Malaysia's second largest mobile phone company, Celcom Mobile, has been stopped by government officials from running an SMS-based contest offering new cars after complaints from unspecified sources that it "resembled gambling" and involved excessive SMS charges.
In a brief statement, Celcom said it would temporarily halt its "100 days, 100 cars" campaign "…due to intervention by the regulatory authority."
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, a government agency in charge of the industry, directed Celcom to end the contest, saying that some participants had complained their phone bills had soared as a result of the high SMS charges levied for contest questions.
Members of the Muslim community also complained that the mechanism of the contest resembled gambling, which is forbidden under Islamic laws.
"We found that it is a misleading promotion. We have told Celcom to end the contest and refund all participants," a Commission spokesman said.
Celcom management are awaiting a ruling Tuesday by Islamic authorities on whether the contest is permissible under Islam before making a final decision on the contest, which required subscribers to answer quiz questions correctly each day in a contest originally planned to run through to September 9.
Each SMS cost 5 ringgit instead of the average 0.20 ringgit for an SMS. Celcom officials have defended the high cost, saying each SMS also comes with new mobile content such as ring tones for participants.
Speaking to an Associated Press reporter, the mufti of northern Perlis state, Mohamad Asri Zainul Abidin said, "In Islam, we call this gambling. Such contests should be stopped because you pay (but you) buy nothing."
Ethnic Malay Muslims make up about 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, a minister in charge of religious affairs, recently said companies should seek the advice of religious experts before launching such contests.