General Culture Authority chief says ‘seeing is believing’ as movies help to shatter misconceptions of Saudi Arabia

Ahmad Al-Maziad, CEO of Saudi Arabia’s General Culture Authority (GCA). (Supplied)
Updated 15 May 2018

General Culture Authority chief says ‘seeing is believing’ as movies help to shatter misconceptions of Saudi Arabia

  • Ahmad Al-Maziad, CEO of Saudi Arabia’s General Culture Authority (GCA) gives an exclusive interview to Arab News
  • 54 percent of the employees in the GCA are women

CANNES: Ahmad Al-Maziad, CEO of Saudi Arabia’s General Culture Authority (GCA), gave an exclusive interview to Arab News about how projects will be selected, when production will begin and the GCA’s long-term goals.

What is the ultimate objective of Saudi Arabia’s movie plans?
“I think this is the beginning. We’re putting (in) the seeds for an industry, and we’re building an industry from the bottom up. We’re not doing what others have done, with a festival, we’re starting from the bottom. We’re doing training, we’re doing education, we’re working on infrastructure, we’re working on talent, production — all the elements of building an actual sustainable industry in Saudi Arabia.”

Have you drawn up filming guidelines?
“We’re developing the guidelines as we speak, but when we talk about international movies, (it’s) movies that can be, and make sense to be, shot in Saudi Arabia, that showcase what Saudi Arabia is about. Another element could be the script — whether it’s neutral or positive in its depiction. It is not mandatory, but it is a plus to have a positive depiction. We need to look into the script and see if it is really worth seeing, and worth investing in.”

Will your plans help to address international misconceptions about the Kingdom?
“Seeing is believing. We can’t just say that we are changing without showing that we are actually changing. Allowing women to drive is showing that we’re changing. Opening cinemas is showing that we’re changing. The fact that 54 percent of the employees in the GCA are women shows that we’re changing. The fact that in the GCA and Saudi Film Council we have equal pay between men and women shows that we’re working toward what many others are in terms of gender equality pay opportunities. This is already within the DNA that we’re developing. In time, they need to see it. They hear it first and don’t believe it. There’s so much baggage from the media over the last 30 to 40 years. I think, once they hear it, then they come again and they see it once or twice, it will become a reality.”

Is there a mandate to hire Saudi nationals as part of your planned incentives?
Having a mandate might have had a negative impact of turning off some institutes. It’s a fact that we don’t have a lot of talent. We are developing the talent as we speak. We will be filling some elements of the talent, but not the entire ecosystem. More and more talent will be built. I think rather than coming out as mandating, let’s put it the other way around and give an incentive whereby they will also (want to) look, because they have an incentive to save more money, so they will be looking to find that talent.
Also, it will create a layer of the industry: Saudis who create the talent and manage that talent, because they will be the connection between the international filmmakers who don’t know Saudi Arabia and Saudis who don’t have access to the international filmmakers.”

WhatsApp dirty tricks alleged in Brazil presidential race

Updated 19 October 2018

WhatsApp dirty tricks alleged in Brazil presidential race

  • Leftist candidate Fernando Haddad accused frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro of using WhatsApp to unleash fake news messages
  • here are 120 million WhatsApp user accounts in Brazil, whose population is 210 million
SAO PAULO, Brazil: Allegations of a dirty tricks campaign on WhatsApp dominated Brazil’s presidential election race on Thursday, turning attention to social media manipulation following abuses uncovered in the last US election and Britain’s Brexit referendum.
Trailing leftist candidate Fernando Haddad accused the far-right frontrunner, Jair Bolsonaro, of “illegal” electoral tactics after a report that companies were poised to unleash a flood of WhatsApp messages attacking him and his Workers Party.
Bolsonaro denied the allegation, tweeting that the Haddad’s Workers Party “isn’t being hurt by fake news, but by the TRUTH.”
The exchange happened 10 days before a run-off election that polls predict Bolsonaro — a bluff, Internet-savvy, pro-gun polemicist often compared to US President Donald Trump — will likely win comfortably.
Ordinary Brazilians told AFP they got much of their election information through WhatsApp. They said some in their families or entourage swallowed some misinformation, but denied they themselves were being influenced.
“We get a lot of news, even false news, but some true, about politics but I don’t think it changes very much in terms of making decisions,” said Ana Clara Valle, a 27-year-old engineer in Rio.
She said she was voting for Bolsonaro because of his Catholic, pro-family stance, not because of any “extreme right” sensibility.
Andre de Souza, a 35-year-old lawyer leaning toward voting for Bolsonaro, said he receives around 500 WhatsApp messages a day for and against both candidates.
The rumors and false information “don’t make a difference to me,” he said, but added: “My mother received a WhatsApp message saying Bolsonaro was doing away with (mandatory) end-of-year salary payments, and she believed it!“

Support by companies
Haddad made his accusation after Brazil’s widest circulation newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo, reported it had discovered contracts worth up to $3.2 million each for companies to send out bulk WhatsApp messages attacking the Workers Party.
“We have identified a campaign of slander and defamation via WhatsApp and, given the mass of messages, we know that there was dirty money behind it, because it wasn’t registered with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal,” Haddad told a media conference in Sao Paulo.
Bolsonaro’s lawyer, Tiago Ayres, told the financial daily Valor there was no evidence of any connection between the companies mentioned by Folha de Sao Paulo and Bolsonaro’s campaign.
The row shone a light on an issue that has become a pressing one in democracies: the organized abuse of social media to sway public opinion in countries.
Facebook — which owns WhatsApp, as well as popular image-based network Instagram — is the most prominent company that has come under scrutiny, though Twitter has also come in for criticism.
The platforms have made an effort to clean up who uses their services after evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 US election that saw Trump triumph, and accusations Facebook allowed user data to be harvested to bolster the campaign the same year for Britain to leave the European Union.
Facebook has also shut down disinformation pages traced to campaigns believed to have ties to Iran’s state-owned media and to Russian military intelligence services.

No foreign interference
There is no evidence of foreign interference online in Brazil’s election.
The director of major polling firm Datafolha, Mauro Paulinho, said on Twitter that his company had detected “some shifts” in public opinion just before the first round of the election on October 7, which Bolsonaro won handily.
“Technical and factual observations” were made, he said, without drawing any conclusions.
There are 120 million WhatsApp user accounts in Brazil, whose population is 210 million. The app works as a popular social network for friends, families and work colleagues.
Both Haddad and Bolsonaro are the subject of memes, cartoons and slogans circulating online in Brazil.
Haddad, a former education minister and ex-mayor of Sao Paulo, has repeatedly tried to draw Bolsonaro into televised debates on policies.
The leftist candidate has an academic background he believes would give him an advantage if the exchanges moved away from the one-line quips and insults that characterize most social media communications.
But Bolsonaro, who skipped early debates because he was recovering from a knife stab wound after being attacked by a lone assailant while campaigning last month, has thus far shown little inclination to go head-to-head with Haddad.