With their sizeable public stakes, companies like Turkish Airlines (THY), Halkbank, Vakıfbank, Ziraat Bank, Emlak Real Estate, Çaykur and Avea have all seen their shares in sales and ratings drop, as those of newspapers and TV stations swell. As these state institutions support the pro-government media with big advertising money, they give almost no ads to any media outlets which are seen as taking a critical stance towards the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Despite all this assistance, though, the ratings and sales percentages for pro-government media have barely changed.
It has been alleged that large lines of credit from certain state banks were used to ease the purchasing of the pro-government newspapers. In the wake of the June 7 elections, in which the government that has supported them — and which they in turn have supported right back — has lost, debates have started over how the pro-government papers are going to pay back the credit extended to them.
In fact, it does appear as though large crises confront the media groups either purchased with large loans from public banks, or bought through the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF). Notably, in 2007, the Sabah-ATV Group was sold by the TMSF to the Çalık Group for $1 billion in a public tender which only the latter attended. In fact, some $750 million for this particular sale was made available to the Çalık Group by credit extended by Halkbank and Vakıfbank, both publicly-owned. And while it still remains unclear whether or not this line of credit was repaid, the Sabah media group was sold once again to another pro-government business venture. It was also alleged that in this sale, money was collected from a group of business figures and then used to purchase the media group in yet another state-run bidding tender.
Just how these business figures intend to repay the loans and lines of credit extended by these state banks is a whole different question, one whose answer has been thus far concealed. When Republican People’s Party (CHP) Izmir deputy Ahmet Ersin submitted a parliamentary query regarding the fate of the credit extended to the Calik Group during the purchase of the Sabah media group, the answer was withheld on the grounds of it being a “trade secret.”
When allegations arose concerning “pooled money” used to purchase both ATV and the Sabah newspaper last year from the Calik Group by a group of pro-government business figures, businessman Nihat Ozdemir was quoted as admitting that he himself had given $100 million for the transaction to go through. In one of the taped phone conversations that hit the Internet in the wake of the Dec. 17-25 corruption investigations, it was said that some of the newspapers’ publishing directors were asking for “cash support” from Halkbank Director Suleyman Aslan for their salaries. A voice alleged to belong to the publishing director for the Star newspaper, Mustafa Karaalioğlu, can be heard on one of the tapes saying: “I am unable to pay the salaries at the paper. Send 2 million lira from there.”
Prominent whistleblower and Twitter phenomenon Fuat Avni has posted a list of the names of companies apparently unable to pay back their state bank credit lines but which are also strangely not going bankrupt.
As many in Turkey are aware, the İhlas Finance Company — a part of the large İhlas Holding — fell deeply in debt in 2001, before going bankrupt. Most of this money has not been repaid as of yet. However, despite warnings that people ought not to open court cases against them unless they wished to risk “legal repercussions,” and wild pronouncements such as “I’ll sell my jacket if I have to” from the Oren family, which owns Ihlas, the company has neither been trying to sell off its assets, nor has it passed up on the opportunity to participate in state bidding tenders. Ihlas thus manages pick up large urban renewal project contracts but still fails to pay its debts to public banks, raising quite a few questions as to how any of this could be legitimate.
According to the ADEX report on advertising from The Nielsen Company, it was the Sabah and Star newspapers which emerged as the top ad champions in 2014. Sabah, out of all the pro-government papers, got the lion’s share of the public institution ads, reaping nearly TL 25 million in 2014. Coming in second place was the pro-government paper, Star. Next in line were pro-government papers like Yeni Şafak, Akşam, Güneş, Takvim, Milliyet, Yeni Akit and Türkiye. At the same time, papers such as Zaman, Bugün, Yeni Asya, Cumhuriyet, Birgün and Sözcü received almost nothing in the way of advertisements from any institutions with public stakes.
Millions poured into unwatched TV channels
Pro-government TV media has been awash in ads from public institutions over the past few years. According to Nielsen data, four channels belonging to the ATV Media Group saw a full 272,286 seconds of ads from companies like Çaykur, THY, Vakıfbank, Ziraat, Halkbank, and Emlak Konut. To compare, pro-government owned channels like A Haber, ATV, A Spor and ATV Europe, as well as NTV, Kanal 24, TGRT Haber, TVNet, Ülke, Kanal A, Kanal 7, Habertürk and Beyaz TV picked up 1,170,081 seconds worth of ads from companies with public stakes, while CNN Türk, Kanal D and Fox TV were only able to get some 89,939 seconds of ad time from these same companies. In the meantime, channels like Samanyolu Haber TV, Samanyolu TV, Meltem TV and Bugün TV were able to get not even one second of ad time from these same companies and institutions.