Arab News panel at AMF examines solutions to Mideast’s image problem

From left: Faisal J. Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News, Mark Donfried, director of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, Hadley Gamble, reporter and anchor for CNBC, and Nathan Tek, US State Department spokesman in the Middle East, at the Arab Media Forum.
Updated 17 May 2017
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Arab News panel at AMF examines solutions to Mideast’s image problem

DUBAI: An Arab News panel discussion held on Tuesday proposed solutions to the Middle East’s image problem in the West, as new research emerged illustrating the severity of the US “knowledge gap” about the region.
The panel, held at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, detailed the importance of cultural diplomacy, effective government communication and the importance of student exchange programs in boosting awareness.
It was held on the same day as the publication of an Arab News/YouGov survey, which found that 81 percent of Americans are unable to point out the Arab world on a map.
“The Arab Image in the West” discussion on Tuesday featured three international speakers and was moderated by Faisal J. Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News.
Panelist Hadley Gamble, a reporter and anchor for CNBC covering the Middle East, Africa and US politics, pointed to the lack of emphasis on geography in the US school system.
But she said that Americans’ lack of geographical awareness was not limited to the Arab world.
“Americans are going to have the same problem when you’re talking about Portugal, Asia, China, Thailand... This isn’t a just Middle East-centric issue,” she said.
Gamble said the lack of American awareness highlighted by the Arab News/YouGov poll could actually mark an opportunity, because it could allow the region to set its own narrative. “A lack of knowledge can actually work to your advantage,” she said.
Nathan Tek, US State Department spokesman in the Middle East, also spoke on the panel.
He said that the findings of the poll on American awareness about the US were “a challenge” but no reason to despair.
Solutions to addressing the Arab world’s image problem in the West include appointing government spokespeople who are authorized to speak immediately to journalists.
Tek also mentioned the value of longer-term initiatives like exchange programs so that Americans can “experience the Arab world first-hand.”
Tek said that he sometimes sees Arab media outlets misreporting and attacking US foreign policy.
“My response to that is not to get upset, not to boycott channels… The answer is always to engage. The answer is always to go on air, to go in that space,” he told the Arab News panel.
“If you don’t tell your own story, someone else will do it for you, and they won’t do as good a job.”
Fellow panelist Mark Donfried, director of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, pointed to the fact that most Americans do not have passports as being a factor behind the knowledge gap about the region.
But he said it was not too late for the Arab world to build a better image in the West. He pointed to the example of Germany, which he said had a very bad image after World War II, but now enjoys a good global reputation. 
Cultural diplomacy is an important factor in this, Donfried said. 
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he told the panel. “The world is realizing the importance and benefits of cultural diplomacy.”
The findings of the Arab News/YouGov poll on “The Arab Image in the US” were published on Tuesday to coincide with the Arab Media Forum. 
The poll, conducted from March 17-21, found that 65 percent of respondents admitted to knowing little about the Arab world, with 30 percent having no interest in understanding the region further.
The “The Arab Image in the US” poll follows a recent partnership between Arab News and YouGov, which was officially announced at the Arab Media Forum. 
The deal will see YouGov conduct regular polls relating to the Middle East and North Africa, which will help shed light on regional sentiment toward international events, as well as producing credible research on international opinion on Arab affairs. Findings will be published in Arab News and online at www.arabnews.com. 


Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

A Google sign is seen during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China August 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

  • Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability
  • Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects

SAN FRANCISCO: Google is not close to launching a search engine app in China, its chief executive said at a companywide meeting on Thursday, according to a transcript seen by Reuters, as employees of the Alphabet Inc. unit called for more transparency and oversight of the project.
Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told staff that though development is in an early stage, providing more services in the world’s most populous country fits with Google’s global mission.
Hoping to gain approval from the Chinese government to provide a mobile search service, the company plans to block some websites and search terms, Reuters reported this month, citing unnamed sources.
Whether the company could or would launch search in China “is all very unclear,” Pichai said, according to the transcript. “The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options.”
Disclosure of the secretive effort has disturbed some Google employees and human rights advocacy organizations. They are concerned that by agreeing to censorship demands, Google would validate China’s prohibitions on free expression and violate the “don’t be evil” clause in the company’s code of conduct.
Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability,” according to an internal petition seen by Reuters on Thursday.
After a separate petition this year, Google announced it would not renew a project to help the US military develop artificial intelligence technology for drones.
The China petition says employees are concerned the project, code named Dragonfly, “makes clear” that ethics principles Google issued during the drone debate “are not enough.”
“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” states the document seen by Reuters.
The New York Times first reported the petition on Thursday. Google declined to comment.
Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly, and their remarks at the company-wide meeting marked their first about the project since details about it were leaked.
Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects that raise substantial ethical questions.
Pichai told employees: “We’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record here” on Dragonfly, according to the transcript. He noted the company guards information on some projects where sharing too early can “cause issues.”
Three former employees involved with Google’s past efforts in China told Reuters current leadership may see offering limited search results in China as better than providing no information at all.
The same rationale led Google to enter China in 2006. It left in 2010 over an escalating dispute with regulators that was capped by what security researchers identified as state-sponsored cyberattacks against Google and other large US firms.
The former employees said they doubt the Chinese government will welcome back Google. A Chinese official, who declined to be named, told Reuters this month that it is “very unlikely” Dragonfly would be available this year.