x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Saudi Arabia closes the offices of LBC channel

Lawsuits and sermons follow discussion of sexual activity on programme aired by station owned by member of royal family.

JEDDAH // Saudi Arabia has closed the main office of a Lebanon-based television channel after a Saudi man boasted of his sexual exploits on a show aired on the network. The government on Saturday closed the Jeddah office of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, which is controlled by the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the latest incident in a controversy surrounding an episode of Bold Red Line. Abdul Aziz al Hazzaa, the spokesman for the ministry of culture and information, said yesterday the ministry received an order from the deputy prime minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, to close the office, which is also used by other channels owned by Prince Alwaleed. He did not say how long it would be closed for. Mr al Hazzaa told Al Watan daily the order also includes the closure of all LBC offices in the kingdom. He told Agence France-Presse "it was because of the interview with Mazen Abdul Jawad". The controversy started after Mr Abdul Jawad, 32, appeared on Bold Red Line in July. During the show he said he had premarital sex with a neighbour and openly discussed his freewheeling sex life. His confession resulted in hundreds of Saudis filing lawsuits against him in a Jeddah court for insulting Saudi Arabia and Islam. Mr Abdul Jawad's actions were the focus of last Friday's sermon at the Grand Mosque in Mecca in which the imam, Sheikh Saleh al Talib, said ridiculing one's culture and violating social values amounted to treason. Members of Saudi Arabia's media launched a campaign on Facebook to protest against the airing of programmes that are against Saudi values. "We underestimated the public response, but it was bigger than what we expected," said Saud Kateb, a media technology professor at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. "I'm against closing any media outlet as we call for more media freedom in the kingdom but the government had to do something in response to the public outrage." Prof Kateb said the closing of the LBC office was a message from the government to channels ahead of Ramadan that they have to be careful about what they broadcast. Saudi Arabia, a conservative Sunni Islamic kingdom, enforces a strict version of Sharia, prohibits sexually explicit content on television, or in newspapers, magazines and books. A source in the Mecca provincial branch of the ministry of culture and information told the daily Arab News that the office had been operating without a licence for the past three years. Lojainiat, a hardline Islamist website that has a strong connection with conservative Saudi princes, reported that Prince Nayef had ordered an investigation into LBC's director in Saudi Arabia. LBC's management could not immediately be contacted. The airing of Mr Abdul Jawad's confession was not the first time LBC has angered conservatives in the country. Previously it has aired programmes discussing homosexual behaviour in Saudi Arabia. However, LBC is among the most popular channels in the country. Prince Alwaleed's media empire includes an 85 per cent stake in LBC, Rotana TV and Radio network, Fox Movies, Fox Series and Al Resalah. The media outrage that followed the airing of Bold Red Line is one of several this summer following the screening of a movie - which is forbidden in Saudi Arabia - in Riyadh by Rotana Studios and the sponsorship of a Saudi film festival in Jeddah, which was cancelled the day before it was due to start. Fox Series, which is available on satellite in Saudi Arabia, was also criticised last month after it screened a soap that contained sexually explicit scenes. Criticism from conservatives against the Saudi prince's media empires is mounting. One of Prince Alwaleed's strongest detractors is his brother, Prince Khaled bin Talal who, in an interview with Lojainiat website, accused his brother of disseminating vice and that Prince Alwaleed's plan to open a cinema in Saudi Arabia was the final straw. Mr Abdul Jawad, a divorced father of four who is now known locally as the "Jeddah Casanova", accused LBC of sensationalising his interview and not blurring his face in the show, which he said they assured him they would do. He has been charged with publicising vice and, after being arrested last week, is being held by authorities for investigation with other men who had appeared with him on the show. "I apologise and I am ready to face the consequences, [but] I am confident that the truth will come out," he told local media. wmahdi@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse