Four-year-old Ferhat Altinbas said he was imitating his favorite flying Pokemon character when he leaped off the balcony of his family's seventh-floor apartment in October in the southern Turkish city of Mersin. Two weeks ago, when 7-year-old Seda Aykanat stepped off her fifth-story balcony in Istanbul, she was convinced she had the same superhuman powers as a cartoon Pokemon.
The two incidents--in which both children miraculously suffered only broken legs--prompted broadcasting authorities to make Turkey the first government in the world to order the temporary shutdown of a television network for showing the popular children's cartoon series.
The decision, in which officials criticized the cartoon for making no "distinction between good and evil," has fueled a rancorous debate here over the government's right to control programming based on the messages it sends youngsters. The government attack on Turkey's most popular children's cartoon has stunned broadcasters accustomed to the arbitrary decisions of a government board that evaluates everything from radio music programs to television movies, talk shows and newscasts.
"How far will this go?" asked Zuhtu Sezer, general coordinator of ATV, the network that the High Board of Radio and Television ordered taken off the air for each day it broadcasts a Pokemon cartoon. "Pokemon toys are on sale everywhere in Turkey. Will they ban them also?"
"It is vitally important for the media to give correct, healthy and educational messages to our children," said a report prepared for the Health Ministry after the first jumping incident. The report recommended that "cartoons, before they are shown on TV, should be evaluated by a commission of psychologists."
The radio and television board cannot ban programming outright, but instead penalizes broadcasters by shutting down stations for days, or in some cases, weeks at a time.
Over the last six years, nearly three-fourths of the board's penalties have been levied against stations for broadcasts involving the country's Kurdish minority under policies prohibiting separatist activities. The Turkish army has been engaged in a 16-year conflict with Kurdish separatists in the country's southeastern region.
But in the same series of meetings last week in which the board ordered ATV shut down for a day because of airing Pokemon, it also took stations off the air for perceived insults by news anchors, for comments considered "too sexual" on a youth talk show and for showing an actor in the nude on a balcony.
ATV's Sezer said his network is appealing the Pokemon decision in court, and as of today, was continuing to show the cartoon. He said he has not received notification from the government board of when the network will be taken off the air.
The 4-year-old who jumped off the seventh-floor balcony while his mother was at a supermarket in late October told doctors who asked him why he leaped out of the high-rise apartment, "I am a Pokemon and I flew like one."
"He always watches Pokemon cartoons on television and buys all sorts of Pokemon toys," his mother, Fusun Altinbas, told the daily newspaper Sabah. She said he was even playing with a Pokemon toy as he was recuperating in the hospital.
Radio and television board chairman Nuri Kayis said today that, after the two incidents, his oversight panel had received numerous calls on its telephone hot line from parents worried about the effects of the cartoon. After reviewing some of the cartoons, Kayis said, "we saw it has a lot of violence with no distinction between good and bad. The good character turns out to be bad the next day. Children associate themselves with these characters and end up harming themselves trying to do what [the characters] can do."
But the board went beyond such moral questions in its evaluation. "It causes consumption mania," said Kayis. "This is not only a cartoon. The children want T-shirts and all sorts of toys. The Pokemon cards they play with are like gambling. When you look at all this together, we decided this is not good for the children's psychological and physical health."