French satellite operator Eutelsat has shut down Kurdish broadcaster Med Nuce TV at Ankara's request, due to what it said were formal media regulations.
The official statement issued by Eutelsat's press department was short and sober: "The suspension of Med Nuce TV broadcasts is the result of a memo from the Turkish media regulator RTÜK (Radio and Television Supreme Council) and conforms with the framework of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television."
According to the French press agency afp, satellite operator Eutelsat's CEO Rodolphe Belmer justified the move before the economic committee of the French parliament. Eutelsat is obliged to act in compliance with both French and European law. Thus it is required to shut down any channel that violates editorial content rules.
The Turkish government accused Med Nuce TV of supporting the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The Turkish media regulator RTÜK notified Eutelsat management of that claim. RTÜK is an associate member of the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (AVMSD).
Supporting repressive policies in Turkey?
Representatives of protesting Kurds in Paris were also notified of the move by Eutelsat management shortly after Med Nuce TV was shut down on October 3. Members of Med Nuce TV's editorial board have said that Eutelsat offered no further information about why broadcasts had been suspended.
Baki Gül, a Med Nuce editor and moderator, told DW that the channel simply received a short e-mail from Eutelsat informing them of the suspension. One of Gül's colleagues called the Med Nuce shutdown shameful for Europe as well as being a dangerous signal that could be seen as being tacitly supportive of repressive Turkish policies. Eutelsat did not say how long the channel will be off the air. Employees at Med Nuce presume that broadcasts will be suspended for as long as Turkey's state of emergency remains in effect, thus for at least three months.
The Kurdish Democratic Council of France has announced further protests to be staged at Eutelsat headquarters in Paris. Med Nuce employees are also looking into possible legal action and are considering filing a lawsuit. In a protest statement, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) voiced suspicions that RTÜK had pressured Eutelsat. But even so, did Eutelsat really have to react by issuing the suspension?
Sebastian Schweda, a lawyer at the Institute for European Media Law (EMR) in Saarbrücken, Germany, points out that the European Television Convention that Eutelsat referred to, is an agreement with the Council of Europe and not with the EU. Turkey has been a Council member since 1949. Yet, he says, only individual countries have the right to make reciprocal legal claims regarding media agreements. Therefore, Turkey should have taken up the issue with the French government and not with the satellite operator.
"If RTÜK directly approached Eutelsat on the basis of the Television Convention, then that would seem a rather dubious step," says Schweda. If the French government was not involved then it would seem that Eutelsat made the move voluntarily. The business, he says, has every right to do so.
Schweda maintains that there is no explicit prohibition of "subversive content" in the editorial guidelines of the Transfrontier Television Convention. Nevertheless, there are prohibitions against the disproportionate representation of violence, and incitement to racial hatred. The agreement states that events broadcast in news segments must be represented appropriately. The formulation "appropriately" leaves room for interpretation that can be used on a case-by-case basis, explains Schweda. It is for that reason that the European Court of Human Rights has dealt with the Television Convention in the past but has not committed to a unified interpretation of the law that Turkey could point to as a precedent.
Med Nuce - a critical channel
"Nuce" is Kurdish for news. According to the Democratic Social Center for Kurds in Germany (Navdem e.V.), Med Nuce TV, which was founded in 2013, produces content critical of Turkey's ruling AKP government, and broadcasts from offices in Belgium.
Navdem goes on to say that Med Nuce TV provides a voice of other minorities such as Armenians and Alevis as well as Kurds. Among other things, Med Nuce TV has shown Turkish army activities in Northern Kurdistan. Critics accuse Med Nuce TV of providing too broad a platform for PKK statements.
Eutelsat has shut down Kurdish broadcasters in the past, as in 2012 when it suspended Roj TV. Its justification at the time: A court in Copenhagen found that the channel had connections to the PKK. Consequently, Roj TV no longer has a license to broadcast in Denmark and signed a broadcasting agreement with the satellite provider Intelsat instead.