On October 30, 2019, 45 media staff, from journalists to photographers to graphic designers, woke up to written notices from the management of Hürriyet, once Turkey’s most prominent daily newspaper, informing them of their dismissals.
The move came after a year after Hürriyet was purchased by the pro-government conglomerate Demirören Group. The sale is part of a wider trend of “media capture” in Turkey in which government-aligned owners take control of previously independent news organizations.
Since the dismissals, not one employee has received their redundancy entitlements. Altogether, the 45 staff members accumulated 505 years of employment. The staff meanwhile have taken the company to court but to date not a single case has been settled.
The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, calls on the Demirören Group to compensate the journalists in line with their legal obligations.
The staff members were fired just as the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) was about to reach the exact number of membership needed to get official authority to sit at the table with the employer in order to make negotiations for the employee salaries.
“The Demirören group is one of the richest media companies in the country. There is no justification for the company’s refusal to compensate staff for their years of work. It reveals a schocking degree of contempt for journalists”, IPI Head of Europe Advocacy Oliver Money-Kyrle said.
He added: “The capture of mainstream media by corporations close to the government has been one of the most damaging and defining strategies to muzzle independent journalism in Turkey. A further capturing of the courts that has undermined the rule of law ensures that journalists, even those seeking simple compensation on labour issues, cannot rely on getting a fair hearing.”
According to the journalists who were laid off – some of whom are still unemployed one year later – so far they:
- were unlawfully dismissed for their membership of a union;
- have not received the redundancy compensation legally due to them;
- have not been paid for their overtime;
- worked a total of 505 years for the newspaper; and
- are still waiting for the courts to rule on the lawsuits filed a year ago.
Hürriyet, which has the third-highest circulation among newspapers in Turkey, was bought by Demirören Group in 2018. The sale completed Demirören’s buy out of the prominent Doğan Media Group after previously having acquired the newspapers Milliyet and Vatan in 2011, which led to the dismissal of many journalists critical of the government at those two newspapers, including Derya Sazak, Hasan Cemal and Can Dündar.
IPI member Banu Tuna was an editor at Hürriyet and director of the TGS Istanbul branch. She recalled no longer being able to log into her e-mail account and then learning she was one of the 45 to be dismissed.
“Apart from the pressure on media freedom, this is also a sign that the social state has collapsed in Turkey”, Tuna said. “The state is not standing with employees, the state is in solidarity with the bosses and company owners. What Demirören Media did was an offence under the Labour Law. But look what we are still going through after a year, we are being agonized in the courtrooms. Normally, these types of cases should take eight months including the appeal.”
Tuna said that when Demirören Group bought the newspaper, Hürriyet’s journalists knew the situation would eventually come to this point and that was the reason why union membership increased. She was surprised it took them this long to fire them.
Tuna described how the management gradually increased censorship from the top making it “unbearable to work there”. Her article on the environmental costs of the TurkStream pipeline was censored, she said.
İpek Yezdani, also a member of IPI, worked as a foreign news editor and senior diplomatic correspondent at the paper. ‘’The Demirören Group is violating the law”, Yezdani said. “It is their legal obligation to pay us compensation. The money Demirören has in its bank account is our money. It’s no different than a thief coming to your home and stealing your money’’. Yezdani said she is still waiting for the first hearing of her case. ‘’The owners of Hürriyet are exploiting 505 years of labour.’’
The dismissal of the Hürriyet staff was also recorded in the European Commission’s annual enlargement progress report on Turkey, which stated that “in October 2019, the Hürriyet newspaper fired 45 media staff with no compensation, 43 of whom were dismissed for their trade union activities.” Membership of a trade union is a constitutional right making their dismissal for union membership illegal.