Cuba newsprint shortage sounds alarm for economy

Cuba newsprint shortage sounds alarm for economy
The last time the Cuban government cut back on newspapers because of a lack of newsprint was in the early 1990s. (AFP)
Updated 07 April 2019

Cuba newsprint shortage sounds alarm for economy

Cuba newsprint shortage sounds alarm for economy
  • The last time the government cut back on newspapers because of a lack of newsprint was in the early 1990s
  • Cuba is facing difficulties once again, with President Donald determined to tighten US’s six-decade trade embargo

HAVANA: The newsprint shortages which forced Cuba’s Communist daily to run a trimmed-down edition on Friday would pass off as a simple supply glitch in most other countries, but in Havana they carry chilling memories of the not-so-distant past.
The last time the government cut back on newspapers because of a lack of newsprint was in the early 1990s, when Fidel Castro ushered in a “Special Period” of drastic belt-tightening in the wake of the collapse of his main sponsor, the Soviet Union.
Today, the Caribbean state is facing difficulties once again, with US President Donald Trump — who has lashed out at Cuba for its support of Venezuela’s socialist regime — determined to tighten Washington’s six-decade trade embargo.
Meager growth of 1.2 percent is not enough to cover the needs of an island nation that imports 80 percent of what it eats.
Amid shortages, the government is being forced to ration basics like flour, cooking oil and chicken, leading to long lines outside stores.
Tania, a 49-year-old nurse, has come to buy rice at a Havana grocery store but she’s going away empty-handed.
“It’s like that with everything. Sometimes you look for a product and you can find it in one place, then you go somewhere else and you can’t get it,” she said, summing up the average Cuban’s daily struggle to fill their shopping basket.
“What’s happening now doesn’t look like the Special Period, because at that time it was really a disaster,” she said.
Suddenly deprived of its big brother in Moscow — responsible for 85 percent of Havana’s foreign trade — the economy on the Caribbean archipelago ground to a standstill as it struggled to absorb the shock of Soviet collapse in the early 1990s.
Cubans suffered shortages of food and fuel and the emergence of diseases linked to malnutrition. Thousands fled, if they could.
For long since, the country has relied on medical and teaching services supplied to countries like Brazil and, in particular, Venezuela, in return for cheap oil imports. But trade with Caracas has plummeted as sanctions-struck Venezuela’s economic crisis deepens.
Tourism has been a bright spot but that has suffered after hurricane damage and a new US sanctions squeeze.
“For three years, Cuba has been trying to offset the impact of the slump in trade with Venezuela and the rise in tourism, private activity and foreign investment projects have helped cushion the economic shock,” said Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist at the Javeriana University in Colombia.
“But the measures and threats of the Trump administration are posing obstacles to these three factors that have helped keep the economy afloat.”
Cuba recently defaulted on a portion of its debt to Brazil, a big supplier of poultry.
At the end of 2018, Havana had accumulated short-term debt of $1.5 billion, according to former economy minister Jose Luis Rodriguez.
“There is a level of debt that we will not be able to pay (in 2019) and that’s affecting the smooth running of the economy,” the current portfolio-holder Alejandro Gil said.
In Havana, 90-year-old Leandro Lopez has seen it all before and isn’t overly concerned, expressing confidence in President Miguel Diaz-Canel — elected in 2018, the first of a new breed of leaders born after the revolution.
“Diaz-Canel is trying to strengthen the economy so where he can reduce costs, we reduce them, so much the better. I do not think it will hurt the news.”
The cuts, announced on Thursday, saw Friday’s edition of the mouthpiece Granma daily slashed from 16 pages to a pamphlet-thin eight.
The measure will mean drastically shortened editions twice a week and also affect other publications.
“Yes, there are shortages, long lines, especially for chicken, soap, these kinds of things,” said Nelson Flores, turning away from a long line of shoppers waiting to buy poultry.
So far, the crisis has spared the sacrosanct “libreta” — the ration book which entitles Cubans to buy basics like rice, beans and bread at subsidized prices, though in insufficient quantities to last a month.
Worryingly, the tourist industry is beginning to feel the pinch. A hotel manager in one of the outlying island beach paradises said that tourists on all-inclusive holiday packages were unhappy about a lack of eggs, fruit and bread.


Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him
Updated 49 min 32 sec ago

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him
  • Bloomberg published news that the Biden administration was considering sanctions against the central bank governor
  • Both Salemeh and the US State department deny the claim

LONDON: Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh announced on Friday that he will be taking legal action against Bloomberg after it published an article claiming that the US is considering sanctioning him, a move the US State Department denies.

“We have seen reports about possible sanctions of Riad Salameh. They are untrue,” a State Department spokesperson told Arab News.

Last week, Bloomberg published news that the Biden administration was considering sanctions against the central bank governor, a claim both Salemeh and the US State department deny.

An investigation into possible money laundering and embezzlement has been opened by Swiss authorities.

Salemeh, his brother and assistant were also being probed over multimillion-dollar transfers out of the country at a time when Lebanese citizens were allowed minimum withdrawal amounts from their bank accounts.

The country’s currency hit 10,000 Lebanese pounds to one US dollar on Wednesday, an unprecedented mark that sparked a resurgence of protests that have been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lebanon witnessed nationwide protests in October 2018 calling for the end of widespread corruption and worsening economic conditions that have since seen more than half the population living below the poverty line.

The country’s current economic and financial crisis has been largely blamed on Salemeh due to his long tenure, having headed the central bank for 28 years after assuming control in 1993.


Why the world needs to take deepfakes seriously

Why the  world needs to take deepfakes seriously
Updated 06 March 2021

Why the world needs to take deepfakes seriously

Why the  world needs to take deepfakes seriously
  • Report highlights danger Artificial Intelligence can pose; warns of danger to politics, media 

LONDON: In 1938, American filmmaker Orson Welles’ narration of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion novel “The War of the Worlds” caused panic and pandemonium for listeners in the US who believed the tale to be a public broadcast by the government.

The next day, headlines across newspapers read “Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact.” Historical research, however, suggested that the actual panic itself was overstated by the media, as the broadcast itself had few listeners.
Fast-forward to 2021 with the long arms of social media and the internet, what would happen if a video showing US President Joe Biden sitting in the Oval Office announcing that he will be striking Iran imminently were to appear? Or if a video showing French President Emmanuel Macron crassly insulting Muslims surfaced?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, called deep learning, which generates images of fake events, known as deepfakes, allows for the creation of a moving image that looks and sounds exactly like Biden or Macron, but isn’t them, to speak and say whatever the creator wants, with most observers unable to tell if it is fake.

“Even before deep fakes, social media has platforms, and the different services have led to some threats on users in our region, especially women and other vulnerable communities,” Mohamed Najem, executive director of SMEX, a digital-rights organization focusing on Arabic-speaking countries, told Arab News.
“Deep fakes bring more serious threats to the aforementioned groups, especially if (criminals) want to destroy someone’s reputation — women, especially, are at risk, with them having gained more freedom within different conservative communities, which could see them suffer real damage” he added.

Recently, a series of very convincing TikTok videos showing Actor Tom Cruise doing multiple activities has left millions confused as to whether or not it really is the famous actor. Other known deepfakes show former US President Barack Obama calling his successor Donald Trump a “dipsh*t” and Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking about stealing users’ private data.
According to a report published last year by University College London (UCL), deepfakes rank as the most serious AI crime threat.
“As the capabilities of AI-based technologies expand, so too has their potential for criminal exploitation. To adequately prepare for possible AI threats, we need to identify what these threats might be, and how they may impact our lives,” author Lewis Griffin stated in the report.

Crimes in the digital realm can be easily shared, repeated, and even sold, allowing criminal techniques to be marketed.

Among the most serious concerns posed by fake content such as deepfakes is that, as they are so difficult to identify, they could be used for all manner of dubious purposes, ranging from discrediting a politician or a public figure to blackmail.
“Unlike many traditional crimes, crimes in the digital realm can be easily shared, repeated, and even sold, allowing criminal techniques to be marketed and for crime to be provided as a service. This means criminals may be able to outsource the more challenging aspects of their AI-based crime,” co-author Dr. Matthew Caldwell stated in the report.
To make matters worse, the rise in convincing deepfakes could in turn play a major role in discrediting major news institutions.
“If even a small fraction of visual evidence is proven to be convincing fakes, it becomes much easier to discredit genuine evidence, undermining criminal investigation and the credibility of political and social institutions that rely on trustworthy communications,” the report stated.
“Social media platforms need to understand the threats and act on them. Unfortunately there is no trust in governments in our region to do the right thing; my assumption is that they will use this to restrict more speech and criminalize it, which will lead to more closure of civic spaces,” Najem said.
The UCL report goes on to note that awareness and changes in people’s behaviors toward the spread and creation of these videos might be the only effective line of defense. While so far many of the videos popping up on social media are fun — of politicians singing and dancing, say, or Nicholas Cage’s face on Wonder Woman’s body — things may take a sharper, darker turn soon.


Lebanese media outlet Sawt Beirut International launches English-language edition

Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
Updated 05 March 2021

Lebanese media outlet Sawt Beirut International launches English-language edition

Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
  • Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app

LONDON: Sawt Beirut International (SBI) launched an English-language edition of its news website with the aim of reaching the Lebanese diaspora abroad.

“The English-language website will take Lebanon and Beirut’s voice to all the Lebanese diaspora living in Europe or the US,” SBI Chariman and CEO Jerry Maher told Arab News. “It’s for those who can speak Arabic but can’t read Arabic.”

SBI is a Lebanese media outlet that is on a mission to fight corruption and hold accountable the country’s politicians.

“We can share with them the pains the country is going through and allow them to take part in the change that is coming. We want them to be part of the next phase of Lebanon and understand all that is going on in the country.”

The English-language website will also be coupled with a mobile app, similar to the Arabic version. Maher says SBI is planning a French and Spanish version in the future.

“We are focusing on political, economic and social issues on the news website so Lebanese abroad will know exactly what is going on in the country, where the problem is and how they can help solve it,” the SBI founder said.

Maher said the new website will include a “stories” feature similar to other social-media outlets like Facebook and Instagram.


YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos
Updated 05 March 2021

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos
  • The company said it was monitoring the situation for any content that might violate its rules
  • YouTube said it had terminated around 20 channels and removed over 160 videos in the past couple months

BANGKOK: YouTube has removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its community guidelines and terms of service.
The company said Friday that it terminated channels of broadcasters Myawaddy Media, MRTV, WD Online Broadcasting, MWD Variety and MWD Myanmar. The decision follows a Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the country’s elected government, provoking massive public protests.
“We have terminated a number of channels and removed several videos from YouTube in accordance with our community guidelines and applicable laws,” YouTube said in an emailed statement.
The company said it was monitoring the situation for any content that might violate its rules.
YouTube said it had terminated around 20 channels and removed over 160 videos in the past couple months for violating its policies regarding hate speech and harassment, spam and deceptive practices, violent or graphic content policy and violations of its terms of service.
In December, it pulled 34 channels as part of an investigation into content uploaded in a coordinated influence campaign. That campaign uploaded content about elections in Myanmar, regional conflicts and news related to the US, China and Malaysia, the company said.
The decision by YouTube followed Facebook’s earlier announcement that it had removed all Myanmar military-linked pages from its site and from Instagram, which it also owns.


Gaming, tech mergers, acquisitions on rise in 2020: New report

Gaming, tech mergers, acquisitions on rise in 2020: New report
Updated 04 March 2021

Gaming, tech mergers, acquisitions on rise in 2020: New report

Gaming, tech mergers, acquisitions on rise in 2020: New report
  • There were 702 mergers and acquisitions agreements announced in 2020

DUBAI: Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the technology, media, and telecom (TMT) market last year bounced back from the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic with deals worth nearly $1 trillion.

There were 702 M&A agreements announced with a transaction value greater than or equal to $50 million in the global TMT sector in 2020, according to data and analytics company GlobalData.

Its latest report, “M&A in TMT – 2020 Themes,” revealed that the combined transaction value of $903 billion was a 25 percent increase on 2019, when there were $723 billion worth of deals.

The second quarter (Q2) of 2020 saw just 103 M&A deals in the sector – the lowest quarterly deal count in the last five years – but volume rebounded to 230 in Q3 and 222 in Q4, making the second half of the year the highest in terms of both number and value of deals in the last five years.

In 2020, the total value of M&A deals in the TMT sector was the highest in America (including North, Central, and South America) reaching $492 billion, while it was the lowest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at around $13 billion.

In the MENA region, Israel led with 11 deals with a transaction value of $6 billion, followed by Turkey at $2.6 billion.

Snigdha Parida, analyst for thematic research at GlobalData told Arab News: “The key themes driving the M&A activity in terms of number in the MENA region are gaming, big data, and connectivity.

“M&A in the gaming sector has thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic globally with 130 percent year-on-year growth and has the same effect in MENA as well.”

Gaming leads the way with four deals valued at more than $50 million in the MENA region. The biggest deal among these was in the social gaming space where Zynga acquired Peak Oyun Yazilim ve Pazarlama for $1.8 billion.

The other prominent themes were e-commerce and technology. For instance, Collective Growth Corp. acquired Innoviz Technologies for $1.4 billion; Hellman and Friedman bought Checkmarx for $1.1 billion, and EPMG purchased OLX for $1 billion.

“The increase in mobile penetration and prolonged lockdowns with people working from home are driving investment around gaming and connectivity,” added Parida.