March 3, 2016

Trustees under fire for causing İpek Media closure

A group of trustees appointed to the İpek Media Group as part of a government-orchestrated operation last autumn has attracted strong criticism for poorly managing the media group, leading to its closure, with many saying the trustees will have to account for their failure.

Turkish dailies Bugün and Millet, TV stations Bugün TV and Kanaltürk -- all of which operate under the roof of the İpek Media Group -- were closed down this week, four months after trustees took over the management of Koza İpek Holding in a police crackdown.

Koza İpek Holding CEO Akın İpek announced the closure of the media group via Twitter posts on Monday.

In an atmosphere of what many have called widespread oppression of dissidents in the country, an Ankara court, on Oct. 26, 2015, put Koza İpek Holding under administrative receivership with the management of 22 companies, including the İpek Media Group, handed over to government-appointed trustees.

Following the court decision, 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.

Professor Doğan Cansızlar, a former head of the Capital Markets Board (SPK) told Today's Zaman that the reason why trustees were appointed to the İpek Media Group was the claim that it was not managed well and the appointment of trustees aimed to improve the company's financial situation and make it profitable.

"If the balance sheet of a company becomes worse under the management of trustees, this means that the trustees have failed to perform their jobs properly. So, they halt the activities of the company. This is not what they are supposed to do, I think," Cansızlar said.

Following their appointment, the trustees also changed the editorial line of İpek Media's daily newspapers, Bugün and Millet, and turned them into government mouthpieces. However, the circulation of the newspapers fell dramatically, from 110,000 to around 5,000, since trustees took over their management.

According to Cansızlar, it is impossible to prevent people from seeking their rights in a state that is ruled by law; hence, the individuals who have been victimized by the closure of the İpek Media Group could take legal action against the trustees. He said they could resort to the SPK and courts for the damages they have sustained, adding that this is a requirement of being a state that is ruled by law.

Hundreds of journalists have become jobless due the closure of the media group.

The professor also said the takeover of the management of some companies in Turkey, in apparently politically motivated moves, is likely to cause anxiety among domestic and foreign investors.

"Foreign investors seek, at the very least, protection under the law in the country where they will make investments. If there are some concerns and suspicions regarding this, then they will increase their risk premiums..

In a recent article Ersan Şen, a professor of criminal justice, also focused on the responsibilities of trustees who are appointed to the management of a company and said that responsibility does not include halting, blocking or changing the activities of a company.

"The management of trustees has to care for the rights and interests of the company. Or else, legal and punitive sanctions could be possible for the trustees," said Şen.

There was also criticism from Action Workers' Syndicates Confederation (Aksiyon İş) President Vedat Öztürk against the trustees at İpek Media Group who caused the group's closure.

Öztürk alleged that the appointment of trustees was aimed at ensuring the bankruptcy of the İpek Media Group, adding that he expects the same result at Kaynak Holding where another group of trustees were appointed.

"They are saying something like: 'They made İpek Media go bankrupt in four months, how long will it take us to achieve this?' They are in a kind of race and aiming to break a record. They will get rewards for doing this. They will get some dirty opportunities in return," Öztürk said.

Also on Thursday, the number of trustees at the Koza İpek Holding was reduced to five from nine in line with a court order. Among the trustees who were dismissed after the court order is Hasan Ölçer.

Ölçer was appointed to oversee the management of three companies of Koza İpek Holding which operates in the food, construction, mining and media sectors. The trustee board took over the administration of 22 companies, including four media outlets that are known for their critical views of the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

A video showed him insulting several employees of the Bugün daily during the first meeting after the takeover, and unlawfully dismissed those employees who refused to act in line with their orders.

Published on Today's Zaman, 3 March 2016, Thursday