Last week the Danish court found the transnational Kurdish broadcaster Roj TV guilty of supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by the EU and the United States. Afterwards, the French-based satellite company Eutelsat decided to suspend Roj TV’s transmission today. Even though this is a smart move for Eutelsat, which is one of the world’s three leading satellite operators and thus solely driven by commercial interests, it is, nevertheless, a move that can have negative consequences for Kurdish transnational media in general and human rights demands of Kurdish people in particular. This is especially true for Kurdish people in Turkey, who are oppressed by the current government, AKP. The Danish court fined Roj TV for its links with PKK but it didn’t revoke its license. Roj TV appealed the decision. But Eutelsat wants to “avoid incurring criminal liability as an accomplice to terrorist activities” as it stated in its declaration.
This works well for Turkish government officials who believe the only way to solve the “Kurdish problem” is to eliminate PKK and since they see Roj TV as a mouthpiece for PKK, they believe Roj TV’s suspension would help their cause. That’s why, the Turkish state appealed to Denmark many times for Roj TV’s license to be revoked. Turkey even began a Kurdish-language state TV channel and relaxed its strong monitoring and fining practices of local Kurdish channels in Turkey in order to divert Kurdish audiences from consuming transnational channels, which authorities cannot control, and funnel them toward local media outlets which can be licensed and thus easily controlled. Why has Turkey been so obsessed about Roj TV? Kurdish people in Turkey follow Roj TV carefully as so do those in the Kurdish diaspora in Europe and elsewhere. Roj TV and other Kurdish transnational media channels have played an important role in the diaspora for they provide news and information alternative to those from official sources and mainstream media in addition to music and documentaries that keep Kurdish culture and language alive for the youth. On the one hand, it is certainly problematic that Roj TV does not (or did not in the past) operate independently from PKK in terms of its funding and ownership. On the other hand, most Kurds don’t see PKK as a terrorist organization but as guerrillas who fight for Kurds’ rights. In addition, Roj TV’s mission is not to make money and therefore it is not a commercial channel like others, which seems to bring the funding dilemma to the fore.
Turkish state has fought against Roj TV for as long as it has fought against its Kurdish citizens. In this context, whether we like Roj TV or not, Kurdish people’s and (the world’s) access to diasporic Kurdish transnational broadcasting that includes more than just music video channels is crucial. Stopping Roj or other TV networks will not eliminate the armed struggle between Turkish army and Kurdish guerillas in Turkey, but peaceful solutions and treating pro-Kurdish political party BDP as representatives of Kurdish citizens will.