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Pro-government group buys Turkish media giant in potential blow to free press

Media group had of late muted its criticism of government policies as it came under increasing attack
Front pages of Turkish newspapers bearing headlines a day after Turkey's referendum in 2017 (AFP)

ISTANBUL, Turkey – One of Turkey's few relatively independent media organisations was sold to a pro-government corporation on Wednesday, potentially marking a new era without any independent or critical mainstream Turkish media.

Initial reports suggested a deal had been reached where the Dogan Media Group would transfer all its media assets to the Demiroren Media Group. The Demiroren Media Group is a subsidiary of Demiroren Holding.

The deal was reported to be worth $1.2bn and will include Dogan's flagship newspapers Hurriyet, Fanatik, Posta and Hurriyet Daily News, and television channels CNN-Turk, Kanal D among other interests including magazines.   

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Two separate sources within the Dogan management group confirmed the deal to Middle East Eye and said an announcement to the stock exchange was due later on Wednesday evening.

The Dogan group entered the media business in 1979 and at one point in the 1990s and early 2000s controlled 60 percent of Turkish media.

Media outlets operating under its banner were often critical of the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) policies and regularly attracted the wrath of ruling politicians and their supporters.

But it was on a Dogan-owned television channel, CNN-Turk, that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan connected via an iPhone app on 15 July 2016 and appealed to the nation to take to the streets against an ongoing coup attempt.

The media group had of late muted its criticism of government policies as it came under increasing attack. But it still remained one of the last few mainstream media outlets unwilling to succumb to government pressure.

The Dogan media group was known for its centrist nationalist line. At the height of its power, some of the newspaper's staff were reported to claim that they determined whether governments survived or fell in Turkey.

One of the first attempts targeting the Dogan Media Group was in 2009 when it was handed an unprecedented fine of 6.8bn lira ($2.4bn) for alleged tax evasion and fraud. The group and the relevant government body later reached an agreement and they settled for a four million lira ($1m) sum.  

The Dogan group also saw its premises attacked by government supporters on occasion, such as on 6 September 2015 when the Istanbul offices of the Hurriyet newspaper were attacked by a rock-throwing mob for allegedly misquoting Erdogan.

The Demiroren group is known as a staunch supporter of Erdogan and the ruling AKP. In May 2011, the same group bought the Milliyet and Vatan newspaper from the Dogan group.

The editorial stance and content of those newspapers became pro-government after the sale.

Demiroren Holding is primarily active in the energy industry but also in other areas including construction and tourism services. Yildirim Demiroren, the son of Demiroren Holding's president Erdogan Demiroren, is also the president of the Turkish Football Federation.

Following the announcement, shares of Dogan Holding jumped more than 17 percent to 0.85 lira and its newspaper arm, Hurriyet Gazetecilik, rose 19 percent to 1.22 lira.