Every year, controversy resurfaces over prank shows during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. On April 17, Galal Awara, a member of the Egyptian parliamentary Media and Culture Committee, called on media bodies to stop all prank shows during Ramadan, which begins in two weeks.
On April 18-19, a number of members of parliament supported Awara's request, prompting the Media and Culture Committee to hold a session April 21 to discuss the process of stopping these shows, given their negative impact on the public.
Awara said the shows are immoral and attract their audience by terrifying viewers, which he said has serious negative effects on family and society. In August 2016, a 10-year-old child burned himself to death while trying to imitate a prank show. Awara said that the safety measures used on these shows can be insufficient and dangerous for guests.
The prank show Awara is referring to is hosted by Egyptian actor Ramez Galal, who has presented "Ramez the Lion Heart" (2011), "Ramez the Desert Fox" (2012), "Ramez Ankh Amun" (2013), "Ramez the Sea Shark" (2014), "Ramez in Control" (2015), "Ramez Plays with Fire" (2016) and, scheduled for Ramadan 2017, "Ramez Underground."
Galal’s series began in 2011 on Al-Hayat TV before moving to MBC Egypt. The show consists of luring celebrities under the pretext of shooting a regular show for Ramadan, then playing a practical joke on them by stopping a boat in the middle of the sea and have fake sharks surround the boat, for instance, or starting a fire at a studio and having hidden cameras record the terrifying moments and the celebrities’ reactions, as Galal makes sarcastic comments.
Other practical prank show series are hosted by Hani Ramzi; these include "Emergency Landing" (2015) and "Hani in the Jungle" (2016). All of these shows prank famous figures such as media professionals and artists. The show "Mini IS" (2016) pranked ordinary citizens as well as celebrities by making them believe they had been kidnapped by the Islamic State.
Al-Monitor contacted members of the committee to learn about the outcome of the April 21 session. “I do not think the parliament has the authority to prevent these shows or take any action to do so,” said Osama Heikal, the head of the committee. “Only the viewers can decide. They should boycott these shows for ratings to drop and producers will then stop presenting similar shows next year.”
In a report released on July 3, 2016, Ipsos MediaCT said "Ramez Plays with Fire" had the highest viewing rate during Ramadan 2016 with 21.8% of the total audience, without disclosing the exact number of viewers.
Heikal said, “Advertisers should also boycott these shows because they harm the companies sponsoring them. When the producer of the show and the owner of the channel see the advertisers’ reluctance, they will stop producing and broadcasting them.”
Committee member Mirvat Michel told Al-Monitor that the sole goal of the prank shows currently being shot for Ramadan is to make profits from advertisements and ratings. She said, “These shows employ inhuman methods of intimidation to pull a prank — not to mention the exchange of insults between the host and the guests. I call on the producers of these shows and satellite channel officials to stop producing such material that is now being broadcast on all channels to draw in ads during Ramadan. TV producers and management need to prioritize culture and ethics and take the country’s circumstances into account."
What prompted Awara to shed light on prank shows may have been the dispute between two Lebanese presenters — Tony Khalife, who visits Cairo on a regular basis, and Nishan Derharoutyounian — over the "Ramez Underground" prank show hosted by Galal.
On April 17, Khalife posted a video on YouTube saying Galal was using Derharoutyounian to lure unwitting guests to Galal's prank show.
In his video, which has more than 800,000 views, Khalife criticized Derharoutyounian for “selling out his friends, family and colleagues and luring them to participate in harmful pranks just to make some money. My dignity is above all considerations. I will not allow Ramez to humiliate me and use me as a tool for a ridiculous show.”
Khalife called on all artists and presenters to reject Derharoutyounian’s request for a show, “which is really a cover for Galal’s prank show. I was offered a family visa but thank God I found out the truth before I took my children ages 8 and 10 with me to watch me shoot the episode. To hell with money if it drives us to act like this with one another.”
The Egyptian magazine Layalina published an article April 25 saying that sources close to Galal had revealed his intention to stop presenting prank shows in the future, noting that his show’s final season would be in 2017. The decision was the result of the fierce media campaign led by Khalife and other Egyptians in the TV business, in addition to Egyptian members of the parliament, the magazine noted.
On March 26, the Supreme Administrative Court adjourned until June 11 the case of Egyptian actress Athar El-Hakim, who seeks for MBC Egypt to be shut down and for it to provide her compensation. Hakim said in a press statement that she filed the lawsuit after the terrifying intimidation she underwent while participating in Galal’s show "Ramez the Sea Shark."
On March 5, the Supreme Administrative Court also postponed until May 28 the hearing of Egyptian lawyer Samir Sabri, who demanded that Galal’s shows be shut down.
Other shows also have come under fire. Many media outlets criticized "Hani in the Jungle," which lures guests into a jungle in Africa where a lion is released. In one episode, due to the purported lack of safety measures, the lion almost bit and killed Egyptian singer Mostafa Amar. Other media outlets believe the pranks were fabricated under prior agreement with guests and a professional lion trainer. Other outlets criticized "Mini IS" for promoting the culture of IS terrorism and violence in the form of comedy.
It seems that the campaign that succeeded in convincing Galal and MBC Egypt to consider putting an end to such shows might not convince other program providers and channels. Egyptian newspapers reported May 2 that Egyptian actor Ramzi has started shooting a new show to be aired on Al-Hayat TV during Ramadan 2017, similar to last year’s "Hani in the Jungle," during which Ramzi scared his guests to death by locking them in a car on the edge of a high mountain.
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