Sunday, March 19, 2006

Private Kurdish broadcasts kick off in Turkey next week

DIYARBAKIR, Kurdistan-Turkey, March 17, 2006 (AFP) - 18h05 - Two private regional television channels and a radio station will start brief Kurdish-language broadcasts for the first time in Turkey next week.

Executives from Gun TV, Soz TV and Medya FM, all based in the mainly Kurdish southeast, signed a deal with Turkey's broadcasting watchdog on Friday to begin airing their programs from Thursday, Gun TV's manager Cemal Dogan told AFP.

The existing laws limit the broadcasts to 45 minutes a day and four hours a week for television stations and to one hour a day and five hours a week for radio channels, he explained.

They also require the broadcasters to run subtitles in Turkish.

"These restrictions should be lifted," Dogan said. "But still, this is a positive step forward -- a small step for us but a great step for Turkey."

Under pressure to comply with the democracy norms of the European Union, Turkey began Kurdish-language broadcasts on state television in 2004, a taboo-breaking move in a country where even speaking Kurdish was banned less than 15 years ago.

Ankara has long feared that expanding Kurdish freedoms could fuel nationalist sentiment among the minority and embolden Kurdish rebels who have waged a bloody campaign for self-rule in the southeast since 1984.

Gun TV's first Kurdish-language program will be a documentary about the cultural and historic heritage of Diyarbakir, the main city of the southeast, where the station is based, Dogan said.

Soz TV, also based in Diyarbakir, plans to air a program on Kurdish traditions, while Medya FM, broadcasting from Sanliurfa, will start with a news bulletin and music, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Kurdish channels broadcasting either from Europe or neighboring northern Iraq are already widely watched in the region, where satellite dishes have become a fixture of the landscape.