Al Jazeera slammed for ‘one-sided’ reports on Iran protests

Many turned to Twitter to criticize Al Jazeera’s coverage of the unrest in Iran (Screengrab)
Updated 01 January 2018
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Al Jazeera slammed for ‘one-sided’ reports on Iran protests

LONDON: The Al Jazeera network has been slammed for its coverage of recent protests in Iran, with critics claiming the Arabic station was slow to cover the events, and later offered reports that side with the “terrorist” regime in Tehran.
Iran has seen a wave over protests that continued on Monday, a day after at least 10 people were killed in violence across the country.
The unrest began as demonstrations against economic conditions but quickly turned against the Islamic regime as a whole, with thousands marching in towns across Iran to chants of “death to the dictator,” AFP reported.
But despite widespread global coverage, the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera network was singled out for its handling of the crisis.
Qatar is part of the Gulf Cooperation Council but its alleged ties to Iran have been a major factor in a diplomatic dispute with neighbors including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Many turned to Twitter to comment on Al Jazeera’s apparent delay in reporting on the unrest in Iran.
Twitter user Khaled wrote: “Al Jazeera, your correspondents in Iran are sleeping, they are not sending you any news.”
Others claimed that Al Jazeera had ignored the voice of the Iranian opposition.
One wrote on Twitter: “Why don’t you cover remarks from the Iranian opposition, as you claim to be the channel of opinion and the opinion of the other? You are zionists of the era.”
Twitter user Milad Al-Otaibi wrote that Al Jazeera had showed its “real face” in masking the “sound of freedom and the truth.”

Another wrote that Al Jazeera “claims it was with the people during the Arab Spring, but when it came to the Iranian winter, it sided with the repressive, terrorist Iranian regime against the oppressed people.”

The barrage of online criticism moved Yasser Abuhilala, managing director of Al Jazeera News, to defend the network.
“Do not accuse Al Jazeera of ignoring the protests in Iran,” he tweeted. “Al Jazeera’s coverage is done professionally and these campaigns increase confidence in the channel as a reliable, professional … source. The viewer judges impartiality and they are what matters to us.”

Yet others said Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Iran protests showed the network’s long-rehearsed tactics.
Abdellatif El-Menawy, an Egyptian media analyst, said Al Jazeera had a “absence of neutrality” in covering political events across the region as a whole.
“The most obvious case was during the January 2011 demonstrations in Egypt, where the channel was (clearly a non-neutral) player. (That is what they are doing) today with the demonstrations in Iran, exaggerating what they want to exaggerate and underestimating the presence of the other side. Such a thing happened in Syria too when they took on events to impose a certain vision.”
While most of the criticism was aimed at the Arabic-language channel, others said Al Jazeera English had also changed its tone in recent years.
Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said: “I remember in 2009, Al Jazeera English was the go-to channel for people in the West to follow the Green Revolution in Iran and to get the latest updates. Nowadays it really does seem that, more often than not, AJE has become the go-to channel to get the Iranian regime’s viewpoint on the ongoing uprising. The change in editorial tone is markedly noticeable.”
Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Arab News.


Vox Cinemas brings popcorn and superheroes to 80 screens across Saudi Arabia

Updated 19 June 2018
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Vox Cinemas brings popcorn and superheroes to 80 screens across Saudi Arabia

  • Majid Al Futtaim (MAF), the Dubai-based operator of malls and leisure facilities, is preparing a big roll-out of new cinema screens in the Kingdom
  • Cameron Mitchell, the chief executive of MAF Cinemas, revealed the plans in an interview with Arab News

DUBAI: Majid Al Futtaim (MAF), the Dubai-based operator of malls and leisure facilities, is preparing a big roll-out of new cinema screens in the Kingdom.
Following the first film viewing for nearly four decades in April and the opening of four Vox screens in Riyadh Park Mall, MAF is on the verge of a more ambitious initiative to create 80 screens in the Kingdom by the first quarter of next year.
Cameron Mitchell, the chief executive of MAF Cinemas, revealed the plans in an interview with Arab News.
“By the spring of 2019 we will have invested $100 million in cinema in Saudi Arabia, and by the end of next year we expect to have 200 screens. It is one of the fastest programs of openings anywhere in the world. There’s a lot happening very quickly,” he said.
The latest initiative is part of MAF’s $550 million strategy for cinemas in the Kingdom, and will see screens in Riyadh, Jeddah, in the Eastern Province and eventually many other smaller cities. Mitchell, who has been working in cinema in the region for the past 12 years, said the Saudi Arabian market is potentially huge.
“Saudi Arabia has such a young population and a big demand for entertainment, so the potential is enormous. For example, in Australia the average per capita number of cinema visits is five times a year. Even if every Saudi visits a cinema just once a year, that’s 30 million new visits per year,” he said.
MAF is planning to open 600 screens in Saudi Arabia by 2030, but Mitchell said that could be a “conservative” target. Cinemas in the Kingdom will eventually account for 50 percent of MAF’s regional cinema business, he estimated.
Mitchell said that MAF’s experience so far in Saudi Arabia had been very good. “We think we know what will appeal to Saudi audiences. Black Panther was the first, and the reception was fantastic. Movies such as the Avenger series, Ferdinand, Jurassic Park, X-Men all play well there.The big blockbusters go down really well, but there will also be Arabic films, and Hindi films at other times. Jurassic Park was a real hit — it was the first time some Saudis had ever seen a 3D dinosaur on a big screen,” he added.
The four screens in Riyadh are divided into “family” and “bachelor” venues, and films are chosen to be suitable for the particular audience. “Aside from the segregation of bachelors and families, it’s no different from Dubai. Perhaps over time, that segregation will change too,” Mitchell said.
The reintroduction of cinema has gone very smoothly, he said. “There have been no real challenges regarding content. We’ve been working closely with the censors, but there have been no problems so far.
“We’ve learned a lot from how the UAE censors films, and advances in technology allow us to do it in a more subtle way, for instance zooming in on one subject in a controversial scene. We can avoid (bits) ... rather than cutting the whole scene.
“Areas to avoid are pretty obvious — religion and nudity, and we don’t really show films that have that kind of content anyway. It is mainly action films and family films. We will have lots of screens, so we can match whatever the demand is and the law allows,” he said.
MAF wants to make cinema one of the main forms of entertainment in the Kingdom as it goes through Vision 2030 transformation plans aimed at diversifying the economy and allowing a more liberal lifestyle.
“It is not just about a movie. We want it to be the favorite form of all-round entertainment, and so far it has been a great success. We’ve been selling tickets a couple of days in advance. There have been multiple sold-out sessions, and we’ve had a lot of positive feedback on the popcorn and the nachos,” he said.
One of the biggest cinema hubs will be in the Mall of Saudi, which MAF is planning in the Saudi capital, complete with an indoor ski slope.
“Our cinemas win awards for being among the best in the world, quite an achievement for a Middle East company. The Mall of Saudi will be an entertainment hub, equipped for gaming as well,” Mitchell said. Other new screens will be located in existing malls but there will also be some standalone venues.
“We’re spending a lot of money to develop cinemas quickly, so returns will be consistent with what we normally get from cinemas,” he said.
Mitchell said MAF was open to discussions with existing developers, and would be interested in projects in places such as King Abdullah Economic City and Qiddiya, the huge leisure complex planned outside Riyadh.
“We like to see ourselves as the local developer. Of course, there is competition, but we always build the best in the region, and we run the best malls in the region too. We don’t do cheap, we do best in class and we won’t cut corners,” he said.
MAF plans to employ 3,000 mostly Saudi staff in its cinema business, and wants to recruit a Saudi to run the distribution business in which it partners with 20th Century Fox.
The boost to KSA cinema entertainment is also expected to have a big effect on film-making in the region, Mitchell said.
“We’re looking for some big Saudi film premieres in the autumn. I was at the Cannes Film Festival recently, marketing the product and looking at how we can support the film industry in Saudi Arabia.
“Regionally, there is not a lot of locally made content, but we expect a lot more in years to come. We want local content and we see lots of Saudi films in coming years. We will work with the government to help that along. Cinema in Saudi Arabia is a government-backed and endorsed initiative as part of 2030,” he said.