In 2012, Erdogan clearly stated that the separation of powers was preventing his big construction investment, the city hospitals project. He also stated that because of the bureaucratic oligarchy and the judiciary, the project could not be put into practice.13 He mentioned several times afterwards that he wanted the presidential system because the separation of powers was the biggest obstacle confronting economic development and causing a bottleneck in executive power. Therefore, Erdogan and his party have completed the ongoing neoliberal project and constitutional change since the 1980 military coup by synthesizing Islam with neoliberalism and arriving at the authoritarianism of today.14 Accordingly, they abolished bureaucratic obstacles one by one and privatized public enterprises and natural recourses to a degree never seen before in Turkey. As well as this, they promoted foreign capital investment to enter the country and made labour laws protecting both national and foreign employers (Yesil, 2016: 72-88). While unlawfulness was becoming ordinary and authoritarianism was becoming increasingly visible, the mainstream news media legislated this process as “democratization”. The news media also made every social movement and struggle for rights against this process invisible, called them “coup plotters”, “enemies of democracy” or “terrorists” and delegitimized their political standpoints. The reasons for the mainstream Western news media’s avoidance of this process until the Gezi uprising are the same as well: Erdogan and his party have been providing every opportunity for capital, such as low-cost labour and investment promotions and eliminating the barriers to capital flow, since they came to power. Because of this, their increasing violence and unlawfulness have been made invisible.
The main reason for this, as Ekman (2014: 103-7) emphasizes, is that the financial ties and dependencies of news media corporations have increased in the twenty-first century. The increasing number of internet-based financial actors, computer-based trade, secret hedge funds, derivatives markets, asset stripping and so on has enlarged the financial sector since the 2000s. In the meantime, the relationship between actors from journalism and the financial sector has been blurred in terms of the ownership of the mass media and the personal interests of journalists. With its corporate structure, the news media exists in an ambiguous relationship with financial actors, and there is a complicated network of relationships based on mutual interests between the news and financial sectors. This means that financialization, which is one of the main elements of accumulation by dispossession, has changed the news media in terms of political economy. “The Media Owners in Turkey” in “Networks of Dispossession” clearly shows the role of news media corporations in the process of changing the media landscape, cities and the regime. During the privatization process, the mainstream news media and the pool media have legitimized the abolition of the bureaucracy and the transition between violence and law, and have supported Erdogan’s party.15 This has happened because nearly all big projects have included the involvement of news media financiers. The network of intertwined relationships between the state, national and foreign finance sectors and the news media is the reason why the AKP has conquered the mass media.
Turkey was ranked 154 out of 180 countries in the “Reporters without Borders” (RSF) 2020 world press freedom index. It was 99 in 2002, when the AKP came to power.16 Although press freedom was almost completely destroyed by Erdogan’s regime, Turkey’s record of press freedom was very problematic before the AKP era as well. It has deteriorated during this era but the seeds of the collapse of the mainstream media were planted in the 1980s and 1990s. The primary reason for the decline in press freedom and for the collapse of the mainstream media was the change of press ownership structure. This change began in the 1980s after the military coup and accelerated in the 1990s. “The press” has turned into “the media” in this process, and for the media moguls, the media have become a business rather than a public sendee (Yiicel, 2015). In the 1980s and 1990s in Turkey, just like in Europe, public broadcasting monopolies have left their place to private monopolies; big capital groups have begun to integrate horizontally, transversely and vertically; deregulation has taken place and, most importantly, media groups have begun to dominate the banking and finance business (Adakli, 2010: 75).
Financialization has created an intertwined relationship between government control, corporate pressures and media freedoms in Turkey (Yesil, 2018: 240-1). The investments of media groups like Bilgin, Qukurova, Uzan and Dogan in banking business were one of the cornerstones of the transformation of the media, the collapse of the mainstream media and the capture of the media by Erdogan’s regime. New banking regulations were introduced after the financial crisis in 2001, and media monopolies faced state intervention. Most of the banks owned by media moguls were confiscated by the Saving Deposit Insurance Funds (SDIF), and as Adakli has said, in the mid 2000s, the Turkish Republican State became de facto the biggest media mogul in Turkey (Adakli, 2010: 77-8). SDIF were used as a widespread means of state redistribution in the media sector as explained in the third chapter, and they completed the task of accumulation by dispossession in the media sector. International capital is also a part of this accumulation by dispossession process. International corporations (including Canadian company Canwest and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp) also wanted to possess SDIF-owned media outlets like pro-Erdogan regime corporations. In the first phase of the AKP era, which was labelled a “democratic phase” by liberals but on the contrary was compatible with the neoliberal labour regime, restrictions on international media investments were loosened. AKP executives legitimized their interventions in media ownership using SDIF as a means of state redistribution with discussions on the mainstream media’s prevalent political power and influence. As emphasized by Eres and Yüksel (2018), the sales under the SDIF were presented as a means of establishing diversity and strengthening competition and were welcomed by the European Union as a step towards democratization. This process has instead created a new phenomenon in the media sphere in Turkey, drastically changing the relationship between media, politics and democracy on an unprecedented scale: Erdogan regime’s media, known as the pool media (Adakli, 2009).
As a very good example of the changing relationship between media, politics and democracy and as a reminder of the speculative and predatory style of financialization (Harvey, 2007: 36-7), we can look closely at Dogan Media’s sale to the Demiroren Group in 2018. This sale represented the largest change in media ownership in Turkey’s history. The most important detail in this sale was the role of the government-owned Ziraat Bank.17 The Demiroren Group also used credit from Ziraat Bank in order to buy Dogan media. The sale transaction was $1.2 billion USD. Finally, the political character of financialization was shown in the 2019 local elections. After the Republican People’s Party (CHP, the main opposition party) won 11 metropolitan municipalities, including the Istanbul municipality, from the AKP, two newspapers, Star and Günes, owned by the Türkmedya Group, ended their print versions.18 The reason was, allegedly, the suspension of advertisement revenue, which the Türkmedya Group was taking from the Istanbul municipality during the AKP era - a monthly amount of ten million Turkish lira.19