Arab News chief recalls anecdote that set foundation of Saudi-Japanese ties

Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas speaks at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Thursday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 08 July 2019

Arab News chief recalls anecdote that set foundation of Saudi-Japanese ties

  • Faisal J. Abbas sees enhanced bilateral relations following crown prince’s successful visit

TOKYO: Following the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Japan for the G20 Summit, Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas provided context to growing Saudi-Japanese ties during a talk in Tokyo on Thursday.

Participating in a panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, moderated by British journalist Fred Varcoe, Abbas recalled an incident that marked a turning point in bilateral relations.

“It involved former Japanese Emperor Akihito and the late (Saudi) King Fahd. During the 1953 coronation of (Britain’s) Queen Elizabeth II, when King Fahd wasn’t even crown prince at the time let alone king, both he and the emperor had been invited to attend the ceremony,” said Abbas. 

“Upon discovering that he’d been seated in the first row and the emperor had been seated in the third row, King Fahd immediately insisted on giving the emperor his own seat, despite the breach of British royal protocols,” Abbas added.

“A friendship grew out of mutual respect ever since that moment. In some circles, it’s a very famous story, and whenever there’s a state visit it’s always repeated. That shows you the level of respect between the leaderships of the two countries.”

Abbas took questions from journalists in attendance, and the topics included Saudi-Japanese ties, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Saudi-Iranian relations.

He also discussed educational reforms, being a journalist in Saudi Arabia, and ongoing efforts toward gender equality and female empowerment in the Kingdom.

Abbas expressed his happiness at being in Japan for a third time, saying he learned something new every time he was there, and hoped to spend more time in the country in the future.

He referenced the crown prince’s visit, saying he hoped to see Saudi-Japanese relations go beyond trade and extend to such areas as cultural exchange.

“The relationship started based on the fact that Japan doesn’t produce its own oil, and Saudi Arabia used to import a lot of automobiles from Japan,” Abbas said.

“But now, with the new crown prince and the focus on having a strong bilateral relationship with Japan, we’re looking to enhance the relationship.”

Abbas also discussed his interview with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, in which he discussed the possibility of Tokyo acting as a “credible broker” in ongoing efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When asked about the Saudi position on Israel, Abbas stressed that the Kingdom has no issue with Judaism or Jews.

“We believe that the problem between Palestine and Israel is a land dispute, and taking it out of context has harmed both sides,” he said, adding that once religion enters the argument, it becomes more complicated.

“You stop talking about land, and it becomes a nasty who’s right, who’s wrong situation. Our position is clearly outlined in the Arab Peace Initiative (API) of 2002.”

The API calls for normalizing relations between Arab states and Israel in exchange for the latter’s full withdrawal from the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee issue based on UN Resolution 194.

Abbas welcomed the idea of Japan becoming an unbiased broker in negotiations. “I think it’s a great idea. The region has a lot of trust in Japan, and I hope it succeeds,” he said.

On the subject of Tehran, he said Saudi Arabia has “more in common with Iran than probably any other country in the world. It was never a position of us or them. What we’re asking for is to stop the destabilizing activities Iran has been carrying out in the region.”

Abbas added: “If we can disarm Iran, I think it would achieve the purpose without a drop of blood, and it would be an excellent achievement.”

He also discussed his attempts to create a gender-inclusive environment at Arab News, referencing his plan for a 50/50 gender ratio by 2020.


What does Facebook’s plan to hire journalists mean for media industry?

Updated 22 August 2019

What does Facebook’s plan to hire journalists mean for media industry?

  • Facebook’s journalists will be curating stories from news sites and won’t be editing headlines or writing content
  • Stories will appear in a section called the “news tab,” which will be separate from the traditional news feed that displays content from users
NEW YORK: Facebook’s plan to hire professional journalists instead of relying solely on algorithms to deliver news is a positive step but is unlikely to shake up an embattled media industry, analysts say.
The social media giant said Tuesday it would build a small team of journalists to select the top national news of the day “to ensure we’re highlighting the right stories.”
It comes as the US media landscape is plagued by job losses and newspaper closures, with organizations trying to figure out how to record profits in the age of free news.
Stories will appear in a section called the “news tab,” which will be separate from the traditional news feed that displays updates and content from users’ friends and relatives.
“In theory I see this as a really positive development. It is something quite promising,” Danna Young, a communications professor at the University of Delaware, told AFP.
Facebook’s journalists will be curating stories from news sites and won’t be editing headlines or writing content.
The California-based company has consistently said it does not want to be considered a media organization that makes major editorial decisions, and this announcement does little to change that, experts add.
“It’s not transformative because it’s not going to change necessarily the behavior of individuals who are referencing stories on their feeds,” said Young.
“That’s where the power comes from — individuals you know and trust putting their tacit stamp of approval on stories by sharing them,” she added.

"Trending topics" scandal
The tab will be the site’s first news feature using human moderators since it shut down its ill-fated “trending topics” section last year after a scandal over allegations workers had suppressed stories about conservative issues.
Articles not deemed top news stories will still be collated using algorithms based on the user’s history, such as pages they follow, publications they subscribe to and news they have already interacted with.
“Our goal with the news tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people,” Facebook head of news partnerships Campbell Brown told AFP in San Francisco Tuesday.
The news tab feature comes as Facebook embarks on a series of initiatives to boost journalism, with traditional media organizations accusing it of benefitting financially from their hard work.
Internet platforms are dominating the Internet advertising space making it difficult for established news organizations to transition what were very profitable print advertisements online.
Facebook announced in January that it will invest $300 million over three years to support journalism, particularly local news organizations.
It has also funded fact-checking projects around the world, including one in partnership with AFP.
Facebook will reportedly pay some publishers to license news content for the tab but Mathew Ingram, who writes about digital media for the Columbia Journalism Review, doesn’t expect that to trickle down to hard-up organizations that need it the most.
“The companies they are going to choose are ones already doing well I assume. It might give them a little extra cash but I don’t see it driving a huge amount of traffic,” he told AFP.

In free fall
Print journalism in the US is in free-fall as social media overtakes newspapers as the main news source for Americans.
Around 2,000 American newspapers closed in the past 15 years, according to the University of North Carolina, leaving millions of residents without reporters keeping track of what their local authorities are up to.
“The death of local news has such destructive effects for democracy. It’s a complex issue that Facebook alone cannot fix,” said Young.
The number of journalists working at US newspapers slumped by 47 percent from 2008 to 2018, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last year.
The total number of journalists in newsrooms fell by 25 percent, the group found, while consultancy firm Challenger Gray & Christmas says this is going to be the worst year for layoffs since 2009.
It’s a difficult time for Stephen Groves, who recently earned a master’s in journalism at New York University, to be looking for work. When he heard about Facebook’s plans, he was skeptical.
“Facebook is not a journalism company and so before working for Facebook I would want to see their commitment to ethical, robust journalism,” the 30-year-old told AFP.
The digital sector is also in trouble.
When Buzzfeed cut 200 jobs in January, 29-year-old Emily Tamkin was let go from a position she had held for just a few months.
“I’m personally not cheered by the fact that Facebook is swooping in and hiring journalists. If that’s the silver lining then we have a very big cloud here,” she told AFP.