Lebanon’s ‘outdated’ film censors under fire after banning Spielberg’s The Post

Actors Tom Hanks, from left, Meryl Streep and director Steven Spielberg pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film ‘The Post’ in Milan, Italy. (AP Photo)
Updated 16 January 2018
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Lebanon’s ‘outdated’ film censors under fire after banning Spielberg’s The Post

BEIRUT: Lebanon banned a second film in as many days on Monday, as the country’s censors continue a strict enforcement of boycott rules against movies with links to Israel.
The Australian film “Jungle,” a survival drama about an Israeli adventurer, was banned two weeks after its release due to the “buzz it caused on social media websites.”
Steven Spielberg’s latest film, “The Post,” was also banned a day earlier because the director is blacklisted after filming scenes for the Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List” in Israel 25 years ago.
The bans come as anti-Israel activists have started a campaign to block the release of a new film, “Beirut” starring John Hamm and Rosamund Pike, which is due to be released in Lebanon in April.
Lebanon has repeatedly banned films over the years that are linked to or filmed in Israel. This recently included the blockbuster “Wonder Woman,” because the star Gal Gadot is Israeli and once served in the military.
But it has also included films by Lebanese directors, including “The Attack” by Ziad Doueiri, who have filmed scenes in Israel.
While many support the boycott of Israel, a country with which they are still technically at war and which is widely reviled for its military aggression toward Lebanon, others say the censorship goes too far.
Former MP Fares Souaid said the decision to ban Spielberg’s film “is unacceptable, and this censorship board is following outdated laws that must be updated.”
The decision-making process on which films are banned in Lebanon is complex and involves several branches of government.
Brig. Nabil Hannoun, the head of General Security’s media office, said the final decision to ban “The Post” was made by Lebanon’s censorship board, which has submitted its recommendation to the Interior Ministry.
“Spielberg is blacklisted by the Arab League’s boycott office, which Lebanon complies with,” he said.
Hannoun said: “The General Security presents films believed to be violating the boycott rules to the censorship board, and this is what we’ve done.”
The Lebanese censorship board includes representatives from the foreign, information, education, economy and social affairs ministries. The board also includes a member of the General Security, representing the Interior Ministry.
“The board met and submitted its recommendation to the Minister of Interior that the film is banned,” Hannoun said.
Spielberg’s last two films, “The BFG” and “Bridge of Spies,” were allowed in Lebanese cinemas. When asked why they had been allowed to show but that “The Post” had been banned, Hannoun replied: “The law gave the censorship board the power to choose which films to ban or allow. This time, the decision was taken by majority.”
“Jungle,” which is directed by Greg McLean and stars Daniel Radcliffe, was banned after Lebanese campaigners against Israel called for the film to be boycotted because “it tells the story of an Israeli adventurer based on a book by Yossi Ghinsberg.”
“We were concerned that this buzz would lead to troubles and disturbances inside movie theaters, and so we decided to ban it,” Hannoun said.
Activist Samah Idriss wrote on his Facebook page: “Another victory for the advocates of boycotting the Zionist enemy in Lebanon and the Arab world, and for Palestine’s supporters.”
Idriss said Yossi Ghinsberg served three years in the Israeli Navy and that one of the film’s producers is also Israeli.
“We hope that the enemy’s soldiers do not enjoy freedom of speech in our country,” he said.
In the past couple of days, those activists have also campaigned against “Beirut,” which is supposed to be released in April.
Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury condemned the film, which follows a CIA negotiator involved in a hostage release, because it distorts Beirut’s image.
“It is common practice that when a writer or a director embarks on a new project, he documents the place, time, and location to ensure producing a film that is credible and convincing,” he said on Monday.
“Beirut,” he said rules out facts and gives an “unjust image of this great city”.
Film critic Josephine Habashi was disappointed with the decision to ban “The Post” and felt sorry for the loss of culture, openness, freedom, and art in Lebanon.
“Lebanon bans ‘The Post’ in its theaters when Saudi Arabia allows movie theaters to open,” she said, “The movie is available on copied DVDs sold on the streets.
“Starting now, any film, whether international or local, must seek the approval of Mr.Samah Idriss before it enters the theaters.”
Film critic Vicky Habib told Arab News that what’s happening in Lebanese theaters “is unfair.”
“Who can ban movies that are now available on DVDs?,” she said. “What do they mean by banning a movie in this century when movies are only a click away?”
She believes the country is being controlled by a certain party, who succeeded at banning “Wonder Woman,” and found it easy to pressure the authorities and ban whatever movies they disapproved of.

Six films that ran into trouble in Lebanon

Wonder Woman
The superhero blockbuster was banned in Lebanon last year because the lead role was played by the Israeli actress Gal Gadot, who served in the Israel Defense Forces.
The Attack
A tense drama by Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri set in the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Israel. It was banned in 2013 because it was partly filmed in the country considered an enemy of Lebanon.
Waltz with Bashir
A 2008 Israeli animated film documenting Israel’s alliance with Christian Phalangist militias, which led to the 1982 massacre of Palestinians living in the Sabra and Shatila camps in southern Beirut. Screenings have been held in Beirut in despite it being banned.
Persepolis
Banned in March 2008 after Shiite officials expressed concern that its content was offensive to Muslims and to Iran. The ban on the internationally acclaimed animation about the Iranian 1979 revolution was lifted just weeks later after complaints about over zealous censorship.
Spotlight
It may have won best picture at the Oscars in 2016 but this film about a newspaper investigation into child abuse by Catholic priests was never shown in Lebanese cinemas. While it was not banned, the distributors said it wouldn’t be worth showing because it would cause too much controversy and not draw an audience.
Personal Affairs
Directed by Palestinian filmmaker Maha Hajj, the film was banned from the Beirut International Film Festival in 2016 because it was produced by an Israeli company and filmed in Israel.


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.