Saudi TV bosses get religious warning

Chris Forrester

There are some very wealthy Saudi Arabians involved in the TV business. MBC is backed largely by financial help from one branch of the Saudi royal family. Same with Orbit, backed by a different branch of the family. Same with the Rotana group, backed by yet another faction of the rich royals. ART is backed by Sheikh Salah Kamal, a kindly but fabulously rich – and well-connected – Saudi. They have all just been warned that their channels must toe the Saudi Arabian conservative line.

Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahabi code of Islam forbids any sort of sexual content on TV, or in magazines, newspapers or books. Incoming ‘Western’ newspapers and magazines still have the heavyweight magic marker ink of the censor on many of their pages. But TV cannot be censored in so flagrant a manner – and Saudi’s TV viewers are like viewers anywhere on the planet. The males like to see a little flesh on young female performers. Females are just as likely to be influenced by fashion trends out of Beirut or Cairo, or even St Tropez.

However, LBC has just fallen badly foul of Saudi Arabia’s backlash thanks to a provocative late-night discussion show which featured a Saudi Arabian boasting about his sexual conquests in the Kingdom. LBC, backed significantly by Rotana boss Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, immediately saw two of its Saudi sales offices closed down by the authorities. The Rotana music channels are heavily dependent on music clips, like MTV, and while music is the backbone of the channel, so are youthful female performers!

Now the men from the ministry are clamping down, and issuing a powerful warning. Abdullah al-Jasser, undersecretary for media affairs at Saudi Arabia’s Culture and Information Ministry, said: “Every Saudi investor in satellite television channels has to be sensitive to patriotic and social responsibility. Managers of these channels should be selected for their integrity and responsibility," he said, adding that investors should not "leave management to people who have orientations and ideas ... harmful to the kingdom and to Saudi investments".

“What is being aired by these channels owned by Saudi citizens in terms of topics that violate the Islamic creed and public morals represents a serious offence to the kingdom and to every citizen," he continued. “These channels (must) not be used as a bridge for hostile media campaigns that ... market Western ideas and beliefs."