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Why is the Turkish government now targeting cartoons?

Tue, 10/04/2016 - 21:41

ANKARA, Turkey — Late Sept. 28, the Turkish prime minister’s office issued orders for the closure of 23 TV and radio channels on the grounds they backed separatist and subversive activities. The decision was based on a legislative decree issued immediately after the July 20 declaration of the state of emergency over the failed coup attempt five days earlier.

Using the decree, the government moved the same day to close down all newspapers and radio and TV stations linked to the Fethullah Gulen community, which is held responsible for the putsch. With the state of emergency ongoing, the same decree was employed once again Sept. 28, but this time it targeted media outlets that had nothing to do with the Gulenists. They were all broadcasters with overwhelmingly Kurdish, Alevi and leftist audiences. The channels were accused of spreading propaganda in favor of separatist and subversive activities and the so-called Fethullah Gulen Terror Organization, a term Ankara uses to refer to Gulen followers.

The closed channels include the music-only Govend TV and Turkey’s first Kurdish-language cartoon channel for children, Zarok TV. Zarok’s chief broadcast coordinator Dilek Demiral expressed dismay at the move to Al-Monitor. “We are a cartoon channel. We broadcast cartoons from the Cartoon Network and similar channels after dubbing them into Kurdish and Zazaki. Those include the Smurfs, Garfield and SpongeBob. How could we possibly engage in separatist and subversive activities?” she said.

The moment the channel was taken off the air, it was broadcasting a puppet show called “The Rooster and the Cow,” Demiral said. “Our only objective was to make sure that Kurdish children can watch cartoons in their mother tongue. We sought to provide some remedy for Kurdish children unable to speak and learn their mother tongue. So, the closure decision inflicts an injury on Kurdish children."

The other Kurdish-language TV channels the prime minister's office targeted had news programming in their broadcasts. Judging by the scope of the decision, it seems the only Kurdish channels that were spared were those that broadcast solely music videos.

Some of the channels were not only taken off the air, but had their properties sealed. Denge TV was one of them. Channel manager Ferhat Sevim recounted what happened after their broadcast was terminated by Turksat, the country’s satellite provider, on the evening of Sept. 28. He told Al-Monitor, “We came to the studio on Sept. 29, and at around 5 p.m. police and Finance Ministry teams arrived. Our lawyer examined the decree, and it included a provision for the seizure of assets. They took the inventory of the building, then sealed the section where all the technical equipment was and took away our outside broadcast vehicle.” The raid has left the staff bewildered, Sevim said, adding, “I never expected that. We had always maintained impartiality and abided by universal broadcasting norms.”

The list of closed channels includes also TV10, which is popular with Alevis. Since Sept. 29, Alevi organizations have been holding protests, with a banner reading “TV10 is the voice of Alevis, it cannot be silenced” hung on the channel’s building. Veli Buyuksahin, the TV10 board chairman, stressed the channel was closed at the beginning of Muharram, the Islamic month held sacred in the Alevi faith. “We’ve come to a point where words fail,” he said.

The closed media outlets may be relatively small but each has a symbolic importance for being the voice of Kurdish, Alevi and socialist groups. Their closure is perceived not only as an affront to media freedoms, but also as a threat to the very existence of each of those communities.

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