Following ‘electronic social media intelligently is essential’

Roger Harrison
Updated 04 December 2019

Following ‘electronic social media intelligently is essential’

  • Arab News caught up with Harrison at the inaugural Saudi Media Forum in Riyadh

RIYADH: Roger Harrison was a senior reporter at Arab News for the best part of 20 years. Now “keeping the keyboard hot” from his home in Mallorca, he has not retired, but is busy plotting writing projects.
Arab News caught up with Harrison at the inaugural Saudi Media Forum in Riyadh where he was a keynote speaker on Tuesday.
Reflecting on his time with the paper, he observed that the environment was a bit “wild west”.
“I had a car accident and wrote to Arab news — the ‘Green Truth’ was a national institution, and I thought, why not? The letter described the curious and inventive driving habits I had encountered and their result,” he said.
The then editor-in-chief, Khaled Al-Maeena, called him and said the letter was too long to publish. “I thought, well the man had the courtesy to call at least. Then he said something that was to change my life — ‘Can we print it as an article please?’”
It appeared and Al-Maeena called again telling Harrison that the piece had caused what he described an enormous reaction. It was the beginning of a long career and the foundations of a firm friendship.
“I had no experience,” said Harrison. “I learned my trade on the hoof and seemed to please people with the output. I just wonder if that could happen now in the age of the focus on qualifications rather than tangential ability. Mr Khaled took a calculated risk and it seemed to pay off.”
Over the years Harrison covered stories from interviewing the great and the good, travel and even some eccentric but carefully researched pieces that sailed quite close to the wind.
“All that the editor-in-chief was concerned with was: Can you prove what you allege?” If the answer was yes, then it was usually printed.
Being very much a local newspaper, people brought problems to find a solution. On one occasion a large camp of expatriate laborers was found to be living in abject poverty — little or no food having received no wages for months.
“We did some digging, got the facts, wrote the story and printed it,” said Harrison. “A furious phone call resulted demanding my dismissal. I produced the file of documents and evidence, and Al-Maeena politely but firmly defused the caller.”
Harrison recalls that the high point of his time at Arab News was chasing three gliders around the Kingdom with a camera, resulting in a bestselling book.
“I had to make a choice — a fortnight with Boeing in Arizona at a ‘hands on’ experience with Apache gunship helicopters or traveling with Prince Sultan bin Salman and his co pilots around the Kingdom. I chose the latter; it was a seriously good call.”
One of the least glamorous moments was being caught in a dumpster late at night looking for dead cats. “Someone told us that a veterinarian was offering decent burials of pets for good money. But, there was a whisper that this was not so. So, a colleague and I checked. We found a couple of dead cats in the dumpster.”
Then the police turned up — an interesting moment or two ensued as they had to decide what a crazy Englishman was up to holding a bag of dead felines. “Fortunately my colleague had a golden tongue and explained us out of it.”
As to the future of the printed newspaper? Harrison has a very clear view on the importance of critical thinking and fact checking. He observed that printed papers say what you might have read on social media yesterday.
“I think the desire for immediate gratification and information that drives news on social media is a problem that will not go away,” he noted.
“The difference is that the constraints put on printed media to be accurate, truthful and right do not apply to the Internet as much if at all. Therein lies the problem; what is true, what is fact?”
So how to get round that challenge?
Harrison believes that early education in critical thinking and the need to read electronic social media intelligently is essential. “The Internet is our new world; it’s where we live. If we don’t adapt to our new environment, we will suffer hugely, and might not even realize it until too late,” he said.
Still fizzing with ideas, Harrison has some major projects in line involving what he refers to as “my second home”. The “big one” as he calls it involves traveling to all the Kingdom’s official and proposed UNESCO world heritage sites.
“Outside the Kingdom, many people have a one-dimensional view of what the place is like. The fact is that it has an incredible cultural history stretching back twenty millennia and more — it is, culturally, enormously rich. It is time that story was told,” he said.
“In truth,” Harrison concluded, “I never really worked for Arab News. I just followed my passion, had some incredible experiences, learned much, had enormous fun and someone paid me!”


US media questions Bezos hacking claims

Updated 25 January 2020

US media questions Bezos hacking claims

  • Experts said while hack “likely” occurred, investigation leaves too many “unanswered questions”
  • Specialists on Thursday said evidence was not strong enough to confirm

LONDON: An investigation into claims that the phone of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was hacked has been called into question by cybersecurity experts and several major US media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Associated Press (AP).

Specialists on Thursday said evidence from the privately commissioned probe by FTI Consulting is not strong enough for a definitive conclusion, nor does it confirm with certainty that his phone was actually compromised.

The Wall Street Journal reported, late on Friday: “Manhattan federal prosecutors have evidence indicating Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend provided text messages to her brother that he then sold to the National Enquirer for its article about the Amazon.com Inc. founder’s affair, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Experts said while a hack “likely” occurred, the investigation leaves too many “unanswered questions,” including how a hack happened or which spyware program was used, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Steve Morgan, founder and editor-in-chief of New York-based Cybersecurity Ventures, said the probe makes “reasonable assumptions and speculations,” but does not claim 100 percent certainty or proof.

UK-based cybersecurity consultant Robert Pritchard said: “In some ways, the investigation is very incomplete … The conclusions they’ve drawn, I don’t think, are supported by the evidence. They veered off into conjecture.”

Alex Stamos, former chief security officer at Facebook, wrote that the FTI probe is filled with “circumstantial evidence but no smoking gun.”

Matt Suiche, a Dubai-based French entrepreneur and founder of cybersecurity firm Comae Technologies, told AP that the malicious file is presumably still on the hacked phone because the investigation shows a screenshot of it.

If the file had been deleted, he said the probe should have stated this or explained why it was not possible to retrieve it. “They’re not doing that. It shows poor quality of the investigation,” Suiche added.

Reports on Wednesday suggested that Saudi Arabia was involved in the phone of Bezos being hacked after he received a WhatsApp message sent from the personal account of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudi Embassy in the US denied the allegations, describing them as “absurd.” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan called the accusations “purely conjecture” and “absolutely silly,” saying if there was real evidence the Kingdom looked forward to seeing it.

A Wall Street Journal report quoted forensics specialists as saying the FTI investigation’s claims that Saudi Arabia was behind any possible hacking of the phone “appeared to forgo investigatory steps.”

CNN reported that critics of the probe highlighted a “lack of sophistication” in it, quoting Sarah Edwards, an instructor at the SANS Institute, as saying: “It does seem like (FTI) gave it a good try, but it seems they’re just not as knowledgeable in the mobile forensics realm as they could have been.”

The New York Times said the probe tried to find links between the possible hacking of the phone and an article in the National Enquirer about the Amazon CEO’s extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, but any link remains “elusive.”

National Enquirer owner American Media said in a statement regarding the source of the leak on Sanchez’s involvement with Bezos: “The single source of our reporting has been well documented, in September 2018 Michael Sanchez began providing all materials and information to our reporters. Any suggestion that a third party was involved in or in any way influenced our reporting is false.”