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Private TV channels in Kurdish on the way

In a move that began with the launch of Turkey's first state-run Kurdish-language TV station, the country's broadcasting watchdog changes the rules, allowing private channels the freedom to air shows in languages other than Turkish, 24 hours a day. The move is not without opposition as it comes amid debate over the government's wider Kurdish initiative.

Sunday, September 6, 2009, ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News

A recent decision by Turkey’s TV watchdog has paved the way for private stations to broadcast in other languages 24 hours a day, a move that follows the government’s much-debated Kurdish initiative, daily Milliyet reported Sunday.

The Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK, had been working to change the regulation on broadcasting in different languages and dialects since Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said that if TRT 6, the Kurdish-language state TV channel, can broadcast in Kurdish, private TV stations should be allowed to do likewise, Milliyet reported.

“It has been a controversy that there are restrictions on private TV channels, while TRT 6 can broadcast nonstop. It is positive to remove such a controversy,” Sami Tan, the head of the Istanbul Kurdish Institute, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Professor Haluk Şahin, the coordinator of the Bilgi University Communications Faculty’s Television Reporting and Programming Program, also highlighted the existence of TRT 6. “Why not?” he asked. “Since there is already a state-run Kurdish-language television channel, since there are so many citizens who speak Kurdish, and since there are so many people who want it, it is impossible to say ‘no’ [to a privately run one].”

TRT 6 started broadcasting in Kurdish at the beginning of the year. Along with praise, it received criticism over the fact that private TV channels were still banned from broadcasting in other languages. Private TV stations are currently allowed to broadcast in a language other than Turkish only in 45-minute slots and only about news, entertainment and culture.

According to the regulation change, the restrictions on subjects will also be removed, as will the requirement to run Turkish subtitles. Private stations, however, will not be allowed to teach another language on their broadcasts.

An RTÜK member, however, said the board was still discussing the issue. “The final decision has not been made yet,” RTÜK member Mehmet Dadak told Milliyet, confirming that talks were progressing. “Broadcasting in different languages and dialects should be set free at a certain level. It is also one of the demands of the European Union. This kind of broadcasting is already available in our country through satellite broadcasting.”

Dadak also said the changes should be gradual, adding that the board was still discussing whether to allow 24-hour or 12-hour broadcasts.

The opposition Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, criticized RTÜK’s move. "It is a political decision and the beginning of a [division] process. It does not serve the interests of our Kurdish-origin citizens in the Southeast,” said Murat Şefkatli, deputy head of the MHP.

According to Şefkatli, the government should help its citizens of Kurdish origin in other ways. “The government should first solve their financial problems and create employment opportunities,” he said. 

When RTÜK members visited Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sept. 3, he emphasized the significance of the regulation change for restructuring the watchdog.

Erdoğan approved of the change in the regulation but also asked RTÜK members to establish a consensus among broadcasting corporations, universities and nongovernmental organizations. “We prepared short-, medium- and long-term plans for the democratic opening process,” Erdoğan said. “You can follow a similar path.”

Suspicions on content issues

Although experts generally found the move positive, some doubts remained. “I am not sure that it will solve the whole problem,” Tan said, highlighting the problems that local TV channels already face. “As far as I know, local stations in the southeast have difficulties because of the imposed restrictions. Requiring subtitles in Turkish makes things harder because they cannot broadcast live.”

Şahin, on the other hand, commented on the content of the broadcasts, saying one can ask what model of broadcasting the TV channel will choose for itself. “Will it be based on entertainment, on commercial and rating concerns, or will it reflect the cultural values of the region’s locals?” he asked. “This might be an important question, but it would not be logical to say ‘no’ to [a privately-run Kurdish-language station].”

Journalist Ayşe Hür also highlighted the issue of content. “People may turn such issues into an area of tension. Both the [Republican People’s Party, or] CHP and MHP will criticize it since there will be no control over the content, despite their previous remarks saying that that Kurdish TV should be state-run,” she said, adding that she prefers that such broadcasts be privately run instead of state-owned.

When the Daily News reminded Şefkatli about previous pro-private-Kurdish-TV remarks from his party, he said: “But how can you control the content? Roj TV [a Kurdish channel broadcasting in Turkey by satellite] and others have already been broadcasting in Kurdish. It is the wrong step, especially because it arises during the so-called ‘Kurdish initiative,’ which is a divisive process.”


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