TRT and AA
Turkish Radio and Television (TRT), as it is defined under the Law no. 2954, is an “impartial public entity.” The discussion on whether TRT practices public broadcasting (or not) has more or less been an issue throughout its history. In July 2021, Mehmet Zahid Sobacı was appointed to replace İbrahim Eren, the General Manager of TRT, whose 4-year term expired. Sobacı previously worked at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), known for their targeting of journalists and close ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The new TRT Chair of the Board of Directors is Prof. Ahmet Albayrak.
With the Presidential decree issued on July 14, 2021, the entire board of directors of TRT was changed and the number of board members was increased from seven to nine. With the decree, the functions of the TRT Chairperson of the Board of Directors and the TRT General Director, which were stated to be carried out by the same person with the phrase “General Manager is the Chairperson of the Board of Directors” in the previous regulation, were separated.
The International Press Institute (IPI) reacted to the appointment of figures close to the government, such as Hilal Kaplan (a columnist for pro-government daily Sabah), to the board of directors of TRT, with a presidential decree. The IPI called for the 2018 decree on the appointment of TRT’s administration to be overturned in order to restore the autonomous structure of TRT.
With the decree in July 2018, TRT has been tied to the Directorate of Communications, which means it is directly under the control of the Presidency.
Anadolu Agency (AA) is an official news agency, the majority share of which belongs to the Undersecretariat of the Treasury. The agency's ﬁnances are often contested. In July 2014, it was revealed that media outlets owed the agency approximately 423,000 US Dollars (1.2 million Turkish Lira) in subscription fees.
Şenol Kazancı, AA's General Director, was an adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for three years until December 2014, when he was appointed to the helm of AA.
Radio and Television Supreme Council
The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) was established in 1994 as per the "Act of the Establishment of Radio and TV Initiatives and Broadcast." Regulating broadcasters, providing licenses and auditing broadcasters are among the authority's responsibilities.
RTÜK consists of nine members elected by the Parliament from among the candidates nominated by the parties. With the election held on January 25, 2021, Ebubekir Şahin, whose two-year term expired, was re-elected as the President of RTÜK. Arif Fırtına is the Deputy Chairperson of the RTÜK.
In June 2021, two people from the AKP quota and one from the MHP quota were elected for the three vacant memberships. Thus, as of August 2021, there are a total of 8 members in RTÜK, including 4 members from the AKP, 2 from the CHP, 1 from the MHP and 1 from the HDP. As part of the investigation carried out by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office regarding the Kobane protests on October 6-8, 2014, RTÜK’s HDP member Ali Ürküt was detained and arrested. Ürküt is in prison as of October 2021.
RTÜK's the then CHP member Faruk Bildirici declared that RTÜK President Şahin is also a member of the board of directors of TÜRKSAT and the Press Advertisement Institution (BİK), and he submitted a petition to the Speaker’s Office of the Turkish Grand National Assembly and to the RTÜK for Şahin to “be deemed to have withdrawn from his duties at RTÜK”. After this, Bildirici asked Şahin to resign. On October 31, 2019, the RTÜK membership of Faruk Bildirici was dropped by six votes against two as a result of the vote taken upon the proposal of RTÜK President Şahin.
With the decree in July 2018, RTÜK has been tied to the Culture and Tourism Ministry.
Business interests come first
Of the shareholders of companies that own the top 40 media outlets, most are businesspeople. The six conglomerates they own (Doğuş, Demirören, Albayrak, Ciner, Kalyon, İhlas Group) operate in sectors such as construction, energy, mining, tourism, telecommunications.
Some of them, such as the Albayrak, Kalyon, İhlas, and Doğuş Groups have won major public tenders in the past few years, ranging from the third (İstanbul) airport to metro construction and urban redevelopment projects on a neighbourhood scale. These investments are more closely examined in the “Business Interests” section. Investments in sectors other than media make profit, politics and editorial choices intertwined with each other.
Doğan Group sold its media assets to the Demirören Group in March 2018 and withdrew from the media sector. Top four groups (Demirören, Kalyon, Ciner, Doğuş) and Albayrak, İhlas and Türk Medya Group publish more than half of the top 40 media outlets compiled by MOM according to their audience shares. Among these 40 media organizations, they own eight newspapers (Sabah, Türkiye, Takvim, Habertürk, Milliyet, Yeni Şafak, Akşam, Posta), five TV channels (ATV, A Haber, SHOW TV, Star TV, Kanal D), five radio stations (A Haber Radyo, Kral FM, NTV Radyo, HaberTürk Radyo, Radyo D) and 5 digital news portals (hurriyet.com.tr, milliyet.com.tr, (haberturk.com.tr) Sabah.com.tr, takvim.com.tr).
Details of all owners' biographies can be found under the Individuals section. However, the interests and political affiliations of Demirören and Albayrak families, Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu, Zeki Yeşildağ and Zekeriya Karaman are worth a special mention in this context.
• Demirören Family (Erdoğan Demirören’s children: Fikret Tayfun Demirören, Yıldırım Demirören, Meltem Oktay). Demirören family's wealth is estimated to be around 1-1.5 billion dollars, acquired mostly from mining, energy and construction. The shares of Demirören Holding are entirely owned by the Demirören Family, which openly supports the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and has close ties with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The family has many businesses in media, energy, mining, and construction. The media group already owns Milliyet newspaper and its website and the group owned Vatan newspaper but it decided to publish only digital as gazetevatan.com and closed the print version of the newspaper on October 31, 2018. On March 22, 2018, the Demirören group purchased all media assets of Doğan Group for 916 million dollars. Demirören Group now owns 4 newspapers, including Hürriyet, Milliyet, Posta, and Fanatik, and two TV channels (Kanal D and CNNTURK), one news agency (DHA). Demirören Group also had one distribution company (YAYSAT) until it was closed in December 2018.
Erdoğan Demirören was the majority shareholder of the conglomerate ”Demirören Holding A.Ş.” until he died on June 8, 2018.
• Six brothers of the Albayrak family (Brothers Ahmet, Nuri, Bayram, Kazım, Muzaffer and Mustafa Albayrak) are shareholders of Albayrak Yayın Holding, which owns Yeni Şafak newspaper, seven magazines and two TVs. The group has won dozens of public tenders, especially from municipalities, since the 1990s, some of which were subject to claims and investigations of corruption. Tümosan, a vehicle company owned by the group, took a 190 million Euro tender to construct tanks for the Ministry of National Defence in 2015.
When Ekrem İmamoğlu came into office as the İstanbul Metropolitan Mayor after the June 2019 İstanbul repeat local election, the extravagant use of vehicles caused a controversy and redundant vehicles were put on display in Yenikapı. These vehicles are known to belong to the Platform Turizm Taşımacılık company, which is headed by Adem Altunsoy, the son-in-law of Nuri Albayrak. The same company also won the tender for personnel vehicles in 2020.
• Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu: Kalyon Group operates in newspapers, radio, television, Internet news portal, news agency, magazine, construction, and energy sectors. Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu, the CEO of Zirve Holding, the owner of Turkuvaz Media Group, is the son of Hasan Kalyoncu, the founder of Kalyon Group. Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu founded Zirve Holding in September 2013 to receive the ATV-Sabah broadcasters owned by the Turkuvaz Group. Zirve Holding has four newspapers, ten TVs, 15 magazines, three Internet broadcasters, six radio stations.
In 2013, the Turkish Competition Board had approved the sale of Sabah-ATV to Zirve Holding, owned by the Kalyon Group, which is active in the construction, energy and infrastructure sectors (İstanbul third airport, Mecidiyeköy-Mahmutbey subway construction, pedestrianization of Taksim, Bakırköy Courthouse, Metrobus line, Turkey-Cyprus drinking water line, Esenyurt stadium and Çanakkale-Ayancık way, the Northern Marmara Highway, Hydroelectric Power Plants (HES) such as Kürtün, Aksu HES, Ordu HES, Kalen and Aksu HES). Kalyon Group has important shares in public tenders.
In 2004, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was the prime minister back then, was a marriage witness in Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu’s wedding.
Serhat Albayrak, who is the brother of the-then Minister of Energy Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is the Vice Chairperson of Turkuvaz Media Group.
• Zeki Yeşildağ: In 2017, Zeki Yeşildağ purchased “Es Yayıncılık” and its all media assets including three TV channels, one newspaper, and their connected websites as well as two radio stations, previously owned by Ethem Sancak. For the purposes of this study, these media groups were combined into a loose name as Türk Medya Group. Alem Radyo ve Televizyon Yayıncılık Anonim Şirketi, Atlas Yayıncılık ve Ticaret Anonim Şirketi, Star Medya Yayıncılık Anonim Şirketi, Star Medya Ajans A.Ş., Star Matbaacılık A.Ş. and Dinamik Radyo A.Ş, all belong to Türk Medya Group.
The brother of Zeki Yeşildağ, Hasan Yeşildağ is known for his close ties with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Based on the book, "Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, The Birth of a Leader" by Hüseyin Besli, AKP's 22nd term member of parliament, Hasan Yeşildağ is said to have committed a crime on purpose, just to be jailed for four months in order to protect Erdoğan in prison.
In December 2019, Güneş and Star dailies belonging to the TürkMedya group were closed. Güneş daily is published as a supplement to the Akşam newspaper belonging to the same group. Akşam daily is on the list of the top ten most read newspapers.
• Zekeriya Karaman is a shareholder in Hayat Görsel Yayıncılık and the CEO of Beyaz Holding. He was the co-founder and board member of Yeni Dünya İletişim (Kanal 7 TV). Yeni Dünya Media Group owns Kanal 7 TV, Ülke TV, Kanal 7 Europe, haber7.com and Radio 7. Kanal 7 TV started broadcasting in 1994 on Istanbul Municipality's TV channel frequency. In July 2011, he was jailed on charges of “forging documents” and “fraud”, in connection to the Deniz Feneri" (Lighthouse) Case in Germany regarding “buying Kanal 7 shares with charity money.” On May 15, 2015, he was acquitted, the case was barred by limitation. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was a marriage witness at his son's wedding in 2016. Karaman's wife's sister is married to Erdoğan's son Burak. One of the other shareholders of Hayat Görsel, Mustafa Çelik, has a daughter (Sena Nur Çelik) who was elected as a member of the parliament from the AKP in 2015. Zekeriya Karaman, İsmail Karahan and Mustafa Çelik, the three executives of Kanal 7, haber7.com and radyo 7, are also frequently part of the same companies in the records of İstanbul Chamber of Commerce.
The owner of Kanal 7 and Ülke TV, Beyaz Holding companies won tenders for 1 billion 123 million TRY from the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality, which was under the AKP governance until 2019, for 8 years (2011-2018).