CNN’s stand-alone Turkish network CNN Turk, which has long been criticized for being a tool of Turkey’s increasingly anti-American dictator, is getting a new owner, raising new questions about why CNN allows its storied name to be used by the controversial network — for a lucrative licensing fee.
A reported $890 million deal will hand control of CNN Turk and other key media outlets from the Dogan group, which paid CNN a license to independently operate the news network, to a conglomerate led by Erdogan Demiroren, an even stronger supporter of Turkish strongman Tayyip Erdogan, whose repressive policies have shuttered or disrupted dozens of media operations in recent years.
Fox News asked one of CNN’s highest ranking executives about whether the sale would cause CNN to reconsider licensing its name to CNN Turk.
“We will be meeting with the new owners in due course to discuss the implications of the sale. If, following those conversations, we have any reason whatsoever to believe the journalistic integrity of the channel could be compromised by the new owners, we will revoke the license,” said Allison Gollust, CNN’s worldwide executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
It’s not clear, however, how much more CNN Turk’s oft-criticized “journalistic integrity” would have to suffer for the network to reconsider its relationship. Critics say the network that infamously aired a nature documentary about penguins - while thousands of Turkish protestors were being brutalized in the streets by Erdogan security forces back in 2013 - is already so far gone that it’s hard to imagine what will change.
"It is not that significant,” journalist Abdullah Bozkurt, who says he has been targeted by the Erdogan regime in the past, told Fox News about the sale, saying the previous ownership was “parroting Erdogan’s narrative anyway.”
Speaking before the sale, Bozkurt told the Daily Caller that “CNN Turk is already damaging the name and reputation of CNN brand.”
Gollust noted that CNN Turk operates as “a wholly independent channel,” and editorial decisions are not made by CNN's stateside executives. However, the bio of CNN executive vice president Tony Maddow specifically says he “is responsible for an international news and information portfolio that includes… CNN Turk.”
Gollust said CNN licenses its brand to several channels around the world, but claimed her company isn’t getting a piece of this deal.
“Neither Time Warner, Turner nor CNN would stand to profit in any way from the sale of Dogan empire,” she said. “We have no ownership nor financial interest whatsoever in CNN Turk, other than the license fee.”
CNN did not respond when asked why it would allow a Turkish network to use its branding for only a license fee, and declined to reveal how much CNN receives as a license fee. Nor did CNN respond when asked if CNN Turk's decision to air a penguin documentary while dissent was being brutally suppressed met CNN's journalistic standards.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson recently said CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker “peddles his network’s airtime to repressive regimes around the world,” and used CNN Turk as an example. “They use the CNN brand to brainwash and control their populations,” Carlson said.
Gollust told Fox News that Zucker “has nothing to do with the editorial content at CNN Turk.” But Carlson argued, as others have, that Zucker’s brand is being used to add credibility to the network.
“It’s state-controlled propaganda, and Jeff Zucker is getting rich from it,” Carlson said.
Turkish media organizations have for years become less critical of the Erdogan regime, which has worked steadily to erode press freedom across the country. Part of the reason for the sale, Bozkurt and others have suggested, was to head off any remaining meddling in upcoming elections this year in Turkey.
Demiroren, the namesake of the new ownership group, is strongly pro-Erdogan, and reportedly once called the Turkish president his “boss.” He was even caught apologizing to Erdogan for a negative newspaper article, according to The New York Times. “Demiroren was heard weeping, promising Mr. Erdogan that he would find the source,” the Times reported.
The deal marks an “increasing monopolization of opinion” author and Turkey commentator Andrew Finkel told Reuters. In fact, some believe that Dogan was forced to sell.
"He had to do it," Turkish TV channel Tele1 reporter Aysenur Arslan recently said, according to the Stockholm Center for Freedom. “If he didn’t sell… going to prison… was in the cards.”
Whatever the fate of the new deal for the larger CNN operation, there is little hope the sale will improve the situation of journalists in Turkey. Citing the Turkish Journalists Association, Reuters reported that 154 journalists were in jail as of January for acting as independent media members. Many other media organizations have simply been shut down altogether.
Fox News’ Alex Pfeiffer, a producer for "Tucker Carlson Tonight," contributed to this report.