Issue No. 1
Fall 1998
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TBS FEATURE INTERVIEW

Sheikh Saleh Kamel
Chairman of the Board, ART
Cairo, May 1998


TBS: If you were able to start all over again, after your ventures into radio and television as a partner in the Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC), and your opening of specialty channels on Arab Radio and Television (ART), and seeking a satellite code for the region, and broadcasting a variety of satellite programs in Europe (Arabsat), and development of channels for Africa, Australia, and North and South America, even cable television in Indonesia, would you follow the same path?

Sheikh Saleh: Media work is both an avocation and a vocation; because of that, if I could start over, there is no doubt that I would again go into media.

TBS: Why did you choose mass media as your field after long years of success in the business sector and Islamic banking, especially since you were taking a big risk in coded satellite broadcasting?

Sheikh Saleh: I first started work in media in secondary school when I began a school magazine and yearbook, which I continued in college, and made what was for those days a small fortune. After that, I started to work professionally in media, twenty-seven years ago, as the first Arab producer of television serials in the private sector. I then began to think of the industry in global terms, and I founded MBC and later ART, at which point we might say that I had really begun to work in media in the same manner as I had in the banking and business sectors. Most of that time was taken up in the establishment of ART. Investing in media has its risks, but it is a calculated risk, and I think we are on the right track.

TBS: How do you reconcile your dedication to Islamic principles with your investment in the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), which is successful by all accounts, both artistic and professional, and yet does not necessarily uphold Islamic values?

Sheikh Saleh: Our investment in LBC involves the delivery system; we are not responsible for content. Whoever subscribes to it does so of his own free will. We have, nevertheless, been able to influence the choice of programming at LBC, especially that having to do with their aims concerning the Islamic faith.

TBS: Have you considered that there is a fundamental contradiction between Islamic values and competitive satellite broadcasting, especially as the film and music channels generally employ female announcers who, while they may dress modestly, behave in a seductive manner?

Sheikh Saleh: I do not agree that there is a fundamental contradiction here. The same sort of thing was said when television first appeared. From the beginning some serious Muslims proposed that the media become 100 percent Islamic, and some Muslims avoided the medium altogether, claiming that its lack of conformity to Islam created an unfortunate situation. We tried to correct this--for instance, with a children’s channel, an information channel, a reading channel, and a university channel. We are proud that all of these are 100 percent in conformity with Islamic values. With some 80 percent of the general content of films and music, we try to introduce content that our viewers will benefit from, and we exercise self-censorship. We are proud of that. If you make a comparison between our film channel and any other Arab film channel, you will see that we are very conservative. The same is true of the music channel.

TBS: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

Sheikh Saleh: I am, of course, proud of everything I have done, the greatest being in media. I also take great pride in the real estate developments Buhairat Tunis in Tunisia and Durat al-Arous in Jeddah. There are not too many others who can say they have succeeded on such a scale. I am most thankful for my successes in MBC and ART in general, but especially the children’s channel and the program “Read!”

TBS: Some imply that a satellite code for the region was a mistake. Do you go along with this kind of thinking?

Sheikh Saleh: I do not think coded broadcasting was a mistake. It was inevitable. It is up to us to make it a success. The appearance and spread of advertising in the Arab world will promote better quality in Arab industrial production. TBS

Copyright 1998 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo
E-mail: TBS@aucegypt.edu