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Pro-gov’t Turkish daily features main opposition leader in lead story for first time

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The leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Özgür Özel, has been featured for the first time, and even described in a positive light, in the lead story of the staunchly pro-government Sabah daily following the party’s victory in the local elections held on March 31.

Sabah is run by the pro-government Turkuvaz Group, Turkey’s largest media corporation, and is headed by Serhat Albayrak, the brother of Berat Albayrak, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law and a former finance minister.

In its lead story on Monday, the daily ran an interview with CHP leader Özel a week after his party emerged victorious in the local elections for the first time in almost half a century with 37.7 percent of the nationwide vote. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) trailed in second place for the first time in 22 years, receiving 35.4 percent of the vote.

Özel said in an interview with Sabah columnist Yavuz Donat that he would not avoid talking to President Erdoğan and that he respects his position as president of the country.

The CHP leader also said he would call Erdoğan to recognize and celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid, which begins on Wednesday, and would ask for an appointment with him.

Özel also noted that his party may strongly oppose Erdoğan’s government but would do so while maintaining political courtesy.

Özel was elected CHP leader at a party congress in November, defeating the party’s longtime leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who lost the presidential race against Erdoğan in May.

A major story featuring the opposition leader in the staunchly pro-government Sabah daily came as a surprise to many.

Journalist Altan Sancar wrote on X that he bought of a copy of the newspaper from a kiosk to make sure that it was true that Sabah ran an interview with Özel as its lead story.

Opposition politicians in Turkey generally get little to no coverage in newspapers or on TV stations run by pro-government media companies. They are also largely ignored even by the country’s state-run news agency, Anadolu, and Turkish state broadcaster TRT.

Some social media users, such as Sky News news producer Güldenay Somut, interpreted the development as “a notable departure from the media group’s longstanding editorial stance.”

 

Erdoğan has been harshly criticized for putting the Turkish media under his absolute control, particularly after a coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016. Following the failed putsch, dozens of critical journalists were arrested and hundreds of media outlets closed down as part of a government-led post-coup crackdown.

Turkey, which has a poor record on freedom of the press, was ranked 165th among 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, plunging 16 places from its ranking of 149th in 2022.

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