Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Christians, Shiites and Islamic Satellite Channels | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In order for my opinion not to be misinterpreted or misunderstood, I would like to first state that it would be a grave mistake for any television broadcast to undermine security or incite sectarianism. This is a line that should never be crossed, and nor should anybody remain silent over this issue. However I similarly do not believe that the recent ban on some Islamic satellite television channels under the pretext that they are broadcasting programs that provoke sectarianism against Christians or Shiites has been enacted with good intentions. In fact, I view this as scaremongering in view of the great successes achieved by these Islamic channels, which some authorities may consider a threat. These television channels enjoy exceptional viewing figures, despite the fact that they do not broadcast movies, music videos, or heated political debates.

We must force ourselves to understand why any Arab government would act to ban its rival satellite channels, is this due to political rivalries, regardless of their ideology, whether this is left-wing or right-wing? We could understand these governments seeking to limit the activities of these channels and eradicate their media presence, after all this is not uncommon in the Arab world, however what is incomprehensible is to see intellectuals – whose main concern should be safeguarding liberties and freedoms – intervening in this issue with such antagonism and demanding that the ban be imposed. There seems to be a contradiction in the behaviour of those who refuse to ban certain books in international book fairs [under the premise of free speech] and yet at the same time call for the suspension Islamic satellite channels. However the answer is not to shut down these channels, but to continually ensure that they do not engage in sectarian provocation, subject to legal and financial penalties if they fail to abide by these stipulations.

Those demanding the closure of Islamic satellite television channels have failed to understand that a ban may push some of these satellite channels to becoming even more extreme. For if a satellite television channel like Al Nas television channel – part of the Arab Nilesat satellite – which enjoys a huge number of viewers were to be subject to this, I am certain that it would ensure never to engage with sectarian issues again in order not to be banned. However if it were to be banned, and a new Islamic satellite television channel were to be launched in its place soon or in the future – as some have demanded – this channel and others would be free of regulation; this satellite channel would then be able to incite sectarianism without restrictions, limitations, legal stipulations, of fear of being banned.

Moreover sectarianism is also not a black and white issue, and it is difficult to conclusively distinguish between what is sectarian and what is not. Therefore, the justifications provided by the Chairman of the Board of Satellite Television channels, when he accused some Islamic television channels of inciting religious hatred may have been reasonable for they are indeed capable of dong so, especially live talk shows which are notoriously difficult to control. On the other hand, the owners of these Islamic satellite channels are also reasonable and correct to challenge the authorities to provide any evidence of religious hatred being provoked or sectarian strife triggered. These two opinions are not necessarily mutually exclusive because some viewers might view a certain issue or program as being part of Islamic research whilst others could interpret this as sectarian provocation. For example, a program interpreting the numerous verses of the Holy Quran dealing with Jews and Christians may be regarded by some viewers as sectarian provocation, however if this is taken from a scholarly angle, there does not appear to be any religious animosity [in this issue].

The anger expressed in view of this issue is understandable, yet we have reservations about subsequently banning Islamic satellite channels as a result of this. Furthermore, what we cannot comprehend is the excessive leniency that is being shown towards the channels that broadcast scenes of a sexual nature i.e. moves that contain such scenes, or even certain music videos.