Media moments that shaped 2018

Updated 01 January 2019

Media moments that shaped 2018

LONDON: From the opening of cinemas in Saudi Arabia to the arrival of #MeToo in Egypt, 2018 was a transformative year for media throughout the Arab world. Here Arab News reporters reflect on the memorable moments that shaped the year in media.

Saudi Arabia starts first film screenings ahead of commercial cinema opening
The Kingdom began screening feature-length animated children’s films after a 35-year-old ban on cinemas was lifted. Before the opening of commercial cinemas, authorities started to sponsor temporary venues, including one in the Red Sea city of Jeddah with a simple projector, a red carpet and of course, a popcorn machine.

Netflix produces first Arabic-language original
The streaming giant revealed it was producing its first Arabic-language show, focusing part of its massive $7-8 billion global production budget on its Middle Eastern audience.
The American entertainment service said it would produce “Jinn,” a six-episode drama series, with the award-winning Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, known for the film “Very Big Shot,” released in 2015.
The supernatural teenage drama is about young Arab characters whose lives are disrupted when a Jinn appears to them in the ancient city of Petra.

BBC leads UN appeal to stop Iran harassing journalists
The BBC took the unprecedented step of appealing to the UN to stop Iran harassing its Persian-service journalists in London and their families based in Iran. The move reflected the rising level of intimidation reporters based outside of the country were facing, according to human rights lawyers and media organizations.
“This is not just about the BBC — we are not the only media organization to have been harassed or forced to compromise when dealing with Iran. In truth, this story is much wider: It is a story about fundamental human rights,” said Tony Hall, the corporation’s director-general.

Arab News relaunches: #WhatChanged?
This newspaper made the headlines in April with a high- profile relaunch that would go on to win a number of design plaudits. The month saw the newspaper and website get a new identity that was bolstered by increased coverage of both the Arab region and the wider world.

Royal wedding mania grips Arab world
The royal wedding was not only just a big story for UK tabloids in May — it also captured the imagination of audiences across the Middle East.
“It was a nice romantic story and a break from the misery in the Middle East,” Rima Maktabi, Al Arabiya’s London bureau chief, told Arab News.
The wedding ceremony between Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle — which took place in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle — was broadcast live on Al Arabiya. The network’s coverage attracted a surprisingly high number of viewers, despite Ramadan starting the week before.

Women get behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia
The front pages of newspapers around the world were festooned with images of women driving in Saudi Arabia. As the de facto ban on women driving ended after more than 60 years, women across the Kingdom flooded social media with videos of their first car trips, while some police officers out on the streets distributed roses to the first-time drivers.
In a tribute to Saudi female drivers, the Lebanese soprano Hiba Tawaji released a special video of a song she performed live in Riyadh at a concert the previous year. “Today women in Saudi Arabia can legally drive their cars,” she said. “Congratulations on this achievement, this one’s for you.”

Warner Bros makes a splash in Abu Dhabi
The hugely anticipated Warner Bros theme park officially opened in July at a cost of $1 billion. With 29 rides and daily shows, it represented the emirate’s push to offer the kind of big-budget attractions more associated with neighboring Dubai. The park is a key plank in Yas Island’s target of attracting 48 million annual visits by 2022.

Egyptian woman’s ‘harassment’ post triggers social media storm
It was seen by many as a #MeToo moment for Egypt. An Egyptian woman claimed that a man stalked her at a bus stop, made inappropriate advances, and only backed off when she began filming him with her cellphone. But when she posted the video on Facebook, it ignited an online storm in which many Egyptians, including women, took the man’s side. Some said he was politely flirting and the woman overreacted, while others speculated about what she was wearing, suggesting she was at fault. Sexual harassment, mostly ranging from catcalls to occasional pinching or grabbing, is rampant in Egypt. Polls have found that a majority of both men and women in the country believe it is justified if women dress “provocatively” in public.

SRMG strikes deal with Bloomberg
The publisher of Arab News, Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG) struck a long-term agreement to launch Bloomberg Al Arabiya, a new multi-platform Arabic-language business and financial news service. It paved the way for a 24/7 television and radio network, and a dedicated digital platform among other joint initiatives. The planned Bloomberg Al-Arabiya platforms would provide Arabic-speaking audiences around the world with news and analysis on
the companies, markets, economies and politics shaping the Middle East.

Dubai newspaper editor murder case back in court
Former Gulf News editor Francis Matthew had his jail sentence increased to 15 years in October after the Dubai Court of Appeal convicted him of premeditated murder. The 62-year-old was in March found guilty of “physical assault leading to death” by Dubai Criminal Court, for killing his wife by hitting her with a hammer. But there would be another twist to the case before the year ended as the Dubai Court of Cassation later overturned the sentence and had his case reviewed by another panel of judges.

OSN looks for a buyer in era of Netflix and Amazon Prime
Bloomberg revealed in November that Goldman Sachs Group had been given the task of finding a buyer for OSN, the Middle East’s biggest pay-TV service.
Competition from the likes of Netflix Inc., Amazon Prime Video and other services had hit the regional broadcasting veteran hard.
OSN’s controlling shareholder, Kuwait Projects Co. had hired Rothschild in 2013 to evaluate a possible share sale. However, the investment bank’s mandate ended in 2014 after the IPO didn’t take place.

Turkey named worst offender against press freedom
Turkey was named the world’s worst offender against press freedom by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), with at least 68 journalists imprisoned for anti-state charges. Turkey had previously said its crackdown was justified because of an attempted coup to overthrow the government in 2016. CPJ said that a near-record number of journalists around the world are behind bars for their work, including two Reuters reporters whose imprisonment in Myanmar has drawn international criticism. There were 251 journalists jailed for doing their jobs as of Dec. 1, the CPJ said in an annual study. For the third consecutive year, more than half are in Turkey, China and Egypt.

From New Orleans to Tehran: Life of detained Iran newscaster Marzieh Hashemi

Updated 13 min ago

From New Orleans to Tehran: Life of detained Iran newscaster Marzieh Hashemi

  • Hashemi studied journalism at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge
  • Hashemi ended up in Iran working at Iran’s state broadcaster

WASHINGTON: She is largely unknown in the US. But the American anchorwoman for Iran’s state-run broadcaster, detained last weekend by US authorities, is a familiar face on its English-language channel.
As a newscaster for Press TV, Marzieh Hashemi has been conducting interviews and reading the news as written by government loyalists in Iran. It’s a long way from New Orleans, where she was born Melanie Franklin in 1959 to a Christian family.
In college in Louisiana, encounters with Iranian students in the wake of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution saw her convert to Islam. A marriage brought her to Iran, where she learned fluent Farsi and began working for the country’s state broadcaster 25 years ago.
Her journalism and her public comments mirror her host country’s official ideology.
“When I got familiar with Islamic Revolution in Iran, and I saw it was a political and religious revolution, I was attracted to this,” Hashemi once told an interviewer in Farsi. “I saw this as a political movement to the revolution.”
Now, after her apparent arrest by the FBI, her family is questioning why the 59-year-old grandmother was imprisoned by the US Her detention comes at a time of escalating US-Iran tensions, including President Donald Trump’s maximalist approach to Iran after pulling America out of its nuclear deal.
Hashemi was detained Sunday in St. Louis, where she had filmed a Black Lives Matter documentary after visiting relatives in the New Orleans area. She was then taken to Washington by the FBI on a material witness warrant, according to her elder son, Hossein Hashemi.
The FBI said in an email that it had no comment.
Federal law allows judges to order witnesses to be arrested and detained if the government can prove their testimony has extraordinary value for a criminal case and that they would be a flight risk and unlikely to respond to a subpoena. The statute generally requires those witnesses to be promptly released once they are deposed.
Hashemi studied journalism at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. A yearbook photo shows her smiling with other colleagues at WPRG, now KLSU, the student-run radio station.
“When we were in school together, that was during the Iran hostage crisis. LSU had a sizeable number of Iranian students who were going to school there,” said radio newsman Jim Engster of Baton Rouge, who was also in the photograph.
“The time we were in school was less than 25 years from LSU being an all-white school. So Melanie was a trailblazer too as a black female journalist. There were a few others but not many.”
Hashemi said that’s where she learned about Iran’s revolution, which saw Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi replaced by an Islamic Republic led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a Shiite cleric who had final say on state matters as the country’s supreme leader.
“I started to ask them about the revolution, because there were many demonstrations by pro-Khomeini demonstrators and also against the revolution in that university,” she later recounted. “I wanted to know that what they are doing and find out who is the Ayatollah Khomeini, and it was very interesting for me as an activist.”
Hashemi ended up in Iran working at Iran’s state broadcaster, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, or IRIB.
There are no private television or radio stations in Iran. Satellite dishes, while widespread, also are illegal. That leaves IRIB with a monopoly on domestic airwaves.
Since the revolution, IRIB has been in the hands of hard-liners who back Iran’s government. Their broadcasts mirror those of other state-run channels across the Mideast, with direct criticism of leaders incredibly rare.
Press TV, launched in June 2007, is IRIB’s English-language service. While airing in Iran, it focuses predominantly on international affairs through the lens of how leaders in the Islamic Republic see the world. The hashtag “FreePalestine” accompanies stories on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Fierce criticism of British and American foreign policy is common.
Its broadcasts have drawn Western criticism.
In 2012, the Anti-Defamation League described the channel as “one of the world’s leading dispensers of conspiratorial anti-Semitism in English.”
The channel was pulled from the air in Britain in 2011 after a complaint by Maziar Bahari, a Canadian-Iranian journalist for Newsweek who was imprisoned by Iran after the 2009 disputed re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the Green Movement protests. Bahari said the channel aired an interview that had been scripted by his captors, who threatened to execute him unless he cooperated.
For her part, Hashemi both helmed newscasts critical of the West and offered her own criticisms as well.
In 2009, she said she believed Western media exaggerated popular support in Iran for Mir Hossein Mousavi, a reformist who was later put under house arrest, where he has languished for years after challenging Ahmadinejad in 2009 and leading the Green Movement protests.
“What is shown many times in the West, for example, when people saw that there was a very large demonstration supporting Mr. Mousavi, people got the feeling that the country was falling apart and that the majority of Iranians actually supported Mr. Mousavi,” Hashemi told NPR. “No, the majority of them did not, and the other side of the spectrum has not been shown as much, I believe.”
It remains unclear why Hashemi was arrested. However, it isn’t the first time she’s been questioned by US authorities, her son said.
For the past decade, “she has been harassed on a regular basis when she goes to airports,” he said. “Whenever she boards a plane, prior to it she will have interviews or interrogation, if we might call it that— things that are not very typical is what she’s had to deal with for some time.”