Hamas media facing financial meltdown

Updated 20 February 2019
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Hamas media facing financial meltdown

  • Beirut-based Al-Quds TV faces corruption claims after closure warning
  • The channel has been experiencing a financial crisis for the past three years

GAZA CITY: The announcement by Palestinian television channel Al-Quds TV that it will stop broadcasting by the end of February if it does not receive desperately needed funding highlights the financial crisis facing Hamas’ media institutions.

Imad Ifranji, Al-Quds TV’s director, said on Tuesday that if funds failed to arrive by the end of this month, “it is inevitable that the channel will shut down.” 

The Beirut-based channel’s Gaza office has been unable to cover its costs for the past four months and 50 employees have not received salaries for almost a year.

Al-Quds TV had 350 staff when it was launched in 2008, but now has only 150.

The channel has been experiencing a financial crisis for the past three years, despite cutting costs and reducing staff, Ifranji said.

Hamas began building its media “empire” following its victory in the 2006 elections and the imposition of absolute control over the Gaza Strip in mid-2007.

The fundamentalist organization enjoyed years of financial prosperity thanks to Iranian support, internal fees and taxes, and the use of smuggling tunnels across the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Hamas’ financial crisis began with the decline of Iranian support in 2012 and escalated after the Egyptian Army overthrew Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Mursi in 2013, leading to growing tension tension between the group and Egypt.

Its extensive media network has also faced claims of corruption and mismanagement by current employees and former staff members.

A few months ago, Al-Quds TV was forced to lay off dozens of employees. The channel’s debts are believed to run into millions of dollars.

The Palestinian Information Center website, the oldest and largest Hamas news site in seven languages, closed its office in the Gaza Strip.

A senior employee of a Hamas media organization in Gaza, who declined to be named, said that websites affiliated with the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, were also facing a financial crisis.

Some, such as the “8 o’clock” website were threatened with closure.

Saber Halima, an employee at Al-Quds TV’s Beirut headquarters, criticized the management of the channel, accusing senior employees of corruption and mismanagement. In a video posted on his Facebook page, Halima described the management’s treatment of employees during the crisis as “despicable and humiliating.”

Al-Aqsa TV, which broadcasts from Gaza, announced on Dec. 19 that it would stop broadcasting because of a lack of funding.

However, Wissam Afifah, the channel’s director general, told Arab News that it would continue to broadcast after paying its debts to the satellite channel Noorsat, estimated at $220,000.

Al-Aqsa TV, which is broadcasting from temporary offices after Israel bombed its main headquarters in Gaza in November, is required to pay a similar amount to the satellite to continue operating.

The channel’s management said it is unlikely the destroyed headquarters will be rebuilt with losses estimated at about $4 million. An employee of Al-Aqsa TV told Arab News that about 200 staff had not received full pay for more than a year.

The employee’s monthly salary was estimated at $800. He had received only $550 in the past four months — $400 two months ago and $150 a few days ago.

Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ chief in Gaza, said the organization was considering closing small media institutions and merging other institutions to ease the financial crisis.

Analysts say the continuing Israeli and Palestinian National Authority restrictions on Gaza will only intensify the problems facing Hamas.

Hossam Al-Dajni, an academic close to Hamas, said: “The main reason behind the financial crisis is the developments in the region, such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and US pressure on Iran with regard to its nuclear program.”


European Parliament adopts copyright reform in blow to big technology firms

Updated 26 March 2019
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European Parliament adopts copyright reform in blow to big technology firms

STRASBOURG: The European Parliament on Tuesday adopted copyright reforms championed by news publishers and the media business, in defiance of the tech giants that lobbied against it.
Despite an intense debate inside and outside of the Strasbourg chamber, MEPs ended up passing the draft law with 348 votes in favor, 274 against, and 36 abstentions.
European lawmakers were sharply divided, with both sides subjected to some of the most intense rival lobbying the EU has ever seen from tech giants, media firms, content creators and online freedom activists.
The culmination of a process that began in 2016, the revamp to European copyright legislation was seen as urgently needed, not having been updated since 2001, before the birth of YouTube or Facebook.
The reform was loudly backed by media companies and artists, who want to secure revenue from web platforms that allow users to distribute their content.
But it was strongly opposed by Internet freedom activists and by Silicon Valley, especially Google, which makes huge profits from the advertising generated alongside the content it hosts.
After the vote, a Google spokesperson warned that the reform “will still lead to legal uncertainty and will hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies.”
The final days before the vote were marked by marches and media stunts, including tens of thousands of people protesting in Germany on Saturday under the slogan “Save the Internet.”
There were similar protests in Austria, Poland and Portugal, while major Polish newspapers on Monday printed blank front pages in an appeal that MEPs adopt the reform.
“I know there are lots of fears about what users can do or not — now we have clear guarantees for freedom of speech, teaching and online creativity,” Commission vice president Andrus Ansip said after the vote.
Germany was at the heart of the anti-reform movement, led by Julia Reda, a 32-year-old Pirate Party MEP who spearheaded a campaign against two of the law’s provisions that have become flashpoints in the debate.
Reda said the vote marked a “dark day for Internet freedom” and decried that MEPs refused, albeit narrowly, to modify the text before the final vote.
For Reda and her supporters the main worry was Article 13, which aims to strengthen the bargaining power of rights holders with platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Soundcloud, which use their content.
Under the reform, European law for the first time would hold platforms legally responsible for enforcing copyright, requiring them to check everything that their users post to prevent infringement.
Reda and her supporters warned that Article 13 would require platforms to install expensive content filters that would automatically and often erroneously delete content from the web.
Speaking after the vote, Reda told AFP that she still hoped the German government would bow to public pressure and demand changes to the law before it is formally adopted.
After that, seen by most observers as a formality, member states will have two years to transpose the EU directive into their own legislation.
“I think what the ultimate result will be that the Internet will become more like cable television,” Reda told AFP.
“That generally there is going to be less diversity of online platforms because the risk of running a platform legally will become much higher.”
Backers of the law, led by MEP Axel Voss, answered that filters are not a requirement but they do not explain how companies can comply with Article 13 without them.
The second article advocated the creation of a “neighboring right” to copyright for news media.
This is designed to enable news companies to demand payment when their output is used by information aggregators like Google News or social networks such as Facebook.
Major publishers including AFP have pushed hard for the reform, seeing it as an urgent remedy to safeguard quality journalism and the plummeting earnings of traditional media companies.
The reform, if properly implemented by member states “can help to maintain journalism in the field, which all evidence shows is still the best way to combat misinformation,” said AFP CEO Fabrice Fries.
But opponents have called it a “link tax” that will stifle discourse on the Internet and pay only big media companies, with no real benefits for journalists or news gatherers.
The reform is staunchly backed by France and several other member states, but some countries may decide to use the flexibility built into the reform that allows a loose interpretation of the rules.