UN experts denounce Iranian 'threats' against BBC staff

UN experts denounce Iranian 'threats' against BBC staff
A BBC sign is displayed outside Broadcasting House in London, Britain July 19, 2017. (Reuters)
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Updated 12 March 2020

UN experts denounce Iranian 'threats' against BBC staff

UN experts denounce Iranian 'threats' against BBC staff
  • The special rapporteurs urged the Iranian authorities to stop threatening reporters
  • There had been a "recent escalation in harassment" of BBC Persian staff and their families

GENEVA: Four United Nations experts on Wednesday called out Tehran for allegedly intimidating BBC and other broadcast journalists and their families with death threats.
Voicing their "alarm" in a joint statement, the special rapporteurs -- independent experts who do not speak for the UN but report their findings to it -- urged the Iranian authorities to stop threatening reporters.
"Journalists working for the BBC Persian Service and other Farsi-language news outlets outside Iran have faced threats, criminal investigations, unlawful surveillance, freezing of assets, defamation and harassment by Iranian authorities," they said.
"Several journalists have also been targeted for going public about the harassment and seeking protection from the UN."
In a statement, the British Broadcasting Corporation said there had been a "recent escalation in harassment" of BBC Persian staff and their families, coinciding with a crackdown on dissent within Iran.
It claimed "express threats" had been made "by state officials" towards the safety of BBC Persian journalists outside Iran.
The BBC statement said that Rana Rahimpour, a BBC Persian journalist, had recounted receiving a message threatening that she, her husband and their children would be assassinated within a month, while there were also threats towards her elderly parents based in Iran.
The UN special rapporteurs warned Tehran that such actions could violate Iran's human rights obligations under international law.
They urged the Iranian government to "cease the intimidation, harassment and threats, including death threats, against BBC and other journalists working outside Iran for Farsi-language news outlets, as well as reprisals against their family members in Iran".


UEFA EURO kicks off on TikTok with challenges, talk shows and more

UEFA EURO kicks off on TikTok with challenges, talk shows and more
Updated 25 June 2021

UEFA EURO kicks off on TikTok with challenges, talk shows and more

UEFA EURO kicks off on TikTok with challenges, talk shows and more
  • From an exclusive Ed Sheeran show to football challenges, TikTok is the digital home of UEFA EURO

DUBAI: Short-form mobile video app TikTok was announced as the sponsor of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) EURO, making it the first digital platform to sponsor a major international tournament.

As an official partner, TikTok’s aim is to provide a place where fans can follow football content creators, share football content and create personal moments around the tournament. As part of its efforts, TikTok is working with UEFA to launch a variety of features such as augmented reality effects, Hashtag Challenges and live shows.

The partnership also includes broadcast sponsorship rights, giving TikTok brand exposure around UEFA’s live match programs across all European broadcast channels.

The platform has fast become a home for football teams, players and content. The Al-Jazira football club has a prominent presence on the platform with over 120,000 followers. Regional celebrities like Ali Saleh, Yahya Al-Ghassani and Mohammed Abdulbasit are also active and popular on TikTok. In fact, over 25 percent of top league football clubs in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), including UAE Pro League, Al Jazira, Al-Ain and Shabab Al-Ahli, are on the platform.

“We have noticed great engagement on a global level with EURO 2020 on TikTok, with users from the Middle East and North Africa region coming together and celebrating the joy of football on the platform,” a TikTok spokesperson told Arab News.

Even before the partnership, sports — football, in particular — has been a popular topic on the mobile video app. Football content alone has received 700 million views on the #TikTokFootball hashtag in the region and 129 billion views on the #football hashtag globally.

Since the beginning of the partnership, more than 4 billion videos have been posted with the hashtag #EURO2020.

“In addition, we’re launching a series of challenges until July 11, all catered for the EUROs,” the spokesperson added.

Some of these challenges include #GameReady, which allows creators to engage with followers and build up excitement prior to the game; #FootballColors, which focuses on having fans express their support for their favorite football teams by wearing the team’s jersey and applying their team’s flag on their face; and #CelebrateFootball, which amps up the energy on game day by showing users how to react to the highs and lows of the game.

Currently, the #GameReady challenge has over 165 million views, the #FootballColors challenge over 24 million views and the #CelebrateFootball challenge over 76 million views.

Throughout the month, TikTok is also hosting live shows that bring together players and creators to analyze, discuss and predict games.

“These exclusive EURO live shows combine behind-the-scenes footage, star pundits and media figures from the region who go on TikTok daily and analyze the games with attendees including Mohammed Awaad, Nabaa Al-Dabbagh, Mansour Al-Blooshi and many more,” said the spokesperson.

The biggest milestone of the partnership is an exclusive TikTok-only performance by Ed Sheeran. The show will be staged at Portman Road, home ground stadium of the Ipswich Town FC in the UK, and streamed only on TikTok through his channel @edsheeran on June 25. The show will feature the first performance of the artist’s latest single “Bad Habits,” which is being released on the same day.

“We know that Ed Sheeran has many fans across the region, and we are very excited to be able to tune in to this truly special moment during the UEFA Euro 2020,” said Rami Zeidan, head of video and creative at TikTok, in a statement.

“Music [and sport play] such an important part in the TikTok community as they have the power to bring people together in magical ways. We look forward to seeing everyone there.”

FAST FACTS

The #TikTokFootball hashtag has over 700 million views in the region

The #football hashtag has received 129 billion views globally

Over 25 percent of top league football clubs in the UAE are on TikTok

The #GameReady challenge has over 165 million views

The #FootballColors challenge has over 24 million views

The #CelebrateFootball challenge has over 76 million views


Why parents need to educate their children that ‘seeing is not always believing’ in the case of influencers on social media

Why parents need to educate their children that ‘seeing is not always believing’ in the case of influencers on social media
Updated 25 June 2021

Why parents need to educate their children that ‘seeing is not always believing’ in the case of influencers on social media

Why parents need to educate their children that ‘seeing is not always believing’ in the case of influencers on social media
  • What effect is pressure to emulate physical perfection and lavish lifestyles of social media stars having on teenagers in Saudi Arabia?

JEDDAH: Impressionable children are susceptible to many forms of influence during their formative years, good and bad. During their teenage years, as they begin to grow more independent, they can be particularly vulnerable to the more negative forces.

For this reason it is important for parents, particularly in relatively conservative Muslim societies such as Saudi Arabia, to monitor their childrens’ lives and relationships so that any damaging effects can be spotted early.

In the modern world, however, this is not always easy. 

Social media has become a prominent, perhaps dominant, way for teenagers to interact with other people and the wider world, and it can be hard for parents to keep tabs on who their children are following.

There are many types of internet influencers and celebrities in online communities covering a wide range of interests and industries. 

Arguably the most influential of all are those who focus on fashion and beauty. 

In a sector long obsessed with looks and the quest for physical perfection, appearance can be key to success in the crowded online world.

But appearances can be deceptive. In Saudi Arabia, like everywhere else, it is common for influencers to carefully manage and curate the image they present to the world. 

This often includes manipulating photographs digitally to make themselves look as good as possible — sometimes to the point where they are almost unrecognizable from their normal selves.

This creates an extremely unrealistic view of looks and beauty, which adds to the pressure on teenagers who might worry that they cannot live up to this enhanced and distorted idea of physical perfection. In some cases this pressure can lead to physical and mental health problems.

“They all heavily edit their photos and they look perfect in all of them, but when you see them in real life they look nothing like that,” 17-year-old Celine Baroudi told Arab News.

Even though teenagers might be aware that influencers rarely look as good in real life as they do in the carefully chosen and edited photos on social media, they can still be negatively affected by exposure to the images of unrealistic, unachievable perfection.

“We know that they don’t look like that but I still see how beautiful they look and I always ask myself, ‘Why can’t I look like them? Why can’t I be beautiful like that?’” said Baroudi.

“I have an absolutely beautiful friend but she still wants to look like them (the influencers), so she’s stopped eating and works out until she’s lightheaded or faints. I went through a similar phase during Ramadan. It wasn’t good.”

Some might wonder why, if teenagers are aware that photos of influencers are often manipulated and not an accurate reflection of reality, do they not simply ignore the unrealistic standards.

According to Zeena Hashem, a specialist in adolescent psychotherapy from the Adult and Child Therapy Center in Jeddah, it is not that simple. 

She highlighted the results of a national survey, carried out in 2017 by Oraynab Abu Abbas and Fadia Al-Buhairan, that focused on the mental well-being of teenagers in the Kingdom in the era of social media.

“They surveyed 12,121 adolescents in Saudi Arabia and they found that 60.4 percent of them were unsatisfied with their body images, and that resulted in them feeling sad or hopeless,” said Hashem.

The reason why young people cannot simply ignore the images presented by influencers, even when they know they have been digitally manipulated, is a phenomenon known in psychology as the G.I. Joe Fallacy, she explained. 

This refers to a misguided notion that simply knowing about a bias is enough to overcome it. The name is derived from the 1980s animated US TV show G.I. Joe, every episode of which included a public service announcement and the closing comment: “Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.”

“Your brain’s awareness of reality does not mean it accepts it,” said Hashem. 

“So, even though adolescents know that these influencers are adding filters or photoshopping their photos, they still can’t help but feel insecure.” She added that brain development during the teenage years also plays a part in how young people respond to misleading images.

“The white matter connections (responsible for carrying nerve impulses between neurons) and the synapses (the point of communication between two neighboring neurons) in their brains are increasing,” said Hashem. 

“This greatly impacts their behavioral control because they are still in a learning and sensitive stage.

“Psychologically, however, since they are slowly becoming adults, they want to find themselves and separate themselves from their parents, so they go looking for any form of influence outside of the house — and figures on social media are the most accessible.”

Hashem strongly suggests that parents educate their children to help prepare them psychologically for the deceptive nature of the Internet and prevent any harmful effects on their mental well-being.

Noha Ali said that she struggles with how she perceives her body because she compares herself with the influencers she follows.

“I know none of it is real,” said the 19-year-old. 

“But for some reason every time I see their photos I still want to look like them. It has affected me subconsciously; I find myself wondering why I can’t look like them and I end up feeling upset.”

Lara Kokandy, 16, said: “They’re setting unrealistic body standards. And I say unrealistic because they photoshop their bodies without realizing how they’re impacting their young followers. A lot of my friends and I sometimes feel sad because of it.”

Such feelings are common. Therapist Alia Mustafa, who specializes in art therapy for children, said that body dissatisfaction among teens can cause many problems.

“Nowadays, teenagers have become an image-obsessed generation who are constantly following ‘perfect’ influencers,” she said.

“Having these thoughts can lead to many other potential disorders: bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, as well as body dysmorphic disorder.”

It is not only the physical appearance of influencers that can affect the mental well-being of adolescents, she added, but also the lavish lifestyles they embody and promote. For example, one adolescent patient’s desire to emulate the lifestyle a particular influencer contributed to depression.

“Every session, my client would discuss with me all the news she had read about an influencer who she and her friends are obsessed with, and how they want her life,” Mustafa said.

“During one of our sessions, she mentioned how she was angry at her parents for not providing her with the same lifestyle. This added to her depression; she was constantly putting herself down for not living like her idol. Teenagers look up to influencers and this leads to them wanting to imitate their lifestyles.”

Lojain Ahmed makes no secret of her desire to live like the influencers she follows.

“I look at some influencers’ lavish lifestyles,” the 17-year-old said. 

“It’s weird to see them traveling all over the world and buying everything — especially influencers my age.

“It makes me look at my own life and what I don’t have or what I’m not doing, and why I can’t have what they have or do what they’re doing.”

But like most things in life, there are positive and negative sides to the Internet and social media, and in the case of influencers it is important to remember that seeing is not always believing.

 


US House panel pushes legislation targeting Big Tech’s power

A US House panel pushed ahead on Wednesday with ambitious legislation that could curb the market power of tech giants Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
A US House panel pushed ahead on Wednesday with ambitious legislation that could curb the market power of tech giants Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Updated 24 June 2021

US House panel pushes legislation targeting Big Tech’s power

A US House panel pushed ahead on Wednesday with ambitious legislation that could curb the market power of tech giants Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • Legislation could curb market power of tech giants

WASHINGTON: A US House panel pushed ahead on Wednesday with ambitious legislation that could curb the market power of tech giants Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, and force them to sever their dominant platforms from their other lines of business.

Conservative Republican lawmakers haggled over legislative language and pushed concerns of perceived anti-conservative bias in online platforms, but could not halt the bipartisan momentum behind the package.

The drafting session and votes by the House Judiciary Committee are initial steps in what promises to be a strenuous slog through Congress.

Many Republican lawmakers denounce the market dominance of Big Tech but do not support a wholesale revamp of the antitrust laws.

Work on the massive bipartisan legislation stretched into the night. The session pushed beyond the 12-hour mark as lengthy debate ensued over a complex bill that would require online platforms to allow users to communicate directly with users on rival services.

Proponents said the measure would also give consumers more power to determine how and with whom their personal data is shared.

Earlier, the Democratic-majority committee made quick work of arguably the least controversial bills in the package, which were approved over Republican objections.

A measure that would increase the budget of the Federal Trade Commission drew Republican conservatives’ ire as an avenue toward amplified power for the agency.

The legislation, passed 29-12 and sent to the full US House, would increase filing fees for proposed tech mergers worth more than $500 million, and cut the fees for those under that level.

A second bill would give states greater powers over companies in determining the courts in which to prosecute tech antitrust cases.

Many state attorneys general have pursued antitrust cases against big tech companies, and many states joined with the US Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in their antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook, respectively, last year. The measure drew many Republican votes and was approved 34-7.

The advance of the legislation comes as the tech giants are already smarting under federal investigations, epic antitrust lawsuits, near-constant condemnation from politicians of both parties, and a newly installed head of the powerful FTC who is a fierce critic of the industry.

The legislative package, led by industry critic Rep. David Cicilline, targets the companies’ structure and could point toward breaking them up, a dramatic step for Congress to take against a powerful industry whose products are woven into everyday life.

If such steps were mandated, they could bring the biggest changes to the industry since the federal government’s landmark case against Microsoft some 20 years ago.

The Democratic lawmakers championing the proposals reaffirmed the case for curbing Big Tech as the committee began digging into the legislation.

It “will pave the way for a stronger economy and a stronger democracy for the American people by reining in anti-competitive abuses of the most dominant firms online,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Judiciary Committee chair.

“Each bill is an essential part of a bipartisan plan to level the playing field for innovators, entrepreneurs and startups — and to bring the benefits of increased innovation and choice to American consumers.”

Conservative Republicans laid down their markers. They insisted that the proposed legislation does not truly attack anti-competitive abuses by the tech industry because it fails to address anti-conservative bias on its social media platforms.

And they previewed a fight over legislative definitions. The legislation as drafted would apply to online platforms with 50 million or more monthly active users, annual sales or market value of over $600 billion, and a role as “a critical trading partner.”

The new proposals “make it worse,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, the panel’s senior Republican. “They don’t break up Big Tech. They don’t stop censorship.”

The legislation’s definition of which online platforms would fall under stricter antitrust standards could mean that companies such as Microsoft, Walmart and Visa would soon be included, Jordan suggested. “Who knows where it will end?” he said.

President Joe Biden’s surprise move last week elevating antitrust legal scholar Lina Khan to head the FTC was a clear signal of a tough stance toward the tech giants. It was top of mind for the conservative Republicans objecting to the new legislation.

Khan played a key role in the Judiciary Committee’s sweeping 2019-20 investigation of the tech giants’ market power.

The four companies deny abusing their dominant market position, and assert that improper intervention in the market through legislation would hurt small businesses and consumers.

Lauded as engines of innovation, the Silicon Valley giants for decades enjoyed minimal regulation and star status in Washington, with a notable coziness during the Obama administration, when Biden was vice president.

The industry’s fortunes abruptly reversed about two years ago when the companies came under intense federal scrutiny, a searing congressional investigation, and growing public criticism over issues of competition, consumer privacy and hate speech.

Biden said as a presidential candidate that dismantling the big tech companies should be considered.

He also has said he wants to see changes to the social media companies’ long-held legal protections for speech on their platforms.

The legislative proposals would also prohibit the tech giants from favoring their own products and services over competitors on their platforms.

The legislation was informed by the 15-month Judiciary antitrust investigation, led by Cicilline, which concluded that the four tech giants have abused their market power by charging excessive fees, imposing tough contract terms, and extracting valuable data from individuals and businesses that rely on them.

The legislation also would make it tougher for the giant tech companies to snap up competitors in mergers, which they have completed by scores in recent years.

Democrats control the House, but they would need to garner significant Republican support in the Senate for legislation to pass.

The chamber is split 50-50, with the Democrats’ one-vote margin depending on Vice President Kamala Harris being the tiebreaker.


Heartbreak in newsroom as Apple Daily bids farewell to Hong Kong

The final edition was a tribute to its readers with the headline: “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.” (AFP)
The final edition was a tribute to its readers with the heThe final edition was a tribute to its readers with the headline: “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.” (AFP)adline: Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain. (AFP)
Updated 24 June 2021

Heartbreak in newsroom as Apple Daily bids farewell to Hong Kong

The final edition was a tribute to its readers with the headline: “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.” (AFP)
  • Staff at the Hong Kong's pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily bid farewell as the paper prints its last edition on Thursday.
  • Hundreds of Hong Kong residents gathered in the rain outside Apple Daily offices where a million copies were being printed.

HONG KONG: Apple Daily cub reporter Yau Ting-leung could not sleep much. Tired, he lay in bed on Wednesday morning checking the news.
The 23-year-old had been in his dream job at the pro-democracy tabloid for less than a year, but now things were unraveling.
Six days after a police raid on Apple, the arrests of its top two editors and a freeze of core assets on national security grounds, the company was running out of cash and options.
Final publication was set for Saturday, with a skeleton crew putting out the last of the roughly 9,500 editions of the paper.
“At 11:30 a.m. the news came that they’d arrested our lead columnist,” Yau told Reuters. “At that moment, I just felt numb.”
Soon afterward, the board decided it would be the last day for the feisty Chinese-language publication that combined celebrity gossip with investigations of the powerful.
Yau, the youngest member of the paper’s investigative team, ignored a warning from management to stay home, showing up at the office in an isolated industrial estate. Many others did the same.
With Apple’s website and 26 years’ worth of content to be purged at midnight, time was running out.
“I didn’t have to write anything today. I was put in charge of saving our work, including our award-winning reports,” said Yau, who is three years younger than Apple Daily. But he was unable to finish: “No matter how hard I tried to back up ... there just wasn’t enough time.”
Ten meters from Yau, Norman Choi was at work on a story. This time, though, it was an obituary for Apple Daily.
Surrounded by the clutter of 22 years at the paper, including crackers and empty liquor bottles, the 51-year-old senior features editor clacked away at his keyboard, wearing a black mask and clothes.
As he tried to focus, Choi had a mountain of other tasks, such as taking down slogans beside his desk.
“I’m not deliberately staying behind. I just don’t want to leave my fellow reporters,” he said.
Deputy chief editor Chan Pui-man, out on bail after her arrest, wandered the open-plan newsroom with its “I love Apple” logos on the wall, red-eyed at times.
“It’s hard to control our emotions,” she said.

APPLE TREE
As news of the paper’s impending closure spread, staff could see and hear crowds gathering outside. Some chanted “Thank you Apple Daily — Add oil!” a Chinese expression of encouragement that had become a refrain among supporters of the paper.
Around midnight, the first warm copies of the record 1 million to be printed — more than 10 times the usual press run — came off the presses and were handed out to the cheering crowd.
Ryan Law, 47, Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief, told Reuters before his arrest, “No matter what happens to us, you can’t kill the people who read Apple Daily.”
Photographer Harry Long, and his pictures team did not have to venture far for their last front-page image.
They settled on a shot from the roof showing the people, many with umbrellas, and vehicles clogging the normally quiet street below. Beside the picture, the headline read: “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.”
Lights from mobile phones twinkle up from the supporters.
“I’m heartbroken,” Long said.
Yau waved down from the roof with his own mobile phone, hugging colleagues soon to be out of a job.
“We would all suddenly start crying as we just couldn’t bear to see this end,” he said. But at the same time, “everyone was happy too. That we could all work through this last day together, united in doing this one thing.”
Choi, the features editor, found the public support touching.
“It’s the first time so many readers come and support us here, and I know it’s the last time,” he said. Their showing up “means everything in my career in Apple Daily, and in my life.”
Papers were stacked and loaded onto lorries and vans and whisked to newsstands across the city of 7.5 million.
At a kiosk in the working class district of Mong Kok, hundreds queued around the block to snap up a copy. Some chanted “Liberate Hong Kong — Revolution of our Times,” the rallying cry of the city’s mass anti-China protests in 2019.
The last edition carried a farewell letter from Chan, the deputy chief editor.
“When an apple is buried beneath the soil, its seed will become a tree filled with bigger and more beautiful apples.
“Love you all forever, love Hong Kong forever.”


Bangladeshi cleric issues fatwa on Facebook emoji

Ahmadullah is among Bangladesh’s new crop of Internet-savvy Islamic preachers who have drawn millions of followers online. (File/AFP)
Ahmadullah is among Bangladesh’s new crop of Internet-savvy Islamic preachers who have drawn millions of followers online. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 June 2021

Bangladeshi cleric issues fatwa on Facebook emoji

Ahmadullah is among Bangladesh’s new crop of Internet-savvy Islamic preachers who have drawn millions of followers online. (File/AFP)
  • A prominent Bangladeshi cleric has issued a fatwa against people using Facebook’s “haha” emoji to mock people.
  • He posted a three-minute video in which he discussed the mocking of people on Facebook and issued a fatwa.

DHAKA: A prominent Muslim Bangladeshi cleric with a huge online following has issued a fatwa against people using Facebook’s “haha” emoji to mock people.
Ahmadullah, who uses one name, has more than three million followers on Facebook and YouTube. He regularly appears on television shows to discuss religious issues in the Muslim-majority country.
On Saturday he posted a three-minute video in which he discussed the mocking of people on Facebook and issued a fatwa, an Islamic edict, explaining how it is “totally haram (forbidden)” for Muslims.
“Nowadays we use Facebook’s haha emojis to mock people,” Ahmadullah said in the video, which has since been viewed more than two million times.
“If we react with haha emojis purely out of fun and the same was intended by the person who posted the content, it’s fine.
“But if your reaction was intended to mock or ridicule people who posted or made comments on social media, it’s totally forbidden in Islam,” Ahmadullah added.
“For God’s sake I request you to refrain from this act. Do not react with ‘haha’ to mock someone. If you hurt a Muslim he may respond with bad language that would be unexpected.”
Thousands of followers reacted to his video, most of them positively, although several hundred made fun of it — using the “haha” emoji.
Ahmadullah is among Bangladesh’s new crop of Internet-savvy Islamic preachers who have drawn millions of followers online.
Their commentaries on religious and social issues are hugely popular, drawing millions of views per video.
Some have earned notoriety with bizarre claims on the origin of the coronavirus. A few are accused of preaching hatred, while several have turned into celebrities for their fun-filled videos.