Is Turkey’s SETA a Think Tank or Political Hitman?

SETA’s media survey is less a think tank report than a detailed intelligence study, revealing extensive information about journalists and exposing them to great risk and peril.

Abdullah Ayasun

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In 2000, Turkey was rattled by a revelation by veteran journalist Nazli Ilicak (now in prison) about a study (and exposé) by the intelligence department of the Turkish military headquarters to blacklist journalists who were critical of the military’s handling of the Kurdish conflict and other key national security matters. The list of journalists was published by the Hurriyet daily two years before, in 1998, and originally based on a fabricated testimony of a captured senior PKK figure, Ilicak revealed, unearthing the startling nature of the practice by soldiers. The piece was infamously called “andic” (memorandum) and later became a catchphrase to describe authorities’ clandestine or subtle efforts to categorize critical media figures.

As time went by, people tended to assume that the dark legacy of that practice vanished and receded into eternal irrelevance. But they could not be more wrong.

A recent report by the Istanbul branch of Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), a think tank that is associated with the government, baffled the media community, journalists and Turkey observers over its unabashed profiling, blacklisting and targeting of journalists. It was less a scientific study than McCarthy-style blacklisting usually conducted by intelligence services or government commissions in times of divisive political crises.

The report, in its expressed objective, examines how international media outlets established footholds in Turkey and how they cover political affairs in this country. But beneath the facade of a “scientifically conducted” study, an unpleasant reality sinks in when someone delves into the 202 pages of the report filled with detailed personal information and social media activities of certain journalists working for foreign media.

Poring over the pages, one cannot fail to see how the authors of the study, Ismail Caglar, Kevser Hulya Akdemir and Seca Toker, blatantly or fatuously blurred the…

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Abdullah Ayasun

Boston-based journalist and writer. Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. 2023 WHCA Scholar. On art, culture, politics and everything in between. X: @abyasun