Propaganda, lies and videos: Russian media and the Khan Sheikhun massacre

Propaganda, lies and videos: Russian media and the Khan Sheikhun massacre
Syrians inspect the rubble of damaged buildings hit by airstrikes in the town of Khan Sheikhun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria.
Updated 17 April 2017

Propaganda, lies and videos: Russian media and the Khan Sheikhun massacre

Propaganda, lies and videos: Russian media and the Khan Sheikhun massacre

BEIRUT: In his comments of the latest chemical bombardment in northern Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin mocked what he descried as the “Western account” of what happened in Khan Sheikhun.
Referring to confirmations that civilians were targeted with chemical bombs by the regime of President Bashar Assad, the Russian president described this as no more than a “play.”
Putin’s statements are the latest propaganda pumped out by Russian media and allied media sources.
Beginning with the Russian military intervention in Syria in 2015, such propaganda and the Russian narrative has focused on the idea that all massacres are carried out by the “extremist” opposition, with no links made to the Syrian regime or Russian forces.
This propaganda reached an all-time high with the Khan Sheikhun massacre, both in terms of quantity and scope.
There is no mention of the testimonies of survivors, nor reports about Abdul Hamid Youssef, the Syrian father who lost his twin babies and 20 members of his family. There is also no mention of the documented history of massacres, bombings, and chemical attacks mentioned in international reports, the most recent of which was issued last month by Human Rights Watch.
There is only one story being amplified. Since 4 April, the day of the Khan Sheikhun attack that killed at least 87 civilians, including 31 children, Russian media, particularly Russia Today and Sputnik, have broadcast content almost daily that questions the root of the massacre or attributes the killing to the armed opposition.
For example, Russia Today posted reports attributed to Russian military analysts claiming that images of the town do not contain evidence of the use of live bombs containing chemical materials. It also carried an analytical piece about the timing of the bombing, and why such a bombing does not benefit Bashar Assad.
Of course, there was no mention about the identity of the “experts” cited, nor the evidence upon which they based their views.
Similarly, Sputnik broadcasted a report on one channel that claimed that the bases of the Syrian regime targeted by US missile strikes do not contain chemical materials. Again, there was no mention of evidence or documented analyzes; rather, just more pumping out of fake news.
The peak of news fabrication came in a broadcast by Sputnik, which claimed that the children who died in the Khan Sheikhun massacre were not killed by chemical weapons launched by the Syrian regime, but rather were killed by the civil defense volunteers known as the White Helmets.
The news was based on reports falsely attributed to Swedish doctors alleged to have said, according to a Russian site, that they “uncovered the deceit of the White Helmets.”
To trace back to the root of the story, Sputnik had published news on behalf of Veterans Today that was supposedly a translation of a report by the Swedish doctors.
Russian media, through Sputnik and Russia Today, spread the fake news extensively across all social media outlets and other media sources loyal to the Syrian regime, from Al-Alam to Al-Manar to Al-Maydan and other websites. All described the chemical massacre as an “act” produced by the White Helmets who, according to the Russian narrative, “did not rescue Syrian children but instead killed them in order to produce media images and videos that look more realistic.”
This series of fake reporting began with a lie that was circulated and republished to the extent that the original news got lost. Much of this propaganda in fact stems from one source, as it became evident that even sites that translated the news, such as the English site South Front are registered in Moscow.
The irony is that this fake news that has continued to spread, even after the Swedish organization attributed and linked to the report refuted it. In a published statement confirming that it analyzed some videos published the White Helmets, Swedish Doctors for Human Rights did not accuse them of killing children. In response to Russian allegations, it said “this rhetoric is inaccurate and does not represent our position on the mentioned case.”
Yet Russian media have insisted on exaggerating and distorting the false claims, rebroadcasting them in different formats on different sites loyal to Russian policy. All these outlets have continued to broadcast the build on the inaccurate version of the news, even after the organization issued its clarification.
Usually, a statement as clear as the one published by the Swedish organization and made available on its official website would end any debate around the issue. But this is not the case.
And this is an illustration of the extent to which Russian propaganda is based on spreading incorrect information, as it is quite easy to clarify or correct false news if there is the desire to.
However, the sites continue to publish the fake news, showing no interest in modifying the story. A Google search will show that the dissipation of this fake news is more than double that of real news attributed to the Swedish organization, but the statement of the organization only is evident and visible when visiting the official website or through some limited sites that broadcast the fake statement.
The White Helmets is one of the primary organizations that is being focused on and targeted by Russian and Syrian media, as well other media in a similar vein. This is because this organization, through its volunteers and videos that it broadcasts, has been able to reveal a lot of the crimes carried out by the Syrian regime and Russian air forces, thus making it the main target in the campaign attack.
When the documentary about the White Helmets won the Oscar several weeks ago, it was subject to criticism and doubt by the Russian and Syrian regimes and their media. Ultimately the stories of the organization’s volunteers allowed people around the world to feel the pain of the Syrian people and the heroism of these young volunteers in carrying out unimaginable rescue operations. Many of these volunteers paid the price with their lives, which is what makes the stories of the White Helmets among the most powerful of the Syrian War.
In reality, Russian media will not stop their attempts to label the White Helmets as propaganda for terrorism, which is the same rhetoric used by Bashar Assad in more than one interview and statement.
What is suspicious, however, is the faces that appear in these campaigns, such as that of Vanessa Beeley. She describes herself as an independent British journalist, but Google only displays her interviews with Russian or Syrian media.
According to Beeley, these White Helmets cannot be considered an independent organization because they represent the interests of Western countries that support Syrian opposition organizations. She claims it is strange that members of the White Helmets are always present in areas under the control of terrorists and organizations like Daesh or Al-Nusra Front, or loyal organizations. Of course, she fails to mention the truth that the civil defense is barred from working in regime areas.
Her Facebook page is also filled with images of her in Syria and in areas under the control of the regime. But in these images, she appears as though she is on a tourism trip. There are a number of pictures of Bashar Assad, as well as writings about her trips which essentially summarize the Syrian regime as a secular regime fighting terrorism and Western colonialism.
These examples presented are in essence are an attempt to undermine the humanity of victims of the massacre. Victims are used as collateral in a long propaganda film supervised by “terrorists” and the West, which has been repeated and broadcasting with the blessing of the Syrian regime.
However, the rise of Russian propaganda since the Kremlin began its military work is what gives these lies a more dangerous dimension. The enormous potential and vast financial investments in Russian propaganda has allowed it to spread so widely, in turn allowing such media to lift Russia out from darkness and propel its own interests.


Twitter rolls out Tip Jar – allowing users to send money to favorite accounts

Twitter rolls out Tip Jar – allowing users to send money to favorite accounts
Updated 07 May 2021

Twitter rolls out Tip Jar – allowing users to send money to favorite accounts

Twitter rolls out Tip Jar – allowing users to send money to favorite accounts
  • Users will be able to connect their Twitter accounts via Tip Jar to various online payment vendors, including Bandcamp, Cash App, Patreon, PayPal or Venmo
  • The company hopes this will encourage people to show their support for creators they follow by tipping them

LONDON: Twitter announced on Thursday the roll-out of Tip Jar, a new in-app payment feature that allows users to send money to their favorite accounts. 

Users with access to the new feature will be able to connect their Twitter accounts with Tip Jar to various online payment vendors, including Bandcamp, Cash App, Patreon, PayPal or Venmo. The company hopes this will encourage people to show their support for creators they follow by tipping them. 

Twitter announced that the Tip Jar feature will initially be added to the profiles of a limited group of people around the world who use Twitter in English, including journalists, creators, experts and nonprofit organizations. Meanwhile, users wishing to send money to these selected profiles can already start doing so. 

People use Twitter to fundraise or collect payment from their followers, but until recently they were forced to link external payment methods after tweets, which did not prove to be very efficient. Now, a Tip Jar icon will be featured next to the "Follow" button on a user’s page. 

Twitter launched this feature in an attempt to boost its user base and will reportedly take no cut of the money sent through Tip Jar. 


TBWA\RAAD wins regional creative mandate for UAE’s largest tertiary hospital

TBWA\RAAD wins regional creative mandate for UAE’s largest tertiary hospital
Updated 07 May 2021

TBWA\RAAD wins regional creative mandate for UAE’s largest tertiary hospital

TBWA\RAAD wins regional creative mandate for UAE’s largest tertiary hospital
  • The agency will lead the regional advertising and marketing activities of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City

DUBAI: The UAE’s largest tertiary hospital has appointed TBWA\RAAD as its creative agency of record.

The agency will lead the regional advertising and marketing activities of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC), a joint-venture partnership between Abu Dhabi Health Services Co. (SEHA) and Mayo Clinic.

Ramez Youssef, marketing and public affairs director at SSMC, said: “We were thoroughly impressed by TBWA\RAAD’s strategic approach, which was particularly aligned with our brand’s ambition to provide excellence and innovation in healthcare services.”

The new partnership will come into effect this month and will see TBWA\RAAD and SSMC collaborate on developing the brand’s communication, messaging, and content strategy across multiple platforms.

Reda Raad, group chief executive officer at TBWA\RAAD, said: “We are looking forward to disrupting healthcare with SSMC and developing creative ideas that will help reinforce the brand’s position on a global scale as the leading hub for medical excellence and as a pioneer in innovation, driving the future of healthcare in Abu Dhabi and in the region.”


Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant

Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant
Updated 07 May 2021

Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant

Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant
  • There is a general trend of inclusion of women in all sectors of employment in Saudi Arabia

Not only does she report on the growing empowerment of women in Saudi Arabia, journalist Deema Al-Khudair said that every day she gets to experience the advances and greater freedoms women in the Kingdom now enjoy as a result of the ongoing reforms under her nation’s Vision 2030 development plan.

During an interview on “The Ray Hanania Show” on the US Arab Radio Network on Wednesday, Al-Khudair, a reporter with Arab News, talked about her experiences and some of the stories she has worked on that reveal the changing role of women in Saudi society.

Recently, for example, she wrote a story about women who work as security guards in the women’s prayer section at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. It was exciting, she said, to see them proudly working on an equal footing with male security guards.

There is a general trend of inclusion of women in all sectors of employment in Saudi Arabia, said Al-Khudair, including the military.

“Women have been enrolling in the military for about three years now,” she said. “But for them to be noticed (working) in the Two Holy Mosques is still relatively new.

“The female security guards in Makkah (started working there around the time of the) last Hajj season. Most of these women I interviewed at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah told me they have been working there for six months.”

Previously, the women’s prayer section was monitored by women who received only the most basic training and support. Thanks to the reforms, all that has changed.

“They receive firearms training, self-defense (instruction), learned about fitness, and they took courses in Islamic studies, computer education and English to (help them) speak with foreigners visiting the mosque,” said Al-Khudair “Anything men went through, they received the same training.”

The female guards are very proud of their new roles and the advances they have made.

“All of the women feel very empowered,” she said. “One of the women I interviewed told me her whole family has a military background — all of her brothers are in the military — and this job made her feel included. She felt right at home.”

Al-Khudair said she began her journalism career in 2017, soon after Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman unveiled his Vision 2030 project. The success of the initiative, an ambitious program of development and diversification in preparation for the post-oil age, depends in part on the expansion of the rights and freedoms of Saudi women.

In June 2018, for example, women in the Kingdom were granted the right to drive. Their child-custody rights were also reformed, and they were given the right to attend sporting events, among many other new freedoms.

Al-Khudair, who works on the local-news desk at Arab News, covering Saudi issues, said the past few years have been an exciting time for Saudi women.

“Honestly, I am so proud of them, myself, as a Saudi woman,” she said. “Throughout my job as a journalist I have witnessed all the changes the Kingdom went through.”

For example, she added, she has interviewed female athletes, successful businesswomen and other high-ranking Saudi women.”

Al-Khudair has written stories on many topics but said she has a special fondness for stories about children.

“Some of my favorite stories are children’s stories,” she said. For example, she interviewed a 7-year-old gymnast who said her ambition is to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics.

The nation’s youngsters can even make her smile when writing about serious issues such as the coronavirus crisis.

“During the pandemic last year, we were all upset about the lockdown and I wanted to find a way to make the situation lighter. So, I interviewed children,” Al-Khudair said.

“I wanted to find out what they knew about the coronavirus. I laughed through the whole article — they thought it was some green monster that was going to turn people into zombies. I loved that article.”

* The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 radio, and in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 Radio. The show is streamed live on Facebook.com/ArabNews and the podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and many other podcasting providers. For more information on this and other interviews, visit ArabNews.com/RayRadioShow.


Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists

Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists
Updated 07 May 2021

Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists

Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists

ANKARA: A new report from the Coalition for Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) states that Turkey is “the leading country for attacks and threats against women journalists” this year.

Between January and April, 114 female journalists were attacked or threatened in Turkey the New York-based media organization revealed — more than in any other country in the world.

The CFWIJ’s First Quarterly Report for 2021 coincidentally coincided with Izzet Ulvi Yonter, deputy leader of the Turkish government’s coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), targeting female anchor Ebru Baki for her coverage of the MHP’s draft constitution proposal.

Yonter referred to the broadcaster as a “so-called journalist who distorts the facts and shows her intolerance against the MHP,” and said her attempts to “discredit” their draft proposal were “offensive and crude.”

Yonter’s criticism was followed on May 5 by the resignation of Bulent Aydemir, Haberturk TV’s chief editor and Baki’s co-anchor on the morning program.

The program was taken off air on Thursday, triggering a nationwide social media campaign using “I don’t watch Haberturk TV” as hashtag.

CFWIJ’s report said that, in Turkey, “Almost 50 women journalists appeared before the court to fight baseless charges; 20 suffered heavy workplace bullying at the newsrooms; 15 female journalists were subjected to police violence while covering the news, 14 were detained; three women journalists were sentenced to prison, and three were expelled. While one journalist was threatened with intimidation, another became the target of racist rhetoric” during the period covered.

Scott Griffen, deputy director at the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of journalists and editors defending media freedom, told Arab News: “Women journalists face a double threat: They are attacked for their work and they are attacked for their gender — a reflection of … sexism in society. IPI’s own research has shown that online attacks on female journalists tend to be more vicious and the insults and threats are often of a sexual nature.”

According to Griffen, attacks on women journalists are part of a broader trend, which is an effort by those in power to smear and undermine critical journalism and diverse voices.

Referring to Yonter’s attack on Baki, he said: “This incident shows that a political party, in this case the MHP, is unable to accept criticism and simply does not — or does not want to — understand the role of journalism in society. Politicians are required to accept criticism, even harsh criticism. Ebru Baki was doing her job, and the attacks on her are unacceptable.”

Griffen thinks that one consequence of these attacks is the risk of a rise in self-censorship.

“Journalists who are faced with such vicious attacks may decide to reconsider their reporting to avoid such abuse in the future, or they may even decide to leave the profession. And this is a huge loss for the public,” he said. “It means that stories are not being told, and diverse voices are not being heard. And, of course, that is what the attackers want. They wish to push critical voices out of the public sphere.”

Male journalists in Turkey have also been the targets of verbal and physical attacks. Recently, dissident journalist Levent Gultekin was beaten by a mob in the middle of a street in Istanbul, shortly after he criticized the MHP and its former leader. Gultekin was verbally attacked by the MHP deputy leader just before the assault.

“The crackdown against critical and independent media in Turkey is worsening every single day with new attacks from political figures. And female journalists who are reporting on critical issues that are sensitive to the government or its political allies are not immune from the attacks,” Renan Akyavas, Turkey program coordinator of IPI, told Arab News.

IPI’s own recent research also confirms that female journalists are more likely targets of online harassment for their critical reporting and views, she added.

The trend of public figures targeting journalists to silence dissident voices has been on the rise, Akyavas said. “We especially see an increasing trend of attacks by the ultra-nationalist MHP’s leaders and representatives to intimidate journalists, even in response to mild criticism.

“The targeting of Ebru Baki and Haberturk TV is only the latest example of this attitude, which is simply unacceptable coming from a governing alliance party. The MHP leadership must … protect fundamental rights and the safety of journalists, instead of threatening them,” she continued.

Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention — and the protection it provided against domestic violence — in March triggered further threats and violence against women reporters, the CFWIJ report underlined.

Akyavas agrees. “The withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention had been a huge disappointment for women in Turkey fighting for their rights and gender equality. Impunity for crimes and violence against women has become a new norm for the country,” she said, adding that this trend will cease only if Turkish authorities show a genuine will to protect and implement women’s rights.

“Women journalists in Turkey must continue their courageous reporting, as their fundamental rights and freedom of expression were guaranteed and fully protected by the Turkish constitution. At IPI, we will continue our solidarity with them and our support for critical and independent journalism to provide the public with factual, objective news,” Akyavas continued.

The Turkish Journalists’ Association, TGC, released a statement on Thursday criticizing the way women journalists have been targeted by the MHP just because they smiled on air. “Such an attitude targets our colleagues’ safety and security. We call on the government and its partners to respect the law,” it noted.


TikTok joins coalition to protect children from online abuse

TikTok reiterated its commitment to minors’ safety on the platform, and emphasized its zero tolerance for any content that perpetuates the abuse, harm, endangerment or exploitation of children. (Reuters/File Photo)
TikTok reiterated its commitment to minors’ safety on the platform, and emphasized its zero tolerance for any content that perpetuates the abuse, harm, endangerment or exploitation of children. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 06 May 2021

TikTok joins coalition to protect children from online abuse

TikTok reiterated its commitment to minors’ safety on the platform, and emphasized its zero tolerance for any content that perpetuates the abuse, harm, endangerment or exploitation of children. (Reuters/File Photo)

LONDON: Networking platform TikTok announced on Wednesday that it has joined the Technology Coalition, an organization that works to protect children from online sexual exploitation and abuse. 

Through this membership, TikTok aims to advance protections for children online and offline. 

TikTok reiterated its commitment to minors’ safety on the platform, and emphasized its zero tolerance for any content that perpetuates the abuse, harm, endangerment or exploitation of children, as outlined in the Community Guidelines. 

The announcement also features TikTok’s endorsement of the International Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, in an effort to ensure a consistent and strong response to exploitation across services.