LONDON: Arab News, the Middle East’s leading English-language newspaper, has won two Awards of Excellence in this year’s Society for News Design (SND) honors.
The newspaper scooped the awards for its front page by “New Yorker” illustrator Malika Favre, which was published to mark the move to allow women in Saudi Arabia to drive.
It was commissioned by Arab News for the cover of a special souvenir edition on June 24 of last year. The illustration, of a road reflected in a woman’s sunglasses, has become one of the most retweeted artworks celebrating women driving in the Kingdom.
It was recognized by SND awards, one of the most prestigious in the industry.
“For Arab News to be recognized on a global scale with this award is a great honor. The SND awards are the ones every newspaper and designer wants to win, so this is huge. It is brilliant to see our ‘women drivers’ cover continue receiving such great accolades,” said Simon Khalil, global creative director at Arab News.
“Malika Favre was the obvious choice for our cover, and her illustration brilliantly captures the significance of this moment on the day Saudi Arabia changed forever. We are very pleased SND has recognized our efforts with this prestigious award.”
In February, the cover image was recognized in the international design awards run by “HOW” magazine.
SND was founded in 1979 and showcases the very best of newspaper design from around the globe.
US accused of double standards over Khashoggi, urged to deploy same sanctions on killers of other Arab journalists
Critics are asking why the US administration is not deploying the same standards to the killers of other journalists, and those involved with similar violence across the region
As the US continues to appease Iran in order to bring it back to the nuclear negotiation table, its proxies could get away with silencing even more journalists and critics
Updated 53 min 2 sec ago
TAREK ALI AHMAD
LONDON: After US President Joe Biden’s administration took measures to sanction Saudi officials that took part in 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, several Middle East experts have accused the US of deploying double standards.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, as well as several US State Department officials, have repeatedly said that Washington will no longer tolerate the targeting of journalists and dissidents. The case of Jamal Khashoggi has been at the center of these statements.
However, critics are asking why the US administration is not deploying the same standards to the killers of other journalists, and those involved with similar violence across the region.
“We should ask ourselves what is the purpose behind the publication of the report? It is very obvious that the revival of the issue after two years aims at putting pressure on Saudi Arabia,” US-Arab affairs expert Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib told Arab News.
Another commentator, Hussain Abdul-Hussain, tweeted: “Now that we have finished from the Khashoggi affair, can the US give any attention to the assassination of Hisham Al-Hashemi and Lokman Slim? Or is there no lobby behind them to demand the disclosure of their killers?” (Embed his tweet)
Indeed, while this month’s killing of Lebanese publisher and vocal Hezbollah critic Luqman Slim was condemned by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that was as far as it went — and his statement even shied away from naming the known culprits, Hezbollah.
Another, Iraqi researcher, Hisham al-Hashimi, was shot dead outside his Baghdad home last year in a drive-by long-suspected to have been set up by Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah.
“We also should examine the timing. It is while the US is seeking to go back to the nuclear deal. This could be a tool to pressure Saudi Arabia to accept the decisions of the US regarding Iran, and to coerce the Kingdom into making concessions,” Khatib said, adding: “They don’t want to disturb the flow of communications with Iran.”
She said: “Even though the US is committed to human rights, how adamant and forceful they are in taking a position is taken in a political context.”
While more critics of Iran, its proxies and allies in the region are shot dead by “unknown groups,” much of what the US clearly focuses on is what benefits itself politically. President Biden’s pursuit to label Saudi Arabia as a pariah, as he previously argued for, comes at the cost of allowing Iran and its armed groups in the region to literally get away with murder.
Lebanese journalists Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueini were vocal in their political criticism, and both were assassinated for their vocal critiques by perpetrators that have yet to serve justice.
Journalists killed with no consequences
Assassinated: 2 June 2005
Assassinated: 12 December 2005
Assassinated: 22 February 2006
Assassinated: 6 July 2020
Assassinated: 4 February 2021
Arab countries and groups have expressed their support for Saudi Arabia’s rejection of the report, while stressing the pivotal role that the Kingdom plays in consolidating security in the region.
Political reporter and analyst Ray Hanania told Arab News: “The killing of Jamal Khashoggi is a human tragedy, but the US and the media are determined to play a hypocritical game of political exploitation to balance their foreign agenda.”
He added: “The International Federation of Journalists reports that in 2020, 66 journalists were killed, and yet it seems like only one journalist matters. This in part has also to do with media bias.
“The media, US Congress and activists showcase only one tragedy out of hundreds of journalist killings, because Khashoggi’s death is related to an acceptable foreign policy attack.”
President Biden took little time to retract the terrorist designation that the Trump administration had slapped on the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi militia, and yet the group continues to lob ballistic missiles to Riyadh on a daily basis.
So as the US continues to appease Iran in order to bring it back to the nuclear negotiation table, its proxies could get away with silencing even more journalists and critics.
NEW DELHI: Indian journalists and digital rights advocates have warned that new social media rules announced on Thursday will further undercut online privacy and freedom of expression in the country.
The new controls give the government more power to police content shared on social media and digital streaming platforms.
It means that Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other services are more accountable to requests for removal of content and the identification of users who are deemed to have committed illegal acts by authorities.
Under the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, social media platforms have to remove content within 36 hours of receiving a legal order and assist law enforcers in probing cybersecurity-related incidents within 72 hours of receiving a request.
The new rules, which Indian Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad described as a “soft-touch oversight” mechanism, come two weeks after Twitter denied a government order to remove content on the farmer protests in New Delhi from its platform.
“The way these rules have come out, they will have a negative impact on privacy, freedom of speech, on creativity and the freedom of the press in India,” Nikhil Pahwa of India’s top Internet policy website MediaNama told Arab News, adding that the new controls are “the worst series of regulations on the Internet.”
He said: “It is very regressive and to my mind it is not backed by law. The rules need to be challenged in court, and if they are, the Indian government will probably lose.”
Social media giants enjoy a large presence in India, with the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform being used by 530 million people, YouTube by 448 million, Facebook by 41 million, Instagram by 21 million and Twitter by 10.7 million, according to Indian government data.
But none of the platforms have given detailed comments on the new regulations.
“The details of rules like these matter and we will carefully study the new rules,” Facebook said in a written response to a request for comment.
“We believe that regulation is beneficial when it safeguards citizens’ fundamental rights and reinforces online freedoms,” Twitter said in a statement.
However, because the new rules have been introduced as changes to the IT Act, which also regulates online media, journalists fear that the changes are an attempt to regulate news portals.
“We do know that the government is rattled by the work the digital media space does. Whether the only intention of these rules is for the government to have an overarching control over us, we will know only in time,” said Dhanya Rajendran, editor of news portal News Minute and chairperson of Digipub Foundation of India, which represents digital media organizations.
“Yes, we do have our suspicions and we are concerned that this could be the government’s motive,” she told Arab News.
Delhi-based journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who writes for News Click, a popular news portal known for independent journalism that had its offices raided by police last week, said the new regulations are “the government’s strategy to not just curb dissenting voices, but also to clamp down or curb their activities.”
He added: “The whole purpose or agenda is to clamp down on digital news media, which has been showing greater resilience and playing the role of adversaries against the government in power.”
Middle East-developed headset aims to protect child gamers from online predators
New study warns parents to be vigilant over targeting of children through online gaming
Updated 26 February 2021
DUBAI: The Middle Eastern developers of a new headset designed to protect child gamers from online predators hope the device will help quell a reported surge in abuse cases during coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdowns.
The pandemic has resulted in people spending more time online and the popularity of gaming has grown significantly, particularly among youngsters.
But according to research, the trend has led to increasing numbers of children falling prey to tricksters who groom them into sharing explicit photos and videos by sending them gaming currency.
UK charity, the Internet Watch Foundation, recently recorded a monthly record of more than 15,000 reports of online child abuse in September alone, while another British campaign organization the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children uncovered 1,220 online offenses against children in the first three months of lockdown.
The gaming market in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries was this year expected to be worth $821 million, up from $693 million in 2017, a study by Strategy& has revealed, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE the biggest players.
To raise awareness and educate parents on the potential dangers of unsupervised online gaming, Mobily eSports, in partnership with advertising agency MullenLowe MENA, has created the ProtectSet headset.
The device uses voice-changing technology to help children stay safe while playing online by masking their true age and making them sound older.
In a joint statement, Matt Butterworth, managing director for the Middle East and North Africa, and Muhannad Kadi, general manager at Mobily, told Arab News: “More than 93 percent of kids play video games. We are 100 percent aware that the device, alone, does not end the issue. But it has the power to make people debate the issue and bring the subject of gaming safety into news stations, homes, workplaces, and so forth.”
Although voice-altering software is widely available online, Butterworth and Kadi said ProtectSet stood out due to its quality and compatibility.
“We did extensive research, testing, and audio calibration with the headset, on both girls and boys, to make sure the sound quality and output were really perfect.
“The technology used makes the kid’s voice sound more mature by altering their pitch. We ran a series of tests to ensure that it sounded natural and not robotic. And this is what makes our device singular and well-rounded,” they added.
The headset is compatible with all consoles and computers, compared to a lot of software available for computer games only.
ProtectSet is currently in the prototype stage but is expected to be on sale within the next seven to nine months after further testing. Prototypes are currently being trialed by media professionals, gamers, and children.
In the Middle East:
• More than 74 percent of parents are worried about their child’s online safety.
• 84 percent of parents are concerned that strangers will approach their child via online gaming platforms.
• Almost half of parents (46 percent) said they did not know who their child was playing with online.
• More than 67 percent of parents wanted the gaming industry to do more to protect their children’s online safety.
• On average, parents thought their child would talk to a stranger online while gaming at least three times a week.
• 45 percent of parents predicted that their child spent up to 10 hours or more online gaming each week.
East meets West: ErosSTX CEO Robert Simonds on Hollywood, Bollywood and everything in between
OTT platform Eros Now leads the market in terms of engagement
Updated 26 February 2021
DUBAI: Eros International, an Indian movie production and distribution company, was born in 1977. Today, it’s more than just that thanks, in part, to its OTT platform Eros Now, which leads the market in terms of engagement with 68 percent of its users indicating that they watch content on the platform daily, according to a 2019 study.
On the other side of the world, STX Entertainment was founded in 2004 by film producer Robert Simonds and businessman Bill McGlashan. The entertainment company, which produces mid-budget movies with big stars, has made inroads into China and Europe with investors including PCCW, Tencent, and Liberty Global.
In 2020, the two major companies combined forces to form ErosSTX, led by Kishore Lulla as executive co-chairman and Simonds as co-chairman and CEO. Arab News spoke to Simonds about the merger, future plans in India, the US, and potentially the Middle East, and the impact of the pandemic on the film and streaming industry.
Talk to us about the geographic reach of the new company and the distribution model in each.
We distribute our films in theaters in about 150 different countries. We run the international division out of London, and we customize the distribution depending on the territory. In France, for example, we did a complete buyout with Amazon, so Amazon handles all our movies in France. But, in Germany for instance, pay-TV is not as important as free TV so we have got theatrical as well as other revenue streams there.
Basically, we wanted to build a three-legged stool with the world’s biggest entertainment markets: the US, China and India. There’s massive value in Eros Now, which has the largest library of Bollywood movies and TV shows, including original productions. Eros Now is expanding rapidly in tier two and tier three Indian cities and is also available in about 90 different countries right now for Indian expats. We have about 36 million subscribers and 208 million registered users. We’ve got two goals: to grow it globally to 50 million subscribers as fast as possible and to launch something called Eros Now Prime, featuring English content, and start competing with some of the giants (like Hotstar, Netflix and Prime Video) in tier-one cities.
Do you plan to expand Eros Now to any other markets?
Our desire is to expand Eros Now into the Middle East and Indonesia – basically anywhere that Bollywood is relevant.
How did the pandemic affect the business?
It affected us in two ways: On the streaming side, because of Eros Now, our subscribers have been growing more rapidly than we could have hoped for.
On the movie and TV side, usually, our business model depends on an initial theatrical release followed by multiple other revenue streams each with their own windows and economics. But, with theaters being entirely or intermittently closed in different parts of the world, we needed to be very opportunistic on each project.
For example, we released “My Spy” theatrically in a couple of territories and then sold the movie directly to Amazon and it became the most viewed “Amazon Original.” We’re currently working on a sequel with them.
We released “Greenland” theatrically in 27 international territories and even though the theaters were at half capacity, we were able to outgross Gerard Butler’s previous hits like “Olympus Has Fallen.” So, internationally, we were doing incredibly well in the markets that were open. But because theaters were closed in the US we couldn’t release the movies in cinemas here. So, we did a completely different type of deal by selling “Greenland” to HBO Max on the condition that we would do a P-VOD, or premium video on-demand model, which means we were able to charge about 20 bucks per view. Quite honestly, “Greenland” blew all of our minds because this new model generated so much profit with so little risk.
What about the physical, on-the-ground impact of the pandemic? How did you manage to film through it and what did that cost?
First off, safety is important. We have to make sure that the people who are working with us are safe and safe at all costs. The additional expense of COVID insurance, testing and protecting people in bubbles has been pretty extreme.
In fact, we just finished shooting something with Jason Statham and Hugh Grant, directed by Guy Ritchie, in Qatar and have sent that to Turkey to finish shooting. We just finished shooting in Scotland with James McAvoy and Claire Foy before the UK went into their tier four lockdown. But we have to be nimble because if there’s a surge in cases, we need to be able to shut down and move; or if someone on the crew is infected, we have to be able to clamp down.
However, at least from our experience, I think the whole notion that the industry has come to a standstill is just blatantly untrue.
What has the monetary impact of that been?
We do mid-budget movies in the $20-40 million range and in that, we’re currently spending somewhere between and three and four million additional for COVID protection. There are a couple of movies where we are on the cusp of comfort with the budget, and that extra few million makes us uncomfortable. So, we are holding them back, because if we wait a month we might not have to spend that. There’s a lot of juggling going on.
You said earlier that you’re planning to introduce Eros Now to the Middle East. Do you have any other plans for the region especially for Saudi given its investment in entertainment as part of Vision 2030?
I do believe that there is an opportunity for somebody to build out a Saudi film business, but it has got to be somebody who has enough consistent volume that they can guarantee multiple movies and TV shows. If you do just one-offs, you end up with an industry with stop and start and are not building that critical mass as a hub of innovation and creativity. So, something like twofour54 (Abu-Dhabi's media and entertainment hub) might get a Tom Cruise movie coming through or a “Star Wars” or “Fast and Furious”, but you have no sustainable homegrown industry. It has to be a guaranteed pipeline of production, movie on movie, so that the people you’re training can attract and gain the trust of the world’s film makers.
Do you see that as a potential problem in Saudi Arabia too?
I think the guys in Saudi are really smart and global. They are in a beautifully complicated place, which has a massive young population who have more access to Twitter and Netflix than anyone else out there and an old guard with a deep religious responsibility to protect the two holy sites. So, you’re going to have a pretty intense cultural collision. The power of story is to connect people and I believe this is the perfect setting in which to build a global industry doing just that.
UAE doesn’t have the same issues as Saudi.
We would love to have a seat at that table in Saudi, but they’re not there yet. From my standpoint, it’s pretty simple: there’s no US studio better positioned in China and India. Would I like to be the best-positioned US studio in the Muslim world – and I don’t just mean Saudi; I mean the Muslim world? Yeah! You’ve got 500 million people who are not really being catered to. And if you’re going to do that, you do that with the biggest player – and that’s Saudi. So us hanging around the hoop is probably a smart thing, but in the meantime, we just need to get our Eros Now in there.
Lebanese MP Elie Ferzli’s meltdowns become the memes of the moment
Lebanon’s deputy speaker went viral after butting heads with journalists over his inoculation ahead of others more in need
Updated 26 February 2021
TAREK ALI AHMAD
LONDON: Darth Vader, Bruce Lee and Elie Ferzli - only a couple of the many of crossover meme’s Lebanese social media users created following the Lebanese MP and deputy speaker’s meltdowns on television earlier this week.
Ferzli found himself going viral and becoming the meme of the moment after losing his cool in three explosive televised appearances that saw him insult journalists, leave midway through an interview and claim his word is the constitution on Wednesday.
Ferzli’s rampant and aggressive behaviour — in a press conference, on DW, and then on LBCI — comes after he and 10 other lawmakers jumped the queue and received the first shot of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine the day before.
Footage of Ferzli’s meltdown went viral across social media, as memes and posts showcasing the MP shouting dominated Instagram and Twitter.
One post showed Ferzli’s face replacing that of “Star Wars” villain Darth Sidious, with the caption reading “Darth Pfizerius” in reference to the Pfizer vaccine. Another showed stills of him shouting, with the caption reading “many have dropped out of the queue to take the vaccine after dangerous side effects were seen in Elie Ferzli.”
Others placed his comically shouting face side by side with Martial Artist Bruce Lee, with the caption reading “Ferz Lee”.
One famous cartoonist, Art of Boo, even just placed the Lebanese parliamentarian’s name into a sole comic strip panel as his cartoon of the day.
Faced with mounting pressure to explain the jump, Ferzli figured that the best way to defend his actions was by insulting journalist and presenter Malek Maktabi on his show “Ahmar bil Khat al Areed” on LBCI after Maktabi asked Ferzli a simple question on his eligibility to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I wasn’t simply bothered by the way he was talking and from the tone in which he was talking to me, he insulted me, but I tried to stay calm as much as I can because at the end of the day he is my guest,” Maktabi told Arab News.
“I wanted to get back to my question, I was keen on getting that answer, I did my homework, I knew exactly what my first question was going to be and how I was going to proceed with the interview. So if he doesn’t answer my first question, I won’t be able to get what I want out of the interview.”
Ferzli went on to tell Maktabi: “Don’t you dare say you are not sure when you speak to me,” adding: “My words are the constitution.”
Earlier, Ferzli walked out of a live interview with Ahmed Abida on the arabic version of Deutsche Welle TV, DW Arabic.
“You are speaking with the wrong guy,” Ferzli remarked, adding: “I do not need to beg you to speak.”
Indeed, many politicians — including Ferzli — are used to speaking without being told to stop on several shows.
“My goal is not to grant him another press conference, where he will be speaking by himself. I kept repeating my question, stressing that I want a yes or no answer, to which he kept repeating the Ministry of Health contacted me. My issue is not with the ministry, all he needed to do was answer my question with a simple yes or no,” Maktabi said.
“This is all new to them, intervening in a short segment and asking for brief answers instead of having them going on and on for hours to a simple yes or no question.”
In a press conference at the beginning of the day, Ferzli claimed that there are “internet trolls and hooligans whose job is to attack the person they are targeting.”
He added: “Who taught them that trick? We are well aware who that person is. We are on the lookout, and we will vanquish him. Just like his peers and predecessors, thank you.”