Muslims in Indonesia will henceforth have trouble watching TV gossip shows or having sex-change operations, following Indonesia's highest Islamic body's fatwa, an official said Wednesday.
The increasingly assertive Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) said gossip shows about the intimate details of people's private lives -- a popular genre on Indonesian television -- were immoral and threatened society.
"We considered it important to pass the fatwa as infotainment programmes may contain immoral material and violate the journalistic code of ethics," MUI official Asrorun Niam Soleh said.
"We're not against all infotainment programmes... What's haram (forbidden) is material that's gossipy and exposes shameful details about people.
"When people start spreading rumours, the joints holding a nation together will be crushed."
Profiting from infotainment shows is also forbidden under the edict, posing a theological conundrum for the media industry in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.
Gossip shows are allowed only if they "uphold the law, warn the public and help people", Soleh said.
The ruling will be presented to the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission as a guideline for future infotainment programmes, he added.
Another fatwa passed at an MUI meeting late Tuesday forbade receiving or conducting a sex-change operation unless there is a good medical reason.
The council is the top Islamic authority in Indonesia and while its edicts are usually ignored, they can be cited by religious hardliners to justify vigilante-style crackdowns on "un-Islamic" activities.
It has recently issued a steady stream of fatwas including bans on inter-faith marriages, smoking and yoga.
It was forced into an embarrassing apology earlier this month when it corrected a fatwa ordering Muslims to pray to the west, when in fact the Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia are northwest of Indonesia.
Rajawali Citra Televisi Indonesia programming head Banardi Rachmad said the edict on celebrity gossip shows was confusing and the station would continue to produce and broadcast such content.
"We'll continue broadcasting infotainment programmes but we'll evaluate the content and see how to improve it," he said.
"What's fact to us could be deemed as lies by others, how do we know for sure what constitutes a rumour?"