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Religious TV channels on the rise across Mideast

DOHA: The number of religious television broadcasters across the Middle East has risen by 50 percent, reflecting a rise in sectarianism in the region, according to a study published Thursday.

The Northwestern University in Qatar in its study of the media industry found that the number of religious free-to-air channels had jumped to 75 in 2014, from 50 three years earlier.

Sunni television channels remain by far the highest in number and increased to 55 from 43, three years previously, the research found.

But the rate of growth in the Middle East and North Africa region where Sunni Islam is the dominant religion has been higher for Shiite and Christian broadcasters.

Eleven Shia channels are now broadcasting in the region, up from five in 2011, while the number of Christian stations has risen to nine from two over the same period, according to the report.

A Northwestern academic, Khaled Hroub, professor of Middle East politics and Arab media, attributed the increase to “bad politics”.

“Such increase reflects the volatile sectarian politics that has been engulfing the region for the past decade or so, since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the sectarianisation of Iraqi politics,” said Hroub.

“The root cause of the rise is bad politics and the use of religious discourses in political rivalry…

“With the intensification of Saudi-Iranian rivalry in recent years many … channels started to slip into political discourses that would mix with religious claims.

“All have fallen in a vicious spiral and vicious circle of tit-for-tat broadcasting where vilifying the other is the norm.”

He said Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt hosted most of the religious channels, which are “covertly or overtly controlled by states or semi-states outfits”.

Ibrahim Al-Naimi, chairman of the Doha International Centre for Interfaith Dialogue, said he was more concerned by the messages carried by some of the channels.

“Some of these religious channels are misused, sometimes calling for division more than dialogue and peaceful coexistence,” said Naimi.

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