New clique of Erdoğan advisers take control at pro-gov't Anadolu news agency

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, which turned 101 years old this week, saw a massive overhaul on Wednesday after the director and his team were purged at a corporate board meeting.

Şenol Kazancı, who had led Anadolu since 2014, and four of his fellow board members were replaced at the agency’s ordinary general assembly in Ankara. 

His successor, Serdar Karagöz, has long worked for the state-run TRT news network and Turkuvaz media group, run by the Albayrak family. Berat Albayrak is the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and served as finance and treasury minister until resigning under a cloud of controversy in November.  

Both the former and current director generals of Anadolu are noted friends of Erdoğan’s son, Bilal Erdoğan, with whom they attended the same İmam Hatip religious high school in Istanbul’s Kartal district.

After graduating, Karagöz completed an undergraduate degree in political science at Bilgi University, before going on to finish a media studies masters at New York’s New School University.

Karagöz served as New York representative and U.N. reporter for Turkuvaz media, before returning to Turkey in 2013, where he became the editor of the foreign news desk at Sabah newspaper. In 2014, he became the editor-in-chief of newly founded Daily Sabah, Turkuvaz media’s flagship English-language publication. Four years later, he moved to TRT, where he served as the deputy director general for the news network’s international channels, which include TRT World and TRT Arabic.

Since taking charge at Anadolu, opposition news outlets have reported on Karagöz’s apparent close friendship with fugitive journalist Aydoğan Vatandaş. Vatandaş is being sought by Turkish police for his alleged role in the Gülen movement, a religious group Ankara says orchestrated the 2016 coup attempt. He is accused of running a whistleblower Twitter account, called Fuat Avni, which has been linked to the group.

Anadolu’s four new board members, Yusuf Ozkir, Hasan Nuri Yasar, Ismail Çağlar, and Büşra Karaduman Aktuna, also have extensive links to the government, particularly Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun.  

Aktuna has been an aide to Altun and serves as chairwoman of the presidency’s press department. Yaşar has been a chief advisor to the president and a member of the Council of Higher Education (YÖK), which controls the country’s universities.  

Both Özkır and Çağlar are closely associated with leading pro-government think thank the Foundation for Economic, Political and Social Research (SETA). Özkır is publication coordinator for SETA’s Kriter magazine. While Çağlar caused controversy as co-author of a July 2019 SETA report titled: “The Turkey extensions of the international media organisations”.

Billed as an investigation into foreign influence, the report was criticised for inciting harassment of journalists working for international news outlets after detailing their personal information including past employment and social media posts.

Anadolu’s former director general Kazancı was also no stranger to controversy. During the March 2019 local elections, Anadolu called Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) as ahead in key races in Ankara and Istanbul, cities the party eventually lost.

During a re-run of the ballot the following June, the news agency stopped publishing results in Istanbul, the country’s largest city, after opposition mayoral candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu, announced a lead of 23,000 votes over AKP candidate and former prime minister Binali Yıldırım. The following day, the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) announced that İmamoğlu had won the election.

In February, the Constitutional Court ruled that moves to place Anadolu under the supervision of Altun as the presidency’s communications director violated Article 133 of the Constitution, which states: “Radio and television stations shall be established only by the state, and shall be administered by an impartial corporate body”.

Despite this, the composition of Anadolu’s new board of directors mean it is no longer possible to speak of the agency as impartial, despite being funded by the treasury. Instead, the sway held by Altun, and his allies at SETA, is undoubtedly on the rise.  

The latest overhaul at the agency points to a clear reality: Anadolu will serve no other purpose than the formal news agency of the Turkish Presidency.