Arab media development is lost in translation

Brainstorming sessions at the WEF meeting Dubai over the weekend, which heard how the region is being held back by a shortage of Arabic-language content. (Photo courtesy of WEF)
Updated 14 November 2017
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Arab media development is lost in translation

LONDON: The Middle East is being held back by a drought of Arabic language content, a major gathering of global thought leaders in Dubai heard this week.
But technology exists not only to help reverse that situation, but also to curb the spread of fake news throughout the Arab world.
An Arabic content crisis was addressed at the Global Future Councils in Dubai, which helps to set the agenda of the main World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in the Swiss alpine town of Davos in January.
More than 700 experts attended the two-day event, which was described as “the biggest brainstorming on the future” by WEF founder Klaus Schwab.
Most people living in the Arab world have limited access to the knowledge available on the Internet because so little of it is produced in the Arabic language, the event heard.
Just 3 percent of all web content is in the Arabic script, said Katherine Maher, the executive director of the Wikimedia ­foundation.
The web’s bias toward English material, she said, posed “a really significant challenge” for the region as it seeks to progress and develop.
However the answer may not be in teaching English to Arabic speakers — but rather in finding solutions to achieve “a meaningful representation across different languages,” she said.
The web’s marked English bent has crimped development in the Arabic-speaking world, leading to a “big gap in knowledge and ability,” said Abdulsalam Haykal, the CEO of Haykal Group, which includes media and publishing operations.
“You feel sometimes in parts of our region that you are at a disadvantage when you are competing with the world instead of strengthening your local communities — and language is at the heart of that,” Haykal said.
In order for the region to progress, Arabic-speaking students, entrepreneurs, and scientists must have access to the Internet’s trove of resour­ces, Haykal said. “If we really want this region to make that leap, then information has to be available,” he added.
Translating English-language content into Arabic, Haykal said, was only part of the solution.
“Translation is the starting point,” he said.
“The most important thing is to give communities the skills to produce in their own languages.”
Several speakers at the Dubai event, which concluded on Sunday, highlighted how technology can be harnessed to help disseminate knowledge and information more equitably across the globe.
Haykal’s company had worked on a project that created algorithms to track the use of both Modern Standard Arabic and local dialects across the Internet.
The information could be used, he said, to create a “content industry, a knowledge creation industry” in Arabic that remains largely absent from the region.
“Equipping ourselves to produce in Arabic,” he added, would open new doors for economic and social development across the Middle East and North Africa.
Catherine Mulligan, who researches cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin at Imperial College in London, said that emerging technologies could be used to help verify sources, potentially preventing the spread of fake news.
Blockchain, a technology that uses cryptography to verify and document pieces of data, could be used to “track and trace” the provenance of information being disseminated to the public across social media platforms.
The issue of fake news has come to the fore recently as investigators in the US continue to probe the role that Russian operatives may have played in spreading propaganda favorable to Donald Trump during the 2016 US presidential election.
Fake news poses particular problems in the Arab world, where the region’s youthful demographic ensures that most young people get their news from social media.
Networks such as Twitter and Facebook have come under fire for failing to do more to flag bogus information circulated on their platforms.


Arab News launches ‘Road to 2030’ section to track Saudi Arabia’s bold reforms

Illustration by Steve Scott for Arab News
Updated 22 September 2018
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Arab News launches ‘Road to 2030’ section to track Saudi Arabia’s bold reforms

  • Section to provide news, opinion and analysis on country’s transformation
  • Newspaper’s National Day coverage looks ahead to 
Kingdom’s high-tech future

RIYADH: Arab News, the Middle East’s leading English-language daily, today announces the launch of a digital service to track and explain the ambitious reforms underway in Saudi Arabia.
Announced on the eve of Saudi National Day, the new “Road to 2030” section will include the latest news, analysis and opinion around the reforms and transformation underway in the Kingdom.
Hosted on the paper’s website, the section  —  www.arabnews.com/road2030 —  is named after the Vision 2030 program unveiled in 2016 by HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the Kingdom’s heir to the throne. 
It coincides with Arab News’ special coverage of Saudi National Day, which marks the formation of the Kingdom on Sept. 23, 1932.


The theme of the souvenir edition, published on Sunday, will be around the future of the Kingdom —  and how the country will look as the 2030 reforms continue to take shape. 
The edition of the newspaper features a unique wrap-around cover illustrating how the country could look in 12 years’ time, as well as a timeline about the reforms and articles about their progress and young people’s views on the future of Saudi Arabia. 
 “We decided to not to limit our Saudi National Day to celebrating the Kingdom’s past —  but to also look ahead to its bright and promising future under the ambitious Vision 2030 plan,” said Faisal J. Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Arab News.  
“This is reflected via the newspaper’s commissioned cover artwork, which imagines Saudi Arabia in 12 years’ time, as well as the stories by our promising team of young Saudi journalists and contributors. 
“We are also proud to launch the Road to 2030 section, which will track the changes underway in the Kingdom and be a reference for observers, visitors and investors in Saudi Arabia.”
Arab News is part of the regional publishing giant Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG). It has been the English newspaper of record for Saudi Arabia and the region for over 40 years.