Malaysian prime minister pushes to outlaw ‘fake news’ before election in August

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s scandal-haunted government pushed plans for legislation outlawing “fake news” as parliament convened for the last time before an election due by August. (AFP)
Updated 06 March 2018
0

Malaysian prime minister pushes to outlaw ‘fake news’ before election in August

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s scandal-haunted government pushed plans for legislation outlawing “fake news” on Monday as parliament convened for the last time before an election due by August.
During the coming election campaign, Najib’s foes are expected to fan suspicions of corruption over billions of dollars that have gone missing from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the state fund founded by the prime minister, and whose advisory board he had chaired until mid-2016. Malaysia’s king, Sultan Muhammad V, told parliament at the opening sitting on Monday that he “greatly supported” the government’s efforts to introduce a law to deal with “the spread of fake news and lies on social media.”
“Currently social media is very influential in forming the values and culture of a society,” the king said in a traditional royal address at the opening of parliament.
The final draft of the bill is expected to be presented for cabinet approval “in a couple of weeks’ time” before being tabled in parliament, state rub Bernama news agency quoted Azalina Othman Said, the minister in charge of law and parliament, as saying. However, Azalina said cabinet will consider if there would be enough time to table the bill in the month-long parliamentary meeting, which would predominantly debate the king’s address.
First exposed in 2015 by foreign media and news blogs, the 1MDB scandal has refused to die down despite Najib’s consistent denials of any wrongdoing and his government’s firm grip on the mainstream media in the country.
At least six countries are investigating transactions related to 1MDB, including the US, where the Department of Justice has mounted its biggest investigation under an anti-kleptocracy initiative, and has launched civil cases to recover assets linked to the fund.
But the government has cowed independent media inside the country. During the early stages of the 1MDB saga, the authorities suspended one newspaper, The Edge, forced the owners to close The Malaysian Insider news website, and blocked other websites for publishing stories critical of Najib’s role.
Governments elsewhere in Southeast Asia, including Singapore and the Philippines, have proposed laws aimed at clamping down on the spread of “fake news,” while media rights advocates have decried the trend in the region.
Opposition lawmakers questioned the need for such a law in Malaysia, arguing that the government already had broad powers. “There are many other laws that are already in existence which can deal with these issues, so the only reason for a new law to come in is to make the severity (of punishments) even higher,” said Tony Pua, a member of parliament from the Democratic Action Party (DAP).


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

Updated 19 June 2018
0

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.