Turkish anchorman sacked for declaring stance against constitutional change

Irfan Degirmenci, Press Freedom, Kanal D, Aydin Dogan, Constitutional Referendum, Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Irfan Degirmenci on his morning show on Kanal D

A famous Turkish anchorman, Irfan Degirmenci, has been sacked from his job after going on Twitter to declare that he would be voting against constitutional change in the country’s upcoming referendum.

In a series of tweets posted on 10 February, Degirmenci began by saying, “#No to those who see scientists, artists, writers, cartoonists, workers, farmers, miners, journalists and everyone who doesn’t bow down as enemies.”

The influential journalist, who presented the morning news hour on Turkey’s Kanal D, was dismissed for violating impartiality, the channel said in a statement.

“Our primary principle at Dogan Media Group is neutrality. Our friend Irfan Degirmenci violated this principle by going on social media on 10 February and sharing messages, thus becoming party to an issue that is on the public’s agenda.”

The decision has been met with criticism however, with many commentators pointing out that other well-known public personalities – including journalists who work at Kanal D – who have declared support for constitutional change have not been penalised.

Dogan Media Group also reportedly cancelled Posta daily columnist Hakan Celenk’s contract last week days after he sarcastically criticised government plans for the constitutional referendum. More than 130 media outlets critical of the Turkish government have been shut down since the coup attempt, with at least 144 journalists imprisoned according to Turkey’s Journalists’ Union.

A campaign was launched to boycott the Dogan Publishing Group, which run by Aydin Dogan, is Turkey’s equivalent of Sky News and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Dogan has had run-ins with previous Erdogan governments and was fined 3.75 billion Turkish Liras (more than a billion dollars) after then prime minister Erdogan pushed for Dogan’s companies to be audited amid wrangling over who would control mainstream media. However the pair reconciled following last July’s failed coup attempt, when Erdogan called the public out onto the streets against the putschists via Dogan’s CNN Turk channel.

The incident has continued trending on social media for three days and shows the polarisation and division in the country regarding the 18-article constitutional change. Many other public figures have come out in support of Degirmenci, including some working for the Dogan Group.

Opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party deputy Ziya Pir tweeted the Kanal D logo embedded within the president’s surname to criticise Degirmenci’s dismissal and highlight Erdogan’s sway over the media.

Last week the government issued a new state of emergency decree law which revoked the Supreme Election Board’s authority to penalise radio and television stations that broadcast partial content.

Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu criticised the decision saying the new law meant that “only pro-government and pro-change propaganda will be broadcast.”

The 18-article constitutional reform foresees wide-ranging executive powers being handed over to the president, the liquidation of the prime ministerial position and the right for the president to retain ties with a political party. The number of MPs in parliament will be raised from 550 to 600 and the age of election reduced to 18.

Critics say the changes will erode checks and balances, nullify parliament and afford the president sweeping powers in the legislative, executive and judicial spheres.