MED TV and the extraterritoriality of state sovereignty

Amir Hassanpour
Department of Communications,

University of Toronto, Canada

Published online: 20 Mar 2007


The launching of the first Kurdish satellite television channel, MED-TV, opened a new site of conflict between the Kurds and the Middle Eastern states that rule over Kurdistan. After more than 30 years of military engagement between the Kurdish people and the state of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, signals from the sky changed the theater of war in favor of the Kurds. Transcending the international borders which since 1918 have divided the land in which Kurds live, the channel allowed the Kurds, for the first time in their history, to establish a powerful mode of communication among themselves, and undermine the state-centered geopolitical order that has reduced them to the status of helpless minorities. Thus, failing to achieve self-rule in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria after decades of armed resistance, the Kurds feel that they have achieved sovereignty in the sky, i.e. a ‘great historical leap’ toward self-rule in their homeland.

Among the Middle Eastern countries, Turkey is the first and the only one to use its full state power to silence MED-TV. Accusing the channel of being the mouthpiece of the ‘terrorist’ Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Ankara unleashed its coercive forces to prevent the reception of the airwaves within Turkey, whereas, in Europe, it used diplomatic power, espionage, jamming, and various forms of intimidation to stop the emission of television signals. Since MED-TV was licensed in Britain and its studios were located in Brussels, Berlin, and Stockholm, a number of European Union countries and even the United States have been drawn into Turkey’s satellite war. Ankara has also tried to mobilize satellite service providers, both private and state-owned, against the channel.

The role of communication technologies in the formation of empires and nations is well known. Printing has been called the architect of nationalism and radio has served the centralization of political power and nation-building. As an audiovisual medium, television is more effective than radio and print media. Televisual messages generally cross the social boundaries of illiteracy, language, regionalism, age, gender, and religion. Combining visuality with sound and language, both spoken and written, television is a powerful vehicle for creating national culture and identity. 

Up-linked from Europe to a satellite, MED-TV’s signals are beamed to Europe, West Asia, and North Africa eighteen hours a day. These satellite footprints have allowed the channel to create a transnational Kurdish audience by connecting the Kurds living in the Kurdish areas in the Middle East with the sizeable communities dispersed in the two continents of Europe and Asia. Ironically, Turkey’s all-around war against the channel has turned it into a visible factor in the changing Eurasian geopolitical order. The conflict also poses many questions for current thinking about globalization.


This journal article available from CHMK page of Publication:

HASSANPOUR, A., 2007 Satellite footprints as national border smed‐tv and the extraterritoriality of state sovereignty