Erdogan’s favorite think-tank publishes the first list of profiled journalists

Now they managed to gain nationwide notoriety with their latest 202-paged report, titled “Extension of International Media Outlets in Turkey.”

July 20, 2019 21:06
4 minute read.
TURKISH PRESIDENT Tayyip Erdogan attends a ceremony at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk last y

TURKISH PRESIDENT Tayyip Erdogan attends a ceremony at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk last year. (photo credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)

The Turkish government frequently uses secret witnesses, fake newspaper articles, photos of social media posts and phone records as incriminating evidence to prosecute journalists. First, they publish a piece about their chosen target with outrageous allegations, then the prosecutors come to your door. The rest is torment at the courts in Turkey for months. On July 6, SETA – a think-tank whose president is none other than Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law’s brother, Serhat Albayrak – published a report listing details about several journalists whose reporting must have unsettled them. SETA has sent many fine men to the ranks of bureaucracy and parliament; an example is Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson for Erdogan. A few others have become parliamentarians from AKP. The think-tank is a good stepping stone if you are hungry for power in Ankara.

SETA’s main office is in a fancy neighborhood in Ankara, but it also has offices in other places such as Istanbul and Washington. Over the years, SETA gave us Middle East policy geeks quite a few good laughs. They are notorious for providing recommendations for and evaluations of all other countries in Syria, except for Turkey.

Now they managed to gain nationwide notoriety with their latest 202-paged report, titled “Extension of International Media Outlets in Turkey.” The report claims to analyze and give advice to some of the foreign media outlets such as Sputnik, Deutsche Welle, BBC, Voice of America, Euronews and a few others that have Turkish programming.

As Erdogan started flexing his muscles and converting relatively independent media outlets into mouthpieces for his regime, not only have hundreds of journalists were prosecuted but several hundreds of them have lost their jobs. Although there are few independent Turkish networks, they have little financial means to support the journalists’ livelihood. Hence, foreign media outlets have seen an amazing market in Turkey – a public hungry for an independent voice, demanding anything but the government’s oft-repeated stale rhetoric and an ever increasing supply of energetic and experienced journalists. This is one of the unintended consequences of exerting too much pressure on media. The joke among Ankara technocrats is that state television TRT’s children’s programming gets the highest ratings because that is one channel where shows do not stop for Erdogan’s speeches.

SETA’s report not only talked about foreign media outlets, but also provided detailed information about the identity of the people they employ. It starts with a simple Wikipedia-like introduction about the targeted individual, then continues to provide in depth “analysis” of their social media interactions: If you dare retweet a controversial figure, you are flagged; or if you had interviewed any parliamentarian who is on AKP’s blacklist ,that means you are supporting a terrorist entity.

Although journalists who had their names in the report were mostly witty and wise enough to joke about it, we all know this could be a reason to be prosecuted, or for your passport to be confiscated or to be arrested for months without any charges. That is what Erdogan’s populist new Turkey has become for anyone who dares speak their mind.

So who wrote the report? There three names on the report. Two are rather young researchers who probably were involved in editing, as well as drawing the intricate charts of journalists’ networks. The third name is Ismail Caglar, who had obtained a PhD from Leiden University in the Netherlands. Caglar’s expertise is on media, and he has co-authored a book on Press Freedom in Turkey with Fahrettin Altun.

If you are not yet familiar with Altun’s name, you should be. He is a German born scholar who was the director of SETA, Istanbul. Altun can be spotted in the background of most Erdogan’s photos in the last year, as he is the president of communications for Erdogan since July 2018. Didn’t I tell you SETA is a good place to start a political career?

DIGITAL FOOTSTEPS of those who reported on Gezi, Kurds and AKP’s financial scandals are routinely traced. If you share photos with Turkey’s most outspoken fashion designer Barbaros Sansal, as EU correspondent Gulsum Alan does, then you are flagged. Erdogan’s state has become like a bitter lover telling us whom we can and cannot talk to and what we can and cannot like or share in public. We are watched, the report tells us. Yes, but we knew that already.

SETA’s diligent research is likely to be used as evidence in courts soon against profiled journalists. I assume this is the first in a series of reports to come about dissents who are labeled as “spies,” “traitors,” “terrorists” and “mouthpieces of Zionists.” Only on Turkish Twitter can one be declared a Mossad and CIA agent, as well as Khomeini’s mouthpiece and Assad’s paid journalist, all at once in a single day. Some journalists and commentators joked on Twitter that SETA’s report didn’t include them. Not to despair, the next ones are likely to cast a wider net into different networks.

This report is not written to educate the public or help foreign media outlets to do their jobs better, as it claims, but to instill fear in the hearts of independent media outlets. It is also a potent sign of AKP’s desperation to maintain power. AKP fails to achieve much through its own media – about 95% of all outlets in Turkey. It is as if once AKP owns a network, it loses all its value. Loss of credibility has been insidious for AKP, even though most accept the fact they cannot fathom how to deal with it yet. That indeed, is fast becoming the moral of the story for Erdogan’s reign. It is deteriorating fast while pretending all is well.

The writer is a visiting scholar of political science in Los Angeles at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and a columnist for

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