Turkish journalists win landmark case against Demirören Media over union rights

Journalists who were fired by Hurriyet management pose with TGS managers after a press conference at TGS Academy in Istanbul on Nov. 6, 2019. Placards read "Union is freedom." Hurriyet means "freedom" in Turkish. (Photo: Journo)

A local court has ruled that Demirören, one of the largest media corporations in Turkey, violated the unionization rights of its employees when it dismissed dozens of journalists from the daily Hürriyet two years ago.

Demirören Media Group’s flagship newspaper Hürriyet had fired 45 unionized journalists, including senior reporters and editors, in October 2019 in an unprecedented move that triggered outrage among press freedom advocates in Turkey.

Most of the managing editors, reporters, and other laid-off personnel had received the notice of dismissal delivered to their homes while still working at the newspaper’s headquarters in Istanbul.

Vahap Munyar, Hürriyet’s editor-in-chief, had resigned in protest over the firings, which were reportedly ordered by the newspaper’s board of directors outside of his knowledge.

With the support of Turkey’s Journalists’ Union (TGS), the Hürriyet journalists had launched a series of lawsuits against Demirören, some focusing on the constitutional right of unionization, and some others opted to sue the company over its refusal to make any severance payment.

TGS announced a local court verdict in the first lawsuit on Dec. 23, confirming that Demirören violated labour rights. According to the ruling, the 22 plaintiff journalists in this lawsuit would be returning their jobs while Demirören would pay each of them 12 monthly salaries as compensation for illegally firing employees over their union membership.

‘Journalists have won a victory.’

TGS has reaffirmed its support for unionized journalists over the ongoing legal cases against Demirören. “Journalists have won a victory … Courts are now confirming the fact that we are right,” the union said in the statement on Dec. 23.

Before Demirören fired dozens of unionized journalists from Hürriyet, TGS was on the verge of clinching a historic majority in the newsroom to negotiate a collective agreement.

“The law of the jungle in Turkey’s media environment will end, and the TGS will establish a unionized working environment. No boss will be able to act arbitrarily anymore,” TGS President Gökhan Durmuş had said in a press conference in the aftermath of the Hürriyet firings.

A vast majority of newsrooms in Turkey were de-unionized by media magnates in the 1990s through a mixture of firings, coercion, and incentives.

Hürriyet was bought by the pro-government conglomerate Demirören in 2018. Many critics said the mass firings in the following year were part of the Erdogan administration’s broader attempts against free speech.

Demirören Media Group is expected to appeal the local court’s ruling, which may prolong the legal battle of the unionized journalists at Hürriyet.



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