Media and Communications
To further their mutual interests, Qatari firms have formed partnerships with or invested in media firms with close ties to Erdogan and his family. Transactions have often involved the purchase of media properties that fell under state control because of indebtedness. At times, the failure of Qatari investors to account for Erdogan’s interests has undermined their projects.
In 2008 an obscure Qatari company paid $1.1 billion to acquire Sabah-ATV, Turkey’s second largest media group. Qatar accomplished the acquisition by working with a firm tied to Erdogan.239 At the time, both Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law and Turkey’s current minister of Treasury and Finance, and his brother, Serhat Albayrak, were senior executives at Calik Holding, which partnered with Qatar’s Lusail International Media Group to acquire Sabah-ATV.240
Al-Jazeera first attempted to enter the Turkish market through a partnership with TVNET, a broadcaster owned by Berat Albayrak. The Qatari network withdrew from the TVNET deal in 2011, reportedly due to tensions with the Turkish government.241 That same year, Al-Jazeera tried to acquire CINE 5, a private station with national reach that had been seized by a government fund under Erdogan’s control, but a Turkish court annulled the sale.242
Despite failing to acquire a broadcast license, Al-Jazeera Turk reportedly had 100 employees in 2013, at an estimated expense of $2 million monthly (although it reportedly fired more than two dozen the next year for supporting anti-government protests).243 In 2015, the president of Al-Jazeera Turk resigned amid rumors that the network had abandoned plans for a television channel.244 Shortly thereafter, the network’s news coordinator also resigned, announcing that Al-Jazeera Turk would be downsizing significantly.245 Qatar reportedly spent more than $100 million to set up Al-Jazeera Turk, a channel that never launched.246 Its online platform stopped publishing in May 2017.247
The ultimate cause of Al-Jazeera’s failure remains difficult to assess. In 2013, Turkish media claimed that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu wanted the channel to start operations immediately, but Erdogan feared the network would favor Davutoglu.248 One journalist claimed Al-Jazeera met opposition because of its unwillingness to use the word “terrorist” to describe militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK.249
Al-Jazeera more recently attracted Erdogan’s ire with its coverage in Al-Jazeera English of Turkey’s October 2019 operation into Syria.250 In an uncharacteristically vocal rebuke of Qatar, the editorial board of the Erdogan-mouthpiece Daily Sabah called on Al-Jazeera “to weed out all individuals seeking to poison [the Turkish-Qatari] alliance behind the smokescreen of independent journalism.”251
In 2015, Qatar’s beIN Group, formerly known as Al-Jazeera Sport, acquired Turkey’s largest satellite television provider, Digiturk, which at the time had 3.5 million subscribers and was under state ownership because of outstanding debt.252
The $1.4 billion deal became a highly controversial subject in Turkey due to a lack of transparency.253 Opposition members of the parliament criticized the government for keeping the purchase price a secret and for bypassing domestic buyers.
As of 2019, there are reports that beIN’s investment in Digiturk has become a liability.254 Given Turkey’s economic downturn and the government censorship of broadcasters, Digiturk’s subscriber base fell to 2.4 million, and the company suffered a similar downturn in advertising revenues. As a result, the satellite television provider is considering defaulting on the $1.5 billion it pledged to pay over the next three years for the right to broadcast Turkish soccer league games.