Details have started to emerge of the dismissals of the executive editor of the pro-government

Details have started to emerge of the dismissals of the executive editor of the pro-government Star Media Group along with the editors-in-chief of two of the group’s dailies following accusations of corruption that were made in light of an investigation launched by Star owner Ethem Sancak into discrepancies between the revenues and expenditures of the newspapers.

According to a statement released by Murat Sancak, the chairman of the board of directors, Mustafa Karaalioğlu — the executive editor of the Star Media Group — and the editors-in-chief of the Star and Akşam dailies, Yusuf Ziya Cömert and Mehmet Ocaktan, were fired on Monday with the agreement of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Ethem Sancak is known for his personalfriendshipwith the president.

Both editors-in-chief were known to be very close to Erdoğan and were often accused of waging a propaganda campaign on his behalf through their newspapers’coverageagainst critical voicesand groups who are not in agreement with Erdoğan’s views. However, according to some media reports, Sancak — who has been uneasy with huge levels of spendingat the newspapers — launched an extensive investigation into the financial activities of Karaalioğlu, Cömert and Ocaktan.

There were reportedly differences of opinion between Sancak and the two editors-in-chief regarding the dailies’ editorial policy, and attempts were made to prevent Sancak from undertaking changes that he was planning,such as decreasing costs as well as revisions in the managerialandeditorial staff of the dailies.

As a result of the financial review at the dailies, it was revealed that the costs of rent, printing and personnel expenses were higher than they should have been. Following thereview, Sancak initiated a series of steps to reduce costs but Karaalioğlu, Cömertand Ocaktanresistedthe move, based on their close ties with Erdoğan who allegedly has the last say on such key issues.

As a lastresort, Sancak informed Erdoğan about the huge gap between revenues and expenses and asked the president to restructure the dailies. First, Erdoğan refused the request and instead tried to persuade Sancak to reconcile with the editors-in-chief. However,thisdid not happen and the enmity between Sancak and the two men was exacerbated.

Karaalioğlu’s recentsacking of columnist Cemil Ertem, who is known for his affiliation with Yiğit Bulut — Erdoğan’s chief economic advisor — was enough to incur Erdoğan’s ire. After this development, Erdoğan finally allowed Sancak to make the long-wished replacements within the Star and Akşam dailies.

Therewerefive key reasons for the dismissals of Karaalioğlu and Sancak. One was about astronomical payments given tocertainmanagers in the dailies; some people had contracts worth almost TL 1 million. Another reason concerned high costs in areas such as rent, personnel and transportation, as well as printing. Third, the investigation into the accounts revealed that the advertising revenues of the media group were not recorded properly, causing Sancak to believe that the men were involved in graft. The fourth reason was that thehostile atmospherebetween Sancak and the editorial boardhadreached a level that Sancak felt himself unable to tolerate and finally, Bulut was revealed to have spoken out against Karaalioğlu, Cömert and Ocaktan to Erdoğan, asking the president to fire them.

Sacked trio deny claims of corruption

Meanwhile, Karaalioğlu, Cömert and Ocaktanreleaseda joint press statement on Wednesday denying claims that they were involved in corruptionduring the course of their duties.The statement emphasized that none ofthemgained unearned income during their time in their positions andcalledthe allegations“defamation andlies.”

The three former managers were known for the manipulative reports in their dailies and for carrying out defamationcampaignsagainst civil society groups whichfight for rights and freedoms andraise their voices against government-led injustices.

Meanwhile, Ankara Bureau Representative İbrahim Kiras also announced on Wednesday that he had resigned from the Star Media Group.

CHP questions Erdoğan’s alleged involvement in dismissals

Main opposition Republican People’s Party deputy Umut Oran submitted a parliamentary question to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Wednesday asking whether President Erdoğan was involved in the dismissals of the three editors from the Star Media Group.

In his question, Oran asked whether the three key managers were sacked for having close ties and attending meetings with former President Abdullah Gül. Oran also asked about the veracity of rumors claiming that former Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) head Zahid Akman is to be appointed to the top position in the Star Media Group.

Oran continued by asking whether the government is preparing to seize a media group which was declared by the government to be part of the “parallel state” — an allegation that it has links to the Hizmet movement — in 2015 and asked Davutoğlu to confirm or deny rumors that the sacked managers will be assigned to top positions in the newly structured media group.