TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Saudi Telecom Stops Text Vote for Arab Talent Show

Saudi Telecom Stops Text Vote for Arab Talent Show

Andrew Hammond (
Mon, 26 Dec 2005 19:17:14 -0600

By Andrew Hammond

Saudi mobile operator Mobily has stopped users from text message
voting for an Arab "Star Academy" competition because of an Islamic
decree branding the reality show immoral, the company said on Monday.

Saudi religious scholars last May condemned the hugely popular talent
show aired by Lebanese channel LBC as a crime against Islam when a
young Saudi returned to a hero's welcome after winning in the Lebanese
capital Beirut.

"The decision was taken last night because of a fatwa (religious
decree) issued last year, since the program is culturally
inappropriate," spokesman Humoud Alghodaini said.

"It shows men and women living in one house, sometimes semi-naked and
in inappropriate situations," he added.

The program entered its third season last week with two 21-year-old
Saudi men among the 19 contestants from around the Arab world who will
share a house 24 hours a day in a bid to win a recording contract.

Saudi Arabia, home to the puritan Wahhabi school of Islam, requires
women to be fully covered and accompanied by a male relative in
public. Mixing of unmarried men and women is forbidden.

Saudi Telecommunications Co. (STC), the main mobile firm in the
conservative kingdom, said last January it would block customers from
voting by text message.

STC has around 10 million subscribers compared to the two million of
new-comer Mobily, which is owned by United Arab Emirates' telecom firm

"We will definitely lose money, but how much, I don't know,"
Alghodaini said about the decision. "If we don't (stop messaging) it
would backfire on us and affect our brand."

April's victory by Hisham Abdulrahman triggered the closest thing to
pop hysteria in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, as admirers rushed to
shake his hand or even kiss him at a public appearance in a Riyadh
shopping mall.

Users in a Saudi Web chatroom often used by Islamists praised the
messaging ban. "We have to say thank you to these companies for their
initiative and for respecting young people," one said in a posting.

Some music fans say they managed in the past to vote via the Internet,
bypassing the government server which controls access.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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