ROJ-TV’s licence in Germany

roj_tvROJ-TV today received news that it had won a temporary stay against the removal of its operating licence in Germany.

ROJ-TV, a transnational Kurdish satellite station, began broadcasting on 01 March 2004 with a licence issued by the Danish Radio and Television Board. Like its predecessors, MED-TV and MEDYA-TV, ROJ-TV has been accused by Turkey of being a mouthpiece of terror. In 2006 a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said of the station ‘We know for sure that ROJ-TV is part of the PKK, a terrorist organisation.’ As proof, the government official said that the station had direct links to the PKK because the TV station released the names of slain PKK fighters before Turkish authorities had.

In response to three complaints by Turkish authorities in 2006, the Danish Radio and Television Board determined in May 2007 that ROJ-TV had not violated any broadcasting rules (see ruling memo, .pdf) nor had they incited violence or hatred.

Last summer, however, Germany declared ROJ-TV illegal following more complaints from Turkey that it was ‘broadcasting

Pro-ROJ TV demonstration in Germany

Pro-ROJ TV demonstration in Germany

rebel propaganda.’ The German Interior Ministry said that ROJ-TV was a mouthpiece of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is outlawed in Germany, and had encouraged viewers to become guerrillas.

Today’s decision by the federal administrative tribunal in Leipzig, Germany said the ban would not come into immediate force, because it could not rule out a legal challenge to the ban being successful when it comes to full trial. No date has been set yet for the main hearing.

Watch ROJ-TV live online here.

sources:

Kurdish television channel Roj wins stay in Germany, monstersandcritics.com, 18 May 2009

Schliefer, Y. Denmark, again? Now it’s under fire for hosting Kurdish TV station. Christian Science Monitor, 21 April 2006

Kurdish broadcaster banned in Germany, Deutsche Welle, 24 June 2008

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The State of Kurdish Media

Kurdistan

Kurdistan

This week marks the 111th anniversary of the publication of first Kurdish newspaper, Kurdistan.  The newspaper, written in Kurmanji but still using Arabic script, was published by Miqdad Midhet Bedirxan.  The first issue of ‘Kurdistan’ went to press on 22 April 1898 in Cairo, then part of the declining Ottoman Empire.  This week also marks the 10th anniversary of the closure of MED-TV on 23 April 1999 in London, when the British Independent Television Commission (ITC) revoked MED-TV’s licence to broadcast.

There are some interesting parallels with that very first foray into Kurdish media 111 years ago, the fate of MED-TV, and what is happening today with ROJ-TV.  That is, Kurdish media in exile, or in the diaspora, relentlessly pursued by extra-national sources of political pressure in an effort to squelch any form of Kurdish voice in the media, regardless of location.

Midhet Bedirxan (Badr Khan, Badirhan, and other spellings) wrote in the editorial section of that first paper the following:

They [the Kurds] are not aware of what is happening in the world and in their neighbourhood.  I have put myself to the task of producing this newspaper-God willing-every fifteen days.  I have named it ‘Kurdistan.’  In this newspaper I emphasise the importance of education and science.  Wherever there are great schools and institutions I shall report to the Kurds.  I shall also inform the Kurds about any war that is taking place, about the deeds of the great imperial countries, how they fight and how they trade.  No one has ever produced a newspaper like this, mine is a pathfinder.

Miqdad Midhet Bedirxan, Istanbul, circa 1880 (standing, 3rd from left)

Miqdad Midhet Bedirxan, Istanbul, circa 1880 (standing, 3rd from left)

Begun in Cairo, Bedirxan moved to Geneva to continue publishing, then back to Cairo, afterwards to London, then Folkstone (UK) and finally back to Geneva to publish the last two issues.  Questions remain about the reason behind his frequent moves, perhaps forced to relocate because of his publication, or perhaps because he wanted to be closer to other Ottoman exiles. In the end though, ‘Kurdistan’ lasted only four years with 31 editions.

Regardless of the reasons for his frequent moves, the fact remains that the first Kurdish newspaper was published outside of Kurdistan itself because there was no room for Kurdish language press in Kurdish-speaking areas of the Ottoman Empire.

MED-TV too was a ‘pathfinder’, to use Bedirxan’s term.  It was a pioneering effort at transnational broadcasting in Kurdish, but lasted less than four years, succumbing to Turkey’s relentless diplomatic pressure in Europe to shut the station down.

med-tvMED-TV’s studios were located in Denderleeuw near Brussels.  Programmes were sent to London by satellite and rebroadcast by Eutelsat.  Turkey jammed Eutelsat transmissions as MED-TV moved from one frequency to another.  They strong-armed European governments into accepting their ‘mouthpiece of terrorism’ discourse, which is still effectively used today.  In Turkey itself, security forces smashed satellite dishes and closed down shops where they were sold.

With all the political opposition, linguistic bans, and state censorship, this has been the norm for Kurdish media over the past century.  ROJ-TV is under threat of being shut down in Denmark.  Gün TV in Diyarbakir was just closed down last week.  The newspapers Azadiya Welat (daily) and Özgür Mezopotamya (weekly) were slapped with one month publication bans last week by the Istanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court.

Across the border in the KRG, while some semblance of a free Kurdish press exists with many TV stations and newspapers, most media outlets are controlled by political parties.  The political parties allow no criticism of the parties or their politicians.  Hewlati, launched in 2001, was the first independent newspaper there.  But it too has seen its share of attacks by the government.

Journalists in the KRG face detention by the Asayish (Kurdistan security forces), intimidation, and harassment. An Amnesty International report released last week (download here, 1.7MB, 56 pages) outlines some of the press abuses in the KRG and makes recommendations for improvement.  See section 9 of the report, beginning on pg 42 for specific information on freedom of expression.

In today’s high-tech, connected world where blogging, social networking, and online journalism are the norm in the Kurdish diaspora communities in Europe, North America, and elsewhere, we must use these tools available to us to speak out against repression, abuses of freedom of expression, suppression of the Kurdish voice in the media, and harassment of journalists and media outlets in Kurdistan.

Sources:

Abdulrahman, Kareem, Guide: Iraq’s Kurdish media, 04 December 2007.

Amnesty International, Hope and Fear: Human Rights in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.  14 April 2009.

Fatah, Rebwar, and Siamak Resaei Durroei. Centenary of the Kurdish Media, 1999.

Feuilherade, Peter, Med TV: Kurdistan in the Sky, 23 March 1999.

Hassanpour, Amir, A Stateless Nation’s Quest for Sovereignty in the Sky, paper presented at the Freie Universität Berlin, 07 November 1995.