Thursday, March 09, 2006

Language as a form of identity, language as a broadcasting right

Nazlan Ertan (

If you're one of those who've followed with enthusiasm -- and some hope -- the story of broadcasts in other languages than Turkish at a local level, you might feel momentarily happy over the announcements in the last few weeks that these broadcasts will be allowed this month.

Don't hold your breath.

Broadcasts in "mother tongues" or "local dialects" -- used in Turkey as a clever euphemism to avoid "minority languages" -- have long been on Turkey's agenda since the country, under heavy European Union pressure, passed a the Broadcasts in Languages Other Than Turkish Law in January 2004.

Since then the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) has been broadcasting in several languages -- Zaza, Kurmanji, Arabic, Circassian and Bosnian -- but these, under the present law, remain limited both in time and in scope. Broadcasts in mother tongues, for example, may include news programs but not children's programs.

Under the present law, private nationwide channels, such as CNN-TURK and NTV, may make limited broadcasts in languages other than Turkish. These stations, however, said that they have no such plans because it's not economically viable.

Obviously the sticky point in the law was about private local TV and radio channels. Broadcasts in local languages, by definition, would only be economically viable and logical at a local level. Some 10 radio and television stations have applied. One of them, Gun TV, applied almost two years ago.

The delay stems from two reasons. First, and possibly the most easily explicable, is the paperwork involved. The second one lies in a temporary article of the 2004 law which authorizes the Supreme Council of Radio and Television (RTUK) to implement the law and determine the need for broadcasts in mother tongues.

RTUK has claimed, for the past year, that it wants a profile study to determine which local dialects are used and where. Until we have a comprehensive linguistic map, said RTUK, no allocations will be made.

It's unclear why such a profile is necessary. Inquiries to local authorities should provide RTUK with adequate information, if it's absolutely necessary. Why not simply assume that when there's an application to broadcasts in a certain language, there's clearly a linguistic community? Does one realistically expect a TV company to apply to broadcast in Bosnian in Sirnak or in Laz in Diyarbakir?

And if they're unable to fulfill the expectations of the audience or there's no interest, will they not simply go out of business, just like Kurdish-language courses have?

Both international observers and the Turkish public find it hard to believe that since 2004 none of the 11 broadcasters have yet completed the paperwork. What seems to be the case is that there's reluctance on the part of RTUK so as to delay those broadcasts as much as possible.

Within that framework, is the recent declaration that broadcasts will be allowed in March a false alarm? Or does it mean that RTUK, with its new staff, is becoming a more progressive body, finally?

Source : The New Anatolian