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Banning Religious Satellite Channels - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Complaints have previously been lodged against certain satellite television channels, i.e. music channels, on the pretext that they fill young people’s minds with trivial matters, waste their time, and divert their attention away [from more important issues]. However, complaints lodged today concern channels that fill young people’s minds with something far more toxic and deadly, pushing them in the direction of Jihad, and suicide missions. Today, music and sports are no longer the focus of attention; rather it is religious satellite channels, which have spread like wildfire in the Arab region.

What has happened? How has space suddenly opened up for these religious figures? Platforms and religious forums are no longer sufficient for them; they now seek to access thousands and even millions of viewers at home. Furthermore, two new issues have emerged in the region: Firstly, there is now competition between satellite stations, seeking to lease their frequencies out for cheap prices, in order to fund the launch of more satellite stations. Secondly, Fatwas have been issued to permit Zakat, and other charitable donations – originally intended to be spent on the poor and those in need, such as widowers and orphans – as a means of funding Islamic media projects.

Of course, this is an exploitation of religion, because it is used to raise money for political and personal goals. The term “Islamic media” has political connotations, and the money raised by these satellite stations is used to fund both licensed and illegal political groups. Such Fatwas have provided a treasure chest for religious figures who are eager to appear in the media and build their own propaganda corporations, in order to broadcast their ideas, and not necessarily with the permission of the charitable donors. Therefore, in reality, we are facing two closely correlated issues. Firstly, those who lease out satellite television channels do not care about the leaseholder’s activity; whether he intends to advertise deadly medical scams, or advocate religious sectarianism, which would trigger full-scale conflicts in our region. The owners of satellite stations are only concerned with getting half a million dollars, for a one-year lease on each channel. Secondly, people are raising money from charitable donations and Zakat, and spending it on renting television frequency space, and constructing studios. Instead of using the funds to help orphans and the poor, they spend money on the make-up and wages of television presenters and guests. Their aim is to incite sectarian strife, or broadcast Jihadist appeals, then to raise more money through telephone donations, under the pretext of collecting for needy Muslims.

These people do not only brainwash youngsters, and send them to fight in wars, or to drive a car packed with explosives, but they have moved on to a new stage. They seek to collect as much money as they can, even if it was intended for charity or Zakat, meanwhile governments are doing very little to prevent this. This ‘very little’ does include the Egyptian government’s decision to ban two Salafi channels from broadcasting, which were devoted to Shiite provocation. Yet there are dozens of other channels run by Shiite and Sunni extremists, who provoke and outrage each other, and there are further channels with the sole intention of increasing their viewers’ grief and depression.

These religious propaganda channels are too dangerous to be left unrestricted, for they abuse their satellite space, and the principle of charitable donations. But how can they be controlled in such complex circumstances? As members of the media, we are concerned about them, but we do not dare call for them to be banned. This is because we are conscious that a potential ban would be exploited; to the extent that other stations would be suspended, simply because they do not suit the political, sporting, or personal opinions of those in charge.

At the same time, how can we let extremist groups exploit such satellite chaos, and propagandize hatred, killing, and sectarian strife, whether against the Sunnis, the Shiites or Christians?

Responsibility primarily lies with the owners of these satellite stations, rather than the owners of the programmes or the government employees in the Ministries of Information.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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