When the state steals newspapers

When the state steals newspapers

What happened in Turkey on Oct. 28 is something that should enter the Guinness Book of World Records, if it ever includes a chapter on “authoritarianism.” Two newspapers and two news channels, all very critical of the government, were taken over by government-appointed “trustees.” In less polite terms, they were practically stolen by the state. 

If you haven’t seen the news, here is a summary of what happened: The media in question - dailies Bugün and Millet and TV channels KanalTürk and BugünTV - are owned by Koza İpek Holding. It was no secret that the holding’s boss, Akın İpek, has been a follower of Fethullah Gülen and a financial supporter of the Gülen Movement. Since this movement turned from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s best ally to worst enemy, every institution affiliated with it has been under legal scrutiny. Koza İpek Holding faced an investigation, too. But nothing yet has been found that is illicit.

Yet still, a famous judge (who had become famous last year by banning Twitter, at the behest of the government) took a fateful decision last Monday. He referred to an article in the penal code which says that a “trustee” can be appointed to a company if necessary to reveal any evidence, while the company goes through an investigation. He also noted Koza İpek Holding is a suspect of “terrorism.” 

But were there any credible basis for this “terrorism” charge? Were there any guns or bombs involved? Not really. It is just that the president began calling the Gülen Movement a “terrorist organization” after a corruption investigation that targeted his government. It is not a legal definition, in other words, it is political rhetoric. 

That is how “trustees” were appointed to oversee the works of Koza İpek Holding. As a matter of coincidence, all of these “trustees” were hardcore Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters. And again as a matter of coincidence, the first thing they did was storm the newspapers and TV channels owned by the holding. With dozens of policemen, they broke the gates of the media headquarters in Istanbul, got physical with some of the journalists who resisted them and finally shut down both channels. They also fired all editors-in-chiefs, and stopped the printing of the papers. On the websites of the papers, they put nice photos of the president. The conquest was over in just a day.

What is even more amazing is that all of these “trustees” will now be paid very handsome salaries by Koza İpek Holding because that is what the judge decided, for they are spending their valuable time for the public good and they need compensation (this is really a gem; theft is a universal problem, but I really have never seen a system of theft where those who steal also get paid by those whose properties they stole).   

Moreover, now many expect that these stolen media outlets will soon be fully transmuted according to the vision of their new bosses. In other words, they will become propaganda outlets for the government (well, more accurately, propaganda outlets for the president). All editors and writers will be fired and new ones will be brought in. Pro-government apparatchiks even began joking on Twitter about which one of them should be the editors-in-chiefs of the new spoils. 

This is the Turkey in which we are heading to the polls on Nov. 1. It is good that we have polls; it gives one a sense of democracy. But other than that, we don’t have much left that makes Turkey qualify as a “democracy.” We rather have a lawless, arrogant, aggressive Leviathan which is grinding its teeth more viciously every passing day.