Ferda Cetin, Med Nuce TV editor / Al Jazeera
During the 90s, at the peak of the fighting between the PKK and Turkish military, Kurdish journalists fought to report the Kurdish story on their own terms.
The peace process in 2013 created a space for new media outlets. However this has changed in the first week of October with the closure of 23 oppositional media outlets in Turkey under emergency laws. Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan veers from reconciliatory to oppressive as he shuts down media outlets without any court orders.
In the second wave of the media closures in Turkey since the coup, Europe based Kurdish media also had its broadcast stopped after satellite company Eutelsat, admitting it had come under pressure from Turkey’s Radio and Television Board (RTUK), removed the Kurdish channels Med Nûçe and Newroz tv from its platform. A court case is ongoing and a decision is due on 14 November.
The closure of Belgium based Med Nûçe is seen as an attack on freedom of expression. Following the tradition of Med TV, Medya TV and Roj TV, the most recent Med Nûçe TV had the same fate of closure.
Following the military coup of 1980 in Turkey, Kurdish media has followed the migration routes of Kurds and media was set up in the countries Kurds chose to be their new homes. Starting with Med TV in 1996 in London Kurdish media has been interrupted; changed names and countries but maintained its existence to be a platform for Kurdish politics and the struggle.
Basing itself outside Turkey and beyond the reach of Turkish law, Kurdish media has played a key role in nation building for many Kurds; be it in prisons, in Europe or those living a nomadic existence due to the physical attacks exercised in Turkey.
As the Kurdish language itself has been criminalised, the Kurdish media can also be seen as part of a standardisation effort as well as a platform to learn Kurdish.
So who is left to tell the story of the 40-million Kurdish nation and define the Kurdish question on their own terms? Ferda Cetin, the editor of Med Nûçe TV, answered my questions on the closure of Med Nûçe and the attacks on oppositional media in Turkey.
Figen Gunes: Since President Erdogan declared a state of emergency in July this year, Turkish news media has come under serious and sustained pressure. The crackdown has now extended to Kurdish media outlets- were you expecting this? What is motivating the push against Kurdish media?
Ferda Cetin: We didn’t expect this sudden pressure on Med Nûçe but we knew there would be pressure on Kurdish media after the June election from the government officials' statements. We sensed it and presumed that it would happen. Because the atmosphere wasn’t promoting rights and freedoms but it was rather harsh and full of pro-war expressions. And we speculated that this political harshness would affect the media too. We did expect this to happen so it wasn’t a surprise for us.
F.G: Did the decision to close the media outlets have any legal base?
F.C: The legal grounds are about licensing. For the TV channels that have a license, if there is a deficiency or inadequacy, a warning will be given so they can rectify those things. A licensing institution wouldn’t think about how to shut down a channel when there is deficiency or inadequacy; this is not their mentality. However, the channels that were shut down in Turkey weren’t given a chance to correct the problems. It was done with legal decrees, which by-passed parliament. Therefore this decision was not lawful and legal. I am not even talking about European or international norms, this is against Turkish law.
F.G: Which media outlets closed down recently were the most important?
F.C: All those channels are important. Having said that, I think Zarok TV was a bit more important as it was broadcasting in Kurdish for kids. They were dubbing cartoons. All those shows were broadcast in Europe. Some of them were taken from France, others from England; Kurdish kids will not be able to watch cartoons in their own language.
The Zazaki dialect of Kurdish is one of the languages in danger of going extinct and Jiyan TV was broadcasting news and music in the Zaza language and it was closed. I think this channel was very important. Also there was Azadi TV, there was TV 10, which catered to Alevis and it was broadcasting in Kurdish and Turkish. It covered Alevi beliefs and rituals. For that reason, it was very important. IMC was taken off Turksat and with this decision its license was cancelled.
‘Kurdish media learnt a lot from IMC TV’
F.G: IMC TV in particular is a very prominent outlet. Can you talk to us about the role it played? Why was it such an important broadcaster and what does its closure mean for broader Kurdish media?
F.C: I had been following IMC TV since its launch I can answer this question based on the executives' and journalist friends’ descriptions and the reason for the channel. IMC didn’t identify itself as a Kurdish channel. It wasn’t only about the Kurds, the Kurds in Turkey; they declared this in their license and it showed in their practical journalism. It wasn’t like the other Kurdish channels and it was very obvious. However, it was also very important for the Kurdish media too. It was an alternative for monophonic media, which services the government and power.
IMC TV was for the socialists and liberals, non-governmental organisations, Kurds, and opposition who cannot express themselves in the mainstream media. There were also programs in Armenian; there were documentaries about Assyrians and Circassians. Therefore, it wasn’t monophonic. It wasn’t only serving one ethnicity or religion; it was a common ground for differences and the so-called ‘others’. For this reason Kurdish media learnt a lot from IMC TV. It was a good experience in terms of finding out how it worked. It was a very colourful, multi religious and multi-cultural TV channel. Also, it cared about environmental and women’s issues. These are very important experiences for us, Med Nûçe, and the other Kurdish media outlets.
F.G The crackdown on Kurdish outlets is not limited to those within the Turkish state. Can you tell us step by step how Med Nûçe was closed?
F.C: Med Nûçe is licensed in Italy. However, since there are many Kurdish journalists who live here in Germany, France, Holland and Belgium, the studio is in Brussels. Also the journalists who flee oppression from Turkey live here in large numbers. Therefore, the Kurdish media in either based in Germany or here in Belgium.
Warnings or legal problems can only come from Italy and we haven’t had any. RTUK has no right to interfere. We haven’t had any warning or criticism either from Italy or European media outlets. On 29th September we were told that Eutelsat was warning us that within two days they would cease broadcasting our channel. We asked on what grounds, they didn't explain why but they said that they could send an email. They sent the email and there were only two paragraphs. It read ‘due to public safety, you will need to remove your customer number 157 TV and you have to take action urgently and let us know when you have removed it from the satellite’. That’s how we found out.
Then we started a legal procedure and we asked to meet with company officials, because, the broadcast ceased. We don’t have any other way to broadcast and we are not broadcasting anywhere right now. We definitely think that this is not lawful and this decision was made under pressure from RTUK and Turkey. We are going to fight against this decision. On the one hand, we are going to carry on our legal fight, on the other hand we are trying to find a way to carry on broadcasting as we have a wide audience and they are being treated unjustly.
F.G You, like a number of Kurdish outlets across Europe, deliberately based yourself beyond the borders of Turkish law. Tell us a little of the channel’s history and why so much Kurdish media moved to Europe in the 1990s.
F.C: We should be doing broadcasting in our land, in Kurdistan, in Turkey. We are not only here because we escaped RTUK’s and Turkey’s legal oppressions on broadcasting; it’s a very important part of it, of course. There is the same amount of Turkish and Kurdish journalists, writers, cameramen, intellectuals, and reporters overseas as there are in Turkey. Many journalists are under threat of arrest, and they fled the country like me. We left because there was oppression and punishment. We tried to find a way to carry on with activities here. Kurdish and Turkish are the spoken languages and we became involved with Med Nûçe.
F.G: What made Med Nûçe different to other Kurdish media?
F.C: When we started in 2012 Kurdish channels were broadcasting in Kurdish and Turkish and this was causing some problems. The most important characteristic of Med Nûçe is that for the first time Kurdish journalists created a Turkish-only channel. We thought: Turkey and the Kurdish community’s common language is Turkish. There are many channels that are making music, news and political programs but there is no 24-hour news channel. If we can do this, we can attract the audience and the audience will like it and that’s what happened. In the first five to six months we didn’t have high ratings, but it picked up later on.
‘Media under tax threats’
F.G: How does your coverage differ from outlets in Turkey? Can you say Med Nûçe had more editorial freedom due to its European location?
F.C: First of all, we were very different from the Turkish channels, because there was so much oppression there. They were being audited. Also, media bosses were under tax threats. We didn’t need to deal with any of these oppressive measures. We have an advantage of freedom of thought. We weren’t superior or more talented than the Turkish media nor could we find more exclusive news. We were publishing everything that the Turkish media found insignificant or things that weren’t in line with official ideology.
Also the use of language was very different. We use the term “Kurds" and "Kurdistan" quite often. We call our country Kurdistan. We don’t say east, southeast Anatolia. Our sources for news weren’t only Anadolu Ajansi [Turkish state news agency] or the agencies that are broadcasting in Turkey. We were using European news agencies; we had our correspondents here too. The difference between the Kurdish media in Turkey and us is that we have correspondents and journalists in Rojava and Sulaymaniyah – we have good teams there. We were very organised in Iraq too. Therefore we could get up to date news with simultaneous images of fighting.
‘We had the best coverage in Kobane’
I think that we had the best coverage in Kobane during the resistance, we were live and almost on 24 hours. During the fighting in Sinjar, Iraq, we instantly broadcast via phone or via 3G system and reached our audiences. I can claim that neither Turkish channels nor European channels could do what we did. We could reflect the progress in Syria, Iraq and Turkey. We criticised the government for the oppression of the media, we had that attitude right from the beginning until the end. These are things Kurdish media couldn’t do in Turkey. The freedom of the press in Europe enabled us to do all these things.
F.G: What made Med Nûçe a target and an enemy in the eyes of the Turkish government?
F.C: The pressure on the media depends on the government, not only the Kurdish media but also the Turkish media is under intense pressure. We see that hundreds of Turkish and Kurdish writers and journalists are under threat of being imprisoned. In the second stage, the government wants to generate a mainstream media that can be controlled. The Turkish government is applying this plan step by step.
The opposition media outlets that criticise Tayyip Erdogan are threatened with financial harm or punishment so the opposition have to remain silent. It seems that some Kurdish media outlets are more powerful when they create news in Turkish as Med Nûçe does, because they can inform Turkish people and non-governmental organisations. That is why we think that Med Nûçe has become a target. So many Turkish people are also interested in our news because we report not only the issues that Kurdish people deal with, but also the problems of students, universities, and pro-peace academics.
‘Using Turkish made us a target’
Besides Med Nûçe, there are some other media outlets like JIN-HA and Dicle News Agency, which are affected by government policies too. I think about 40 managers, reporters and journalists are under arrest right now. Med Nûçe is not the only press organisation that has been harmed. All media outlets are on the line, Turkish ones under more risk in fact, because they are inside the country. They can be easily taken into custody and even arrested. Using the Turkish language made Med Nûçe the first target.
F.G: Do you think Firat News Agency in Holland and Yeni Ozgur Politika in Germany will also be shut down? Given the history of your predecessors, like Med TV, Medya TV, Roj TV, are you concerned?
F.C: No, I do not think the media outlets in Europe will be shut down, because they don't only report the conflict between the Turkish government and Kurdish people. Our press outlet is not a threat to public order nor does it threaten the other press outlets' ethics. But we know the Turkish government applies pressure both politically and monetarily to shut them down.
F.G: During the peace process initiated by Tayyip Erdogan back in 2013, many Kurdish outlets came into being. Can you talk to us about this phase of media growth and what had given them the optimism to start?
F.C: It is natural sociologically because when there is no conflict, people tend to build institutions they can use to express their ideas; it is not a special thing just for Kurdish people. People cannot establish channels or newspapers when they are under threat of being shut down. People were relieved because there was no war they were not getting killed. They wanted to express their thoughts because they were not content with only Med Nûçe. So circles that could afford it started new channels, magazines and newspapers. In peaceful and free places, people tend to express their feelings and thoughts in different ways.
In my opinion there is a connection between the Kurdish people’s welfare and the establishment of new press outlets. They want to report news or publish video clips in Kurdish.
F.G: How did Kurdish media suffer with the breakdown of peace talks and the current state of violence?
F.C: Kurdish and Turkish media cannot go and report in Turkey or more precisely Northern Kurdistan because there is a risk of being arrested. Large areas are declared restricted areas so the reporters cannot go to the scene of the news. Even if they do go it is impossible for them to report because they are thought of as being against the government, they are seen as enemies. It is the most harmful thing for the press. Under these circumstances people like politicians or writers don't talk about their opinion. Only the ones who have an uncompromising view of Kurdish politics tend to talk. During the peace process, Med Nûçe reporters were taking statements and talking to government officials and could share and reflect this information, but now this is happening less and less. This is a very difficult situation for a news channel.
‘A tactic used by the Turkish government’
F.G: Kurdish media has been accused of serving merely as a mouthpiece for the PKK. How do you respond to this? Can you give us a more comprehensive understanding of the role Kurdish media plays, not just for the Kurdish community but also in terms of contributing to dialogue and the peace process?
F.C: Because the PKK is on the European terrorist list, when you say terrorism and public safety, any other matter becomes secondary. It is very dangerous and also open to interpretation. It is not intended to only affect the press. The government claims that the HDP supports terrorism. The mayors who were elected by 70% of votes are under arrest, but the reason for their being in prison is not substantial. The Turkish government has used these strategies before, in Europe as well. Now the government wants use this on both the PYD and YPG, because this is something easy to do. You can bring such an accusation against somebody that you don’t like and want to get rid of. People would be scared of those people.
‘We do not see the PKK as a terrorist organisation’
So the Turkish government associating the PKK with European Kurdish institutions, or using the PKK, has the same logic. As the Kurdish media, we don’t see the PKK as a terrorist organisation and we don’t mind saying this. The PKK is an organisation and establishment that was created by the Kurdish public, young men and women. It’s a political organisation. Also, it has an armed force. Besides we call them guerrillas, not terrorists, we don’t call them what the Turkish press does. We don’t usually say this in programmes but since you’ve asked I’m telling you. We call it the Kurdish liberation struggle, but Turkey calls it terrorism and violence. These are contradictory terms. We do not do anything special to get rid of these labels.
Note: This interview was conducted mid October, before the closure of Kurdish news agency DIHA and the raid on Cumhuriyet newspaper.
- Figen Gunes
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