October 30, 2015

Bugün, Millet turned into AK Party mouthpieces after takeover

The Bugün and Millet dailies, which were forcibly taken over on Wednesday by a number of trustees appointed by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government following a controversial court decision, were turned into black propaganda instruments of the AK Party and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday in their first editions printed after the takeover.

Police raided the headquarters of the media outlets on Wednesday after the Ankara 5th Criminal Court of Peace ruled on Monday for the takeover of the administration of Koza İpek Holding's companies, which includes critical media outlets, in a government-backed move. The trustees took over the management of the Bugün and Millet dailies, as well as Bugün TV and Kanaltürk, following a physical police intervention in which many journalists and protesters were subjected to excessive police force early on Wednesday.

The trustees stopped Thursday's edition of the two dailies from going to print on Wednesday. A group of police officers also cut the Kanaltürk broadcast after breaking into the holding's headquarters, while another group stormed the production control room of Bugün TV on Wednesday.

The appointed trustees are either members of the AK Party or former employees of pro-government dailies, casting doubts over an impartial guardianship.

The Bugün and Millet dailies published their first editions on Friday after the trustees took over. However, the Friday editions of both papers were full of propaganda reports for the AK Party government and Erdoğan, while there was almost no report on the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) ahead of the Nov. 1 snap election.

The Friday edition of Bugün published on its front page a large photo from the Oct. 29 Republic Day celebrations in Ankara in which Erdoğan is at the center. In its top story, headlined “Cumhur meydanda” (Nation in the square), Bugün included Erdoğan's remarks during the celebrations in which he claimed he is conducting a so-called “battle for democracy in unity, solidarity and brotherhood.”

Erdoğan's statement that Turkey will achieve the AK Party's grand vision for 2023, when Turkey celebrates the centennial of the establishment of the republic, were also included in the lead story.

In addition to conducting propaganda for Erdoğan, the trustees also included a report on an electoral rally held by acting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the chairman of the AK Party, on the paper's front page. The report says Davutoğlu called for peace and brotherhood during the rally, which saw a low turnout by locals in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakır on Thursday.

Similar to Bugün's Friday edition, the Millet daily, currently being managed by trustees, also included partisan reports on Erdoğan and the AK Party on Friday. The paper placed a large photo of Erdoğan on a ceremonial car with several police officers around him from the official celebration for Republic Day. The daily allocated half of its front page to this photo, with the headline “Türkiye tek yürek” (Turkey beats with one heart).

The trustees placed the same remarks by Erdoğan below the headline, similar to the Bugün report.

Millet also presented Davutoğlu's Diyarbakır's rally under the same headline, “Diyarbakır'dan kardeşlik mesajı” (Message of brotherhood from Diyarbakır).

The front pages of both dailies clearly demonstrate the trustees were appointed to change the editorial lines of those formerly critical media outlets in favor of Erdoğan and the AK Party.

Trustee admits was appointed to change papers' stance

One of the appointed trustees, Hasan Ölçer, admitted on his Twitter account on Thursday night that they were appointed to change the editorial polices of the Bugün and Millet dailies.

Ölçer said the two dailies will continue to be published, but will take what he called a “moral and national” line.

“The publication of the newspapers we were appointed to will not stop. On the contrary, they will continue along a moral and national line that will represent the people of Anatolia,” Ölçer tweeted. Although he did not explain what he meant, many interpreted his remarks as a clear indication that the dailies will follow a pro-government editorial policy.

Ölçer's tweet, posted with a new profile picture taken in one of the offices of the seized news outlets, came hours after he insulted several employees from the Bugün daily during a meeting on Thursday and unlawfully dismissed those employees who refused to act in line with his orders.

Ölçer, who presided over the meeting, had also criticized the Thursday edition of the newspaper.

Fired editors of both dailies continue to publish alternative editions

Bugün Editor-in-Chief Erhan Başyurt, Publishing Coordinator Mehmet Yılmaz, Managing Editor Güngör Ergun and two reporters were fired by the trustees on Thursday. In addition, the trustees also fired several editors from the Millet daily, including Editor-in-Chief Değer Özergin, Managing Editor Cuma Ulus and Economy Editor Ufuk Şanlı.

The unlawful takeover and the insults and dismissals, however, have not dissuaded the fired editors from their struggle for a “free media” in Turkey.

The editors of Bugün who were fired on Thursday prepared their own edition of the papers for Friday and released it on a newly launched website (http://www.ozgurbugun.com/) in protest of the propagandist edition.

The editors changed the name of the paper to Özgür Bugün (Free Bugün) to stress that the Bugün daily was being controlled by the trustees.

All the details of the illegal takeover were covered in the edition prepared by Editor-in-Chief Başyurt, who used the slogan “Free media cannot be silenced: You [the government] were unable to silence [us].” Koza İpek Holding CEO Akın İpek's comments about the unlawful takeover were also included in the edition.

Speaking to the Cihan news agency about the Özgür Bugün daily on Friday, Başyurt said the new daily was prepared under very difficult circumstances, adding the paper is completely legal and is a way of demonstrating their democratic protest against what happened to their daily.

Saying the newspaper consists of eight pages, Başyurt added the new paper is an initiative by those who were dismissed from the newspaper by the trustees and is funded out of their own pockets. Announcing that Özgür Bugün will continue to be published, Başyurt said the price of the paper will be TL 1, adding: “It is currently the most valuable newspaper in Turkey. My journalist friends say they will continue to publish it. There is no legal obstacle to doing so. But because Turkey is no longer a state of law, of course anything can happen.”

The Millet daily also released an alternative edition on Friday. İpek released all the pages of the Millet daily's edition prepared by the dismissed editors on his Twitter account on Friday.

The headline of the lead story in the alternate Millet daily was “Egemenlik Milletindir” (Sovereignty belongs to the nation). The headline says the media outlets affiliated with Koza İpek Holding were confiscated in a move that clearly violated Article 30 of the Constitution, which bans any act of seizure of media outlets, adding that the government is publicly attacking freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Commenting on the Friday publications of the Bugün and Millet dailies, CHP deputy Mahmut Tanal said on Twitter that the trustees do not have any right to interfere with the editorial policies of the seized dailies, indicating the trustees' interference is completely unlawful.

Published on Today's Zaman, 30 October 2015, Friday