Backlash after Hürriyet fires journalists due to their ‘union membership’

A leading Turkish daily national has come under fire after it sacked 45 of its journalists last week. Hürriyet, one of Turkey’s biggest and oldest newspapers, controversially terminated the contracts of journalists without any prior notice, many only learning of their dismissal when they tried to log on to their work emails.

Turkey already suffers a tarnished reputation due to regular violations against press freedoms, and the displacement of media professionals is not something unexpected. However, the unprecedented mass firing of scores of staff and the manner it was done has led to a furious reaction among Turkish society, with several high profile Hürriyet writers resigning in protest.

On 30 and 31 October, the newspaper sent letters to the journalists giving notice about the immediate termination of their work. Simultaneously, the newspaper also removed access to their work email accounts. Some of those made redundant were on maternity leave, or doing their military service, others were receiving medical treatment for serious illnesses.

All those fired were members of the Turkey’s Union of Journalists (Türkiye Gazeteciler Sendikası –TGS), leading many to conclude they were fired by owners Demirönen Group to stop a union presence.

At a press conference organised by TGS on 6 November, Şebnem Turhan, the newspaper’s fired economic editor, said that she and her colleagues had endured many economic crises and austerity measures during their working lives, including a severe downturn in August 2018. With rising inflation and wages at the paper failing to keep up, staff decided to unionise to create more effective pressure on management.

“Realising that by struggling alone [as individuals] would not yield results, we started to unionise our workplace by saying that we are stronger together. After this, we progressed [our campaign] to a very good place by the end of October [until] those driving [the newspaper’s] trade union activities were fired. We will fight to the end to get our rights. ”

A statement issued by TGS said: “We are calling upon prosecutors: this reckless administration, which fired journalists who were undergoing cancer treatment or who were on maternity leave, is in violation of the constitution. The freedom to organise is a constitutional right. [Hürriyet’s owner] Demirören Holding has committed a crime.

Demanding an end “to the law of the jungle in the media sector”, TGS said, “Our members will defend their rights on the streets, in the courts, and in the international arena to the very end. We will teach bosses to respect the rights of their employees.”

TGS chairperson Gökhan Durmuş confirmed the union had initiated legal proceedings on behalf of its affected members, and they hoped to resolve the matter through mediators. He called on the newspaper’s management team to “come to the table” and to show “respect to their employees’ union rights”.

The sackings prompted a public backlash on social media. Renowned Hürriyet columnists Gülse Birsel and Ayşe Arman announced they were leaving the paper, while editor-in-chief Vahap Munyar also resigned, claiming he had no prior knowledge about the dismissals.

Actress Gülse Birsel announces on Twitter she is quitting Hürriyet

News of the sackings led to messages of solidarity from abroad too. Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, President of the European Federation of Journalists said:

“We all know that journalists in Turkey are going through dark days and this case is another attack against two fundamental pillars, the freedom of the press and the freedom of association. To the colleagues who lost their job: I would like to stress again that European journalists stand in solidarity with you. Be assured, we won’t let you down.”

Founded in 1948, Hürriyet was sold by the Doğan Group, which had owned the paper since 1994, to the Demirönen Group last year. The owners of Demirönen are known to be close to President Erdoğan.