Viber ban to affect expats most

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Updated 13 June 2013
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Viber ban to affect expats most

Expatriates are likely to find it more difficult to stay in contact with their loved ones at home with the banning of Viber by Saudi Arabia's telecommunications regulatory authority.
The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) announced the ban on its website on Wednesday. The ban was introduced because monitoring is difficult for the state and it deprives licensed telecom companies of revenue from international calls and texts.
"The Viber application has been suspended ... and the (regulator) affirms it will take appropriate action against any other applications or services if they fail to comply with regulatory requirements and rules in force in the Kingdom," the CITC said in its statement on its website.
The CITC had announced earlier this year that it was watching Viber and other free Internet communications sites, including WhatsApp and Skype.
Attempts to use Viber on various smartphones yesterday were met with messages of “No Service” and “Blocked.”
Cyprus-based Viber is a multi-platform instant messaging and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) application system that allows subscribers to make free calls, and exchange images, video, audio and text messages.
It is popular among Arab expatriates because it has an Arabic version and works on all operating systems and wireless networks.
CITC spokesperson Sultan Al-Maliki did not respond to several calls from Arab News on Wednesday.
Several Arabs are now using free VoIP software known as “Free PP” as a substitute for Viber.
Local media reported earlier this year that Saudi Arabia's three main operators Saudi Telecom Co., Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) and Zain Saudi had been asked to tell the CITC if they were able to monitor or block such applications, according to reports.
Mobile penetration in the Kingdom was 188 percent by the end of 2012, CITC data shows. Saudi Arabia now has 15.8 million Internet subscribers and the average user watches three times as many online videos per day compared to counterparts in the United States, according to YouTube.
Conventional international calls and texts are a lucrative earner for telecom operators in Saudi Arabia, which hosts around nine million expatriates. These foreign workers are increasingly using Internet-based applications such as Viber to communicate with relatives in other countries, analysts say.


Saudi films soar at Golden Falcon film awards

Updated 19 April 2018
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Saudi films soar at Golden Falcon film awards

  • Winners of first Golden Falcon award will travel to the Netherlands to study filmmaking techniques
  • Film screenings have been revived in KSA as part of wide-ranging social and economic reforms encouraged by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 

RIYADH: Saudi films have won awards at an international film festival organized by the Netherlands to coincide with the return of cinema to the Kingdom.

The first Golden Falcon Film Festival awards drew Saudi actors, filmmakers and cinema-lovers to the Netherlands embassy in Riyadh on Wednesday.

More than 30 shortlisted Saudi films were shown at the maiden festival on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Nine films were nominated, with three each in the best film, best script and best director categories. Overall winners were chosen by an international jury headed by Dutch filmmaker Hans Treffers.

Best movie award went to “Mazban.” The other two films nominated in the category were “Tongue” and “Building 20.”

“The Poetess,” “Matour” and “Atoor” were nominated in the best director category with “Atoor” bagging the award.

“Departures,” “Atoor” and “The Remaining” were nominated in the best script category with “Departures” winning the award.

Besides the Golden Falcon trophy, the winners will travel to the Netherlands to study filmmaking techniques.

Joost Reintjes, the Netherlands ambassador in Riyadh, told Arab News: “We are proud to organize the first Golden Falcon Film Festival here to promote filmmaking in the Kingdom and provide a platform for young Saudi filmmakers to show what they have to offer.”

Film screenings — banned in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s following religious changes in the Kingdom — have been revived as part of wide-ranging social and economic reforms encouraged by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

The return of cinema was heralded with a film screening on Wednesday at a newly built theater at the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) in Riyadh. 

Commenting on the lifting of the 35-year ban, Reintjes told Arab News: “That’s Vision 2030 — it is good sign to diversify and develop.

“Although the cinemas in the Kingdom have only been restarted now, Saudi filmmaking has already made a name for itself on the world stage.

“The Saudi film industry will grow very fast. The level of talent is high,” he said.

Mohammed Al-Qass, lead actor from “Departure,” said: “We have been working for this day for years. 

“Saudis with a thirst for cinema were traveling outside the country — now they can enjoy and share the experience in their homeland.” 

Mohammed Khawajah, a Saudi filmmaker and adviser for the film festival, told Arab News: “The idea for this festival came last year when the lifting of the cinema ban was being discussed.

“The Netherlands embassy had this idea about nine months ago; we sat together and planned the whole festival, which was carried out successfully, with hundreds of people enjoying Saudi films.

“We will improve with our next festival, which will have more fun and entertainment,” he said.