Morocco makes dozen arrests over coronavirus fake news

Morocco makes dozen arrests over coronavirus fake news
A worker disinfects a main avenue outside the parliament building in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus, on the day Moroccan authorities called on citizens to limit their movements, in Rabat, Morocco, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 19 March 2020

Morocco makes dozen arrests over coronavirus fake news

Morocco makes dozen arrests over coronavirus fake news
  • “Fake news is the first cause of panic among citizens,” said Prime Minister Saad Eddine El-Otmai
  • Other people were arrested for attacking the government over its strict measures against public gathering

RABAT: Moroccan police have arrested at least a dozen people for spreading rumors about the coronavirus, authorities said on Thursday, including a woman who used her YouTube channel to say the disease did not exist.
“Fake news is the first cause of panic among citizens,” said Prime Minister Saad Eddine El-Otmai, comparing the spread of misinformation with contagion of the disease.
Other people were arrested for attacking the government over its strict measures against public gathering, urging people to ignore them, or saying a lockdown had been implemented when it had not.
Rights groups have criticized Morocco for what they see as an increasing crackdown on free speech over the past year, including prison terms for people who have spoken against senior officials on Twitter.
The North African kingdom has confirmed 61 cases of the coronavirus and two deaths. Most of the sick caught the virus abroad, but it has now also started to transmit within Moroccan cities.
The government has closed all mosques, schools, cafes and restaurants, as well as sports and entertainment venues, and has banned all international passenger flights.
The most recent arrest was of a 48-year-old woman who was taken into custody on Wednesday after denying the existence of the coronavirus on her YouTube channel and urging her compatriots to ignore precautionary measures.
Another woman, in an audio recording widely spread on Whatsapp, said the tourist hub of Marrakech, one of Morocco’s biggest cities, was under lockdown and warned people not to go there.
A man known as “Abou Naim” was arrested for “instigating hatred” and “undermining public order” after he recorded a video on social media criticizing the authorities decision to close all mosques.
Cars with loudspeakers have been deployed in different Moroccan cities asking people to stay at home. Public transport, streets and market places have been disinfected.
A government fund that was created to upgrade health infrastructure and assist the most vulnerable economic sectors has garnered more than $1.5 billion in donations.


East meets West: ErosSTX CEO Robert Simonds on Hollywood, Bollywood and everything in between

East meets West: ErosSTX CEO Robert Simonds on Hollywood, Bollywood and everything in between
Updated 26 February 2021

East meets West: ErosSTX CEO Robert Simonds on Hollywood, Bollywood and everything in between

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

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.

ErosSTX CEO Robert Simonds. (Supplied)

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 clashes with media following vaccine scandal

Lebanon’s deputy speaker found himself butting heads with journalists over his inoculation ahead of others more in need. (File/AFP)
Lebanon’s deputy speaker found himself butting heads with journalists over his inoculation ahead of others more in need. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 February 2021

Lebanese MP Elie Ferzli clashes with media following vaccine scandal

Lebanon’s deputy speaker found himself butting heads with journalists over his inoculation ahead of others more in need. (File/AFP)
  • Lebanon’s deputy speaker found himself butting heads with journalists over his inoculation ahead of others more in need

LONDON: Lebanese MP and deputy speaker Elie Ferzli has clashed with the media with 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.

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.” 

 

Footage of Ferzli losing his cool went viral on Wednesday across social media, as memes 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.”


Do UAE audiences watch ads for free content? YouGov’s latest report finds out

Do UAE audiences watch ads for free content? YouGov’s latest report finds out
Updated 25 February 2021

Do UAE audiences watch ads for free content? YouGov’s latest report finds out

Do UAE audiences watch ads for free content? YouGov’s latest report finds out
  • Report explores media consumption habits across 17 markets

DUBAI: YouGov, a market research and analytics firm, has released a whitepaper titled “International Media Consumption Report 2021 — Is there a new normal?”

The report explores media consumption habits across 17 markets, including the UAE.

Advertising and content

As digital channels found new ways to advertise — think ad insertions in online videos — consumers began to use ad blockers. Eventually, companies and digital channels — including publishers — began to offer paid or premium ad-free models unless consumers turned off ad blockers.

YouGov explored this topic in its study and found that globally consumers consider watching ads in exchange for free content a fair deal.

Spain and Mexico are the top countries (65 percent each) where consumers support this model. On the other hand, residents in two Scandinavian countries, Sweden (27 percent) and Denmark (23 percent), are the most likely to find this model unfair.

In the UAE, 58 percent of consumers find it a fair exchange. While all age groups in the Emirates showed a general acceptance toward viewing ads in exchange for free content, younger audiences (18 to 24-year-olds) favored this trend the most (62 percent).

Digital media

With the pandemic keeping more people indoors than ever before, digital media channels enjoyed massive growth as consumers sought information and entertainment.

When UAE consumers were asked about the digital media channels they used, over half (61 percent) claimed to have watched video content online, followed by social media (53 percent) and messaging platforms like WhatsApp (46 percent).

Two in five indulged with live TV on digital devices and almost as many used search engines (37 percent). The consumption of radio, podcasts, and audiobooks remained lower than the other formats.

Traditional media

Among traditional media channels, TV was the most consumed medium at 62 percent by UAE residents. Radio (36 percent) and outdoor advertising (32 percent) followed. It is, however, worth noting that there is a considerable consumption gap between TV and the other two mediums.

Radio and outdoor advertising overtook the readerships of print magazines (22 percent) and newspapers (20 percent).

Contrary to popular belief of outdoor advertising taking a hit during the pandemic, UAE residents appear to be stepping out and noticing ads on billboards, highlighting the changing consumption patterns during different stages of the pandemic.

At a worldwide level, live TV seems to be popular globally, with the highest consumption seen in European countries like France (79 percent) and Italy (77 percent). The UAE (35 percent) and China (38 percent) are the only exceptions where the popularity of this medium is one of the lowest across all markets.

“COVID-19 has significantly impacted consumer behavior and, in turn, media consumption habits globally. The data shows that although many people engaged with digital media during the pandemic, several traditional mediums remained as relevant as before,” said Julian Newby, sector head of media at YouGov.

“Our data shows there are huge challenges for brands and advertisers looking to achieve return-on-investment and effectively reach consumers in the right channels, at the right time, with the right message,” he added.


India unveils tougher rules for social media such as Facebook, Twitter

India unveils tougher rules for social media such as Facebook, Twitter
Updated 25 February 2021

India unveils tougher rules for social media such as Facebook, Twitter

India unveils tougher rules for social media such as Facebook, Twitter
  • The rules come after Twitter ignored orders to drop content on farmers’ protests
  • A detailed version of the guidelines is to be published later and take effect three months after that

NEW DELHI: India announced new rules on Thursday to regulate big social media firms, such as Facebook and Twitter, the latest effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to tighten control over Big Tech firms.
The rules come after Twitter ignored orders to drop content on farmers’ protests, fueling the government’s zeal, dating from 2018, to clamp down on material it regards as disinformation or unlawful.
The new measures will require big social media companies to set up a grievance redressal mechanism and appoint executives to coordinate with law enforcement, the government said in a news statement.
The government said the guidelines in its code of digital media ethics were needed to hold social media and other companies accountable for misuse and abuse.
Social media firms should be “more responsible and accountable,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister for information technology, told reporters in outlining the rules.
A detailed version of the guidelines is to be published later and take effect three months after that, the government said. It did not specify the date, however.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while Twitter declined to comment.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported the draft of the rules, which give companies a maximum of 36 hours to remove content after they receive a government or legal order.
Prasad also told reporters the rules would oblige the companies to reveal the originator of a message or posting when asked to do so through a legal order.
Tech firms are coming under tighter scrutiny worldwide. Facebook faced a global backlash last week from publishers and politicians after it blocked news feeds in Australia in a dispute with the government over revenue-sharing.
That prompted last-ditch changes by Australia in a law passed on Thursday to ensure Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc. pay media companies for content, a step that nations such as Britain and Canada want to follow.
India’s rules will also require video streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime to classify content into five categories based on users’ age, the government said.


Facebook bans Myanmar military accounts citing the coup

Facebook bans Myanmar military accounts citing the coup
Updated 25 February 2021

Facebook bans Myanmar military accounts citing the coup

Facebook bans Myanmar military accounts citing the coup
  • Pages for government offices now run by the junta remain unaffected
BANGKOK: Facebook said it has banned all remaining accounts linked to the Myanmar military on Thursday, citing the junta’s use of deadly force against anti-coup demonstrators.
The move, which takes effect immediately, applies to the military and entities controlled by the armed forces on both Facebook and Instagram.
It also bans “military-linked commercial entities” from advertising on the platforms.
“Events since the February 1 coup, including deadly violence, have precipitated a need for this ban,” the social media giant said in a statement.
“We believe the risks of allowing the Tatmadaw on Facebook and Instagram are too great,” it added, using the Myanmar name for the country’s armed forces.
The junta has steadily increased its use of force against a massive and largely peaceful civil disobedience campaign demanding Myanmar’s army leaders relinquish power.
Three anti-coup protesters have been killed in demonstrations, while a man patrolling his Yangon neighborhood against night arrests was also shot dead.
Facebook said its ban was intended to prevent Myanmar’s generals “from abusing our platform.”
The military has used Facebook to boost its claims that voter fraud marred an election last November after ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.
Since seizing power, the junta has arrested hundreds of anti-coup protesters, ordered nightly Internet blackouts and banned social media platforms — including Facebook — in an effort to quell resistance.
Thursday’s announcement follows Facebook’s earlier decision to kick off a page run by the regime’s “True News” information service after the tech giant accused it of inciting violence.
Pages for government offices now run by the junta remain unaffected.
“This ban does not cover government ministries and agencies engaged in the provision of essential public services,” the company said. “This includes the Ministry of Health and Sport, and the Ministry of Education.”
In recent years, hundreds of army-linked pages have been blocked by Facebook after the social media giant came under heavy criticism for its ineffective response to malicious posts in the country.
Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing and other top brass were booted from the platform in 2018, a year after a military-led crackdown forced around 750,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim community to flee into neighboring Bangladesh.
Facebook admitted that year it had failed to do enough to prevent the incitement of violence in Myanmar.
“We can and should do more,” Facebook executive Alex Warofka said at the time.