Further leaks on direct censorship in Turkey: PM had live broadcast of opposition leader cut off on private TV

In a voice recording leaked on Saturday, the alleged voice of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can be heard intervening with a news station’s reporting by instructing a top manager to stop broadcasting a speech by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader.

This is the second voice recording in the past week demonstrating the prime minister’s alleged interference with the media.

According to the voice recording, which was broadcasted on Halk TV and reported on by the T24 news portal, Erdoğan reproached Fatih Saraç, deputy chairman of Ciner Media Group, over the phone for broadcasting a press meeting of MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli in which he is harshly criticizing the government. The Habertürk news station, which aired the broadcast, belongs Ciner.

The date of the recording is said to be July 14 of last year, and Erdoğan allegedly made the call to Saraç, saying: “Fatih, are you watching the press meeting [of Bahçeli] currently being aired [on Habertürk]? Fatih, you are not aware of what you are doing.”

When, in response, Saraç allegedly told Erdoğan that Habertürk customarily broadcasts parliamentary group meetings of all political parties represented in Parliament, the prime minster exasperatedly said: “I can’t believe it! Do you have to broadcast such a thing?”

Saraç, apparently feeling concerned following the prime minister’s critical remarks, responded: “Yes, sir. I’ll get it [the broadcast] stopped immediately. I’m sorry.” After hanging up the phone, Saraç reportedly calls the television station to tell those in charge of the broadcast to cut off the feed of Bahçeli’s press meeting.

To express how sorry he felt for having committed such a “mistake,” Saraç then called Bilal Erdoğan, the son of the prime minister, and asked him to communicate Saraç’s feelings to his father, according to the voice recording published on the news portal. “I wish our respected elder did not worry. When he feels worried, I also feel worried,” Saraç allegedly told Bilal.

MHP leader Bahçeli said during a speech in Ankara on Saturday, “It looks as if those who are called Fatih have become servants.” He was taking a jibe at Saraç, whose first name is Fatih, which means conqueror.

Saraç also told Bilal that Habertürk follows the example of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) in its broadcasting policy. “When TRT airs [a certain speech of an opposition leader], then we also air it. We use the TRT as an example. We broadcast live all those things that TRT airs live,” Saraç allegedly told Bilal over the phone.

Records allege PM had three journalists fired at Habertürk following critical news report

In yet another newly leaked voice recording that was uploaded on YouTube by Twitter user Haramzadeler, meaning “sons of thieves” in Turkish, it was revealed that three journalists working for the Habertürk daily were allegedly fired for secretly selecting a news report criticizing deficiencies in the public health system to be published in the İstanbul edition of Habertürk in September of last year.   

In the voice recording, Erdoğan allegedly called Ciner Media Group’s Saraç to rebuke him for the critical report that appeared in the daily, which is part of the Ciner Media Group, on Sept. 24.   

The prime minster allegedly told the Saraç that such stories presented with titles belittling all that the government has achieved in public health would cause its achievements to look worthless. In response, Saraç reportedly said: “Yes, sir. This is a shame on our part. This will never happen again.”

In another voice recording also leaked last week, Erdoğan called Saraç and gave him instructions to stop running a news ticker in which the MHP leader called on President Abdullah Gül to intervene and decrease tension during the Gezi Park protests, which rocked the country at the beginning of last summer.

“It is very surprising… There is no need for such things [to be displayed on television],” Erdoğan allegedly said to Saraç on June 4, 2013, while he was on an official visit to Morocco. According to the voice recording, Saraç responded to Erdoğan, who was apparently vexed by the MHP leader’s comment that the president should intervene, thereby sidelining the prime minister, saying, “I will deal with it immediately, sir.”

According to a report in the Karşı daily, the first edition of which was printed on Sunday, Erdoğan also called Saraç to tell him to end a weekly program on Show TV which regularly hosts Yaşar Nuri Öztürk, a prominent Muslim theologian known for his criticism of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

In May of last year, the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) confiscated media outlets owned by famous businessman Mehmet Emin Karamehmet, one of which Show TV is a part of, for violating a contract with the TMSF and failing to make payments on his debt to the fund. The TMFS sold the channel at the beginning of June to the Ciner Media Group without a public tender.

The voice recording in which the prime minister allegedly instructed Saraç to stop running the news ticker, while the Gezi Park protests were at their peak, has amply demonstrated to many how far the prime minister is willing to go in his efforts to control the media.

For Atilla Kart, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Erdoğan’s interference represents much more than a mere attempt to apply censorship on the media. “This indicates — more than simple interference in the media — the formation of a dictatorial [governing] structure that puts fundamental rights and freedoms in jeopardy,” Kart previously told Today’s Zaman.