Islam and controversy: that’s right, Channel 4 are doing it all again

mmmdmd

Hi, I’m Jon!

I’ve always thought of Channel 4s Jon Snow as a solid TV presenter. Probably the best of the over 50s, long-limbed presenters out there, when you stop and think about it. With Jon Snow, I always know exactly where I am, and whenever I watch him sitting there nonchalantly with his just-too-short trousers on Channel 4 News, I get the feeling that, at any moment, he either might a) fart and not even try to hide it or b) just say “you know what? I’ve quite had enough of all these silly scripts and such like…” and stand up and very graciously invite the entire nation for a nice drink down the pub. Come to think of it, it occurs to me that televising such a thing would be a remarkable interactive spectacle that Channel 4 could greatly benefit from – I mean…put aside the immense logistical problems and just imagine the entire nation being invited for a drink and turning up at the same exact pub! With Jon Snow of Channel 4 fame! Imagine the landlady’s shocked facial expression as the camera-person does a funky close-up shot of her, just like Hollyoaks has become so well-known for! (Just don’t imagine the queues in the lady’s toilets…here, plenty of women and men alike would be jealous of Snow’s too-short trousers if the toilets became blocked…).

It’s this kind of quirky inventiveness, what with all their strange documentaries and ideas, that (arguably) put Channel 4 in a unique and somewhat enviable position – or at least it did, until today. In the last decade, while treading in merely only the occasional political dog muck, Channel 4 have become universally known as a middle-class-renegade-wannabe TV channel who will do whatever they feel like, whenever they feel like it.

With Channel 4, The fact that fellow anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy might at any moment break into an unexpected bout of manic disco dancing live on air always makes me smile. Of course, that’s likely never going to happen – my sources tell me that K Guru-Murthy much prefers the Tango – but it doesn’t mean that the nation wouldn’t love it nonetheless. As a fan of disco dancing, we can but hope.

Much as I admire Channel 4 for being bold enough to do more or less whatever they please over the years – not quite the same thing as me liking everything they’ve done, I should add – this latest announcement by way of the guardian leaves me thinking that someone has gone and fallen and banged their head very-very hard. The really scary thing, however, is that this is TV and big decisions such as Let’s go on the record and call our new airing of the upcoming daily Ramadan prayers an act of deliberate provocation are not made by one person, but in fact a team of people, and over a long period of time during a period of countless meetings, legal checks and endless chatting over various forms of Waitrose cheesecake (though Snow is believed to be a renowned Sainsbury’s lover, it has to be said). In this case, that would mean that dozens and dozens of people all fell and banged their head simultaneously, which is a very worrying thought indeed. Almost as worrying as the notion of cheesecake being dropped…I’d hate to be working at Channel 4 right now without a hard-hat.

Anyway, enough about cheesecake. It’s really starting to play on my mind…

Initially, to me at least, the guardian‘s headline seemed hard to pin down and more than a bit puzzling. At first thought, when I read the words Broadcaster says broadcast is an act of ‘deliberate provocation’… I found myself thinking Do they mean another broadcaster is saying that Channel 4 are out or order? This made much more sense, seeing as it didn’t make sense to me that Channel 4 would knowingly say they were provoking people who are not fans of Islam, and thus liable to smash things up and do other nasty things. A few moments later, I realised that a lack of sleep is just as disturbing a thing as the thought of Krishnan Guru-Murthy disco dancing, or dropping an entire cheesecake on the floor and being forced to make that horrible decision: should I try and rescue it or should I throw it all in the bin? It was now, reading further down the page, that I realised what was going on:

Ralph Lee, head of programming over at Channel 4 was the one who was causing all the uproar down in the comments below the article (Ralph wasn’t actually engaged in the comments of course — now that would have been interesting). Aside from having the look of a man who would fit in perfectly on BBC1s Eastenders – if I was casting I’d suggest he’d be a market trader and possibly a long-lost friend of the loveable Alfie Moon – Ralph was making some pretty direct comments about all this, many of which were perfectly good and well-thought-out, I think, while some of them…not so much. Among other things, Mr Lee was reportedly saying that the calls to prayer for Muslims at this time of year were very important and should be heard in order to both address the growing rise of an important demographic – most Muslims are apparently younger Muslims – and also to make other non-Muslim viewers take more notice. So far, so good. To Channel 4, I gave a quick mental high-five.

Lee then went on to say something along the lines of: by putting this on TV and broadcasting to the nation, this would act as a form of deliberate ‘provocation’ to all the viewers out there. Clearly, this is what I meant when I said not so much.

That’s right: provocation. All the viewers. All in this case mainly being the ones who will be up at 3am in the morning, being outraged by what they are hearing and seeing and thinking. But mainly just thinking. And thinking…

Thinking too much, basically. So mainly people who have made a point of staying up to be outraged, then.

Finally, Lee concluded by pre-empting the backslash that Channel 4 would so obviously face, believing this to be because the Channel was paying more attention to a so-called ‘minority’ religion. Yes…that’s one way to look at it.

This would all be fine, sort of, in a way – well… – were he not to suggest that Muslims are in fact invested in some kind of alternative. An alternative to what, exactly? An alternative to every other religion there has ever been? Surely, in that case, everything is an alternative from something? It just all seemed a bit silly.

As far as Muslims being under-represented, presumably on TV – this seems fair enough on the surface, but then more than a bit strange when you think about it. I can completely understand Channel 4 wanting to represent Muslims by way of more committed TV coverage, etc, but you have to ask: why now? Why’s it taken them so long? After all, Islam isn’t exactly a new religion. From what I’ve heard, the BBC didn’t exactly do a stunning job of their comedy series Citizen Khan – which follows the exploits of a Muslim community leader – and were also about 50 years too late to take the hint, but still, at least they bothered. You can’t say that for too many channels. I do not foresee a Mosque appearing in Home & Away any time soon.

In any case, calling Islam a minority religion simply because a relatively small number of people in the UK belong to it is probably wrong – even if it is technically correct – especially when so many Islamic UK families have loved ones in other countries, and these things significantly overlap. The scope of Islam is large and wide, and orthodox Muslims put so much effort into their religion that, on the whole, it makes me feel very lazy. Not because I am jealous of their ability to have faith, but because…all that praying has got to wear you out.

By half-way into the article, I thought I’d got the main idea here: Channel 4 had decided that Islam was a good thing to attach themselves too, with the aim being that they’d piss an awful lot of people off, make a lot of people think and generally be at the centre of attention – just as they adore. Alongside the live calls to prayer – which would be happening at 3am for the entire Ramadan period – they’d be putting out a number of other shows during the month of fasting, beginning the 9th of July, as well as a special series of broadcasts on the very first day, set to interrupt normal programming schedule.

What happened in Woolwich had a lot to do with it, of course.

Then again, it’s far from being all questionable, even if the motives at work here seem a little one-sided. If Channel 4 want to put out a broad range of programmes which genuinely do help the public in general to understand what Islam is all about, I think that’s a brilliant idea. I say make as many programmes as you can, because I’m sure they will be interesting. I don’t think anyone can doubt that Channel 4 are at least capable of doing good documentaries.

Another thing to consider, if we’re talking those who are going unrepresented: what about the atheists and agnostics out there? The UK is made up of a vast number of people who very deliberately don’t follow any particular religion, or intend to at any time in the future. Surely if Channel 4 want to represent the minorities properly they would consider an entire month of programmes, documentaries and broadcasts about what it means to affirmatively choose not to believe? And I’m not talking about atheism versus religion – a subject which has been covered countless times. I mean covering atheism on its own, from the perspective of throwing away that word altogether. I’ve never much liked atheism as a word – mainly because it has its roots in being ungodly…something which may suggest that atheists are actively against any form of religion. Which is just not always true. God doesn’t always have to have something to do with it.

It’ll be intriguing to see how Channel 4s new concept will reveal itself as time goes on. I’m just not sure that deliberately starting a fire on their own door-step — and ours — is the best idea they could have had.

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