BAGHDAD — Responding to viewer outrage, Iraq's media regulator cancelled a TV prank show that lured guests into simulated ambushes by militants, forcing participants and viewers to relive some of the terror and fear that were widespread under the rule of the Islamic State group.
The show, Tannab Raslan, was being aired by the local Asia TV as a special during the holy month of Ramadan until Iraq’s Communication and Media Commission this week ordered it off the air.
The show — a form of reality TV — follows Iraqi celebrity guests, including actresses and soccer players, who are invited to what is described as a "charity event" but then fall prey under various scenarios to a staged ambush by actors playing militants. They are later freed by other actors playing Iraqi security forces.
The ambush re-enactments include fake weapons and stunt explosions while the "militants" threaten to detonate fake suicide vests. The show’s name Tannab Raslan refers to the name of its presenter, Raslan Haddad, and a popular Iraqi game that children play with marbles in which a score is called "tannab."
Hidden cameras film everything — and the fear that grips the show's guests is real. The show has raised ethics concerns and provoked outrage from angry viewers who said its content was highly offensive.
"The scenes bring back memories of Daesh once again," said Baghdad resident Bashir al-Saddi, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. "Frankly, this is not acceptable, it is inhuman and uncivilized."
But some, like one of the show's actors and presenter Haddad, said the cancellation was unfair as the show also depicts the heroism of Iraqi security forces. "The decision is unjust," he said.
In one the most controversial episodes, cameras follow Iraqi actress Nessma Tanneb as she is taken to a rural area outside Baghdad under the pretext of meeting a family liberated from IS rule.
Along the way, she is told at a mock checkpoint that the area they are about to enter is unsafe and was under attack by IS militants just three hours earlier. Tanneb is visibly concerned and asks to turn back but is ignored.
Once she is brought inside a house, an explosion is heard, and actors playing militants storm the building. Tanneb — who at this point is blindfolded — cries out, screams and eventually faints as actors playing Iraqi soldiers burst onto the scene and "liberate" her.
The show was produced by the Popular Mobilization Forces, a government-backed umbrella group of mostly Shiite militias, many backed by Iran, which fought alongside Iraqi security forces against IS.
Under its terror reign, IS engaged in abductions, beheadings and enslavement, especially of women. Thousands died in the fight to oust the militants from Iraqi territory.
Despite the outcry, Haddad is unconvinced the show crossed any lines and insists contractual agreements would lead to huge penalties for the channel.
The Islamic State group was defeated in a three-year campaign with assistance from U.S.-led coalition forces. At the height of its power, IS held a third of Iraq's territory and terrorized those under its rule.
"Participants have no objection, they agreed to it," Haddad claimed.