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
0

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.”


Police to return property seized from San Francisco reporter

Updated 22 May 2019
0

Police to return property seized from San Francisco reporter

  • The editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle has joined with other publications in criticizing city leaders, including Mayor London Breed, for failing to quickly condemn the police actions
SAN FRANCISCO: Police agreed Tuesday to return property seized from a San Francisco journalist in a raid, but the decision did little to ease tensions in the case, which has alarmed journalism advocates and put pressure on city leaders.
Authorities have said the May 10 raids on freelancer Bryan Carmody’s home and office were part of an investigation into what police called the illegal leak of a report on the death of former Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who died unexpectedly in February.
Media organizations across the country criticized the raids as a violation of California’s shield law, which specifically protects journalists from search warrants. The Associated Press is among dozens of news organizations siding with Carmody and seeking to submit a friend-of-the-court brief.
A police attorney said at a hearing that officers would give back Carmody’s property, but the case will soon be back in court. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng did not rule Tuesday on requests by Carmody’s attorney and media organizations to unseal warrant materials and revoke the search warrants, but the judge set deadlines for further filings.
The editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle has joined with other publications in criticizing city leaders, including Mayor London Breed, for failing to quickly condemn the police actions. A Chronicle report published Monday named supervisors who have not returned messages for comment on the raids in which police, armed with a sledgehammer, attempted to enter Carmody’s home and then cuffed him for hours.
Breed initially defended the raids but on Sunday posted messages on Twitter saying she was “not okay” with raids on reporters.
District Attorney George Gascon, whose office would normally be responsible for prosecuting Carmody, condemned the police. He said he has not seen the warrants, which are sealed, but he could not imagine a situation where warrants would be appropriate.
“Seizing the entire haystack to find the needle risks violating the confidences Mr. Carmody owes to all his sources, not just the person who leaked the police report,” he said in a Monday tweet.
The city attorney’s office did not send an attorney to Tuesday’s hearing, and spokesman John Cote said the office is “not appearing in court on that matter.”
The duties of the city attorney’s office include providing legal services to city agencies such as police, but Cote said the office does not represent the police in proceedings related to search warrants, because police have their own in-house counsel for that.
Carmody said on Twitter that he was pleased with the return of his equipment, but that he will have to replace numerous cameras, cellphones and computers for security reasons. A GoFundMe campaign has raised nearly $15,000 for him.
His main goal, he said, is to ensure “that nothing seized can be used against myself, North Bay Television News or our sources.”
In court documents, Carmody has said he is a veteran journalist who is often the first on the scene of breaking news. He provides video news packages to outlets in return for payment.
He said a source gave him a preliminary police report on Adachi’s death that contained unsavory details. Carmody went on to sell copies of the report along with video footage from the scene of the death and information obtained from interviews to three news stations.
The leak infuriated city supervisors. They scolded police for anonymously releasing the report to the press, saying it was an attempt to smear the legacy of Adachi, who was an outspoken critic of police. An autopsy blamed Adachi’s Feb. 22 death on a mixture of cocaine and alcohol that compromised an already bad heart.
People who want to crack down on journalists come in all political stripes, said Jim Wheaton, founder of the First Amendment Project, a public interest law firm.
“They went after him because he’s all by himself,” Wheaton said. “And the fact that he sells the materials that he packages. He puts together a journalism report including documents and sells it. That’s what journalism is.”
It was unclear who is paying Carmody’s legal fees. His attorney, Thomas Burke, declined to comment.
San Francisco police have defended the raids, and police attorney Ronnie Wagner said she intends to respond to the requests made by Burke and others. She declined to answer further questions Tuesday as reporters followed her down a courthouse staircase.
The First Amendment Coalition wants the judge to unseal the police department’s applications for two search warrants, which would show whether officers informed judges that Carmody is a journalist.