There are several discussions on the existing regime type of Turkey, but the recent literature and several democracy indicators treat Turkey as a competitive authoritarian regime. Like all competitive authoritarian regimes, the incumbents in Turkey need to attract electoral support since elections are the most important political institutions. However, this task is not easy. Although a totalitarian regime can repress all representative institutions, a competitive authoritarian regime embraces these institutions because of the presence of “competition”. Hence, the primacy of institutional manipulation is the most preferred strategy in competitive authoritarian regimes instead of the primacy of repression . Among others, media is one of the most visible areas of this kind of manipulation in Turkey.
The media in Turkey has always been an institution of manipulation, but the manipulation has changed its form from direct/legal control and direct censorship to indirect control and auto-censorship. The rise of the indirect/extralegal control on the media is rooted in the increasingly concentrated structure of the media industry. Mainstream media is becoming more and more concentrated and the indirect/extralegal control of the government on the media is growing.
The first newspaper Takvim-i Vekayi (Calendar of Affairs) was the official gazette of Ottoman Empire. Audiovisual media has also been introduced by the state itself. After a while, private TV and radio channels, and newspapers have founded; but they were either under the direct or indirect influence and control of the state. Throughout the 1980s and 1990, Turkey experienced an increase in the number of private media institutions, especially after the establishment of private TV channels. However, these institutions were open to monopolization since they need significant investment and only some big capital owners could be able to establish them. The liberalization process during the 1980s and 1990s can be considered as a starting point for the establishment of a monopoly in the mainstream media. However, this process has also an important turning point in 2001. Because of the 2001 economic crisis, Doğan Group and Doğuş Group that were not affected by the crisis severely purchased some media groups which were negatively affected by the crisis. In addition, some of these bankrupt media channels were transferred to TMSF (Saving Deposit Insurance Fund) and the government could find a good opportunity to shape the future of the media industry by controlling the further transfers of these channels from TMSF to certain company groups.
During the 2010s, the authoritarian character of Turkey has increased and the media has been severely affected by this process. When the ongoing monopolization and concentration of media channels by certain groups coupled with the rise of competitive authoritarianism, the mainstream media became an institution of manipulation in Turkey. Although the incumbents in Turkey do not directly impose censorship or prohibition on media channels, they appeal to manipulate them through several methods.
Firstly, the highly concentrated structure of Turkish media severely affects the independence of media channels. The most important reason for the concentrated structure of the media industry in Turkey is the investments of the media groups in other sectors as well as the lack of legal regulations that prevent concentration. The owners of the mainstream media channels, i.e. Doğuş, Demirören, Kalyon, Ciner, operate in other sectors such as construction, energy, mining, tourism, telecommunications, banking, and finance. The multisectoral structure of these companies makes mainstream media more dependent on the government. In Turkey, not only the political playing field but also the business is skewed in favor of incumbents. Therefore, business is mostly dependent on the government and its policies. In addition, the media is also dependent on business because of the above-mentioned reasons. This dependency of the media on other sectors leads to “self-censorship” and the “indirect control” of written and visual media. Although media channels do not produce a significant profit in the short-run, to have non-critical or supportive media channels leads business groups to win tenders and some other economic gains. Hence, certain groups that invest in some state-dependent sectors willingly maintain their operations in the media by expecting some benefits from other sectors.
Besides making dependent the media on the government, incumbents also use changing the ownership of mainstream media channels as another method. The transaction of Doğan Media Group to Demirören Group constitutes an example of this method. Doğan Media was the only opponent group in mainstream media and its channels were purchased by Demirören media which is known as a supporter of the government by a credit package with the support of a public bank. A similar case is the transfer of ATV-Sabah Group to Çalık Group in 2007. In the second example, a government supporter group paid the necessary capital to purchase several media channels with credit from a public bank. Although the regime in 2007 was more democratic than today, this transaction constitutes an early example of future manipulation strategies.
Another method of extralegal control on the media of the government in Turkey is to give incentives to some companies or to apply pressure on others. Karar newspaper may be a decent example of the pressure on the alternatives. Karar, as a newly established newspaper, includes some columnists who may be contrary to the government in some issues. According to a publication of the Karar, the newspaper faces embargo, pressure, and threats more and more. Companies that attempt to put an advertisement in the newspaper are exposed to warnings and menace . Karar is only an example among others, but it needs this attention because it is an “insider opposition”.
Today, the competitive authoritarian regime in Turkey do not directly close a media channel or use direct censorship. Instead, the regime tries to manipulate them through several methods. It tries to control the content by making media channels dependent on the government, create opportunities to transfer opposite media channels to supporters, and restricting the economic resources of opposite channels. Schedler, A. (2010). Authoritarianism’s last line of defense. Journal of Democracy, 21(1), 69-80.  Gazete Duvar. (November 12th, 2018). Karar: Reklam almamız engelleniyor!. https://www.gazeteduvar.com.tr/gundem/2018/11/12/karar-reklam-almamiz-engelleniyor/