Pro-Erdoğan journalist appointed as board member of state-run TRT

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Hilal Kaplan, a journalist close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been appointed as a board member of Turkish state broadcaster TRT as part of the latest change in management of the TV station, local media reported on Wednesday.

A presidential decree on the new appointments to TRT was published in Turkey’s Official Gazette on Wednesday.

The decree signed by Erdoğan separated the responsibilities of İbrahim Eren, chairman of the board and general manager, into two positions, stating that the board chairman will act as the “decision-maker” while the general manager will serve as the “executor.”

The president replaced Eren with two people, appointing Press Advertising Agency (BİK) board chairman and the presidency’s Deputy Director of Communications Mehmet Zahid Sobacı as general manager, and Ahmet Albayrak, an academic from Erciyes University and an advisor in the Presidential Communications Directorate, as the board chairman of TRT.

“I’ve come to the end of my time as chairman of the board and general manager of TRT, to which I was appointed for a term of four years on July 10, 2017. I’d like to express my gratitude to our president, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose support I’ve always felt,” Eren tweeted on Wednesday.

Among the new board members of TRT are Oğuz Göksu, a staff member in the Presidential Communications Directorate; the directorate’s Media Relations Coordinator Mücahid Eker; Assoc. Prof. Dr. Veysel Kurt, a researcher at pro-government think tank the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA); the pro-government English-language newspaper Daily Sabah’s Editorial Coordinator Meryem İlayda Atlas; Labor and Social Security Minister Vedat Bilgin’s son Oğuzhan Bilgin; and Atakan Yılmaz, in addition to Kaplan.

A columnist for the government-controlled Sabah daily and Daily Sabah newspapers, Kaplan is also close to Erdoğan’s family and often travels with the president on state visits abroad.

“Are you sure you’re a reporter?” then-US President Donald Trump asked Kaplan, who stepped up to ask a question that mirrored Erdoğan’s talking points at a press conference at the White House during the president’s trip to Washington in November 2019.  “You don’t work for Turkey, with that question?” Trump added.

Kaplan and her husband also run a troll group called the Pelikan Group, which forced then-Prime Minister and current leader of the opposition Gelecek (Future) Party Ahmet Davutoğlu to resign in May 2016 with a list of unattributed files they published in April 2016. The files detailed issues of conflict between Davutoğlu and Erdoğan and harshly criticized Davutoğlu for refusing to push Erdoğan’s political agenda.

Hacer Haniç, a candidate for nomination to become a lawmaker for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2018 general election, on Wednesday criticized Erdoğan for appointing such a controversial figure as Kaplan as a board member for the state broadcaster.

“Is it because they can’t find any competent figures with untarnished images to appoint to state institutions in the entire Republic of Turkey that they keep appointing people who attract reactions? State institutions aren’t the place to employ someone to clear their name,” Haniç tweeted.

“If our president values and cares about Kaplan this much, he should adopt her,” she added sarcastically.

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