ISTANBUL, Turkey — A top conglomerate Thursday said it was in talks to sell Turkey’s largest media holding to a tycoon close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, raising fears of a new tightening of government control on the press.
Dogan Holding said in a statement that talks had begun on the sale of Dogan Media Group to the Demiroren Group of magnate Erdogan Demiroren for around $1 billion (810 million euros).
Dogan Media Group comprises some of Turkey’s most prestigious media names including the Hurriyet daily newspaper, the Fanatik sports daily, the CNN-Turk rolling news service and the Kanal-D channel.
The respected CNN-Turk and Hurriyet, while in no way anti-government, had been regarded as holding a relatively independent editorial line in recent years.
However, the Demiroren Holding is seen as more friendly to Erdogan.
The takeover plan, first reported by the T24 website on Wednesday, would see the government tightening its grip over the media at a hugely sensitive time ahead of presidential elections next year.
“By this huge takeover, the Turkish mass media industry comes under the direct political control of President Erdogan,” wrote prominent Turkish journalist Kadri Gursel, himself released from jail late last year, on Twitter.
Demiroren already bought the Milliyet and Vatan newspapers in 2011 from Dogan Holding, with the formerly mainstream outlets toeing the government line since then.
His son, Yildirim, also holds a powerful role as head of the Turkish Football Federation. He is a regular visitor to the presidential palace.
The Dogan Media Group is valued at $1.1 billion, although this is reduced to $890 million when debts are considered, according to the statement.
Company founder Aydin Dogan has had an uneasy relationship with Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) since the party came to power in 2002.
Dogan Holding, which also has interests in energy, trade and insurance, faced a record $2.5 billion in tax fines in 2009, sparking debate over government pressure on critical mainstream media.
Subsequently, the media group was forced to sell Milliyet and Vatan newspapers and the Star TV channel.
Observers have noted that in recent months Hurriyet has taken care not to irritate the government in its news stories, despite having some critical columnists.
Dozens of journalists have been jailed after the failed July 2016 coup aimed at unseating Erdogan and blamed by Ankara on US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen.