Censured Muslim TV network is 'improving output'

The writer of a report on the television broadcaster Islam Channel that chided it over "intolerance" and led to government censure in the UK says network is now giving greater airtime to mainstream Muslim voices.

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LONDON // The author of a report that condemned Britain's most popular Muslim television channel said the broadcaster was mending its ways after being censured by the government regulator for programmes that advocated marital rape and violence against women.

The London-based Islam Channel, which can be seen via satellite in more than 100 countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, was also condemned by Ofcom - the government's Office of Communications - for branding Muslim women who wear perfume outside their homes as "prostitutes".

The regulator directed additional criticism at the channel's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying it did not meet the standards of impartiality required.

Talal Rajab, the author of the Quilliam Foundation report prepared in March that accused the channel of spreading "reactionary, intolerant messages", said yesterday that he believed "there are encouraging signs that the channel is now making efforts to improve its output and to give greater airtime to a wider range of more mainstream Muslim voices."

"We stand ready to help Islam Channel further improve and diversify its output in order to avoid further problems. The Islam Channel could yet become a powerful voice for greater social harmony."

The broadcaster was fined £30,000 (Dh177,000) three years ago for a similar breach of the impartiality regulations. No fine has been imposed this time but the channel will have to broadcast the watchdog's ruling.

Ofcom launched its investigation into the English-language channel, which almost two-thirds of Britain's two million Muslims are said to watch regularly, after the report monitoring its output was published by the Quilliam Foundation, a moderate Islamic think tank in London.

The Ofcom report published this week found that five programmes, originally shown in 2008 and 2009, were in breach of Britain's broadcasting code.

"Ofcom remains concerned about Islam Channel's understanding and compliance processes in relation to the code," the regulator said in its ruling.

"This is particularly the case given that the Islam Channel has previously been fined for breaches of the code relating to due impartiality."

Ofcom said that it was so concerned over the issue that it was calling in the channel's chief executive, Mohamed Ali Harrath to fully explain the requirements under the broadcasting code.

The ruling from Ofcom says that, in April last year, the presenter Nazreen Nawaz condoned marital rape by saying: "Really, the idea that a woman cannot refuse her husband's relations is not strange to a Muslim because it is part of maintaining that strong marriage.

"But it shouldn't be such a big problem where the man feels he has to force himself upon the woman."

In a phone-in programme in 2008, the host told a caller: "In Islam, we have no right to hit the woman in a way that damages her eye or damages her tooth or damages her face or makes her ugly."

The Islam Channel said in a submission to Ofcom that it "does not condone or encourage violence towards women under any circumstances" and "does not condone or encourage marital rape".

Mr Harrath was not available for comment yesterday.

A year ago, the Muslin channel was criticised in another Quilliam report for carrying advertisements for a box of DVDs of sermons by Anwar al Awlaki, the radical Yemeni cleric and alleged mastermind of the cargo bomb plot detected about two weeks ago in Dubai and England.