was waiting for us. This person showed us a document stating that I had been fired. Yahya Şeker, who has been designated as the daily's new editor-in-chief, had signed the document. I told the person that I don't know the man who signed the document declaring I had been dismissed. I later signed it, adding a note stating that the total process of being dismissed is unlawful and that I will pursue my rights in court. After that, I, accompanied by security personnel, packed my belongings and left the building," Ceyhan said.

Bugün News Editor Bilal Şahin, who was also told by the same private security guards that he had been fired early Tuesday, told Today's Zaman that he, like many of his colleagues, was also barred from entering the daily's headquarters after being informed of his dismissal.

"I was told by a person from human resources that Oğuzhan Müezzino, who the trustees assigned to serve as the editorial coordinator of Bugün, made the decision to dismiss me. However, he has no such authority. I, together with my colleagues, added notes to each document stating we were fired, that the decision is unlawful and that all the fired journalists will pursue their rights by filing lawsuits. We were not even allowed to walk up to the news center and our offices alone; security personnel had to accompany us," Şahin told Today's Zaman.

Hinting at Dec. 17 graft scandal, reporter carries belongings in shoe boxes

Reporter Cihan Acar, who was also among the fired journalists, was seen carrying his personal belongings in shoe boxes. During the massive corruption scandal that went public on Dec. 17, 2013, police briefly detained Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan after finding over $4.5 million hidden in shoe boxes during a raid on his home.

Speaking to journalists while carrying his personal belongings, Acar said all of his belongings fit in only two shoe boxes.

Bugün Executive News Editor Erkan Acar also told the journalists that the Bugün daily had created a space at which journalists from various ideologies could come and work together, adding: "Such a nice picture, a source of pride for the Turkish press, was destroyed [by the government]. This saddens me."

The following are some of the journalists who the trustees fired: Adem Özgüç, Adem Yavuz Aslan, Bekir Koç, Bilal Şahin, Bülent Ceyhan, Cuma Ulus, Değer Özergin, Erhan Başyurt, Erkan Acar, Erkan Akkuş, Güngör Ergün, Hamit Karalı, Hilal Dereli, Hüseyin Keleş, İrfan Galip Dumlu, Kamil Maman, Mehmet Yılmaz, Melik Duvaklı, Sedat Gülmen, Tarık Toros, Ufuk Köroğlu, Ufuk Şanlı, Volkan Beçar and Zafer Özcan.

A week after the takeover, Bugün's and Millet's circulation suffered a dramatic decline. Bugün's weekly circulation average fell from nearly 104,000 copies sold to 64,000, the Zaman daily and several other media outlets reported on Tuesday.

When Hasan Ölçer, one of the trustees, took over the management of Bugün and Millet following the police raid, he reprimanded the journalists, accusing them of preparing an "awful paper" by running the headline "Seizure with Trustee" and fired several journalists who had declared that they agree with the headline.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Gürsel Tekin was among those who joined the criticism of the dismissal of the 58 journalists. "The government will surely have to pay damages for these unlawful firings and the 78 million Turkish citizen will pay the price for this," Tekin said.

The Press Council strongly criticized the dismissals on Tuesday. Issuing a written statement, the council said the government yet again targeted the journalists just two days after the Nov. 1 general election.

Meanwhile, as part of government pressure on journalists, TV presenter Özge Uzun was fired from the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) on Monday.

Published on Today's Zaman, 3 November 2015, Tuesday