Saudi movie channels have nothing against porn, humiliation of moslems, democracy or a free press

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I am writing this column in honor of a friend who has been witnessing from the inside the growth of Arab satellite television over the years. When I once asked him why Saudis with money were involved so massively in this, he replied: “To fill the space, to prevent others from taking it.”

I have asked several Arab journalists and program makers why there is Saudi money behind so many stations that show everything that is prohibited in Saudi Arabia itself.

While a few years ago Saudi school girls were left to die in a burning school, because they would have escaped from the building without hijab, Saudi stations at that time were showing news presenters without hijab but with sexy clothes and lots of make-up.  Every day there are dozens of programs paid for and broadcasted by Saudi channels, showing us women from all over the world without their face covered, even half naked.

While Saudi imams are cursing daily against American decadent culture, MBC 2, MBC Action, MBC Max and other Saudi channels are showing Hollywood films that are capable of offending many people’s  moral values in the world, from films gloryfying violence, horror films with so  much gore I can hardly watch them,  to films showing us that the only way out of our human misery is money.

While Saudi women are still prevented from driving a car, we see normal and strong women from other countries driving cars, trucks, airplanes, space stations and motor bikes – on Saudi movie channels.

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While driving around in a car having a bottle of whisky on the back seat is a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia, normal alcohol consumption and the highest forms of abuse can be witnessed every day on Saudi screens.

And then there were and are all these films gloryfying certain interpretations of American history: from the Civil War to World War II, from the extermination of the Indians to the madness in Vietnam and the tv series  “24 h” with actor Kiefer Sutherland defending the torture of Arab terrorists or killing their children held hostage.

We’ll not talk about all those films somehow supporting the idea that going to Christian churches is good for your mental health, films reducing Muslims to sorry bastards fighting for lost causes, films showing Jews as eternal victims, and all those films promoting superstitions, films promoting a belief in ghosts, the belief that we humans descend from the apes, that abortion can be a right choice, that there is life on other planets, that there is no afterlife but just death, or that curses of some Pharao can still affect our lives today. Promoting such ideas in a serious way is totally “not done” in Saudi Arabia itself (and I am not saying it should be), but on screen, it seems, some false prophet with a Hollywood passport might even try to start a new religion  with the objective to displace Islam.

Surely the Saudi elite knew, when it created the movie channels, what its own people and similarly deprived Arab viewers were missing. Every psychologist can tell you that very repressed people have a enormous need to escape into unreal worlds. Rebels and revolutionaries would like the people to do something else than escape from the real world, but the Saudi elite obviously wants to offer an enormous social pressure valve, which consists primarily of television fiction. So, there is nothing wrong in their view with watching films that show you a free life, other styles of living, respect for youth, loving relationships between men and women, resistance against the money gods or against corrupt politicians.

In all European countries and in the US there is no such thing as free, 24 h movie channels. If you want to have it, you have to pay a subscription. Only in the Arab world one can watch movies for free 24/7 on several Saudi MBC channels.

The Saudi elite, graduated and not unclever and having enough money to attract the best media consultants in the world, must also have known that, eventually, creative Arabs could win the competition with Hollywood films. If you are a Moroccan, then, if a mediocre  Moroccan director would make a drama about Driss al-Basri, the feared Minister of Interior for decades under King Hassan II, you will watch it, whatever Rambo 3 or Shark Attack 5  or  Kung Fu Panda 6 film MBC is showing.

So, the Saudis must have asked their consultants, how to prevent a creative and critical, democratic and human way of making films and television in the Arab world? And how to prevent people from watching them?

The Saudi answer has been: attract most of the advertising money from multinationals. This strategy of depriving national commercial stations of badly needed  advertising income, has been terribly succesful. MBC’s movie channels nowadays can do the following: buy the broadcasting rights of the Titanic for 15 million dollars and earn much more with the advertising of Pepsi Cola, Mercedes Benz or L’Oreal before, during and after this film.  There is no national Arab channel which could do that, although they might have paid 1 million in return for 2 million dollars of advertising. But nowawadys, the MBC channels are there always first to buy international box office hits. Two years ago, a Moroccan journalist told an Arab press forum that the national and international advertising money for all Moroccan media was around 60 million dollar per year.

So, in a way, despite showing half naked women or drinking US generals as bad boys in Vietnam, MBC is not helping political reform, relaxed sexual relations, and the development of Arab culture AT ALL. It is offering Hollywood movies with the result that national film production in Arab countries and national satellite channels are financially starved to death.

Or perhaps Saudi Arabia is not doing any of this with that purpose, but then it doesn’t care about the effects of  the existence of so many MBC movie channels.

This normality has reached a point that I now wonder how many porno channels are financed by Saudis while the Saudi government is still letting loose its religious police on women not fully covering their hair with a scarf. While they try to ban music and songs, on the MBC channels one can watch music clips by the hundreds, also with women dressed in a way a man has nothing left to guess.

There is no hope for the time being  for reform of this very clever state.

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