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The Media Market

According to the lists indicating the top ten media outlets in four different media sectors (TV, Print, Radio, and Online Media), the media sector in Turkey is mostly owned by pro-government groups such as Demirören Group, Doğuş Group, Zirve Holding (Kalyon Group) and Ciner Group. Besides the media sector, these groups are active in construction, energy, finance or mining. Revenue from these sectors provides financial resources for their media operations.

On the state-owned media part, TRT is mainly funded through electricity tax and tax labels, which amount to 88 percent of its annual budget (T24, 2020).

The most significant change in the media sector in Turkey was the sale of all media assets of Doğan Group to the Demirören Group in March 2018. The Doğan Group is no longer in the media business. This was regarded as the end of mainstream media and media pluralism in Turkey. 

Private advertising is an important component of media revenues. Some of the big companies conduct their own surveys. Nevertheless, according to experts the MOM has consulted, some of the private companies tend to give advertisements to pro-government media outlets in spite of their low or inflated levels of audience data for political concerns.

Distribution of official advertisements

An important source of print media income stems from official advertisements distributed by the state-run Press Advertisement Institution (BİK). However, fair distribution of official advertisements, which are especially crucial for the existence of small-scale newspapers, is still controversial. 

For instance, the chairperson of the BİK, Mehmet Zahid Sobacı, was also appointed as the General Manager of TRT. 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).

Also, Serhat Albayrak, the brother of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's son-in-law (the-then Energy Minister) Berat Albayrak and CEO of Turkuvaz Media of Kalyon Group, is a member of the BİK.

The BİK has refused to answer a freedom of information request by MOM to disclose advertising handed out to newspapers in the past 12 months, claiming that this information was a “trade secret”.

In 2020, known as pro-government, Hürriyet, Sabah and Posta were the top three newspapers in advertising revenue (Deutsche Welle, Uludağ, May 2021). Despite the fact that Sözcü is high in circulation (the second, following Hürriyet), it was reported that the number of its advertisements is limited due to its oppositional stance.

The most popular daily newspapers in 2020 were: Sabah (Kalyon), Sözcü (Estetik), Hürriyet (Demirören), Posta (Demirören), Türkiye (İhlas), Milliyet (Demirören), Akşam (Türk Medya), Yeni Şafak (Albayrak), Takvim (Kalyon), Açık, Mert, Korkusuz (Estetik).

Advertisements in newspapers are determined by circulation. Some sources speak of allegations of high circulation in order to get more advertisements. They claim that free newspapers are also included in circulation.

The stance of Press Advertisement Institution

The Press Advertisement Institution (BİK) General Assembly accepted a new regulation on October 5, 2016, which stated that if the owners or majority of partners of media organizations have a case against them, based on “crimes against the constitution” or as per the “anti-terror law”, their right to receive state advertising would be seized until the case is resolved. Based on the same regulation, media employees who have committed crimes that are in the scope of the above-mentioned crimes will be dismissed from their positions within five days. Media outlets that do not abide by this regulation will lose their right to state advertising. With this regulation, officially distributed advertising is now used as a threat against editorial independence and job safety.

According to the BİA Media Monitoring Report of 2020 (published in January 2021), the Press Advertisement Institution (BİK) fined Sözcü, Evrensel, BirGün, Cumhuriyet, and Korkusuz newspapers over their critical publications by cutting their public ads for a total of 276 days. Evrensel newspaper, with a public ad cut for 114 days, became the newspaper deprived of its public ads for the longest period of time. By January 2021, BİK has not placed a notice in Evrensel newspaper for 482 days, says news published in bianet. 88 percent of the fines that BİK gave to newspapers in Istanbul in 2020 were given to these five newspapers (Bildirici, February 2021).

In January 2021, as its latest given ad bans, BİK also gave a 3-day ban on Evrensel as it reported that Cumhuriyet newspaper correspondents were summoned to testify in court because of their articles about the residence of Fahrettin Altun, the head of the Presidency’s Communications Directorate (Evrensel, January 27, 2021).

Among the ad bans given for "violating the Principles of Press Ethics", the newspapers circulated in İstanbul ranked first with 318 days of ad bans. The newspapers in Balıkesir with 80 days, Tekirdağ with 30 days, Sakarya with 16 days, and Gaziantep with 15 days followed İstanbul (Bildirici February 2021). The Presidency’s Communication Center (CİMER) does not share the names of those newspapers.

In February 2020, Reporters without Borders (RSF), International Press Institute (IPI), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) called on the BİK to immediately end the ban on state advertising that the Turkish authorities have imposed on two independent newspapers, Evrensel and BirGün.

The increasing ad bans on newspapers by the BİK in 2019 and 2020 raised concerns about its stance as the critical newspapers against the government such as Evrensel, Cumhuriyet and BirGün are among those hit with the ad bans by BİK. Another concern related to the bans based on “press-ethics violation” is that there is a growing trend imposing the bans over 30-45 days, which was regarded as a trend of BİK. In the report published by main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Utku Çakırözer, these bans are regarded as arbitrary as they are without any court decisions (February 2021).

BİK does not publish information about which newspapers received ad bans and CİMER does not answer this question. Only way to learn it is through the news published by these newspapers. Therefore, it is not possible for the public to receive the whole picture about the criteria and fairness of these bans. 

As noted by Bildirici, according to the 195 numbered law enacted in 1961, the scope of duty of BİK is limited to newspapers and magazines. In fact, responding to the MOM team's question via the CİMER, the BİK admits that its area of responsibility is limited to printed media outlets. However, the BİK has also been inspecting the online editions of those newspapers since mid-2019 and giving ad-bans due to the news in those editions.

All these actions are seen as an attempt to silence critical media in Turkey.

Media and advertising investments 

According to the estimated data of the Advertisers Association published in April 2021, 13 billion 976 million TRY of media and advertising investments, which totaled 17 billion 469 million TRY in 2020, were media investments. While the sum of press, TV, and radio constituted 41 percent of these investments, investments in digital were 54 percent. Television media investments amounted to 5 billion TRY, which marked an increase of 23 percent when compared to the previous year. The same data indicate that total television viewing times increased significantly in the second quarter of 2020, with the increase in the time spent at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Media investments for radio decreased by 10 percent compared to last year. Radio investments ranked last with 2 percent.

According to the March 2020 report of the Advertisers' Association, television investments, total media and advertising investments grew by 5 percent in 2019 when compared to 2018 and received the largest share with 46 percent. The total investment was worth 4 billion 68 million TRY. Online advertising represented the fastest growing sector and held the second-largest share by 33.3 percent with a 19 percent growth. However, this increase in digital media sales does not necessarily affect “news portal” only, except for the websites of a couple of popular newspapers, but mainly goes to free mail providers and other portals. Newspaper is the most popular media after TV. According to data made public by the Advertisers' Association, the sector declined by 25,9 percent in 2019; so, newspapers only got a 6.5 percent share of advertising.

Regulations on shareholding

A new law passed in 2011, "The Law on the Establishment and Broadcasting Services of Radios and Televisions", introduced restrictions on media ownership: "In the case of multiple media service providers held by a shareholder, the annual total commercial communication income of media service provider enterprises where a real or legal entity has direct or indirect shareholding may not exceed 30 percent of the total commercial communication income of the sector for the relevant year."

Article 19/F under this law also states that foreign capital of a media company cannot exceed 50 percent of the capital receipts of this company (income received by the company which is non-recurring in nature).

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