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New festive television choices: Muslim channels in Spanish

Iranian and Saudi stations begin vying for audiences in Spain and Latin America

Christmas time marks the arrival of Islamic television in Spain. Two satellite stations in Spanish, one broadcasting from Iran and the other from Saudi Arabia, will begin airing on December 21 and January 1, respectively. Both will offer round-the-clock programming for Spanish and Latin American audiences through the Hispasat satellite, industry sources say.

Córdoba Televisión is owned by the Foundation for the Message of Islam, presided by Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Fawzan and backed by the Saudi royal family. At first, programming will fill up eight hours a day and this segment will be repeated three times. Reports, documentaries and religion-based talk shows will make up the bulk of the content.

In order to put the programs together, the sheikh's aides hired around 50 people, mostly Spaniards who have converted to Islam but also a few professionals from the private networks Antena 3 and Telecinco, who were lured by the hefty paychecks. There are also small teams in Argentina and Colombia, the countries with the largest Muslim minorities in Latin America.

Sheikh Al Fawzan has spent years disseminating Wahhabism, the ultraconservative interpretation of Islam that is practiced in Saudi Arabia. He personally delivers his harangues on Al Ikhtariya, a Saudi station, and on Al Majd, a station from the UAE. In his impassioned speeches, he holds that Muslims need to profess "a positive hatred" of Christians, and he also justifies the marginalization of women in his country.

A professor of Islamic theology at Imam Mohammed Ibn Saud University, Al Fawzan is also a member of the Sharia Oversight Committee and of the Human Rights Committee, an agency at the service of the Saudi regime.

Al Fawzan announced early last year that he was going to launch a television station in Spanish that would be called Córdoba Televisión because the Andalusian city was the capital of the Muslim Caliphate in the 10th and 11th centuries. Muslim theologians speak nostalgically about that period of history as a golden age of Islam. Córdoba Televisión was originally going to go live in August, but personal conflicts and bureaucratic hurdles delayed the launch five months.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Hispan TV was inaugurated on Wednesday after a one-month delay. A handful of Spanish journalists have moved to Tehran to work for the new station, which is starting out with 16 hours of programming a day, later to be expanded to 24. In this case, the main slots are given over to news reports with a focus on Latin America, but there will also be Iranian movies and series dubbed into Spanish, as well as debates on cinema, literature and, of course, religion in its Shiite interpretation.

"This new station in Spanish will play an essential role in the ideological legitimization of our system in the world," said Ezatollah Zarqami, president of IRIB, the agency that brings together all Iranian public television stations (the only ones allowed), last October.

El jeque saudí Abdulaziz al Fwazan, durante una charla televisiva.
El jeque saudí Abdulaziz al Fwazan, durante una charla televisiva.
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