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Second massive fine in six months against media group critical of Turkish PM Erdogan raises press freedom concerns

Dogan Media Group a high-profile target

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 8 September 2009 - Dogan Yayin Holding, owners of the Dogan Media Group, Turkey's largest media conglomerate, announced on Tuesday that Turkey's Finance Ministry had levied an unprecedented TL 3.75 billion, or 1.74 billion Euro, fine against them for alleged "tax irregularities."

The huge penalty, handed down following examinations of tax reports from 2005, 2006 and 2007, follows a 345 million Euro fine against the media group in February of this year.

In a statement, the holding company denied all the allegations and said it intended to use every legal means possible to fight the decision.

The second, enormous fine has raised fresh concerns about media freedom in Turkey. Turkish media sources who asked not to be named told IPI they were convinced that the penalty constituted "political pressure on the media," and an "attempt to cease opposition reporting."

Ferai Tinc, the chairperson of the IPI National Committee in Turkey, said in a statement to the IPI Secretariat in Vienna: "This fine, which is far exceeding the cost of the Dogan entity itself, cannot be considered as a penalty. This is direct seizure and clearing off / liquidating a media organization."

The Dogan Media Group has recently been a high-profile target of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has frequently made outspoken statements criticising the media group's publications and broadcasters, and calling on his supporters to boycott Dogan - and other - newspapers.

Erdogan's verbal attacks on the media peaked in February this year, with government supporters physically attacking journalists during a speech given by the prime minister at the inauguration of an Istanbul metro station, in which he chastised the media for "standing by others rather than standing by the prime minister of the Turkish Republic."

It was also in February that Turkish tax authorities imposed the first, 345 million Euro fine on the Dogan Media Group for an alleged overdue payment after sales of some of the group's assets.

"Although IPI can make no comment on the substance of the penalty, events in the early part of this year, which saw Prime Minister Erdogan wage a war of words against the media, leave in doubt the intent behind this fine. IPI has a genuine concern that the impetus behind the original tax investigation was more motivated by political and personal calculations rather than a genuine desire to carry out a full and fair investigation of the Dogan Media Group's financial circumstances."
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