Iran orders all TV drama to feature prayer

Tehran, Iran - The conservative head of Iran's state-run television has said all homegrown drama programmes should feature scenes showing characters praying or they will be denied airtime, the ILNA news agency reported on Monday.

"In the current year, television productions that do not have prayer scenes will not be allowed to air," said Ezatollah Zarghami, who is appointed by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The new directive appears to apply to drama series and television films but it is not clear whether it also includes programmes such as game shows and sitcoms.

Citing a scene in a popular Iranian series where a murder suspect is shown praying, Zarghami said: "Prayer scenes should not be confined to positive and leading characters, the elderly and the clean-living types."

He said children's programmes should also seek to teach the young about praying, which mature Muslims are required to perform five times a day as one of the five pillars of Islam.

All television and radio broadcast in Iran is state-controlled and the six national TV channels air a wide range of homegrown programmes as well as foreign documentaries, series and films.

Though conservative in its overall policy, Iranian television has experienced some relaxation since Zarghami took over two years ago, showing recent Hollywood films and controversial talk shows putting politicians and celebrities in the hot seat.

Religion also plays a conspicuous role. Programming is interrupted for the broadcast of the daily prayers, newsreaders invoke God before each bulletin and there are frequent readings from the Koran.

Officials have sought to make domestic television programmes more appealing in the past years to compete with satellite television channels which are banned in Iran but watched by many Iranians.