Turkey gets first Christian TV station
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 2/23/15, 12:00 pm
For the first time, millions of people in Turkey watching government-regulated satellite television will be able to find Christian programming.
Shows created by SAT-7 TÜRK, a satellite TV ministry reaching the Middle East and North Africa, began broadcasting on Turkey’s most-watched satellite, Türksat 4A, in recent weeks, Mission Network News announced. The new channel airs dramas, documentaries, and worship programs, as well as content for women and youth.
“We are overwhelmed and truly believe it is a miracle that we can finally broadcast on Türksat,” SAT-7 Executive Director Melih Ekener said in a press release. Ekener also said the company had been hoping and praying satellite access since 2006, when it began airing SAT-7 ARABIC.
The historic expansion took government cooperation. The Turkish government exerts control over many facets of life in the country, including broadcasting. Just a couple of years ago, the ruling Justice and Development Party (APK) was criticized for its “censorship mentality,” according to Al-Monitor. In 2013, one channel was fined $30,000 for a religious insult in an episode of The Simpsons.
“This would not have been possible without the Turkish authorities taking the time and interest to engage with Christians and accept our applications, granting us a frequency on the official state satellite,” Ekener said.
Terence Ascott, founder and CEO of SAT-7, praised God for the opportunity, noting it was a positive sign of the government’s more tolerant attitude toward Christians and other minorities.
“So many things have miraculously fallen into place over the past few months that it is impossible to miss the hand of God,” he said.
Government approval wasn’t the only “miracle,” according to Ruth S. Thomas of SAT-7. She said the company didn’t have money in the budget for the amount of studio space it needed, but it was able to find a low-rent space, renovate it, and turn it into a “beautiful facility.” Thomas said donors also stepped forward with huge gifts, even before the company obtained a broadcasting license, to pay for months of airtime.
“The churches are just screaming for this,” Thomas said. “They are just so ready to have a voice on TV.” Before getting a spot on the satellite, SAT-7 broadcast its content online. The company learned viewers wanted the content but couldn’t afford to watch because internet bandwidth in Turkey is very expensive.
SAT-7’s satellite access was just the latest in a run of good news for the Christian minority in Turkey. Newly elected Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with minorities in January and promised to approve construction of the first new Christian church in Istanbul in nearly a century. Some remain skeptical that it will happen, but religious leaders viewed the announcement with cautious optimism.
About 100 years ago, Turkey’s Christian minority made up 25 to 30 percent of the population, but it has dwindled to between 100,000 and 200,000 believers, mostly from the Syrian, Greek, Russian, and Armenian Orthodox traditions.
Julia A. Seymour
Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.