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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Turkish press freedom fears as Erdogan ally to buy Hurriyet 

Dogan Group is one of Turkey's few independent media companies

This picture taken on March 22,2018 shows a man standing beneath the Hurriyet newspaper's logo at the Dogan media group complex in Istanbul. Ozan Kose / AFP Photo
This picture taken on March 22,2018 shows a man standing beneath the Hurriyet newspaper's logo at the Dogan media group complex in Istanbul. Ozan Kose / AFP Photo

One of Turkey's few remaining independent media companies announced plans to sell its newspapers and TV stations to a businessman close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday.

In a statement to the Istanbul stock market, Dogan Holding revealed talks with Demiroren Holding for the $890 million sale of Turkey’s largest media group. Included in the transfer will be Hurriyet, Turkey’s best-selling newspaper, Dogan News Agency as well as CNN Turk and Kanal D TV stations.

The negotiations come amid heightened fears over press freedom in Turkey, which has jailed more than 150 journalists since an attempted coup in July 2016.

"We initiated the talks regarding the sale of all of our components which operate in print and visual media," Dogan Holding said.

The sale comes ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for next year that could see Mr Erdogan tighten his grip on power.

The media arm of 82-year-old Aydin Dogan’s business empire has faced increased pressure since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 and faced a record $2.5 billion tax fine in 2009 that many saw as politically motivated.

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The sale to Demiroren Holding, run by Erdogan Demiroren, 79, concentrates nearly all of Turkey's media in the hands of presidential allies.

"Turkish mass media industry comes under the direct political control of President Erdogan," Kadri Gursel, a prominent Turkish journalist who was released from prison last year, said on Twitter.

Others questioned the legality of the sale under competition law.

"This sale creates a monopoly and if the competition authority makes a correct and impartial decision it should not allow this sale,” Ozgur Ozel, deputy chairman of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said.

He added that the deal was "not an unexpected development but a worrying development".

Tuna Beklevic, a former AKP adviser who has declared he will stand against Mr Erdogan in the presidential race, also voiced concerns about the transfer. "The Turkish competition authority cannot legally give a green light to the sale of Dogan Media Group to the Demiroren Group," he said.

"If approved, the authority would act against its own code and become a participant to a serious crime. The law is very clear and the sale should not be allowed."

Dogan Media Group's outlets have avoided antagonising the government in recent years, employing pro-government columnists alongside more independent writers. CNN Turk was widely ridiculed in 2013 when it aired a documentary on penguins as the Gezi Park protests unfolded in Istanbul.

The group was forced to sell Milliyet and Vatan newspapers to Mr Demiroren, listed by Forbes magazine as Turkey’s 45th richest person, in 2011. His company has interests including energy, mining, real estate and manufacturing.

Mr Demiroren, who Turkish media reported has a foreign partner for the buy-out, is a regular visitor to Mr Erdogan’s palace. In 2014, a leaked tape featured a sobbing Mr Demiroren being chastised by Mr Erdogan over a news article on the Kurdish peace process.

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