Arab TV station hit by £75,000 fine
By Chris Forrester

UK media regulator Ofcom has fined Noor TV £75,000 for “extremely serious” breaches of its rules, and that the channel provided no detailed evidence of any compliance procedures. Noor TV beams its channel to Muslim viewers living in Europe and is licensed by Ofcom.

The breach was in regard to a programme, “Saturday Night Special” in November 2010, which Ofcom found to have been soliciting cash payments from viewers. “A complainant was concerned that the programme exploited the audience by encouraging viewers to donate money to Noor TV in return for the channel arranging special prayers inside Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. The complainant noted that many of the callers who donated money asked for prayers to be made to assist with their medical, financial and personal problems.”

Ofcom stressed that its Broadcasting Code does permit broadcasters to transmit appeals for donations to make programmes or fund their services, but it has some tight rules to avoid religious programmes exploiting any susceptibilities of the audience, and how a channel promotes other products and services during a programme. (Advertising and programming must be kept distinct).

Ofcom said: “The presenter appealed to viewers to make donations to the channel on the basis that they would be rewarded through prayers made for or on behalf of the donor. The presenter encouraged viewers to pay Noor TV money for these prayers and viewers or their relatives would enjoy improved health, wealth or success as a result. Having viewed the programme and the pledges made by viewers during it, Ofcom calculated that a total of £7,670, €200 and 3,500 Norwegian krone was pledged by viewers in return for prayers.”

“In particular, Ofcom considers it unacceptable to persuade viewers to donate money on the basis of inducements such as a offering a prayer for or on behalf of the donor; the promise of better health; or that a religious figure will create further wealth for donors or take particular care of donors.”

“Ofcom concluded that donations that viewers had made to Noor TV as a result of the appeals for funds had not been separately accounted for. The broadcaster was unable to demonstrate whether the funds had been used for the purpose for which they had been donated. The broadcaster was also unable to demonstrate whether the audience had been told how much had been raised as a result of the appeal.”