In Mideast, fasting and Facebook go together, data shows

Updated 28 May 2019
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In Mideast, fasting and Facebook go together, data shows

  • People in the Middle East spend close to 58 million more hours on Facebook during Ramadan

DUBAI: The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with its long days of fasting and prayer meant to draw worshippers closer to God and away from worldly distractions, is being reshaped by technology.

People in the Middle East spend close to 58 million more hours on Facebook during Ramadan and watch more YouTube videos — everything from beauty tips and recipes to sports and TV dramas — than any other time of the year, making the holy month not only the most important one for Muslims, but also the prime time of the year for advertisers.

For Facebook, which also owns Instagram, and Google, which owns YouTube, Ramadan brings a welcome boost of business in the region.

“Consumption and time spent on our platforms does indeed increase,” said Ramez Shehadi, Facebook’s managing director for Mideast and North Africa.

People stay up a lot more at night during Ramadan and have more downtime — especially before iftar, the evening meal that breaks the daylong fast, and the “suhoor,” when people gather to eat before another day of fasting. Many also work shorter hours during the day.

All that translates to 5 percent more time spent on Facebook’s platforms, or what is nearly 58 million more hours, Shehadi said. Put another way, there are almost 2 million hours of additional time spent daily on Facebook in the Mideast during Ramadan. 

FASTFACT

In Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, viewing of sports videos jumps by 22 percent, travel videos by 30 percent, and action games, simulation and video games by 10-20 percent during the holy month, says Google.

Ramadan is also the peak season for advertising in the region, as TV dramas and soap operas get a 151 percent increase in viewership on YouTube during the holy month, according to Google.

“Our revenue is a function of people’s engagement,” Shehadi said. “The more that they engage on our platforms, the more that advertisers want to be able to reach those that are engaging. That’s what drives our revenue.”

So much ad revenue is spent during Ramadan that Google launched “The Lantern Award” to celebrate the most creative and engaging ads of the month.

Yet Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food and drink, including water, during the day. It’s also about disconnecting from vacuous distractions and focusing on contemplation, introspection, acts of good, charity and connecting with God. It can appear then as a contradiction that this is also when companies ramp up their efforts to get people to buy more, view more and engage in excess consumerism.

Google does not disclose total watch time for YouTube during Ramadan, but says that in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, for example, viewing of sports videos jumps by 22 percent, travel
videos by 30 percent, and action games, simulation and video games by 10-20 percent during the holy month.

People also spend 27 percent more time watching religious content on YouTube in Ramadan.


US Congress leaders demand probe into Al Jazeera’s status

Updated 25 June 2019
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US Congress leaders demand probe into Al Jazeera’s status

  • Legitimate questions are raised about whether the news outlet should register as a foreign agent

CHICAGO: Six Republican leaders of the House and Senate called for the expulsion of the Qatari-owned satellite television news network Al Jazeera accusing it of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Six GOP US senators including Charles Grassley of Iowa, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida are demanding an investigation into why Al Jazeera is permitted to operate on American territory while two major Chinese government-controlled news agencies, Xinhua News Agency and China Global Television Network, are required to register under FARA.

The senators and representatives are calling for the Department of Justice to open hearings into Al Jazeera’s work in the US, accusing the government-owned Arabic and English-language news outlet of being an “agent” of the government of Qatar, which has been criticized as a safe haven and sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood and other religious extremist groups. Qatar is also accused of being an ally of Iran.

“News articles have reported activities in which Al Jazeera Media Network (Al Jazeera) is engaged that raise legitimate questions about whether it should register as a foreign agent,” the letter addressed to US Attorney General William Barr argues.

“Al Jazeera is a global organization spanning dozens of countries, including the United States, and reaches hundreds of millions of people worldwide. In 2016, its offshoot, Al Jazeera America, closed. However, Al Jazeera expanded its digital presence via Al Jazeera Plus (AJ+), its online news channel which is headquartered in the United States.”

HIGHLIGHT

The senators and representatives are calling for the Department of Justice to open hearings into Al Jazeera’s work in the US, accusing it of being an ‘agent’ of the government of Qatar.

The letter, dated June 18, 2019, argues that Al Jazeera, founded in 1996, is owned and operated by members of the Qatari royal family.

“Al Jazeera’s videos on YouTube are stamped with the disclaimer, ‘Al Jazeera is funded in whole or in part by the Qatari government.’ Thus, Al Jazeera is not only a foreign principal, but it is also owned by a foreign principal – the government of Qatar,” the Congressional and Senate leaders claim.

“Several members of the ruling family of Qatar have held senior positions at Al Jazeera: Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al-Thani, a member of the ruling family of Qatar, is the chairman of Al Jazeera; Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Hamad bin Jassim bin Hamad Al-Thani is the CEO of Qatar Media Corporation and a board member of Al Jazeera;  Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al-Thani served as the director general of Al Jazeera from 2011 until June 2013.

“Given that members of the ruling family are in charge of managing the media network, it is more likely than not that the government can and will assert editorial control over media content.”

All of the signatories of the letter are outspoken critics of the Palestinian cause, and champions of Israel, and are among the largest recipients of campaign contributions from Israel’s American-based lobbying umbrella network, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). AIPAC, whose network donates hundreds of millions to the election campaigns of thousands of elected officials from senators all the way down to local legislators, is also not registered under FARA.

The letter comes as Qatari officials are launching a “charm offensive” to woo the administration of President Donald Trump. Trump is expected to meet in July with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani at the White House.

Critics, predominantly pro-Israel, have argued that Al Jazeera exploits its Arabic and English-language dual roles, embracing extremist and often anti-Semitic rhetoric in its Arabic broadcasts while softening language in its English online platforms.

In response to the criticism, Al Jazeera announced it was suspending two of its reporters for accusing Israel of being “the biggest winner from the Holocaust.”

Since its foundation, Al Jazeera has drifted further and further to the extreme. After its launch, it was banned from being broadcast or carried by many American-based cable TV systems that routinely carry news broadcasts from most other foreign countries including Israel. That changed after September 11, 2001, and Al Jazeera began to spend millions on opening offices in 12 American cities including in New York City in 2013.

Al Jazeera responded in a statement released to several US news outlets that it “is not owned by Qatar” and that “its reporting is not directed or controlled by the Qatari government nor does it reflect any government viewpoint.”