Mehmet Fatih Saraç, an executive at the Habertürk daily and TV station whose name made the headlines in early February when a phone call between he and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was leaked onto the Internet, revealing that Erdoğan had instructed Saraç to censor the broadcasts of opposition leaders, was removed from the masthead of the Habertürk daily on Tuesday.
Saraç, popularly known as “Alo Fatih?” (Hello Fatih?) following the scandal, will now work as deputy chairman of the Ciner Media Group, which issued a statement on the same day explaining that the reassignment had been carried out upon Saraç's request.
In a voice recording leaked on Feb. 7, a voice allegedly belonging to Erdoğan can be heard intervening in the Habertürk TV station's reporting, ordering Saraç to stop the broadcast of a speech by Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli.
In the recording, which is claimed to have been made on July 14 of last year, Erdoğan allegedly reproaches Saraç for broadcasting a press conference in which Bahçeli harshly criticized the government. The Habertürk news station, which aired the broadcast, is part of the Ciner Media Group. In the call, Erdoğan allegedly tells Saraç: “Fatih, are you watching the press conference [of Bahçeli] currently being aired [on Habertürk]? Fatih, you are not aware of what you are doing.”
In another leaked phone conversation claimed to be between Erdoğan and Saraç, the prime minister is heard instructing Saraç to remove a Habertürk news ticker quoting Bahçeli, who called for President Abdullah Gül to step in and ease the tensions during the Gezi Park protests of last June.
A third audio recording exposed Erdoğan's alleged instruction to reduce the station's coverage of main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) İstanbul mayoral candidate Mustafa Sarıgül.
Erdoğan later admitted to a reporter that he had called Saraç to censor the news ticker on Habertürk TV. Claiming that he had made the call to stop slander against himself, Erdoğan suggested that he might have called other media outlets from time to time. Though he did not comment on the other audio recordings, neither did he deny them.
The scandal reached new heights when the editor-in-chief of the Habertürk daily, Fatih Altaylı, admitted in a TV interview with journalist Cüneyt Özdemir that not only is Habertürk under excessive government pressure, so is all of Turkish media.
In still further leaked recordings, Saraç allegedly called Bilal Erdoğan, the prime minister's son, to ask him for a bank account number, saying that someone named Ali Kibar would like to make a donation worth TL 1 million to the Turkish Youth and Education Foundation (TÜRGEV), of which Bilal Erdoğan is an executive board member. When Saraç tells Bilal Erdoğan that Kibar will donate the sum to TÜRGEV, Bilal Erdoğan responds by asking whether the money is zakat (alms prescribed by Islam) or something else. Saraç replies that the money is not being given as zakat.
Ciner Holding CEO Turgay Ciner recently ended his partnership with Saraç by selling his 60 percent share in UCZ Mağazacılık Ticaret A.Ş., which is owned by Park Holding.
Arınç's remarks on corruption censored by Anadolu
Some remarks made by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç during a televised program on Sunday evening were censored by the state-run Anadolu news agency.
When sending the broadcast to its subscribers, the agency cut some parts of Arınç's speech that might be considered critical of members of the government who have been implicated in corruption and bribery.
When the program's hosts asked Arınç how he had bought the house in Ankara where he currently lives, he said: “I decided to buy it before its construction was completed. My savings up until then were not enough to pay even half the cost of the house. I received a bank loan, agreeing to pay TL 7,000 monthly. There is a saying, ‘Too much talk cannot be without lies, and too much wealth cannot be without haram [forbidden in Islam].' And there is another saying, ‘The poor will enter paradise before the rich.' I mean, hard times will be waiting for the rich. Especially if they made their fortune through haram means,” he said.
The deputy prime minister's remarks were considered an indirect reference to the growing wealth of Prime Minister Erdoğan's family. The prime minister and several of his family members remain at the center of harsh criticisms due to claims that they have amassed a great fortune through corruption and bribery.
During the program, Arınç also said he could not respond to claims that former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan had accepted a watch worth 300,000 Swiss francs (TL 700,000) as a bribe from Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who was arrested but later released pending trial as part of a major corruption and bribery operation. “If you ask me about his [Çağlayan's] watch and his son's money, I am too embarrassed to give a response,” Arınç said.
The deputy prime minister said a verse of the Quran says Muslims will be tested by their children and their wealth. “This is not an easy test. May God protect us from such a test,” he added.
Arınç's remarks were, again, perceived as an implicit criticism of Erdoğan, as a voice recording allegedly featuring the voice of the prime minister asking his son Bilal to dispose of large sums of money hidden in five houses was recently leaked to the Internet.
A voice recording posted on a video sharing website last week allegedly features the voice of Erdoğan ordering his son to dispose of vast amounts of cash -- as much as $1 billion, according to a note included in the video by the uploaders. In the recording -- the authenticity of which has not yet been verified -- Erdoğan can be heard telling his son to "zero" large sums of money hidden in several relatives' homes on Dec. 17, 2013, the day police raided a number of locations in the first stage of a wide-reaching investigation. The prime minister allegedly asks Bilal to dispose of the money by distributing it among several prominent businessmen.
Meanwhile, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) office in Antalya's Kepez district has issued a statement to local and nationwide media outlets, saying that the office will cancel its subscriptions to those dailies that produce insufficient coverage of its activities.