AWhen editor-in-chief Süleyman Sarilar addressed the viewers of his station Olay TV for the last time last Friday evening, the journalists and employees streamed into the studio, they gathered around him and clapped in protest, while Sarilar said that the station was because of the increasing pressure the government had to stop operating on the main donor. Then it got dark in the studio and on the screens.
This means that another independent voice from Turkey has fallen silent. In the hours that followed, many of the journalists who had become unemployed again spoke up on social media. Also the main presenter Nevsin Mengü, who never made a secret of her critical attitude towards the Erdogan government and was therefore fired from the news channel CNN Türk.
Olay TV does not cease operations because the RTÜK supervisory authority had revoked its license, nor because a court had banned the station. The government’s pressure on donors has simply become too great, reported editor-in-chief Sarilar frankly. The main shareholder Cavit Caglar, a textile entrepreneur from Bursa, passed the buck and accused Sarilar of giving too much space to the pro-Kurdish party HDP.
Not the first setting of the station
It is not the first time that the station that Caglar founded in 1994 has been discontinued. In 2008, the Turkish state confiscated all the companies in the over-indebted Caglar. He had previously been sentenced to several years in prison for fraud in the privatization of a bank. The long-standing close confidante of the former Prime Minister Süleyman Dermirel, however, also became important to the AKP governments because of his good relations abroad. In 2010 he got his business back, including the media.
Caglar made his last big appearance when, after the shooting down of a Russian fighter plane on the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015, he played a key role in normalizing Turkish-Russian relations with his good relations with the Kremlin. Still, Olay TV was discontinued in 2019. On November 30, 2020, he went back on the air with journalists, among whom the critics of the AKP predominated. After only 26 days, the end came on Friday.
To his editor-in-chief, Sarilar, Caglar blamed government pressure for his decision, but to the public the broadcaster’s reporting on the pro-Kurdish party HDP. The neck may have broken the broadcaster that he had broadcast a parliamentary group meeting of the HDP directly from parliament. On Turkish state television, it is not uncommon to broadcast AKP parliamentary group meetings when its chairman Erdogan speaks.
Olay TV did not break the law when broadcasting the HDP meeting. The HDP is an approved party, it is the third largest group in parliament, and the parliamentary channel also broadcasts all parliamentary groups. However, Olay TV has not followed the language regime of the media close to the government, which assumes the HDP is close to the banned PKK. Rather, Sarilar emphasized that he gave everyone a voice and kept an equal distance from all parts of polarized Turkish society. The independent publicist Murat Yetkin speculates that if the HDP hadn’t been the reason for the closure, the broadcaster would have faced a different problem.
Opposition politicians lose another vote
The fact that Olay TV broadcast a long interview with Ali Babacan, a co-founder of the AKP who founded his own party Deva in March, will not have been well received by the palace either. In the interview, he accused Erdogan of producing an “enemy of the week” to distract from the government’s failure. Babacan wants to challenge Erdogan and his AKP in the next elections.
With the end of Olay TV, opposition politicians like Babacan hardly have a chance to have their say in electronic media. Fox News remains the only opposition television channel. Only in the print media survive voices critical of the government, which, however, struggle for survival due to a lack of advertisements. The other media are under control, but have dramatically lost their circulation. The case of Olay TV is now not going to encourage investors to get into Turkish media.