This article was first published at Commentary and republished under Michael Rubin‘s permission.
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Last spring, as President Obama stood beside his good friend Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the White House Rose Garden, Turkish officials were raiding the media assets of the Çukurova Group, one of the last business conglomerates whose media outlets maintained an independent rather than hagiographic take on Turkey’s prime minister. Obama, of course, was silent. Not only did Obama not speak up in defense of media freedom, but he chose Sabah, a once-independent paper seized by Erdoğan’s administration and transferred to Erdoğan’s son-in-law for an op-ed about Obama’s love for Turkey.
Alas, principles of freedom and liberty appear to count little when he picks friends and foes.
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Now, word comes from Turkey that the newspapers and television stations seized have been transferred to businessman Ethem Sancak:
“Negotiations between Çukurova Holding and businessman Ethem Sancak, an experienced individual who has achieved success in the media sector, have been finalized with a deal,” the Turkmedya group, which operates the 11 sold assets, announced on Nov. 21 in a statement. The 11 Turkmedya assets, including daily newspapers Akşam and Güneş, digital pay-TV operator Digiturk and news broadcaster SkyTurk 360, were initially agreed to be sold to companies Cengiz, Kolin and Limak, all of which operate mostly in the construction sector. However, the three companies, who recently successfully made a joint tender bid for Istanbul’s third airport, had decided to withdraw their offer.
What the article does not report is that Sancak is a close Erdoğan ally. So once again the Turkish government seizes independent newspapers and television and transfers it for a fire sale price to a staunch government supporter. The best that can be said about the deal is that at least Erdoğan is not simply giving away Turkey’s once independent media outlets to family members, but branching out to unrelated supporters as well. Simply put, independent voices—whether students at Gezi Park, politicians within his own party, or journalists—are no longer welcome in the new Turkey.
Given how Obama once expressed his love for Erdoğan, perhaps it’s time for a journalist to ask, “Mr. President, what do you see in this man?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations; and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly. Between 2002 and 2004, Rubin worked as a staff adviser for Iran and Iraq in OSD/ISA/NESA at the Pentagon, in which capacity he was seconded to Iraq. A native of Philadelphia, Rubin received a B.S. degree in biology from Yale University in 1994, and a Ph.D. in history from the same institution in 1999.
You can follow Michael Rubin on Twitter @mrubin1971.