In Depth

C4 to broadcast Muslim prayer: provocation or publicity stunt?

Broadcaster says murder of drummer Lee Rigby informed decision to broadcast Islamic invocation

CHANNEL 4 are calling it an act of "deliberate provocation", while critics have labelled it "politically-correct tokenism".

Others may view Channel 4's decision to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer live every morning during the month of Ramadan as a desperate publicity stunt by a broadcaster whose audience is shrinking. Either way, the broadcaster's initiative – which begins next Tuesday - has grabbed the headlines.

In an interview with the Radio Times Ralph Lee, Channel 4's head of factual programming, said: "The calls to prayer prompt Muslims to carry out quiet moments of worship, but hopefully they'll also make other viewers sit up and notice that this event is taking place."

The move might also help reverse Channel 4's declining viewing figures. Already this year the audience for its longest-running programme, Countdown, has plummeted. Its racing coverage has also failed to live up to expectations since it acquired exclusive rights to the sport in January.

The Guardian says Channel 4 will "broadcast the three-minute call to prayer at about 3am for 30 days from the start of Ramadan". Additionally, on the first day of the Ramadan – July 9 – Channel 4 will interrupt programming four times to mark subsequent calls to prayer.

"Observing the adhan [Islamic call to prayer] on Channel 4 will act as a nationwide tannoy system," boasted Lee, "a deliberate 'provocation' to all our viewers in the very real sense of the word."

No doubt anticipating the reaction from those on the right of politics, Lee added: "Channel 4 will be criticised for focusing attention on a 'minority' religion' but that's what we're here to do – provide space for the alternative and a voice to the under-represented."

According to Lee, the brutal killing of a British off-duty soldier in Woolwich in May, allegedly by two Islamic extremists, has contributed to Channel 4's decision. "There has surely never been a more pressing need to give a voice to the moderate mainstream majority," he said. "And let's not forget that Islam is one of the few religions that's flourishing, actually increasing in the UK. Like Channel 4's target audience, its followers are young. It's recently been reported that half of British Muslims are under 25."

The Muslim Council of Britain welcomed Channel 4's announcement, a spokesman saying that Ramadan "is a very special month for Muslims and its recognition on a mainstream channel is not only symbolic for belonging and solidarity but will hopefully help to portray a more realistic account of Islam and Muslims."

But the backlash has already begun, with a UKIP spokesman telling The Sun: "This is a priceless piece of attention-seeking. I cannot believe that the majority of mainstream Muslims want to see this. It will inflame community tension."

Conservative MP Conor Burns was similarly flabbergasted, saying: "I find it extraordinary Channel 4 would pursue this politically-correct tokenism."

Reaction to the news from Daily Mail readers was surprisingly mixed. While scores left messages of complaint on the paper's website, many were relaxed about the news. As one wrote: "Stop complaining. It'll probably be no more or less exciting than all of the other garbage transmitted on this channel."

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