TRT channel to launch Kurdish broadcast

İbrahim Sahin

February 21, 2008, Thursday/ 20:19:00
The state's official radio and television station, TRT, is planning to set aside one of its five channels for broadcasts in non-Turkish languages used by Turkish citizens, most notably Kurdish, according to government officials.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has decided to go forward with new efforts to expand broadcasts in Kurdish amid criticism that the government's reform process has encountered a serious slowdown.

The first official statement regarding the foreign language broadcasts on TRT came from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who noted during his early February visit to Germany that new Kurdish language broadcasts would soon be launched on TRT.

Speaking with Today's Zaman, TRT General Manager İbrahim Şahin said it had not yet been decided exactly how the foreign language broadcasts would be carried out but that most likely an entire channel will be devoted to Kurdish broadcasts.

Şahin noted that the TRT board of directors places a strong emphasis on the cultural aspects of these broadcasts. He said, "This channel will start broadcasting as soon as possible. … We don't have an exact date yet, though."

Şahin also stressed that TRT had the ability to successfully air foreign language broadcasts of this type and that the TRT board was already at work on coming up with the content of the Kurdish programming.

 TRT is currently planning to either dedicate one of its current channels to full day Kurdish language broadcasts, or to have these broadcasts aired on a new TRT channel. One thing it does accept is that the previous attempt at Kurdish language (and other language) broadcasts was insufficient. The popular view now at TRT is that in fact a new channel should be dedicated to Kurdish language broadcasts. TRT's "TRT GAP" channel might be used for this purpose.

Though other languages are to be included, as was the case with the broadcasts that started up in 2004, this time around it is less likely to include Bosnian and Circassian, and more likely to keep the focus on Kurdish, with some Arabic and Farsi.

The final decision on these TRT plans at this point will be coming from the administration in Ankara.

TRT first began its Kurdish broadcasts on June 9, 2004. Broadcasts done in the Kurdish dialect of Kurmanji were followed by broadcasts in the other Kurdish dialect of Zaza. Around 90 percent of Kurdish people speak Kurmanji and the rest speak Zaza, but most of those who speak Zaza can also speak Kurmanji. These broadcasts included not only news, but documentaries, music and popular information programs.

Parallel to the television broadcasts, radio broadcasts in Kurdish also began at the same time; however, the briefness of the broadcasts was criticized by EU officials at the time.

Full support from the DTP

The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) has declared its full support for the plans. DTP Şırnak deputy Hasip Kaplan said: “This is a very important decision. After all, broadcast policy is in itself very important. All the people of this nation need to believe that this channel is following an open and equal broadcast policy toward all the political parties and that, instead of racist or chauvinistic policies, it is pursuing democratic and peaceful policies. The people who are involved in preparing these broadcasts need to be very aware of this. If they are, I am sure that this will be a successful channel. It has always been a part of our party’s platform that TRT needs to have a channel devoted to Kurdish language broadcasting. There are private television stations and television stations broadcasting from Iraq in the region, but TRT can do much better than they can because of its broadcasting capabilities and facilities. But if it broadcasts shows explaining topics far from the basic problems of the people in the region --- like how ants procreate -- there won’t be much meaning to it. If they are going to do broadcasts that capture what is going on in daily life, then we support this.”

DTP Siirt deputy Osman Özçelik underscored the need for the new TRT Kurdish language broadcasts to be noticeably different from the station’s previous attempt. “If the broadcasts are like the previous ones, lasting only 15 minutes and doing nothing to attract the interest of people in the region, it won’t work. But we believe that if one channel has been given over to full-day Kurdish broadcasts, this means the government is finally approaching the matter more seriously. These are broadcasts that could contribute to the democratization of Turkey, and to the finding of solutions. It could also help contribute to the development and strengthening of the Kurdish language itself. But the broadcasts need to be done as objectively as possible, and by following a realistic broadcasting policy. Disinformation needs to be eliminated, and the broadcasts must not be turned into vehicles for political wars. We have a need for a quality channel offering culture as well as information and news.”

Özçelik also noted that effective broadcasts by TRT in Kurdish could help break the influence of stations known for their links with the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), such as the Denmark-based ROJ TV.

“Rather than being limited to certain hours of the day, the broadcasts should be done with the same mentality that governs any private station by paying attention to viewer ratings. There are already hundreds of television programs in Turkey. People have to be presented with quality alternatives,” Özçelik added. 

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