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Identity via Satellite: A Case Study of the Kurdish Satellite Station Medya TV
Andrea E. Allen
The University of Texas at Austin
1190 Eagle Crest Place
Port Orchard, WA 98366
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International Communications Division
Abstract: The content of the Kurdish satellite television station Medya TV
was intended to appeal to all Kurds regardless of whether they lived in the
Middle East or diaspora. This qualitative study of the station's goals and
programming reveals that while Medya TV produced diverse content to appeal
to a variety of Kurdish experiences, the station still privileged a "modern
mentality." This raises questions about the hegemony of values in diasporic
Identity via Satellite: A Case Study of the Kurdish Satellite Station Medya TV
After almost five years of uninterrupted broadcasting, the broadcast
license of the Kurdish satellite television station Medya TV was revoked on
February 12, 2004. Although based in Europe, Medya TV claimed to be the
single Kurdish media organization addressing the entire Kurdish population
regardless of their country of origin. According to the French Conseil
Superior de l'Audiovisuel, the same body which issued Medya TV's license in
1999, Medya TV supported the Kurdistan Workers Party, or the PKK, a
terrorist organization. In a press release Medya TV denied any bias
maintaining that the station was, "space of liberty and information, where
all the Kurdish parties, denied access to the media platform of Turkey,
could express their opinion" (2004).
This study, based on research conducted in October 2003, just months
before the station's closure, addresses the question of how Medya TV
contended with Kurdish identity through its organizational goals and
programming. The question of Kurdish identity is unique because the Kurdish
people, inhabiting the same geographic location in the Middle East for
centuries, have never, with the exception of 1946, had a state of their own
and have instead been subject to a variety of different empires and
governments. Today Kurdistan is divided among Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria
and some former Soviet republics. The borders of these modern nation
states, combined with nationalistic policies hostile to Kurdish culture,
have challenged Kurds to protect their identity. Medya TV is significant
for its potential impact in the homeland and the diaspora. This study
explores how collective identity is manufactured by a traditionally
While this paper has unexpectedly been rewritten from present to past
tense, it still has obvious implications for international politics and
society. The recent war in Iraq has highlighted the pivotal situation of
Kurds in the Middle East. With regards to communication research, studies
on diasporic media have tended to focus on content and effects rather than
media production. Previous case studies on ethnic, minority, and diasporic
media have framed such organizations as resistance to globalization. Now,
instead of viewing globalization as Schiller (1976) does, as an inherently
negative phenomenon that suppresses local cultures through cultural
imperialism, recent scholarship has highlighted cases where Eastern
cultures have been relatively successful in exporting communication to the
West. Popular examples include the proliferation of Iranian and Indian
Bollywood films (see Karim 1998). Brecher, Costello and Smith (2000) also
hail what they call "globalization-from-below," where various transnational
communities interact across geographic borders, largely using new
communication technologies. Generally speaking, research on transnational
media has focused on its content and framed the audience as either actively
resisting or passively accepting globalization. Such research has ignored
the central question of the process of identity formation. In this spirit
the main research question for this case study asks, how did Medya TV, a
Kurdish satellite television station based in Europe, present Kurdish
Diasporic media as a research topic in communication did not appear until
the 1990s. Since then research has been scattered. Diasporic media has
been used to refer to media produced in, for and by members of the
diaspora, as well as media exported from the homeland and broadcast locally
for the diaspora. The majority of literature consists of qualitative case
studies of diasporic media content.
Diasporic Media Content
Studies on national media exported from the homeland to the diaspora
suggest diasporic audiences consume national media in order to remain
connected to their homeland. Features, such as language and visual images
of the homeland, create feelings of nostalgia and romance (Aksoy and Robins
2003; Naficy 1993; Ray 2003). Kaldor-Robinson (2002) studied the role of
media in shaping attitudes of people in the Croatian diaspora in Australia
during the break-up of Yugoslavia. He observed that as Yugoslavia
dissolved into ethnic chaos, Croatians in Australia increasingly identified
with the Croatian independence movement. Similarly Ray's (2003) study of
the use of Bollywood films by the Indian diaspora in Fiji revealed a
similar desire of those in the diaspora to identify themselves within the
old national narrative despite the transnational reality of the group.
In his landmark study of Iranian exilic television in Los Angeles, Naficy
(1993) studied what happens when a diaspora creates its own media content
for its own consumption. He discovered that the content of Iranian exilic
television blended elements of American culture and Iranian culture which
helped Iranian exiles remain in a liminal state between leaving their home
country and fully assimilating in their host society. Naficy (1993)
contends that media created by exiles in this liminal space lead to the
creation of a new identity unique to the local diasporic population. This
identity helps insulate the community from assimilation and helps create
group cohesion. A key aspect of the cohesion of the diasporic community
relates to the diasporic media's creation of an ethnic economy. In the
case of Iranians in Los Angeles, adopting the Western-based commercial
media system allowed Iranian business to target their own community.
Naficy found that the creation of an ethnic economy is a product of what
he calls narrowcasting. Naficy defines narrowcasting as essentially the
development of a niche market through programming that is fairly homogenous
and directed at large commonalities within culture (1993; 2003). For
example, instead of broadcasting programming sensitive to the diversity of
the Iranian population in terms of characteristics such as religion,
politics and ethnicity, Iranian exilic television stresses above all an
"essentialist Iranian-ness" (2003). The success of Iranian television in
Los Angeles has led to its illegal importation to Iran in the form of
videotapes. No work has explored what the effect or interpretation of this
diasporic media might be in the homeland.
One situation where diasporic content is more explicitly intended for both
the diaspora and the homeland, as was the case with Medya TV, is Zee
TV. Zee TV-Europe is a South Asian channel produced in England, which is
also seen in South Asia. Together with its sister channels produced in
South Asia, Zee TV-Europe is part of Zee International, a subsidiary of
Rupert Murdoch's STAR network. Zee TV is widely popular throughout Europe
and in India, with its sister stations, rivals the ratings of the
state-owned channels. In his textual analysis of the British produced Zee
TV-Europe, Dudrah (2002) concludes like Naficy that in the diaspora, Zee
TV-Europe is helping create a pan-Asian identity within Europe. The
creation of such an identity, Dudrah argues, is in the economic interests
of the network because the diaspora offers a wealthy source of financial
support. Dudrah adds, however, that while the new diasporic identity is
interesting to study, it has overshadowed the effects of Zee TV-Europe on
South Asians. Dudrah warns that no work has been done on the perceptions
of Zee TV-Europe in India, and perhaps the station could be viewed their as
"enforcing Indian Hindu socio-cultural hegemony" (177).
The Diasporic Elite
Questions about the meaning of content inevitably lead back to questions
concerning the contents' producers. In many countries major media outlets
are run by a state-sponsored elite. Media created in diaspora is also
produced by a different diasporic elite. Generally people living in
diaspora are generally unrepresentative of the national composition of
their home country. They are often more educated and affluent (Naficy
1993, 2003; Gillespie and Cheesman 2002). Already an elite in their home
country, they maintain their elite status as media producers in the diaspora.
Naficy's (1993) case of Iranians in Los Angeles needs to be read in the
political context of the relationship between Iran and the United
States. A wave of exiles came to the United States following the 1979
Islamic Revolution. The majority of exiles were wealthy supporters of the
monarchy. Over the past few decades the Iranian population in the United
States has diversified. Nevertheless, Iranian exiles are generally
regarded as kind of a privileged minority. The wealth – and centralized
location of Iranians in Los Angeles – facilitated the creation of
narrowcasting and the ethnic economy described earlier.
Yet not all diasporic groups have the ability to create an ethnic economy.
Some communities, like the Kurds in diaspora, are geographically dispersed
and less affluent than the original Iranian immigrants to the United
States. Arguably even producers of less concentrated diasporic populations
constitute an elite by virtue of their access to media. Given the
diversity of the Kurdish diaspora – not to mention among Kurds in the
Middle East - can diasporas overcome their elite status to produce media
for a wider audience? More studies should seek to answer to what extent the
homeland agrees with or feels alienated from the content produced in the
diaspora. One aim of this study is to examine how producers attempt to
communicate with mainland viewers.
Language and Diasporic Media Channels
Interest in diasporic studies coincided with the rise of new communication
technologies. The majority of diasporic groups disperse their media
through the Internet or broadcast technology. Theoretically the Internet is
the ideal medium because it allows for greater participation and
interaction between members of the diaspora and the homeland. However,
worldwide Internet access remains limited, so broadcasting, therefore,
remains most powerful diasporic medium. Broadcasting is an effective medium
because it overcomes illiteracy, transcends geographic borders and makes
Language is a central issue in diasporic broadcasting. The use of a single
language may help the creation of a market community, whereas more diverse
language programming may encourage a more open-minded democratic
mentality. Traditionally minority language broadcasting has been viewed as
a source of group empowerment and a weapon against assimilation (Downing
1992). Downing has written about how Spanish language broadcasting had the
ability to unite Spanish speakers in the New York area. Howell (1992)
compared the cases of Welsh and Gaelic broadcasting in Wales and Ireland.
The motive behind broadcasting in both Welsh and Gaelic was the concern
that the languages might die out because they were no longer in common
practice. In Wales, the language programming was successful and
well-received in the community, but in Ireland it was not. Howell
attributes the difference to the relative standard dialect of Welsh and the
geographic concentration of Welsh speakers. In Ireland only a few areas
still speak Gaelic and the dialect varies from region to
region. Superficially the Kurds more resemble the situation in Ireland,
because there are multiple Kurdish dialects.
One potential drawback of minority language broadcasting is its ability to
divide as well as to unite people. A station's decision to broadcast in
one language over another gives precedence to that language's culture. For
example, Dudrah (2002) is concerned that Hindu broadcasting could enhance
separatist aims and potentially lend itself to ethnic conflict. This study
will pay attention to how language is treated in version of Kurdish
identity supported on Medya TV.
As Karim (1998: 2003) notes, new media technologies, such as satellite
television and the Internet, are central to diaporas' ability to overcome
the boundaries of traditional nation-states and reach a larger group of
people. Those weary of the potentially homogenizing effects of Western
media, such as Kellner (1999) and Downing (2001), see diasporic media as
fundamentally challenging media conglomerates. Karim's (1998) study of
diasporic groups argues the opposite. He writes, "Diasporas are often
viewed as forming alternatives to the structures of worldwide capitalism;
but in many instances they are participants in international economic
activity" (6). Furthermore, "Rather than directly challenge dominant media
networks, they have sought to apply available market mechanisms to create
and sustain their community links" (7).
Karim's (1998) assertion that diasporic media adopt Western media
practices raises interesting questions about the organization of
alternative media outlets. Gitlin (1980) writes "In liberal capitalist
societies, no institution is devoid of hegemonic functions, and none does
hegemonic work only" (254). Hegemonic theory has become a popular frame for
studying Western media organizations (see Kamhawi and Weaver 2003), and is
the frame of analysis for this study. A Marxist influenced theory
articulated by Antonio Gramsci (1971), hegemonic theory describes the
process by which the elite create media production that appeals to the
commonsensical values of the larger society, but in turn makes mass society
participant in its own domination by the elite. Arguably people living and
working in the Western diaspora constitute a type of elite. They are
usually more educated and affluent than those in their home countries
(Karim 1998; Naficy 1993). Gitlin (1980) elaborates on Gramsci's idea of
hegemony adding that it is "the systematic (but not necessarily or even
usually deliberate) engineering of mass consent to the established order"
(253). The question arises, then, concerning how well diasporic media
address a geographically fragmented audience. Medya TV has an audience in
the Kurdish diaspora and an audience in the Kurdish homeland in the Middle
East. Since Medya TV is developed in the diaspora, is it hegemonic in so
far as its goals and programming favor the values of those in the diaspora?
Overview of Medya TV
Medya TV was established in 1999, less than one year after the broadcast
license of its London-based predecessor MED TV was revoked by the British
Independent Television Commission for allegedly broadcasting terrorist
propaganda of the PKK. Convinced there was still an audience for Kurdish
television, various Kurdish cultural institutions in Europe provided
financial support for the creation of Medya TV. Through satellite
technology Medya TV had the ability to transmit its programming to 77
countries, including Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria (Medya TV 2003b).
Throughout its existence, Medya TV, like MED TV, was restricted by
economic and political pressures. While Kurds are marginalized in Iran,
Iraq, Syria and Turkey, the Turkish government organized the largest
opposition to the station. Turkey asserted that Medya TV was the voice of
the PKK, jammed Medya TV's satellites, destroyed satellite dishes in
Kurdish areas in Turkey, and arrested Turkish guests on Medya TV when they
attempted to reenter the country. According to employees of Medya TV,
advertising on the station was greatly restricted by the Turkish government
reportedly threatened to terminate contracts with any company broadcasting
on the station.
Medya TV's main production studio, the setting for this study, was located
in Denderleeuw, Belgium just outside of Brussels. Medya TV has
approximately 150 employees, 70 of whom worked in Belgium. Medya TV's
programming, 60 percent of which originated in Belgium, ranged from news to
entertainment. The station broadcasts in three Kurdish dialects, Turkish,
Arabic and Assyrian. In recognition of the overall transnational reality
of the Kurdish people both in the diaspora and in the Middle East, Medya TV
seeks to produce programming which appeals to all Kurds regardless of the
nation states in which they reside. A promotional pamphlet published by
the station describes Medya TV as a "fundamental element which contributes
to the strengthening and development of the Kurdish civilization" (Medya TV
Rather than studying media through the content it produces, Shoemaker and
Reese (1991) suggest examining, "the ways in which such content is
manufactured (how it is itself a result or an effect), and what interests
it serves" (1). Accordingly, the main research question for this study
is, how does the production of Medya TV address issues of Kurdish identity?
To answer this, there are two intermediate research questions. They are: 1)
What are the goals of Medya TV?, and 2) What types of programming does
Medya TV offer?
To answer these questions, I adopted a qualitative approach. The
qualitative approach is popular in cultural studies as a way to study
social practices and then to analyze the data with the intention of "making
interpretations or criticism of society or culture as an influencer of
text" (Potter 1996:62).
The research design is a case study. The goal is to "gather comprehensive,
systematic, and in-depth information" (Patton 1990: 384). There are three
data sources in this case study: interviews, participant observation and
documents. All three data sources were used in the analysis, the method of
which was qualitative grounded theory analysis. Most of the data were
collected during a one-week stay at Medya TV's studio in Denderleeuw,
Belgium in early October 2003.
The interview method was selected as conducive to answering specific
questions about the history, financial situation, programming and overall
mission of the station. A professional contact who works at Medya TV
facilitated introductions with potential participants. Participants were
then selected through snowball sampling. Snowball sampling helps target
respondents who are best suited to answer specific interview questions
(Lindlof and Taylor 2002). Thirteen respondents, 8 women and 5 men, were
selected for interviews. The participants worked in of a variety of
departments at Medya TV. The interviews lasted approximately one hour each
and followed an open-ended format. Sample questions can be found in the
appendix. Seven of the interviews were conducted by the researcher in
English. Six interviews necessitated the use of an interpreter. Five
respondents answered in Kurdish and one in Turkish.
The second data-gathering method was participant observation of Medya
TV. In addition to recording observations in social settings, Lindlof and
Taylor (2002) add that participant observation includes "being in the
presence of others on an ongoing basis and having some status for them as
someone who is part of their lives" (134). Medya TV granted me permission
to observe station activities when I was not conducting interviews. Again,
the interaction was limited by a language barrier. Nevertheless, the
overall data-gathering technique of this study represents the first and by
default best available evidence of the station's organization. I was
able to observe, for example, how, when and in what language people
interacted. The major language used in interpersonal communication was
Kurdish. The second most frequently used language was Turkish. Some of
Medya TV's younger employees, who were raised in Europe, did not speak
Kurdish and communicated with their co-workers in either Turkish they
learned from their parents, or in some cases, English. Furthermore,
people working in the Arabic news service spoke Arabic and those in
Assyrian programming communicated with each other in Assyrian. The
Assyrians largely communicated with the Kurds in Turkish.
The third source of data is documents, both primary and secondary. I
received five primary documents produced by Medya TV from my professional
contacts. They include an advertising booklet, a programming schedule, a
chart showing the percentages of genres of programming, a chart showing the
percentages of programming in different languages, and an informational
profile printed by Medya TV. Additional primary documents from Medya TV I
acquired through its Internet website (Medya TV 2003a). I used a variety
of secondary sources, including, journals books and book chapters. A
complete list can be found in the bibliography.
Finally, in addition to the language barrier, there were several other
limitations to the study. First, the study is confined to a one-week
period due to time and financial constraints. A longer observation would
have been ideal to develop greater rapport between myself and the
participants. As time passed, participants could become more candid and I
might be able to observe long-term routines and patterns. Secondly, I came
into the study as an outsider. One possibility is that outsiders are
limited because participants are more skeptical or evasive. Finally the
case study approach is useful for an in-depth study, but makes
generalizations unrealistic. Instead I present a descriptive analysis of
one unique case. This case is important because it allows us to address
issues of transnational identity and production.
Research Question 1: What are the goals of Medya-TV?
Medya TV appeared to have three goals. The primary goal of the station
was to promote Kurdish identity to Kurds and to the world. Two related
goals were to preserve the Kurdish language and to promote what has been
described by respondents as a "modern Kurdish mentality."
Goal #1: Promote Kurdish Identity
a) Among Kurds
Everyone interviewed believed Medya TV's main aim was to promote Kurdish
culture within Kurdistan. Since Kurdistan is geographically divided across
several other nations, historical and political circumstances have
repeatedly forced the Kurdish issue to the periphery of other state
issues. This has had the effect of alienating the Kurds from one another
to the point where Kurds living in Eastern Kurdistan do not know much about
Kurds living in Northern Kurdistan. Medya TV sought to highlight a
pan-Kurdish culture and embrace Kurdish solidarity. Employees of Medya TV
understood that oppression is as much a characteristic of Kurdish identity
as music and language. As one respondent explained:
The reality of modern Kurdish history is that Kurds are never felt
to possess anything of their own. The main aim for us is to make Kurds
feel they are regaining their own culture and have the possibilities to
Medya TV hoped that the recognition of a common Kurdish culture would pave
the way toward unity, which can manifest itself through collective action
and function as a political tool for Kurds to gain liberty and human
rights. Respondents agreed that Medya TV's aim was not to advocate a
Kurdish separatist movement and the creation of a Kurdish state, but
instead to work toward promoting civil society within the countries where
Kurds already live.
b) Among non-Kurds
Employees at Medya TV believed that Kurds would only progress toward
securing equal rights with other populations in the Middle East with the
support of the international community. To this extent, Medya TV hoped its
programming would impact international opinion by presenting a fair
portrait of the Kurdish situation. Pointing to my presence as an
example, one woman said "When you think of Kurds on the world stage, the
first institution that comes to your mind is Medya-TV."
One worker said Medya TV's coverage of Kurdish rallies in Europe
demonstrated that the Kurdish problem is not trapped in the Middle East,
but is instead an international problem. "It shows the international
community that the Kurds don't have any animosity towards any other
culture. They are not terrorists. They are not backward. They are one of
the peoples of the universe and they are just asking for human rights," he
explained. Specifically, Medya TV hoped that their reporting could affect
the European Union as Turkey works toward gaining admission. They believe
the EU has the power to reform human rights in Turkey by requiring Turkey
to make reforms. Respondents believed that the major barrier to the
Kurdish question overall is ignorance of the Kurdish question. One
employee was certain that, "if only people knew our situation they would
Goal #2: Preserve the Kurdish language
One respondent remarked that the ability to speaking Kurdish is a "natural
right." In parts of Kurdistan, Kurds are not free to speak in Kurdish.
Another respondent explained that speaking Kurdish in Turkey held a
negative stigma. She said growing up her mother was ashamed to speak
Kurdish and did not teach her children the language. This informant only
started learning Kurdish since working at Medya-TV. She said Medya TV was
bringing pride back to the Kurdish language and the Kurdish
people. Another producer recalled:
When I was a child I used to look at cartoons. They were all in Arabic. I
had a fantasy that there were other cartoons which one could hear people
speaking Kurdish. Now it has been realized. I can hear cartoons in
Kurdish. It gives you self-confidence.
In addition to promoting Kurdish self-confidence, the use of the Kurdish
language on Medya TV served an educational function. While there was no
specific language education program, the use of Kurdish was hoped to teach
Kurdish to Kurds whether they lived in Istanbul or Paris. One informant
who recently traveled in Kurdistan said because of Medya TV, "Kurds today
are talking the same Kurdish dialect as our presenters do."
Goal #3: Promote a "modern mentality"
Employees of Medya TV believed that in order for Kurdish culture to
progress and be accepted in the international community, traditional
Kurdish social structure must change. An internal document says, "As a
force for change and creativity in the Kurdish population, it (Medya TV)
opens up new possibilities and new futures; it marks the coming of age of
the Kurdish people in the global community" (2003c: 3).
Several respondents faulted the feudal and tribal structure of Kurdish
society as barriers to political and social progress. Medya TV attempted to
overcome this through "socially progressive" programming. Aspects of this
included an array of programming that is said to demonstrate tolerance and
acceptance of multiple cultures and the position of women on Medya
TV. Producers attempted to have an equal number of men and women appear on
TV, and as one man noted, no female presenter wore a headscarf.
Democracy was a key pillar of the "modern mentality" Medya TV tried to
advocate. As such, Medya TV believed its message of democracy, tolerance
and open-mindedness is universal and not just for the Kurds. As one
respondent explained, "Just because the Kurds are living in a very bad
situation we have to emphasize it." She continued, "We are trying to
create a Kurdistan that is a modern Kurdistan that wants to live side by
side with Turks, with Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians – in a democratic Middle
East that isn't governed by any other forces than its main
people." Another respondent echoed the same sentiment that Medya TV's
desire to promote tolerance and democracy and was not self-serving. She
paraphrased the words of a Kurdish prophet: "He said, not just for us, but
because you give it (freedom) to us, give it (freedom) to all other nations
Research Question 2: What types of programming does Medya-TV offer?
Medya-TV broadcast 13 hours a day, from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. continental
European time. Sixty-percent of programming originated in Belgium and
sixty percent of that was live.
TABLE 1 Types of Programming
Between 1 Sept – 30 Sept 2003
Type of Program
# of programs
# of minutes
% of total programming
(Source: Medya TV 2003d)
As demonstrated in Table 1, provided and categorized by Medya TV, the
largest type of programming was news programs. Examples include Rojeva
Medya, a daily show in Kurdish, which discussed news from daily newspapers
and Sernuce, or "Top News," which aired live for one and a half hours each
week. The format for news programs was usually discussion with one or two
guests. Guests varied from politicians to poets.
The second largest genre of programming was cultural programs. Cultural
programs included shows like Rawej, or "Consultation," a pre-recorded show
airing twice a week in Kurdish. The producer/presenter liked to discuss
things such as Kurdish history or the status of the Kurdish
language. Occasionally the producer would profile a successful Kurdish
figure, such as a Kurdish academic who has just published a book, or a
Kurdish climber who successfully climbed Mount Everest.
The news, the third highest percentage of Medya-TV's programming, was
broadcast five times per day Monday through Friday. On the weekends the
schedule was slightly different with two nightly newscasts. During the
week there was a broadcast in the Kurdish dialect Kurmanji, spoken in
northern Kurdistan, at noon, and a 1 p.m. broadcast in Surani, a Kurdish
dialect spoken in southern Kurdistan. The station broadcast 5 or 6 minutes
of Turkish news at 2 p.m, and then more Kurdish news at 6 p.m. During this
broadcast, there were two presenters. One spoke Kurmanji and the other,
Surani. The Surani news was also accompanied by subtitles in
Kurmanji. The news "more relevant" to those living where Kurmanji is
spoken was read in Kurmanji, and the same was true for Surani. The issue
of language in programming is discussed further in the following
section. There is a final news update at 10 p.m. in Kurmaji.
Actualities programming included events coverage such as Kurdish festivals
and demonstrations in Europe or town hall meetings like Platforma Azad,
which was filmed every two weeks in a European location with 60 audience
Music programming was an important aspect of Medya-TV because music is a
key aspect of Kurdish culture, according to the producer of one music
program. Promotional literature from Medya TV explains, "Music programmes
also reflect cultural richness and diversity, drawing on different areas
and presenting a range of musical and linguistic traditions" (Medya TV
2003c: 1). Music shows either had live guests or show music videos. One of
the station's most popular shows was Med Muzik, which aired every other
Saturday for one and a half hours. This show was geared toward younger
Kurds and included a discussion between guests and viewers who called in
with comments and requests.
Medya-TV also aired documentaries commemorating events or
persons. Children and youth programming only made up a small portion of
programming. Last year there was a children's fantasy series using child
actors in the Belgian studio. Medya-TV had difficultly producing youth
programming and several respondents saw this as a drawback to the
station. One respondent said she would like to see sports and
entertainment programming broadcast in order to attract youth. In the past
Medya TV had a show geared toward teens in the diaspora facing a generation
and civilization gap with their parents. The show addressed how to bring
up sensitive issues with parents whose values reflect traditional Kurdish
society and who may not used to discussing such issues.
Women's programming was only a small fraction of Medya-TV's programming.
The main women's show was Jin u Jiyan, or "Women and Life," which aired
weekly for 45 minutes in Kurdish. According to the show's producer, the
goal of the show was to help overcome patriarchal structures in
Kurdistan. Some women in Kurdistan are still facing conservative
restrictions and are not allowed to go to school or pick their husbands.
The presenter of Jin u Jiyan highlights profiled of famous women from
across the world, or invited Kurdish women guests, such as entertainers or
politicians to discuss women's issues in Kurdistan. Another segment dealt
with aesthetics. The presenter explained, "because of the restrictive
Kurdish society this aspect is not dealt with very properly. For instance,
if you look at a woman, she may only be 40 years old but she actually looks
70 years old." To this end, the show addressed topics such as skin and hair
A key aspect of Medya-TV was that it broadcast in a variety of different
languages including three Kurdish dialects, Turkish, Arabic, and
Assyrian. As shown in Table 2, the largest amount of programming is in
"North Kurdish." North Kurdish is commonly known as Kurmanji, denoting the
region in southeastern Turkey where Kurmanji is spoken. "Middle Kurdish,"
also known as Sorani, is spoken in most of Kurdish Iran and Iraq. Sorani
is written in Arabic script and Kurmanji is written in Latin script. Often
Sorani programming is accompanied by subtitles in Kurmanji. Approximately
75 percent of Kurdish speakers speak Kurmanji (Romano 2000.) The Zazaky
dialect of Kurdish, also listed in Table 4, is spoken in northwestern
Kurdistan. According to one producer, calling the Kurmanji and Sorani
dialects "northern" and "middle," respectively, lessened the possibility
for sectarian feelings within Kurdistan. Referring to all dialects as
"Kurdish" suggests a larger sense of collective identity.
TABLE 2 Amounts of programming per language
Between 1Sept – 30 September 2003
# of days
# of minutes
% of total programming
(Source: Medya TV 2003e)
I asked respondents why it was important to broadcast in so many languages,
including Turkish. One woman explained it is "a necessity to reach our
whole audience." It is true that not all Kurds in the diaspora or in
Kurdistan speak Kurdish. For example, early in the history of the Turkish
Republic, Kurds were forcibly relocated to parts of Western Turkey in an
effort by the government to subvert Kurdish identity in favor of a modern
Turkish identity. Consequently children raised outside of Kurdistan, such
as one of Medya TV's producers from Istanbul, never learned to speak
Kurdish. This particular woman was the producer/presenter for the Turkish
Another explanation for the inclusion of programming in various languages
is that it allowed Kurds to preserve their former local identities while
still acknowledging a larger Kurdish identity. The director of the Arabic
programming explained that while Kurds are not Arabs, those living in Iraq
and Syria are involved in Arab culture. Medya TV's Arabic programming was
intended to stimulate dialogue between Kurds and Arabs. Arabic
broadcasting, which comprised only 3.10% of Medya TV's programming in
September 2003, occurred five days a week for 30 minutes a day. The
program began with 10 minutes of news from the news service translated into
Arabic, and then moved on to address a different topic such as the Arabic
press, for example.
The inclusion of Assyrian/Syriac broadcasting in Medya TV is more unique.
Assyrians, another ethnic minority group in Mesopotamia, are quite distinct
from Kurds. Assyrians or Syriacs are ancient inhabitants of the Middle
East and currently live scattered throughout Mesopotamia, in Turkey, Syria,
Iraq, Iran and Lebanon and now in the diaspora in places like Brazil and
the United States. Assyrians first began broadcasting with MED-TV and
continued with Medya-TV. They broadcast 2 ½ hours per week and seven
programs per month. I spoke with the director of Assyrian programming and
asked her how Assyrian programming found a home on Medya TV. Her response
was similar to Kurdish respondents when asked why they thought Medya TV was
important. She explained, "We can use our language in a very free
way." Kurdish respondents from Medya TV said they welcomed Assyrian
programming because its inclusion demonstrated how much Medya TV was
committed to free broadcasting for all peoples in the Middle East.
Given Medya TV's inclusive language policy, some languages are noticeably
absent. For instance, Medya TV had no Persian programming which could
appeal to the 5.7 million Kurds living in Eastern Kurdistan (McDowall
1996). When I inquired about the void, I was told it was a "deficiency" of
the station and that Medya TV did not have proper personnel to produce such
programming. While there are many individuals at Medya TV who speak
English, there is also no English, or any other Western language,
programming. Several people expressed hope that Medya TV would expand to
include English programming because they believed English is the new lingua
franca and through it, Medya TV could reach a much larger audience.
The first part of this section addresses how well Medya TV appeared to
address its goals vis-à-vis the station's programming. The section
concludes with a discussion of the role of hegemony in Medya TV.
Goal #1: Promote Kurdish identity
A. Among Kurds
The very fact that there was a Kurdish television station accessible to
Kurds, particularly in the Middle East, helped to promote Kurdish identity.
Often marginalized by the nation-states they live, through Medya TV Kurds
could listen to their language and see people and images they identified
with. As informants explained, most Kurds are not familiar with the
situation of Kurds beyond the borders of their nation-state and on Medya TV
Kurds saw Kurdistan treated as a nation for the first time. News
programming, for example, regardless of language, addressed the Kurdish
situation as a whole, focusing on issues of human rights and political
participation. Within the content of cultural and social programming,
producers attempted to highlight different aesthetic features of Kurdish
culture, particularly, music and Kurdish handicrafts. Certainly by
functioning as a voice for the Kurdish people, Medya TV is actively
promoting Kurdish identity.
B. Among Non-Kurds
The goal of promoting Kurdish identity on an international level is more
difficult to assess through examining programming alone. Medya TV's
programming was not in any European language, and Medya TV therefore relied
on Kurdish viewers living in Europe to be moved to demonstrate in
recognition of the Kurdish situation within countries in Europe. Arguably
the organization of Medya TV and its mere presence on satellite TV gave
legitimacy to the Kurdish question by presenting Kurds not as a
stereotypical displaced tribal people, but as intelligent and
organized. Brief anecdotal evidence suggests this was the case. During
the recent Iraqi war, for example, clips of Medya TV were shown on both
Russian and Japanese national television.
Goal #2: To promote the Kurdish language
In the words of one respondent, the Kurdish language is "the key to
Kurdish identity." There is no question Medya TV favorably impacted the
preservation of the Kurdish language. The use of Kurdish on Medya TV was
probably most significant for Kurds in Turkey where the language was
forcibly oppressed by the Turkish government. There is an on-going debate
over the standardization of the Kurdish language. Medya TV maintained a
hands-off approach, not trying to homogenize the Kurdish language and
instead broadcast in various dialects. Writing about MED TV, Hassanpour
wrote that broadcasting in various dialects did not segment the station's
audience because "the audience excitement and the urge for unity have
overridden such cleavages" (1995: 17). Medya TV employees expressed
recognition that broadcasting in different dialects had the potential to
divide the audience, but was content to deal with it by referring to the
two main Kurdish dialects as "Northern Kurdish" and "Middle Kurdish" rather
by their traditional names which denote a specific geographic place.
The situation of Kurdish language broadcasting on Medya TV is somewhere
in-between Howell's (1992) two Gaelic communities. As with the Welsh
example, Kurds are centrally located in the Middle East, but as in the
Irish example, Kurds speak a variety of different dialects. Medya TV has
been able to experience the success of Welsh broadcasting despite the
geographic dispersal of Kurds because recognition of diversity is built
into Kurdish culture. As Romano (2002) argues, "most Kurds recognize
themselves as Kurds and thus, in effect, already possess a national
Goal #3: To promote a modern Kurdish mentality
Medya TV's aim to promote a "modern mentality" among Kurds is intriguing
for it has implications that may effect Kurds and non-Kurds alike. But
before I discuss how Medya TV's goals and interests, I would like explicate
on the word "modern."
"Modern" is the word choice of the respondents and not my own. I am
personally ambivalent to using "modern" in this context because it reminds
me of the dominant model of communication advocated by Daniel Lerner
(1958), which unquestioningly heralded the diffusion of technology on the
road to development. In the 1970s the dominant model came under attack
from critical scholars who argued the model was based on Western capitalist
ideals. Despite such criticism, the dominant model is still evident in
development literature and practice. In an article presented in 2001,
Koivunen and Kuosa use Medya TV to illustrate how "pre-modern" people are
using "post-modern" technology. The authors use "pre-modern" to describe
the Kurds' lack of a nation-state. In so doing, the authors are falling
prey to the idea that all nations want a state. This position
misrepresents the case of Medya TV as concerned with promoting the
establishment of a Kurdish state. Medya TV would like to see democracy and
human rights in Kurdistan and the entire Middle East, but is not advocating
a separatist Kurdish movement. That said, "modern" used in this article
refers to a desire to become more tolerant and democratic.
Now, as reported, Medya TV broadcast diverse programming in order to
demonstrate its dedication towards toleration and democratic ideals. A
prime example of this was Medya TV's inclusion of Assyrian
broadcasting. Also, when selecting topics for other Kurdish shows,
producers repeatedly said they sought out guests who served as positive
role models. With regards to the women's programming, one informant
expressed optimism that such programming already had a positive impact. "In
my old village, old illiterate women know the names of women dignitaries
who helped the rights of women," he rejoiced.
Medya TV also tried to promote modern mentality in its news gathering
process. For example, a woman who worked in the Mesopotamian news service
and presented the Turkish news said when she looked for news she found
stories about how the countries where Kurds live could "become more
democratic – not just to condemn them but also to encourage them to become
more democratic towards the Kurds and also to others because they are their
own people." Several other respondents talked about how significant it was
that Medya TV had female news anchors and presenters. The women are a
visible suggestion that men and women deserve equal treatment. Medya TV
employees, both male and female, repeatedly pointed out that none of their
female presenters wore headscarves. Their implication was that clothing
and modernity are somehow connected. The headscarf is symbolic of
traditional and feudal values, while bare heads symbolize independence and
In Mediating the Message, Shoemaker and Reese (1991) identify ideology as
the largest hierarchical influence on media production. Because Medya TV
relied on private donations and was restricted by extramedia influences
from pursuing capitalist endeavors, superficially, perhaps, hegemony is not
fit to apply to Medya TV. Medya TV's self-stated goal to educate all Kurds
reflects a commitment to content that is open-minded, diverse and tolerant.
Medya TV, I think, would have argued that their ideology would best be
classified as "democratic idealism." Far from attempting to maintain an
oppressive power elite, such as those ruling Iran, Syria, Turkey, and until
recently, Iraq, Medya TV sought to inspire equality and representative
Nevertheless because Medya TV was produced in the diaspora and away from
its audience in Kurdistan, Medya TV's content reasonably reflected Western
values that Kurds in the homeland could not identify with. As Gitlin
(1980) has suggested, hegemony is not always deliberate. Medya TV was
produced by a diasporic elite living outside of Kurdistan. Living in the
diaspora, employees have a different set of experiences and, quite
possibly, values that may be different from Kurds in Kurdistan. Because
access to Kurdistan is limited, it is difficult to gauge and compare the
differences between Kurds in diaspora and Kurds in the
homeland. Specifically, Medya's TV self-stated goal to promote a "modern
mentality" is quite intriguing. While Medya TV was freed from targeting
audiences to attract advertising, which would, according to pervious
research, presumably favor Medya TV's audience in the diaspora and not the
homeland, Medya TV's goal to promote a modern mentality suggests a
hierarchy without capitalist motivation. Medya TV had a clearly
articulated agenda to promote and transform Kurdish identity both in the
diaspora and in Kurdistan. Medya TV set out to produce content that
challenged feudal values and promoted democracy and tolerance. As such,
Medya TV, as well as being an information source for Kurds, played the role
of a social advocate. In a situation such as this where a group is
traditionally marginalized, one can ask, is the hegemonic function of the
diaspora inherently negative? Is hegemony necessarily harmful when the
goals of the station are well-intentioned and meant to help the oppressed
Kurdish people and raise awareness of the Kurdish situation?
The above questions are fruitful areas for future discussion and research
in the field of diasporic media which has largely focused on hegemony in
terms of economic reality and not on the hegemony of ideas and values
especially amongst diasporic media accessible to the homeland. A unique
case of diasporic media, generalizations about diasporic media cannot be
made based on this study alone. Future research should also address the
role of language in content production, or how values expressed in
diasporic media organizations reflect that groups traditional values in the
All respondents were over 21 years old. Confidentiality was maintained.
All respondents were asked for both their consent to participate and their
consent to be audio recorded. All respondents agreed to both. Most of the
interviews were conducted in one particular office at Medya TV. In two
cases, I went to the individual offices of the respondents.
 The use of a translator was not ideal because the presence of another
person may have prohibited respondents from being totally open – especially
because the translator was also an employee of Medya TV. In several of
these cases where the translator was used, however, the respondents
actually understood and spoke some English, but requested the translator in
order to be able to express their thoughts more freely in one of their
 While this study was expected to include only limited participation in
the newsroom, after my interviews were completed I became more of a
participant in Medya TV. One of the producer/presenters of a talk show
invited me to be his guest on-air. The subject of the show was American
travelers in Kurdistan from the 1880s to the present. Since I knew the
questions in advance, I was asked questions in Kurdish and responded in
English. I agreed to do the show because my interviews were completed, the
subject matter was historical and outside my research, and because it
seemed an appropriate way to thank the station for the hospitality it had
extended toward me. I feel it is important to disclose that while most of
my research expenses were self-funded and supplemented by a small grant
from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas, Medya TV arranged
and paid for my hotel accommodations in Belgium. Limitations are that I
could become overly sympathetic to the Kurds, or that the Medya TV would
seek to influence my study favorably. Kurdish culture, and Middle Eastern
cultures in general, are extremely generous in nature and I did not feel
that my research was co-opted in this instance.
Assyrians or Syriacs are ancient inhabitants of the Middle East and
currently live scattered throughout Mesopotamia, in Turkey, Syria, Iraq,
Iran and Lebanon and now in the diaspora in places like Brazil and the
United States.The Assyrian-Kurdish alliance on Medya TV defies
history. Kurds helped the Turks massacre an estimated 750,000 Assyrians in
World War I.
I. Demographic Data
-What is your job title?
-How long have you worked at Medya-TV?
-Where did you work before?
-Where were you born?
-What languages do you speak?
-What is your nationality?
-Where did you learn to be a journalist/editor?
-Why did you want to work for Medya-TV?
-What are the goals of Medya-TV?
-How has the station changed since it first started broadcasting?
-How would you like to see Medya-TV evolve in the future?
-Why is Medya-TV important to the Kurdish community?
-How is Medya-TV different from other television stations?
-In your opinion, what are some of the most important characteristics
or traditions in Kurdish culture?
-What kind of programming does Medya-TV offer?
-What languages are broadcast?
-From which sources do you receive news and information programming?
-How do you receive news from Kurdistan?
-From which sources do you receive entertainment programming?
-How has the station changed since it first started broadcasting
-What do you suggest I read?
-Who else do you suggest I speak with?
-Do you have any other suggestions for this research?
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