Satellite channels peddling extreme versions of Islam and offering instant fatwas and fortune-telling should be monitored and regulated, senior television executives have said.
Fahad al Shimemeri, the general director of the Saudi-based Al Majd Network,said "programmes that advocate sorcery, black magic [and] un-Islamic practices" were being pumped into millions of homes in the GCC.
Speaking on the sidelines of the eighth annual Arab Media Forum, he said the rapid growth in unregulated channels and fatwa programmes posed a direct threat to true versions of Islam.
Among the 500 satellite channels available, the 80 religious stations are outnumbered only by those providing light entertainment, of which there are 109, according to the Dubai Press Club.
Many others dedicate a proportion of their time to fatwa programs. Mr al-Shimemeri, a trained Islamic scholar, also criticized channels that claimed to offer Islamic edicts from unqualified muftis.
"Anyone is going up on TV and is issuing a fatwa," he said. "We really need to stop that because the youth are getting a distorted image of Islam and watching programs that advocate sorcery and witchcraft."
"Clerics from around the GCC all agree that something needs to be done; if we can regulate terrestrial channels why don't we regulate satellite channels?"
"Stations offering tarot card readings, "text-a-fatwa" and fortune telling all needed to be regulated," he said. "We also need to look at the stations that pump out stuff that's immoral."
However, he admitted satellite stations were difficult to regulate, because they could be seen in many countries other than the one from which they were broadcast.
"It's such a huge market no one can quite figure out how to go about regulating it, but whatever happens it needs to be GCC-wide," he said.
At the same workshop, entitled "From terrestrial fatwa to satellite fatwa", Ahmed al Haddad, director of UAE's Fatwa Administration, said that while the big audiences available to satellite channels meant they could be a useful medium for education, they could also be a threat. "Some of these channels are causing grave concerns," he said. "Many of them feature muftis who are not completely qualified for issuing fatwas."
Some of them, he said, "exploit the opportunity to wrongly interpret dreams or popular medicines." He added that a lack of Islamic education in schools meant families were turning to fatwa channels for religious guidance.
"The proliferation of such satellite channels comes from the increased demand from viewers for authentic counseling."
"These channels also make it convenient for them to receive such advice from their homes, instead of seeking it personally from a mufti." Because of this, he said, the channels needed to be regulated.
Amre Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, also called for greater control over satellite channels. He said the rise in the number of Arabic channels in recent years was "a phenomenon that requires identification and monitoring".
Held under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the two-day Arab Media Forum is being held at the Atlantis Palm Hotel in Dubai and has brought together more than 1,000 eminent media personalities.
Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed, the Deputy Ruler of Dubai, met senior Arab media executives, including the heads and chief editors of newspapers and media houses, on the fringe of the forum yesterday, the state news agency WAM reported.
They discussed issues including the effect of the global financial crisis on the media, both in the GCC and globally. They agreed that the crisis had damaged promotion, marketing and circulation, causing some media companies' income to fall by as much as half. They also said attacks on the UAE by the Western media were deliberately targeting Arab achievements in all areas of progress, development and creativity. The attacks sought to destroy any successful Arab symbol, they said.
Also present at the meeting were Sheikh Mansour bin Mohammed; Mohammed Abdullah al Gargawi, the Minister for Cabinet Affairs; Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour; and Reem Ibrahim al Hashimi, the Minister of State.
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