Who would have thought that Doğan Media Group (DMG) which was an easy target for criticism because of their poor standards of journalism, lack of professional ethics, close links with the political establishment and their anti-union attitude for years would turn into a defender of press freedom? Well, we, as Turkish citizens can conveniently adjust ourselves to all shifting roles, changing perceptions and positions in this country. So it should not be that much difficult for us to turn the group into a democracy advocate and a victim of freedom of expression. This must be nothing else but just another sad irony of our lives.
Everything started with a colossal tax fine last week. DMG was penalized to pay 826.3 million Turkish Liras ($ 490 million) with an alleged overdue payment in connection with sales of its assets to a German media group, Axel Springer to avoid taxation. In fact we should have seen it was coming. It was common knowledge that accountants and tax officers were auditing the financial records of the group for the last 10 months. They were literally camping in the fancy highrise buildings of Hürriyet and Milliyet newspapers. The government officers were obviously assigned to dig in and find out any kind of financial wrongdoing. After the Prime Minister’s call for boycotting the DMG newspapers and his escalated verbal attacks on the group, there came an effective tool to mute the voice of opposition, tax fine. Actually this is not a new method in Turkey. Adnan Menderes, the former Prime Minister of Democratic Party in the 19’/50s, was known as the master of using state apparatus to silence the media. At the time he had sent his tax officers to the opponent newspapers and imposed unprecedented amounts of tax.
DMG, with its 25 television channels (including cable), 3 radio stations, 8 national daily newspapers, 27 magazines, a digital platform, a distribution company, a news agency, a publishing house, chain of bookstores has 40 % of the total circulation and 45,9 % of the total advertising revenue in the national broadcasting sector and 61,5 % of the total advertising revenue in the newspaper sector. In addition to its gigantic presence in the media scene, the company is active in energy, tourism and trading sectors.
In this tense atmosphere where the hostility between the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government and DMG is tangible, the real motive behind the tax penalty seems very fishy. As you can imagine, we have not come to this point overnight. The battle broke out when DMG published news stories with serious accusations of the AKP government on a corruption case. After the April 2007 indictment in Frankfurt, a German court convicted three Turkish men on Sept. 17, 2008 accused of funneling $26 million in charitable contributions raised by a big Islamic Charity Deniz Feneri (Lighthouse) to pro-AKP companies including an Islamic TV channel, Kanal 7 in Turkey. DMG newspapers and TV channels alleged that the Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdoğan had personally received some of the illegally transferred funds and that the AKP government had exercised “political pressure” on German authorities for the release of the defendants in the case.
If you think that DMG newspapers and TV stations have always been in search of truth and revelation of the wrongdoings in the society, you should better think twice. DMG media outlets have always been a part of the political status quo trying to manipulate the public opinion, sometimes making war mongering, playing a dangerous game when it comes to this country’s important issues, such as Kurdish problem, Armenian and Cyprus issues, playing the nationalism card and creating stereotypes. DMG newspapers, especially Hürriyet took pride in being the “state’s newspaper” closing its eyes and ears to the real issues related to Kurds, Alevis, Rums, Armenians, Jews, leftists, homosexuals living in this country. Today the Prime Minister is shouting to thousands of his supporters in political rallies “don’t read those newspapers that carry incorrect news” and then he is penalizing the media group with a monumental tax fine. It seems like we have no choice but supporting DMG in the name of press freedom and “independence” of the media. This must be nothing else but just another sad irony of our lives.