October 28, 2015

Defying laws, police-backed trustees occupy critical media HQ

In violation of local laws governing property ownership and media freedom, trustees appointed by a controversial court entered a critical TV station building and cut broadcasting on Wednesday, sparking public outrage.

Riot police stormed the headquarters of Koza İpek media outlets in İstanbul shortly after dawn on Wednesday, with journalists from the paper making fruitless efforts to prevent them from entering the building and eventually cutting broadcast.

Tarık Toros, the general manager of Bugün TV who was later fired, said on Wednesday the board of trustees is illegally occupying the building since their appointment to Koza has not yet been published on the official commercial registry gazette. “I call on the trustees to immediately end this occupation and leave the building because they are committing a crime here. … They are causing the media group to incur a loss,” Toros said.

He also pointed out there was a four-day official holiday that began on Wednesday afternoon due to Republic Day on Oct. 29, noting the trustees had ignored this and insisted on staying in the building in İstanbul.

Shortly after his comments, the police detained Toros and cut his live program on TV.

Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) member İsmet Demirdöğen told Bugün TV on Wednesday local laws do not allow police to enter the premises of a company placed in guardianship. “This is out of the question. What are they [police] doing in the corridors of an independent media building? The Constitution only allows the trustees enter the building but not to intervene in broadcasting,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kamil Ata, one of Koza İpek Holding's lawyers, argued the trustees appointed by the court are not authorized to perform their duties according to Article 64 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK). “The İstanbul Justice Commission currently has a list of 9,711 possible trustees to be appointed in such cases. … Only oone of the [so-called] trustees are on this list,” Ata said.

Since they have not yet taken an oath to act impartial and be included on the list, the trustees cannot start work at Bugün TV, Ata added.

The appointed trustees are either members of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) or former employees of pro-government dailies, media reports over the past three days have said, casting doubts over the impartial guardianship.

Meanwhile, a controversial expert report also listed the high number of companies operating under the holding as another questionable point on the corporation's activity. The report found it suspicious that some board members of Koza İpek Holding also have seats on the boards of subsidiary companies. “The number of companies is quite high and the managements of those companies are intermingled,” the report said.

Trustee threatens to lay off journalists

In another controversial move by the appointed board, chief trustee of the Koza İpek media group Hasan Ölçer appeared live on TV as police attempted to cut the broadcasting of Bugün TV and told journalists inside the room to “cooperate or face the consequences.”

Separately, Ölçer gathered a meeting with the company's employees late on Tuesday and warned that “those who fail to cooperate with the new board” will be laid off. “We will part ways with some of you if we experience any action that interrupts the new board's proceedings,” Ölçer told journalists.

The seizure decision against Koza İpek Holding was also criticized by US-based experts, who all underlined that the move will backfire and damage the country's economic prestige.

Indrit Hoxha, assistant professor of economics at Pennsylvania State University, linked the raid on Koza İpek to that on Bank Asya, adding the pressure on private companies will hurt the economy in the long-term.

The management of Bank Asya, the private lender founded by sympathizers of the Hizmet movement, was handed over to the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) in late May.

Quinnipiac University's Dr. Osman Kılıç, meanwhile, said Turkey has been left exposed to collapse since the property rights of citizens and the free media in the country is under threat. It will attract less foreign investment amid the damaged rule of law, Kılıç said.

Gökhan Karahan, assistant professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said the developments are nothing short of a witch hunt, adding such moves will increase the already-existent uncertainty for investors since all dissenting voices are placed under pressure.

The local media also reacted against the controversial takeover, highlighting the upcoming G-20 summit in Antalya. In a written statement on Wednesday, leading Hürriyet daily said: “The moves that targeted the Koza İpek group immediately before the G-20 summit is especially thought provoking. In a country where the right to property is debatable, free enterprise owners are terrorized and press freedom is regressing, it is inevitable that its hospitality for the G-20 summit will be overshadowed.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 28 October 2015, Wednesday