Pro-gov’t channel refuses to host pro-Kurdish party over ‘universal broadcasting principles’

Mehmet Akif Ersoy, an anchor on the Turkish television channel Habertürk, has said that his outlet does not host members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) due to “universal broadcasting principles” in a tweet he posted on Tuesday.

Ersoy accused the HDP of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a group that has been fighting the Turkish state since it launched an armed separatist campaign in 1984. The HDP denies any links to the group. 

“Those, who do not respect the honourable, internationally and nationally known legal fights of our security forces… those who do not see the PKK as a terrorist organisation and cannot clearly condemn their bloody actions are not invited to discussion programmes based on universal and our own broadcasting principles,” Ersoy said in his message. 

Ersoy’s comments came a day after a TV debate on Habertürk, where several panellists discussed the HDP's recent nationwide protests but did not feature any of the party’s representatives. The programme triggered a debate on social media. 

Didem Arslan, another anchor from Habertürk who hosted the debate, said in her Twitter account that the channel could invite whoever they wanted, as Habertürk was not a public company. 

“It is a choice," Arslan said on Monday.

It has been a longstanding policy on many mainstream Turkish television channels to not invite HDP members to speak for their party.

The HDP announced last week that would be holding a march to Ankara between June 15 and 20 to protest against the jailing of thousands of sympathisers, activists and members of the party.

Many provinces have banned all gatherings and marches, invoking measures to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Turkish security forces have stopped the marchers in several cases and many mainstream TV channels have covered the marches but failed to invite any HDP members as guests to discuss them.

Some accused the channel of hypocrisy. State-run TRT television conducted an interview with Osman Öcalan, the brother of the PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan, in the run up to the June 23 Istanbul mayoral revote in an apparent attempt to attract some Kurdish voters in the city. Habertürk, then, rushed to broadcast this interview.

“Habertürk has an interesting broadcasting policy. The members of the terrorist organisation, who is wanted [by the state], can speak, elected deputies of an official political party winning 6 million votes cannot speak,” Twitter account Gürman said on Tuesday.