March 21, 2018 / 3:04 PM / 5 months ago

Pro-Erdogan group agrees to buy owner of Hurriyet newspaper, CNN Turk

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s Demiroren Holding, an unlisted firm seen as backing President Tayyip Erdogan, has agreed to buy the respected Hurriyet newspaper and broadcaster CNN Turk, an official said, a deal that could further cement media support for the government.

Demiroren has agreed to buy the media arm of Dogan Holding, a Demiroren official told Reuters, declining to be identified because the deal has not yet been made public.

The official did not give a price for the transaction, adding it would be officially announced later on Wednesday.

“The talks are progressing and an agreement has been made on the acquisition,” the official said.

No one was immediately available at Dogan to comment.

A representative for Hurriyet, which also publishes an English-language newspaper, the Hurriyet Daily News, said: “Personnel are currently being informed. A detailed statement on the transaction will be made to the Istanbul stock exchange today.”

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 on Wednesday.

Dogan Holding’s media arm and its octogenarian founder, Aydin Dogan, have long been seen as part of Turkey’s secular establishment. Erdogan has repeatedly accused the company of bias against his Islamist-rooted ruling AK Party, which the company has denied.

The deal marks an “increasing monopolisation of opinion”, said Andrew Finkel, a veteran Turkey commentator and the author of “Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know”.

“END OF AN ERA”

“It is the end of an era. Dogan tried to do this balancing act of being sort of oppositional but not so much that the government would interfere,” Finkel said.

In 2009, Dogan Media was fined $2.5 billion for unpaid taxes, in what government opponents saw as an attempt to crush media criticism of Erdogan. Following the tax bill, Aydin Dogan was forced to sell the group’s Milliyet and Vatan newspapers - to Demiroren. Since then, the papers have adopted a strong pro-government stance.

Following the transaction, 21 of Turkey’s 29 daily newspapers will be under the control of companies that back Erdogan, the left-wing Birgun newspaper said, estimating that 90 percent of Turkey’s newspaper circulation will now be pro-government.

Rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies have sharply criticized the country’s record on media freedom and human rights following a widespread crackdown after a failed coup in July 2016.

The United Nations on Wednesday called on Ankara to end its 20-month-old state of emergency, imposed after the coup, and accused it of mass arrests, arbitrary sacking and other abuses.

Turkey has said the U.N. report was full of unfounded allegations and compared the criticism to militant propaganda.

The Turkish Journalists Association says that as of January, there were 154 journalists in jail. The crackdown has seen dozens of independent media outlets shut down for what the government says are links to terrorism.

In one high-profile case last month, a court sentenced six journalists to life in jail for aiding plotters of the attempted coup, charges the journalists have denied.

In total, Turkey has arrested some 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants since the coup, the United Nations says. Ankara says its measures are necessary, given the severity of the security threats it faces.

Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul and Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Dominic Evans

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