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.”


Twitter shuts more than 200,000 Chinese accounts targeting Hong Kong protests

Updated 20 August 2019

Twitter shuts more than 200,000 Chinese accounts targeting Hong Kong protests

  • Twitter traced the Hong Kong campaign to two fake Chinese and English Twitter accounts that pretended to be news organizations based in Hong Kong
  • An additional 936 core accounts Twitter believes originated from within China attempted to sow political discord in Hong Kong

WASHINGTON: Twitter said Monday it has suspended more than 200,000 accounts that it believes were part of a Chinese government influence campaign targeting the protest movement in Hong Kong.
The company also said it will ban ads from state-backed media companies, expanding a prohibition it first applied in 2017 to two Russian entities.
Both measures are part of what a senior company official portrayed in an interview as a broader effort to curb malicious political activity on a popular platform that has been criticized for enabling election interference around the world and for accepting money for ads that amount to propaganda by state-run media organizations.
The accounts were suspended for violating the social networking platform’s terms of service and “because we think this is not how people can come to Twitter to get informed,” the official said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said the Chinese activity was reported to the FBI, which investigated Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election through social media.
After being notified by Twitter and conducting its own investigation, Facebook said Monday that it has also removed seven pages, three groups and five accounts, including some portraying protesters as cockroaches and terrorists.
Facebook, which is more widely used in Hong Kong, does not release the data on such state-backed influence operations.
Twitter traced the Hong Kong campaign to two fake Chinese and English Twitter accounts that pretended to be news organizations based in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy demonstrators have taken to the streets since early June calling for full democracy and an inquiry into what they say is police violence against protesters.
Though Twitter is banned in China, it is available in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region.
The Chinese language account, @HKpoliticalnew, and the English account, @ctcc507, pushed tweets depicting protesters as violent criminals in a campaign aimed at influencing public opinion around the world. One of those accounts was tied to a suspended Facebook account that went by the same moniker: HKpoliticalnew.
An additional 936 core accounts Twitter believes originated from within China attempted to sow political discord in Hong Kong by undermining the protest movement’s legitimacy and political positions.
About 200,000 more automated Twitter accounts amplified the messages, engaging with the core accounts in the network. Few tweeted more than once, the official said, mostly because Twitter quickly caught many of them.
The Twitter official said the investigation remains ongoing and there could be further disclosures.
The Twitter campaign reflects the fact that the Chinese government has studied the role of social media in mass movements and fears the Hong Kong protests could spark wider unrest, said James Lewis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“This is standard Chinese practice domestically, and we know that after 2016 they studied what the Russians did in the US carefully,” Lewis said. “So it sounds like this is the first time they’re deploying their new toy.”
Twitter has sought to more aggressively monitor its network for malicious political activity since the 2016 presidential election and to be more transparent about its investigations, publicly releasing such data about state-backed influence operations since October so others can evaluate it, the official said.
“We’re not only telling the public this happened, we’re also putting the data out there so people can study it for themselves,” the official said.
As for state-backed media organizations, they are still allowed to use Twitter, but are no longer allowed to pay for ads, which show up regardless of whether you have elected to follow the group’s tweet.
Twitter declined to provide a list of what it considers state-backed media organizations, but a representative said it may consider doing so in the future. In 2017, Twitter specifically announced it would ban Russia-based RT and Sputnik from advertising on its platform.