Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- About eleven years ago, the Arab Radio and Television Network (ART) announced the establishment of the IQRAA Islamic satellite channel as the first specialized Islamic channel, thereby announcing the entry of a new kind of satellite channels onto the Arab scene. Ideas developed afterward, and the number of channels of this kind increased — there were more than 80 Islamic channels in 2010.
Islamic media, both newspapers and specialized channels, have imposed their existence among other media through high viewer rates and through competition by sheikhs and businessmen to inaugurate channels one after another, some from charitable motives and others from commercial and profit motives, according to opinions that Asharq Al-Awsat has received.
Many experts have found in these channels a response to calls opposing the openness of the satellites to Western channels, a means of family entertainment, and a more rapid means to communicate the Islamic call and message as quickly as possible due to the special following that these channels enjoy.
Sheikh Abdullah al-Muslih, an Islamic scholar who presents a program on one of satellite channels says, “In them we find the appropriate climate and the quickest means to bring the word to those who need it.” He notes that the stiff competition between Islamic channels has impelled them to present programs of the highest quality.
A published study of different sectors of Saudi society confirmed that the number of Satellite receivers subscribed to religious and conservative channels were 300,000. The study predicted that within the next five years the size of this market would reach 3 million.
Muhammad Ahmad Sallam, the director of the IQRAA satellite channel, explains that the Islamic satellite channels have imposed their presence by means of the targeted information they present. There are more than 80 channels. There are channels that have established their presence and that have come to enjoy very high audience shares.
For his part, Abdullah bin Marzuq al-Qurashi, general director of the DALIL channel, believes that people need specialized media. Among the things that the Arabic viewer still needs is a fatwa and audience participation service. The channels have come to try to serve the viewer especially in this respect.
Al-Qurashi added that the media today are more in need of media production than of media channels, more in need of expenditure on producing profession drama or skillful programs into which TV craftsmanship has entered deeply and that then can be sold to some of the channels. This will be more effective and beneficial than repeating efforts and proliferating Islamic channels in a poor production market.
Ali bin Hamzah al-Umari, the president of the 4SHBAB international organization, the parent of 4SHABAB, comments that some channels have achieved a certain balance in terms of cultural, religious, and spiritual programs and have attracted large elites of ulema and people of merit and talent. The channels have also begun discussing the aspects of media success, preparing courses, and holding conferences, which indicates a certain amount of consciousness, but thus far there exists no religious channel in the comprehensive sense.
He indicated that the reason has to do with the absence of financial-backers with the ability and the consciousness for such subjects and not concerned that there be a religious aspect in the preaching sense. So there is no religious channel that devotes interest to the drama or to children through serials, programs, or religious dialogue, but via TV, through stimulating, dazzling, gratifying, and pumping the content from within. This has not happened so far on any religious channel. The reason is clear: there is no person of means to implement these concepts.
Perhaps the greatest problem confronting the Islamic channels according to those who work in them is the problem of funding, particularly because — as one of the supervisors of the channels revealed — one of the sheikhs receives about $1,500 for each episode of the program that he presents.
Muhammad Sallam, the director of the IQRAA channel comments that most of the Islamic channels rely largely on their founders and supporting businessmen. He added that at their channel they rely primarily of the support of Sheikh Saleh Kamil and the charitable trusts that he has set up to provide income to the channel, in addition to advertisements.
Abdullah bin Marzuq al-Qurashi, general director of the DALIL channel states that advertisements and sponsorship of programs play a significant role in lightening the burden of covering programs at the Islamic satellite channels. In reality, however, most of the Islamic channels rely on the sheikhs and businessmen who own them. The DALIL channel gets its funding from the channel’s general overseer, Sheikh Salman bin Fahd al-Awdah.
Ali bin Hamzah al-Umari, the president of the 4SHBAB international organization comments that 4SHABAB is like the other channels: “Part comes from advertisements and sponsors with whom the station is connected. They represent the important side with regard to programs. Also, the station is eager to market its productions as SMS messages, and this covers part, particularly as the station is still young and its expenses are considered high compared to its sister stations. We bargain a lot with sponsors and advertisers. We have taken good steps, God be praised, and we need to convince the sponsor.
Work at the satellite channels carries in its content a special aspect in terms of the quality of programs and skill of the presenters and announcers. This requires specialization and proficiency at one’s job. Some channels have turned to sheikhs to present some of the programs that require a special kind of discussant, especially on programs that give religious advice.