ISTANBUL - There are many ways for Turkey to fulfill its aspirations of becoming a major player in the Middle East. One sure way to be better seen and heard in the region would be the long awaited launch of a Turkish-language broadcast of satellite news giant Al Jazeera. Indeed, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has been a major proponent of an Al Jazeera Turkish project.
So why hasn’t Al Jazeera started its Turkish broadcast yet? Is this related to Turkey’s larger foreign policy dynamic, or to internal problems at Al Jazeera?
Al Jazeera's longtime managing director Waddah Khanfer, who brought the network to international prominence with the decision to release Osama Bin Laden’s post 9/11 broadcasts, was eager to open a Turkish outlet, as well as one in Bosnia. But as Al Jazeera became a household name in news and Khanfer gained international prominence, the network’s host country, Qatar grew concerned. Eventually, last September Khanfer stepped down from his post.
With Khanfer’s removal as CEO, progress on both the Turkish and Bosnian broadcasts slowed. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera made separate investments in Turkish media by purchasing the CINE5 network, the first subscription-based television channel in Turkey.
Still Khanfer’s removal isn’t the only reason for the delay in Al Jazeera Turkish seeing the light of day. The broadcaster’s editorial style also bears some responsibility. At the heart of the disagreement is controversy over how Al Jazeera will term the Kurdish militant group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in its Turkish broadcasts. In its English and Arabic broadcasts, Al Jazeera does not call the PKK “terrorists” as they are generally referenced to in Turkey. Instead, Al Jazeera prefers the term “insurgent,” as do most top international news agencies.
Al Jazeera has refused to budge on this point, considering it a matter of preserving journalistic standards. As a result, Turkey has found itself caught in a delicate situation with no easy solution, and has damaged the relationship between its Foreign Ministry and Al Jazeera. Earlier this year, a major Turkish investor, Vural Ak, withdrew from his partnership with Al Jazeera. Scholar and media expert Nuh Yilmaz, who had left a position in the United States to head up Al Jazeera’s Turkish editorial team, wound up resigning alongside Ak.
So where does Al Jazeera Turkish go from here? Al Jazeera staff are still hard at work developing Turkish-language programming, and the close Turkey-Qatar relationship is as strong as ever. This could be enough to weather the crisis. But the experience is a reminder that a TV network that takes its news seriously should never be considered a tool for the foreign ministry.
Read the original article in Turkish
Photo - Paul Keller