Arab News and Hajj: Covering the greatest gathering on Earth

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Updated 20 April 2019
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Arab News and Hajj: Covering the greatest gathering on Earth

  • Arab News ran more than 300 news stories on the 2018 Hajj season
  • The paper also launched the 2018 version of its smartphone Hajj app for pilgrims to use

JEDDAH: Arab News has a tradition of covering Hajj “but 2018 was a little different,” its editor-in-chief Faisal J. Abbas said.

The newspaper’s focus last year was on the human aspect of Hajj and followed the touching stories of people from around the world.

Arab News, the Middle East’s leading English language daily, ran more than 300 news stories on the 2018 Hajj season. These ranged from news stories, investigative reports and features, to exclusive interviews with top Hajj and Umrah ministry officials. All were intended to provide up-to-date coverage of an event considered to be one of the biggest gatherings on Earth.

All types of human interest stories were present on its Hajj pages. The newspaper carried the story of Jordanian mother who gave birth to a baby boy at Jabal Al-Rahma Hospital in Arafat.

On the other hand there was a suicide at the Grand Mosque that went viral, with fevered online speculation about what happened and who was involved. Arab News was there moments later, a report confirming the incident and giving more details.

The paper also launched the 2018 version of its smartphone Hajj app for pilgrims to use.

“We planned special coverage to showcase the award-winning redesign of our newspaper and expand online capabilities, including a Facebook partnership and an enhanced Hajj app with our signature tracker, which enables pilgrims to connect with their loved ones back home,” said Abbas.

The free app for iOS and Android devices has new and enhanced features, including live news updates.

The Makkah-based Muslim World League (MWL) sponsored the Hajj app. The partnership with MWL is part of the body’s global outreach efforts to serve all Muslims.

The latest release of the app features several functions for use during Hajj season, including safety features such as an emergency call number and a list of embassies and important service providers during Hajj.

New features include a digital Qibla compass, a real-time currency converter, a media gallery, Hajj information and Qur’an prayer audio files.

The app also features improvements to the tracker function. The feature, which is optional, allows users who activate it to share their location and follow families and friends in real-time, around the clock.

Arab News Jeddah bureau chief and head of the Hajj coverage team, Mohammed Al-Sulami, said the aim of this initiative was to provide a useful and free service for pilgrims on their spiritual journey.

“Our mission is to make Arab News more global and more digital, and the Hajj app - thanks to the generous support of the MWL - does just that by providing a live news service and helpful, easy-to-use functions that every pilgrim can benefit from,” he said.

The MWL commended the newspaper’s initiative of deploying technology for the public good.

“We are happy to renew our partnership with Arab News and our support of this app, which reinforces our position as an umbrella body seeking to serve Muslims worldwide,” the MWL said.

Arab News also teamed up with Facebook to put up 360-degree live videos of pilgrims.

The Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Dr. Mohammed Saleh bin Taher Banten, endorsed cooperation efforts between Arab News and Facebook.

As almost 2 million people gathered in Makkah for the 2018 Hajj, Arab News and the tech giant cooperated in the transmission of live broadcasts using 360-degree video technology.

“We introduced it in 2017 and it was a big success, but we wanted to do something for those who couldn’t make to Hajj this year,” head of Arab News’ digital transformation, Eslam Refaat, said.

He added that Arab News believes that technology has even more potential to enhance the annual pilgrimage. Technology has allowed millions worldwide to follow Hajj through the official Arab News-Facebook page.

Banten said his ministry was pleased to endorse the cooperation between Arab News and Facebook because it enabled news about the pilgrimage to reach a wider audience.

People around the world would be able to see how Hajj was performed, and the “array of services” provided by the Saudi government under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he added.

“Our endorsement of this cooperation comes out of our ministry’s belief in the importance of utilizing new technology … enabling us to show the world the blessed efforts (in serving pilgrims)."

The minister was presented with an official Arab News press jacket, and saw the complimentary umbrellas the newspaper distributed to pilgrims.

“We provided pilgrims with extra coverage – literally. Through our corporate responsibility program, we handed out free Arab News umbrellas to shade people from the blazing hot August sun,” Abbas said.

He briefed the minister, his deputy Abdul-Fattah bin Sulaiman Mashat, and other members of the ministry about the newspaper’s ongoing digital transformation plan. He said the newspaper’s cooperation with Facebook ensured that Arab News was able to broadcast stories to previously unattainable audiences.

Head of regional media partnerships at Facebook, Fares Akkad, said the collaboration followed the success of the live broadcasts of Taraweeh prayers on Arab News’ Facebook page during Ramadan, which he said were very popular.

“Hajj is a unique event, and we are aware of its importance to millions around the world. Therefore, we are delighted with this collaboration, which enables more people to participate in this blessed event. These efforts are part of our commitment to regional communication, particularly in Saudi Arabia,” Akkad said.

Arab News published a series of special reports from the Kingdom and around the world on Hajj rituals, as well as offering 24-hour coverage through its digital platforms and Pakistan-focused website. It was also keen to reach a wider audience through conducting interviews with famous Muslims who were performing Hajj.

US Olympian Ibtihajj Muhammad, who performed Hajj last year, was among them. It was an experience she would never forget, she told Arab News.

The paper was the first media outlet to conduct an exclusive interview with the Hajj minister, who revealed that the holy sites would undergo a significant facelift in the near future.

“There is a comprehensive, integrated plan to develop Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat altogether. This massive project will see more services for pilgrims and increased capacity, safety and security to ease their Hajj performance.”

Arab News also published a book, “Hajj 2018: Covering the Journey of a Lifetime.”

The 55-page book, which sheds light on the efforts made by the Arab News team during its Hajj coverage, has reached diplomats, ministers and prestigious personalities.

“This book is an extension of our special Hajj coverage, which we hope would tide you over until we return for the journey next year, when you can count on our team to have even more in store,” said Abbas.

The book includes an introduction to Hajj rituals, a glossary, medical tips, statistics about the last seven Hajj seasons and written pieces from reporters who covered Hajj.  


Turkey tries Bloomberg reporters, accused of economic sabotage

Updated 20 September 2019

Turkey tries Bloomberg reporters, accused of economic sabotage

  • They were among dozens of defendants, including some who had simply written jokes about the currency crisis on Twitter
  • Conspiracy theories are widely believed in Turkey

ISTANBUL: Two Bloomberg reporters on Friday appeared in a Turkish court accused of damaging the country’s economy by writing an article about last year’s currency crisis.

Numerous other defendants, including economists and journalists, have also been charged in the case over their critical comments on social media about the financial turmoil in August 2018.

If found guilty they could face up to five years in prison.

Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief, John Micklethwait, said: “We condemn the indictment issued against our reporters, who have reported fairly and accurately on newsworthy events. We fully stand by them and will support them throughout this ordeal.”

The case, which opened in Istanbul on Friday, was brought after a complaint from Turkey’s banking watchdog BDDK and Capital Markets Board. The criminal court will begin hearing the second session of the prosecution on Jan 17.

The Bloomberg reporters’ article angered Turkish decision-makers and financial institutions after it claimed that the country’s Central Bank would be holding an emergency meeting over a plunge in the value of the lira against the dollar — the biggest currency shock to hit Turkey since 2001 — mainly brought on by a diplomatic crisis with the US.

The independence of the Turkish Central Bank has been high on the agenda for some time in the recession-hit economy, especially after the dismissal of its governor by a presidential decree in early July with no official reason given.

Experts said the trial was a continuation of a campaign of intimidation against journalists working in independent local and foreign media in Turkey. One local journalist, Cengiz Erdinc, has been convicted of “ruining the prestige” of the state-run Ziraat bank.

Last year, the Turkish Interior Ministry said it would take legal action against 346 social media accounts it claimed had created negative perceptions about the Turkish economy.

In another attempted press crackdown in Turkey, the pro-government SETA think tank in Istanbul recently published a report profiling Turkish journalists working for foreign media organizations, including Arab News, accusing them of “carrying out a perception work” through their “univocal line of reporting.”

Dr. Sarphan Uzunoglu, assistant professor of multimedia journalism at the Lebanese American University, said Turkey’s existing foreign policy and the government’s discourse over the last two years, totally fitted what was going on in the Bloomberg trial.

“The (Turkish) Justice and Development Party’s paranoid and conspiracy-driven political discourse is directly reflected to accusations against these journalists,” he told Arab News.

“Journalists are accused of attempting an ‘economic coup.’ The tweets and stories they published, like in all trials of journalists in Turkey, are used against them. I think one of the most important factors here is that Bloomberg seems to be a handful of comparatively independent, economy focused newsrooms.”

On the day of the trial, the US dollar/Turkish lira exchange rate rose to 5.7140, from 5.6980 on Thursday. The Turkish economy has contracted for the past three quarters.