A number of newspapers were taken aback by the surprise decision on Sunday to requisition the property of Ciner media group.
The state’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) seized 63 companies, including Sabah, which has a somewhat unfair reputation as the housewives’ newspaper, and atv television, one of Turkey’s “big four”. The reason for the swoop was a series of secret – and apparently illegal -agreements signed between the group’s owner, Turgay Ciner, and former chairman Dinç Bilgin.
There was outrage at the decision yesterday. “The TMSF’s executive is tied to the government” was Cumhuriyet‘s claim yesterday, quoting an opposition MP. “The Fund’s broader authority should be examined.” In plain English – or Turkish, as it were – the opposition believes the government has seized Sabah and atv for propaganda purposes, just months before the general election.
This isn’t the first media group to be impounded in recent years. In 2004, the TMSF seized the assets of the Uzan group, which included television and radio stations, newspapers and Telsim, the country’s second largest mobile phone operator. The companies all went into public ownership for a number of months before being sold off individually. Star TV, another of Turkey’s big four channels, went to the Doğan Group; the newspaper of the same name went to Turkish Cypriot businessman; and Telsim was sold off after a fierce bidding war to Vodafone.
The TMSF promises that, like the Uzan assets, the Ciner companies will be sold off in a few months. But that hasn’t stopped politicians from accusing the government of orchestrating the media.
“The press should not be under government control,” insisted DYP leader Mehmet Ağar. “Regardless of what is said now, (the companies) will still be in government control”. The deputy leader of the far-right Nationalist Action Party declared it “a crime against democracy”, in a comment that not enough people snorted at. And Kemal Anadol, head of the main opposition CHP’s parliamentary group, went so far as to use the F-word: “There is intent here to keep the press under unilateral pressure, to suppress the opposition. It is a fascist mind that is doing this.”
Many seem to have forgotten in the scramble to cry “media intervention!” that the Ciner group was impounded on suspicion of dodgy deals. Tax avoidance continues to be a big problem in Turkey; the greatest culprits have been some of the country’s largest holding companies. Putting an end to their dirty work can only be a good thing.
Anavatan’s leader, Erkan Mumcu, seemed to be the only voice of reason in all this. He said the reasons behind the operation were not yet clear, and it would not be right to comment until the court case is over. Perhaps more of us should listen to him.