Turkey EU bid slipping on media fine

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Turkey’s finance ministry yesterday (14 September) defended a $2.5 billion tax fine against the country’s largest media group after criticism from the European Union and business federations.

The fine against Dogan Yayin prompted allegations that this was Ankara’s latest assault on the media group in a long-running conflict over its often hostile news coverage of the incumbent AK Party government. 

“Allegations in some media saying that Dogan Yayin Group is subject to special examination and the probe is politicised […] are seriously disturbing,” the ministry said in its first public statement on the fine. 

The European Commission on Thursday (10 September) condemned the fine, noting it was very worried and that it could affect the next annual progress report on Ankara’s EU entry bid. 

The Association of Commercial Television in Europe expressed their serious concern over the fines on Friday (11 September) and called on the Commission to continue to raise this case and the issue of independent media in accession negotiations with Turkey. 

This was the second major fine this year for Dogan Yayin, which controls more than half of the non-state media market and has been at odds with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan over its coverage of the Islamist-rooted government. 

Billionaire Aydin Dogan, majority owner of Dogan Yayin and refiner Petrol Ofisi, says his companies are under regulatory and legal pressure because of their reporting, particularly over corruption allegations. Punishment has allegedly also included being barred from energy tenders. 

The fine for alleged failure to properly pay taxes for share transfers between Dogan companies is equivalent to the market value of Dogan Yayin and its parent Dogan Holding. Dogan Yayin’s annual sales are around $2 billion. 

Dogan Yayin lost a third of its value last week after announcing the fine, which was the largest ever publicised of a Turkish company. The finance ministry says it has in the past levied bigger fines, but has refused to make them public. 

In February, the finance ministry fined it $500 million over the sale of a stake in its television unit to German publisher Axel Springer. 

The ministry said it could not give further information on the Dogan tax probe because of tax confidentially. 

“Revenue [department] inspectors have not only examined Dogan Yayin Group firms but the great majority of the media sector, and continue to examine,” the ministry said, without providing any further details. 

Dogan Yayin owns top-selling daily Hurriyet and co-owns with Time Warner the broadcaster CNN Turk. 

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

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