After 2016 election, US poised to fight fake news — in Kenya

This Tweet from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi from Aug. 14, 2017, calls out a alleged embassy document as being fake news. (AP)
Updated 19 March 2018
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After 2016 election, US poised to fight fake news — in Kenya

NAIROBI: Just ahead of Kenya’s disputed 2017 election, video clips started spreading on social media of a slick-looking CNN broadcast asserting that President Uhuru Kenyatta had pulled far ahead in the polls. But the CNN broadcast was fake, splicing together real coverage from CNN Philippines with other footage with the network’s iconic red logo superimposed in the corner.
It happened with a BBC video, too, and with a photo purportedly of Kenyan security forces killing protesters that was actually from Tanzania, and with thousands of spurious blog posts and other false reports that flooded the popular messaging app WhatsApp, fueling further divisions and turmoil in an election that morphed into a major political crisis.
So the US government is gearing up to fight fake news — not at home, where it’s the subject of heated debate following the 2016 presidential campaign, but in Kenya, where America has sought to nurture a vibrant but volatile African democracy.
“Information is, of course, power, and frankly, fake news is a real danger,” US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec said in an interview, adding that it had eroded confidence in Kenya’s real news media. “It’s being weaponized. It’s undermining democracy in Kenya.”
Godec kicked off the awareness campaign this past week with an email to the 47,000 members of the State Department’s Young African Leaders Initiative asking them to pledge to prevent the spread of fake media by pausing to verify the source and validity before passing information along to others through social media. For a while this week, the hashtag #StopReflectVerify was the No. 2 trending hashtag on Twitter in Kenya, where the US Embassy pushed it to its 256,000 followers.
In addition to offering resources for discriminating between fact and fake, the campaign involves three-day training sessions for public affairs officials in Kenya’s counties, encouraging local governments to be more responsive and forthcoming so that journalists on deadline can fact-check information they hear. Though it’s starting in Kenya, the program is expected to expand, with an Africa-wide international fact-checking day and a global, virtual event on World Press Freedom Day in May anchored out of Nairobi.
The focus on fighting fake news in Kenya stands in contrast to what’s happening in the United States, where President Donald Trump uses the term to denigrate credible news outlets that publish critical coverage about him or his Republican administration. Trump has also continually downplayed the role that false information from illegitimate sources may have played in affecting the outcome of the election. Last month, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians accused of using a network of fake social media accounts and targeted political messages to stir up turmoil in the 2016 race.
The campaign also comes as the US has been warning Kenya’s government about worrisome restrictions on the legitimate news media. The group Human Rights Watch has said Kenyan officials try to stop critical coverage by threatening, intimidating and harassing journalists. The United States was particularly concerned in February when Kenya shut down major broadcasters after opposition leader Raila Odinga held a mock inauguration on television.
In Kenya, the fake news problem has also raised fears about violence being stoked by false facts that often mushroom on social media before they can be stopped.
At election time, a fake but realistic-looking US diplomatic cable circulated that appeared to show embassy officials predicting instability, celebratory violence, “severe unrest and a massive breakdown of law and order” if Odinga were to defeat Kenyatta in the election. The US embassy quickly tweeted its own version of the cable with the word “FAKE” slapped across it in bold red font.
Yet there are risks for the US in appearing to tell people what to believe, say or not say in Kenya, a former British colony. So the embassy is taking pains to show it’s a locally driven operation, partnering with groups like AfricaCheck, a fact-checking website similar to the US site Snopes.com.
“We’re not asking them to believe any particular thing,” Godec said. “We’re just saying, don’t take everything you see on your phone via WhatsApp as the truth because it may not be.”


Hamas media facing financial meltdown

Updated 20 February 2019
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Hamas media facing financial meltdown

  • Beirut-based Al-Quds TV faces corruption claims after closure warning
  • The channel has been experiencing a financial crisis for the past three years

GAZA CITY: The announcement by Palestinian television channel Al-Quds TV that it will stop broadcasting by the end of February if it does not receive desperately needed funding highlights the financial crisis facing Hamas’ media institutions.

Imad Ifranji, Al-Quds TV’s director, said on Tuesday that if funds failed to arrive by the end of this month, “it is inevitable that the channel will shut down.” 

The Beirut-based channel’s Gaza office has been unable to cover its costs for the past four months and 50 employees have not received salaries for almost a year.

Al-Quds TV had 350 staff when it was launched in 2008, but now has only 150.

The channel has been experiencing a financial crisis for the past three years, despite cutting costs and reducing staff, Ifranji said.

Hamas began building its media “empire” following its victory in the 2006 elections and the imposition of absolute control over the Gaza Strip in mid-2007.

The fundamentalist organization enjoyed years of financial prosperity thanks to Iranian support, internal fees and taxes, and the use of smuggling tunnels across the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Hamas’ financial crisis began with the decline of Iranian support in 2012 and escalated after the Egyptian Army overthrew Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Mursi in 2013, leading to growing tension tension between the group and Egypt.

Its extensive media network has also faced claims of corruption and mismanagement by current employees and former staff members.

A few months ago, Al-Quds TV was forced to lay off dozens of employees. The channel’s debts are believed to run into millions of dollars.

The Palestinian Information Center website, the oldest and largest Hamas news site in seven languages, closed its office in the Gaza Strip.

A senior employee of a Hamas media organization in Gaza, who declined to be named, said that websites affiliated with the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, were also facing a financial crisis.

Some, such as the “8 o’clock” website were threatened with closure.

Saber Halima, an employee at Al-Quds TV’s Beirut headquarters, criticized the management of the channel, accusing senior employees of corruption and mismanagement. In a video posted on his Facebook page, Halima described the management’s treatment of employees during the crisis as “despicable and humiliating.”

Al-Aqsa TV, which broadcasts from Gaza, announced on Dec. 19 that it would stop broadcasting because of a lack of funding.

However, Wissam Afifah, the channel’s director general, told Arab News that it would continue to broadcast after paying its debts to the satellite channel Noorsat, estimated at $220,000.

Al-Aqsa TV, which is broadcasting from temporary offices after Israel bombed its main headquarters in Gaza in November, is required to pay a similar amount to the satellite to continue operating.

The channel’s management said it is unlikely the destroyed headquarters will be rebuilt with losses estimated at about $4 million. An employee of Al-Aqsa TV told Arab News that about 200 staff had not received full pay for more than a year.

The employee’s monthly salary was estimated at $800. He had received only $550 in the past four months — $400 two months ago and $150 a few days ago.

Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ chief in Gaza, said the organization was considering closing small media institutions and merging other institutions to ease the financial crisis.

Analysts say the continuing Israeli and Palestinian National Authority restrictions on Gaza will only intensify the problems facing Hamas.

Hossam Al-Dajni, an academic close to Hamas, said: “The main reason behind the financial crisis is the developments in the region, such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and US pressure on Iran with regard to its nuclear program.”