Med TV, the first Kurdish satellite TV channel, began its standard broadcasts in May 1995 from its head office in London and its main studios near Brussels. It was created by people close to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which had been conducting an armed struggle against the Turkish state since 1984. On the one hand, this channel was seen as an instrument in the struggle against Turkish media, which were used in the conflict by the Turkish army according to “psychological warfare” requirements. On the other hand, it was seen as a means of opposing the homogenization policy of the Turkish nation-state, which banned the use of Kurdish in broadcasting. Europe, where a considerable Kurdish migrant population lived, constituted a human and material resource-base favorable to creating a satellite network in Kurdish.
Faced with cross-border television, the Turkish authorities began to operate a strategy whose first aspect consisted of interrupting broadcasts with the help of technical interventions. On 14 December 1995, Med TV broadcasts were stopped by a jamming transmission to the satellite hosting the signal. The channel’s programs continued to be jammed in the years that followed, in order to prevent their reception.
A second aspect of the state’s strategy relied on diplomatic interventions with western countries to get the channel banned. Thus, in 1996 the Turkish government succeeded step by step in obtaining the cancellation of contracts of Med TV’s satellite broadcasts, thanks to its diplomatic efforts with the French and Polish governments. Between July and August 2006, the channel was forced to interrupt its broadcasts for 45 days until it was able to sign a new transmission contract with a satellite firm.
The countries that hosted Med TV’s head office and studios were further targets of Turkish diplomacy. Following multiple negotiations, on September 18, 1996 the Belgian, German, and British police began Operation “Sputnik” against the channel. Med TV’s head office and studios were searched simultaneously in all three countries. The trial of the TV station’s directors, which began in Belgium on September 19, 2003, seven years after Operation “Sputnik,” ended in an annulment.
The Turkish state’s diplomatic pressures were equally focused on the UK’s Independent Television Commission (ITC), which had authorized the satellite channel broadcasts. On March 22, 1999, the British body suspended Med TV’s license for three weeks. Finally, on April 23, the ITC announced it was revoking the license for incitement to violence, following the Turkish authorities’ arrest of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader, the previous February. British prime minister Tony Blair’s intervention with the ITC was pivotal to this decision.
From May 1999, Kurdish television continued, however, to transmit for several hours a day on the CTV frequency, a British-based channel. And on July 30, 1999, a new channel, Medya TV, saw the light of day from France. In February 2004 the Turkish state succeeded a second time in getting Kurdish television banned by France’s Supreme Broadcasting Council (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel). For this body, Medya TV was a successor to Med TV and close to the PKK.
Nonetheless on March 1, 2004, Roj TV emerged in Medya TV’s stead. Although its main studios were near Brussels, its head office was in Copenhagen. The Turkish government immediately switched its pressure to the Danish authorities in order to obtain its closure. The US also intervened with the Danish government on its Turkish ally’s account, requesting the channel should be banned within the framework of anti-terrorism cooperation. Despite this, the Danish government, with the support of European Union leaders, refused this request and allowed transmissions to continue in the name of press and speech freedom.
Roj TV is a general-purpose channel, its programs angled to audiences of all ages. It broadcasts cartoons, documentaries, and news magazines in Kurdish and Turkish, along with debates in which PKK – now Kongra-Gel – leaders participate by phone. Moreover MMC, a music channel created in 2006, continues to be broadcast from Copenhagen. Some of the videos on this channel are even produced by Kongra-Gel supporters.
Over and above these two channels, Rojhelat TV, Komala TV, and Tishk TV began broadcasting in 2006, together with Newroz TV in 2007. All these originated in Iranian Kurdish political movements. Finally, aside from these Europe-based satellite channels, Kurdistan TV, Kurdsat, and Zagros TV were transmitting from northern Iraq.
- Akpinar, Z. (2007). L’État turc face aux télévisions transfontières kurdes. In T. Mattelart (ed.), Médias, Migrations et Cultures Transnationales. Brussels: De Boeck /Ina, pp. 89 –102.
- Hassanpour, A. (2003). Diaspora, homeland and communication technologies. In K. H. Karim (ed.), The media of diaspora. London: Routledge, pp. 76 – 88.