Kurd Protests: Diaspora hear the word on Kurd TV

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FROM THE poverty-stricken peasants in the mountains of Eastern Turkey to the relatively wealthy immigrant businessmen of north London, Kurds around the world retain a remarkably effective network of information and news.

Within hours of the arrest in Kenya of the rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, Kurds everywhere were listening in horror to what had happened to the man they call Apo, or Uncle.

There is little doubt this access to information was crucial in sparking the protests that recently engulfed Greek embassies and consulates across the world. At the centre of the Kurdish information network is the London- based but little-known TV channel, Med-TV, the only Kurdish broadcasting channel in the world.

Founded covertly in 1994 the channel remains a lifeline for the world's largest stateless nation. "It is amazing," said one recent visitor to the Kurdish area of Eastern Turkey. "Sometimes the only electricity in the villages will be reserved for watching this channel on TV."

Broadcasting in four Kurdish languages as well as Turkish, Arabic and English, Med-TV usually goes out 18 hours a day, but in the past few days has been broadcasting almost without interruption.

"There are 35 to 40 million Kurds around the world so that is the number of potential viewers we have," said Hikmet Tabak, the founder and managing director of Med-TV.

Speaking from its head offices in London, he continued: "We are tired of saying that the Kurdish language is forbidden. The Kurds need television. We are like a drop of water in a fire. We give them a drop of comfort."

Mr Tabak said the channel covered a broad range of opinions and views from within the Kurdish community. It is funded by a series of European- based trusts, individual donors and a small amount of advertising.

The annual turnover of Med-TV is around pounds 11m, and its organisation is so complex it took Turkish investigators years to find the "paper trail" in an unsuccessful bid to close down what the Turkish authorities clearly regard as propaganda.

But Med-TV has also incurred the wrath of Britain's television watchdog, the Inde- pendent Television Commission. Whilst Mr Tabak insisted the channel was independent and was not in the control of the PKK, last year it was fined pounds 90,000 by the ITC for three breaches of the impartiality requirements for news and current affairs.

"These regulations are designed for Europe, not for our culture," said Mr Tabak.

The channel is only one source of information; Kurdish newspapers published in Germany, where there are around 600,000 Kurds, are another.

Protesters outside the Greek Embassy in London have been keeping up to date with publications such as Ozgur Politika, which yesterday was urging its readers to: "Exercise your right to protest."