Worldwide TV goes on a witch hunt


Lebanese promoter Elia Mssawir talks with a religious leader on Malik Maktabi’s television show, where the host attempted to paint heavy-metal music as occult and Satanic.

Across the world right now, the crackdown on oogedy-boogedy Satanic/occult ideas continues. Maybe it’s because it’s the height of the holiday season, but this has not been a good time for minority faiths — or those who love heavy-metal music.

Earlier this month, Lebanese TV host Malik Maktabi — a personality in the Jerry Springer mold — arranged an hour-long program on the evils of heavy metal. The program featured religious leaders, metal fan Kamal Khoueiry, and Lebanese music agent/promoter Elia Mssawir. Since the program itself isn’t in English, I wasn’t able to make much sense of it. Fortunately, Elia shared some thoughts on the episode on his blog:

Going up on that show was for many reasons and few of them were simple: It’s either I go with my friend Kamal Khoueiry or they will choose some random kid that would claim he’s a metal head and screw up everything we have been trying to fix for ages. Another reason was to defend and fix the image of Metal Heads and that there is no link between metal music and Satanism, which is something many tried to do before us in the past 15 years.

Regular readers may recall that Lebanon is one of the countries that has repeatedly arrested heavy-metal fans — a fate that Mssawir narrowly escaped. For them to go on public television at all is a risk, but one he felt was worth taking. He writes:

We made our thoughts and ideas get delivered in a way for the people to understand that metal is not linked to any Satanic rituals or any fuck ups you might think of; You might disagree with me here but after the calls and messages that i got from parents to thank me in helping them understand what their kids are listening to.

That’s a relief — that, even in the effort to frighten parents, the message got through that heavy metal is safe for kids to hear. But in other countries, a crackdown on “occult” practices — particularly on television — continues.

In Britain, Ofcom, which regulates broadcast communications, has banned the sale of occult services on television. In addition, the new rules outline how everything from chicken bones to astrology may be used on the air.

The media regulator said personalised astrology, horoscopes and tarot card readings were only acceptable if they were clearly labelled as “entertainment” and must never predict specific events, such as births, deaths, marriages – or new jobs.

Oh, and bad news should never be delivered on such programs, Ofcom said.

Similarly, India has enacted an outright ban on “occult” programming: “Many civil society organizations and media critics have alleged that such programmes promote irrationality and hinder the development of a scientific temper.” Broadcasters who ignore the law will face penalties.

There is little evidence that all religious programs in the UK and India would be similarly restricted and, as Jason Pitzl-Waters points out over on Wild Hunt, it’s discomfiting that the language around the restrictions are so vague. What is an “occult practice?” (Why does the definition include Satanism, which isn’t an “occult practice?”) Will it wind up including other minority faiths? Will this equate to a clampdown on religious expression by some groups but not others?

Once again, legitimate faiths and practices that hold spiritual value for many people are the scapegoats — receiving plenty of media attention while their own voices are muted, if not silenced.

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