India’s top court seeks WhatsApp’s response on petition alleging it breaches law

The Indian government says Whatsapp has pledged to develop tools to combat the kind of fake messaging that has led to a series of mob beatings across the country. (Reuters)
Updated 28 August 2018
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India’s top court seeks WhatsApp’s response on petition alleging it breaches law

India’s top court has asked WhatsApp to respond to a petition that alleges it breaches certain Indian regulations, creating another headache for the Facebook Inc-owned firm already facing pressure in India over fake news.
In an order seen by Reuters on Tuesday, India’s Supreme Court asked the messaging service to respond to the petition, filed by a Delhi-based think-tank called the Center For Accountability And Systemic Change (CASC), within four weeks.
WhatsApp does not comply with the Information Technology Act, 2000, which mandates “the appointment of Grievance Officer by all intermediaries.” the CASC says in its petition a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters.
“It is also required to have a Grievance Officer for users in India. Yet, it is being allowed to continue with its Payments and other services, without any checks,” the petition added.
The Indian IT Act mandates intermediaries or carriers of content like WhatsApp, to appoint a Grievance Officer, to handle any queries, concerns or issues that users of the platform may have that do not come under the purview of other authorities.
WhatsApp declined to make a comment specifically about the litigation or their response to it but a spokesman for the messaging service said it has both an Indian corporate entity and a grievance officer for Indian users.
The grievance officer that the spokesman referred to is based in California, also handling India-related issues.
WhatsApp is working on having a grievance officer based in India following talks with the technology ministry, the spokesman said.
India’s technology, home, law and finance ministries as well as its telecoms regulator are also among the respondents named in the public interest litigation and will have to respond to the court notice in four weeks.
“To run Payments Service in India, WhatsApp is obligated to have its office and servers in India,” the petition added.
A lack of clarity over the Indian central bank’s directive for storing data of Indian customer locally has delayed the launch of WhatsApp’s inter-bank money transfer service, which is already in testing, a source told Reuters earlier.
Another source said India wanted WhatsApp to have a local head and team that manages local operations before it receives clearance for the formal launch of the payments service.
WhatsApp, which has more than 200 million users in India, has also had to battle the spread of rumors and false messages on its platform that have led to mob killings and sparked calls for action by authorities.
In a meeting with the technology minister this month, WhatsApp pledged to do more to combat the spread of misinformation even though it has said it will not weaken encryption.


Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

Updated 17 September 2018
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Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

  • Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, ‘The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,’ at the Venice Film Festival
  • Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film ‘The Insult’

LONDON: Arabic cinema has increasingly captured the imagination of movie-lovers around the world this year, with Arab film-makers winning award nominations and securing high-profile screenings at major film festivals.
This month the Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,” at the Venice Film Festival. Al-Mansour previously wrote and directed the film “Wadjda,” which was the first foreign-language Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia in 2014.
Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film “The Insult.”
“Arab cinema’s profile has been on the rise. There are several different Arab movies being shown at Venice (film festival) this year,” said Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic and the curator of this year’s London-based Safar Film Festival, which runs on Sept. 13-18.
Daniel Gorman, the director of London’s biannual Shubbak festival, which showcases mainly contemporary Arabic culture, art and film, said he that has seen the appeal of Arabic film grow in the UK.
“There is a huge interest and appetite for creative work coming from across the Arab world and there is strong interest in the UK to hear the voices of people from across the region, in an area that is generally represented in headlines in newspapers. Film is an excellent way of doing that,” he said.
Festivals have played a vital role in boosting awareness of Arab film, he said.
“(They) are able to bring new audiences to new work as they bring this concentrated moment of activity. A festival tends to have a bit more reach in terms of media coverage and audience awareness.
“(It) brings people along to something which they might not go to as a one-off screening,” Gorman said, explaining how the Shubbak festival also works with local schools and community groups to increase access to Arabic film and art.
This year’s Safar film festival — which is in its fourth year and organized by the Arab British Center — has focused on the theme of literature and film in the Arab world.
Fahim has created a program that includes movies dating back to the 1960s that have been buried deep in their respective country’s archives, as well as new films that have not been screened in London yet.
One of the films included is the Tunisian “In the Land of Tararanni,” originally released in 1973 and based on a collection of short stories by Ali Dougai.
It was one of the more tricky recordings to track down, said Nadia El-Sebai, executive director at the Arab British Center.
“There are films in this program that audiences will have no idea how many people it took to get that film,” she said, explaining the lengthy negotiations with ministries of culture, national archives and old friends and contacts to track down the much sought-after recordings.
There were other movies they had to give up on ever finding, including those lost in Syria or Iraq, or old versions of films that have not yet been digitised by national archives, she said.
More recent festival entries include this year’s Egyptian film “Poisonous Roses,” adapted from a 1990s cult novel, as well as the European premiere of the work of an Iraqi filmmaker — “Stories of Passers Through” — which traces the stories of Iraqis exiled from their country during the Saddam Hussein regime.
The literary theme of this year’s festival was chosen as a reaction to the growing popularity of contemporary Arab cinema, with the event’s organizers wanting to delve into the history of Arabic film.
“We are delighted by the increasing access to Arabic cinema. There are more films plugged into the London film festival this year. We have other other festivals — the Shubbak festival (in London), and the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival,” said El-Sebai.
“For this year’s edition we thought we would like to take the opportunity to go a little deeper into the history and heritage of Arabic cinema, and the industry,” she said.
“Safar is taking place just before London Film Festival (LFF), which was another motivation for us to look at something a bit different as we are definitely going to see really amazing contemporary films at the London Film Festival,” she said.
The LFF — which begins on Oct. 10 — is set to feature work by Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan as well as the Saudi Arabian director Mahmoud Sabbagh’s latest dark comedy “Amra and the Second Marriage,” among other Arab productions.
Fahim was also keen to use the Safar event as a way of bringing audiences’ attention to a broader range of Arabic movies, highlighting the heritage of the film industry.
“It is reminding people that Arab cinema did not spring out today — there is a long history,” he said, adding that he wanted to question audience expectations.
“There have been a flood of amazing images from Arab cinema being displayed at festivals and most critics had no idea what they were. The more I spoke to people, the more I realized that there is a certain expectation of what Arab movies should be,” he said.
“We wanted to challenge what people expect from Arab cinema … I am tired of seeing Lawrence of Arabia a gazillion times on the big screen,” he said.
He said the selected films in the festival will hopefully challenge preconceptions. He referred to the inclusion of the 1964 Egyptian film — “The Search” — based on the writer Naguib Mahfouz’s novel. “It is a crime noir. It is essentially an existential noir and I don’t think many people will expect to see that,” he said.
Arabic cinema, however, needs to be better promoted, he said, noting a dearth of adequate film critics.
“At the big festivals it sometimes feels like Arab cinema is the bottom priority for critics,” he said.
“We need more perceptive writing. I could name you on one hand the film critics who know their stuff. That needs to change. Maybe we need to have more different voices. Film criticism is still being dominated by white male writers — although it has been developing — but that is still the norm,” he said.