Pressure grows for Al Jazeera to register as foreign agent in US

Pressure grows for Al Jazeera to register as foreign agent in US
A general view shows the newsroom at the headquarters of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera English-language channel in Doha. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 07 April 2020

Pressure grows for Al Jazeera to register as foreign agent in US

Pressure grows for Al Jazeera to register as foreign agent in US
  • Calls follow TRT’s registration, amid accusations that both networks are state propaganda tools

WASHINGTON: The US branch of the Turkish Radio and Television Corp. (TRT) has finally registered with the Department of Justice (DOJ) under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), after evading such a requirement for a year. 

A DOJ review had established that the network meets the legal criteria for being a foreign agent, as it acts on behalf of the Turkish government, which exercises direct control over its leadership, finances and news content, for the purpose of influencing US public opinion and government policy. 

Designed to promote transparency with the American public, Congress passed FARA in 1938 to detect Nazi propaganda and other foreign interferences in US policy. 

The law was updated in 1966 to provide the DOJ with more tools to investigate violations and penalties for failure to register as a foreign agent. 

TRT’s registration, giving the public greater visibility into its funding and activities, has sparked the question: Why has Al Jazeera, a network owned and funded by the Qatari government, not done the same? 

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan policy institute based in Washington DC, brought the issue into the limelight, in an article that calls on the DOJ to apply the same scrutiny to Al Jazeera that it has to TRT, and to take the matter to court should the Qatari network refuse to comply. 

Why the DOJ has not done so yet is the great question everyone is asking, according to senior analyst Varsha Koduvayur, who wrote the policy brief.   

“In many ways, TRT and Al Jazeera are a tandem network in the way that they hew to their government lines,” she told Arab News. 

“Then there’s the issue of the growing alliance between Turkey and Qatar, which have come to backstop each other’s destabilizing policies in the region. They’ve really come to form an axis of their own, working together to cleave the Sunni world apart,” she said. 

“TRT is being mandated by the DOJ to register. It follows as a natural consequence that Al Jazeera should be asked to register also,” she added. 

“First, Americans deserve transparency about where their news sources come from. Second, these foreign US-based media are owned by countries that aren’t particularly friendly to Washington.”

The Trump administration and Congress have ramped up pressure on media outlets they consider as tools of foreign governments to register under FARA. 

The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requires US-based foreign media to register with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent US government agency overseen by Congress, and responsible for implementing and enforcing America’s communications law and regulations. 

NDAA requires foreign outlets to provide the FCC with a bi-annual report on its relations with its foreign principals. “If foreign-owned media outlets aren’t doing this, then they’re flouting US law,” said Koduvayur.

Congress has already demanded an explanation as to why the DOJ has not required Al Jazeera to register as a foreign agent.  

In a detailed letter to the DOJ, a bipartisan coalition of senators led by Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) address what they call the “Justice Department’s lax and selective enforcement of FARA,” and call for Al Jazeera’s compliance with the registration requirement.  

“When the available evidence is taken as a whole, it appears that Aljazeera’s broadcasts, including AJ+, mirror the policies and preferences of the Qatari government, which, together with the state funding … demonstrate that Aljazeera and its media subsidiaries act as alter egos of the Qatari government in ensuring dissemination of the government’s viewpoints,” the lawmakers wrote.

Abdel Rahim Foukara, Al Jazeera’s Washington bureau chief, maintains that the network’s independent editorial philosophy remains as intact as it has been since the channel’s inception.

“The Qataris do fund Al Jazeera. Over the years, they pumped a lot of money into the network,” he told Arab News. 

“But as editorial staff, we deal with stories on their own merit. The idea that someone from anywhere outside the station would call in and force us to decide which stories to produce: That has never been the case,” he added.

“So for anyone to simplify the situation and say our coverage aligns with the interests of the Qatari government, they either don’t know how our internal editorial process works, or they don’t want to understand it.”

Al Jazeera was born in 1996. In its early days, the channel was “a breath of fresh air in the Arab world,” said Koduvayur. 

“It was really a provocative, ground-breaking channel, coming to life in a region that was long used to a very stultifying media landscape,” she added. 

“Al Jazeera was renowned for its willingness to tackle controversial or taboo topics head-on.”

But then the Arab Spring happened. Qatar and Al Jazeera first supported the uprisings, but then shifted gears and threw their weight behind Muslim Brotherhood-aligned regimes that came to power in some states. 
“There have always been red lines that Al Jazeera would never overrun when it comes to Qatar’s domestic policies,” said Koduvayur.

“But the Arab Spring was the network’s most visible turning point. Al Jazeera lost that freedom of expression and came to parrot Doha’s foreign policy lines.” 

The channel kept pushing for a sectarian, pro-Brotherhood agenda, and a series of events have ruined its reputation in the West: Ahmed Mansour, a pro-Brotherhood primetime anchor, called interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour a Jew with a Zionist agenda; Faisal Kassem hosted a debate on whether Syrian Alawites deserved genocide; an Iraqi editor cheered for the massacre of 1,500 Shiites by Daesh in Tikrit; and an anchor was immediately removed from the air for not expressing sympathy with a Brotherhood rally in Egypt. 

“I neither support nor criticize what other colleagues do because when they make the decisions, I’m not with them on the scene,” Foukara said, responding to those incidents.

“What I can say is, every now and then, we find ourselves in a difficult situation because of something that aired on Al Jazeera on one show or another,” he added. 

“We found ourselves in a difficult situation in the US because of our coverage of Afghanistan, our coverage of the invasion of Iraq, and the emphasis Al Jazeera puts on civilian casualties in various conflicts.”

But the difficult situation the network finds itself in today lies in a tarnished reputation, the fruit of its ever-increasing subjection to “a dictatorship that turns a blind eye to terror finance,” as Koduvayur put it.
 


Facebook restores user’s account suspended over shared letter by grieving jailed Palestinian activist

Omar Nazzal posted the letter on his personal Facebook page but his account was suspended for two months for “violating Facebook’s community standards.” (Twitter)
Omar Nazzal posted the letter on his personal Facebook page but his account was suspended for two months for “violating Facebook’s community standards.” (Twitter)
Updated 27 July 2021

Facebook restores user’s account suspended over shared letter by grieving jailed Palestinian activist

Omar Nazzal posted the letter on his personal Facebook page but his account was suspended for two months for “violating Facebook’s community standards.” (Twitter)
  • Facebook restores the account of a Palestinian user who was temporarily blocked over the posting of a letter written by a jailed activist
  • The activist has been arrested and imprisoned several times by Israel, often being held without charge under administrative detention

LONDON: Facebook has restored the account of a Palestinian user the social networking company had temporarily blocked over the posting of a letter written by a jailed activist.

Omar Nazzal had shared online a poignant letter penned by Palestinian politician Khalida Jarrar after she was barred by Israel from attending her daughter Suha’s funeral.

Written from her cell in Damon Prison, Haifa, on July 13, Jarrar’s message had reportedly been read out at the funeral of her daughter who had died of heart failure.

It said: “Suha came into the world while her father was in jail, and she is leaving the world while her mother is in jail. Suha, my precious. They have stripped me from bidding you a final goodbye kiss, so I bid you farewell with a flower.”

 

 

Jarrar, 58, has been arrested and imprisoned several times by Israel, often being held without charge in what the Israelis call administrative detention. She is currently serving a two-year administrative detention sentence.

Her letter was widely shared on social media but when Nazzal, a close friend of the Jarrar family, posted it on his personal Facebook page his account was suspended for two months for “violating Facebook’s community standards.”

The company restored Nazzal’s account five days later.

 

 

 

Facebook’s move was the latest in a line of incidents involving the tech giant censoring Palestinian-related content on its platforms. In May alone, more than 700 cases of digital rights violations took place against Palestinians on social media including the deletion of personal accounts, removal of posts, and suspension of the accounts of journalists and news agencies.


E-commerce, online video set to fuel global ad spend recovery

E-commerce, online video set to fuel global ad spend recovery
Updated 27 July 2021

E-commerce, online video set to fuel global ad spend recovery

E-commerce, online video set to fuel global ad spend recovery
  • Digital channels will contribute to ad industry’s recovery: Zenith forecast

DUBAI: Global spending on advertising was expected to grow by 11.2 percent this year to $669 billion, according to new industry figures.

The expenditure boom was being driven by demand for performance-led e-commerce advertising and brand advertising on online video, said Zenith in its latest advertising expenditure forecasts report.

If the predictions ring true, the total spend this year will be $40 billion more than before the start of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in 2019. And growth was likely to remain robust in the medium term, at an anticipated 6.9 percent next year, and 5.6 percent in 2023.

“After a very tough year last year, the ad market is enjoying rapid and broad-based recovery, and will end this year well above the level it achieved in 2019,” said Jonathan Barnard, head of forecasting at Zenith, which is part of Publicis Groupe.

A rise in ad spending was expected globally this year with the Middle East and North Africa region, currently recovering from the steepest decline, forecast to see expenditure increase by 15 percent.

According to data, the strongest growth since 2019 was taking place in North America where spending was up 13 percent this year after shrinking by only 1 percent last year.

Effect of e-commerce on advertising market

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift from physical sales to e-commerce, driving more consumers than ever before to research and complete purchases online. Brands responded to the change in customer behavior by forming partnerships with retailers and creating new direct-to-consumer operations, using performance-driven advertising – primarily in social media and paid search – to lead consumers down the path to buy.

The Zenith report noted that the patterns would expand social media advertising by 25 percent this year to reach $137 billion, overtaking in scale for the first time paid search that was expected to grow by 19 percent to $135 billion.

FASTFACTS

Ad spend will exceed the pre-pandemic peak by 6% this year.

Digital advertising will command 58% share of market in 2021, up from 48% in 2019.

Online video advertising will be fastest-growing digital channel in 2021, rising 26% to reach $63bn.

The average cost of television advertising is up 5% this year.

Middle East, North Africa region will see growth of 15% in ad spend this year.

A significant part of the new money being pumped into advertising was coming from small businesses that had to pivot to e-commerce due to COVID-19 lockdowns, and from brands that reallocated money from securing physical shelf space with retailers to display and search ads on retailers’ websites.

As lockdowns ease around the world, the growth of e-commerce will slow down but not return to pre-pandemic levels, the report revealed, adding that e-commerce would continue to pull in incremental revenues to the ad market, driving growth next year of 13 percent in social media and 12 percent in search.

Growth of online video

Audiences continued to migrate online where video viewing was growing rapidly, the report found, and despite traditional television ratings experiencing a surge when lockdowns began last year, they were shrinking again.

Advertisers valued online video as a means of maintaining reach while TV declined, but it was also an effective form of brand communication in its own right. Zenith predicted that online video advertising would be the fastest-growing digital channel this year, rising by 26 percent to reach $63 billion.

Benoit Cacheux, global chief digital officer at Zenith, said: “The online video landscape continues to transform, fueled by the growth of streaming services and connected TVs.

“Its continued evolution requires a radical rethink of how to build the optimal screen-neutral reach model. The ingestion of new data sources into TV planning also creates further opportunities to further sync TV and video planning.”

Traditional media will continue to trail behind digital

Overall, Zenith expected digital advertising to grow by 19 percent this year and increase its share of total ad spend to 58 percent, up from 48 percent in 2019, and 54 percent last year.

Most other media channels were enjoying growth this year, as spending rebounded from the 16 percent drop in traditional media ad spend in 2020. Cinema and out-of-home were the most affected by COVID-19-related restrictions, shrinking by 72 percent and 28 percent, respectively, but were expected to witness the fastest recovery this year with respective growth rates of 116 percent and 16 percent.

Radio advertising, which shrank by 22 percent last year, was forecast to grow by 4 percent this year, while television fell 8 percent in 2020 and was predicted to grow 1 percent in 2021.

Print would continue its long decline, now in its 14th consecutive year, with an 8 percent drop in ad spend in 2021, the report said.

Although cinema and out-of-home would have made up almost all lost ground by 2023, ad spend across traditional channels would still be below 2019 levels.

Cost of advertising

This year’s rapid recovery, coupled with the continued migration of audiences from traditional to digital channels, was fueling substantial increases in media prices, particularly in television.

The cost of television advertising was up 5 percent this year on average, though the variance between markets and audiences was wide. Television spend has increased by 1 percent, so the volume of audiences reached globally has shrunk.

In contrast, digital media growth was mainly driven by rising audiences and more extensive monetization with online video inflation averaging 7 percent, and social media roughly flat, compared to their 26 percent and 25 percent respective ad spend growth rates.

“Digital advertising is becoming a more effective tool for brand growth as media and commerce continue to move online, attracting greater investment from large brands and small businesses alike,” added Barnard.


Facebook and tech giants to target attacker manifestos, far-right militias in database

The tech platforms have long been criticized for failing to police violent extremist content, though they also face concerns over censorship. (File/AFP)
The tech platforms have long been criticized for failing to police violent extremist content, though they also face concerns over censorship. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 July 2021

Facebook and tech giants to target attacker manifestos, far-right militias in database

The tech platforms have long been criticized for failing to police violent extremist content, though they also face concerns over censorship. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook, Microsoft and other tech giants are stepping up efforts to crack down on white supremacist and far right content
  • Over the next few months, the database will add attacker manifestos that are often shared by sympathizers after white supremacist violence

LONDON: A counterterrorism organization formed by some of the biggest US tech companies including Facebook and Microsoft is significantly expanding the types of extremist content shared between firms in a key database, aiming to crack down on material from white supremacists and far-right militias, the group told Reuters.
Until now, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism’s (GIFCT) database has focused on videos and images from terrorist groups on a United Nations list and so has largely consisted of content from Islamist extremist organizations such as Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Over the next few months, the group will add attacker manifestos — often shared by sympathizers after white supremacist violence — and other publications and links flagged by UN initiative Tech Against Terrorism. It will use lists from intelligence-sharing group Five Eyes, adding URLs and PDFs from more groups, including the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters and neo-Nazis.
The firms, which include Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube, share “hashes,” unique numerical representations of original pieces of content that have been removed from their services. Other platforms use these to identify the same content on their own sites in order to review or remove it.
While the project reduces the amount of extremist content on mainstream platforms, groups can still post violent images and rhetoric on many other sites and parts of the Internet.
The tech group wants to combat a wider range of threats, said GIFCT’s Executive Director Nicholas Rasmussen in an interview with Reuters.
“Anyone looking at the terrorism or extremism landscape has to appreciate that there are other parts... that are demanding attention right now,” Rasmussen said, citing the threats of far-right or racially motivated violent extremism.
The tech platforms have long been criticized for failing to police violent extremist content, though they also face concerns over censorship. The issue of domestic extremism, including white supremacy and militia groups, took on renewed urgency https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-administration-unveils-plan-tackle-domestic-terrorism-2021-06-15 following the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol.
Fourteen companies can access the GIFCT database, including Reddit, Snapchat-owner Snap, Facebook-owned Instagram, Verizon Media, Microsoft’s LinkedIn and file-sharing service Dropbox.
GIFCT, which is now an independent organization, was created in 2017 under pressure from US and European governments after a series of deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels. Its database mostly contains digital fingerprints of videos and images related to groups on the UN Security Council’s consolidated sanctions list and a few specific live-streamed attacks, such as the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.
GIFCT has faced criticism and concerns from some human and digital rights groups over centralized or over-broad censorship.
“Over-achievement in this takes you in the direction of violating someone’s rights on the Internet to engage in free expression,” said Rasmussen.
Emma Llanso, director of Free Expression at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said in a statement: “This expansion of the GIFCT hash database only intensifies the need for GIFCT to improve the transparency and accountability of these content-blocking resources.”
“As the database expands, the risks of mistaken takedown only increase,” she added.
The group wants to continue to broaden its database to include hashes of audio files or certain symbols and grow its membership. It recently added home-rental giant Airbnb and email marketing company Mailchimp as members.


Facebook sets up new team to work on the ‘metaverse’

Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality such as its Oculus VR headsets, AR glasses and wristband technologies. (File/AFP)
Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality such as its Oculus VR headsets, AR glasses and wristband technologies. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 July 2021

Facebook sets up new team to work on the ‘metaverse’

Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality such as its Oculus VR headsets, AR glasses and wristband technologies. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook establishes new team to work on metaverse, a digital world where people can move between different devices and virtual environments

LONDON: Facebook is creating a product team to work on the “metaverse,” a digital world where people can move between different devices and communicate in a virtual environment, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Monday.
The team will be part of the company’s virtual reality organization, the group’s executive Andrew Bosworth said in a Facebook post.
“You can think about the metaverse as an embodied Internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg told The Verge in an interview last week.
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets and working on AR glasses and wristband technologies.
It has also bought a bevy of VR gaming studios, including BigBox VR. It has about 10,000 employees working on virtual reality, The Information reported in March.
Zuckerberg has said he thinks it makes sense to invest deeply to shape what he bets will be the next big computing platform.
“I believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile Internet, and creating this product group is the next step in our journey to help build it,” he said on his Monday Facebook post.
He told The Verge: “If we do this well, I think over the next five years or so ... we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”


McDonald’s creates new unit to focus on global digital app

McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants. (File/Reuters)
McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants. (File/Reuters)
Updated 27 July 2021

McDonald’s creates new unit to focus on global digital app

McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants. (File/Reuters)
  • McDonald's creates new unit that brings together digital, data analytics, marketing, restaurant development and operations segments
  • Loyalty programs bring in valuable data about customers’ food orders and habits, which restaurants use to push specialized deals

NEW YORK: McDonald’s Corp. is bringing its digital, data analytics, marketing, restaurant development and operations segments into one unit as it focuses on driving growth through its global app and new MyMcDonald’s Rewards program, the company said on Monday.
The company rolled out MyMcDonald’s Rewards on July 8 as fast-food chains have raced to launch loyalty programs to spur sales, reach younger consumers and give customers more ways to order.
To lead the new unit, McDonald’s promoted Manu Steijaert to a new global chief customer officer position, effective Aug. 1 and reporting to Chief Executive Officer Chris Kempczinski. Steijaert previously ran international operated markets including European countries, Russia and Australia.
Nearly half of all restaurant customers use at least one loyalty program, particularly when ordering fast-food, according to a consumer survey from loyalty program provider Paytronix Systems Inc. and PYMNTS.com.
The programs rake in valuable data about customers’ food orders and habits, which restaurants use to push specialized deals in the hope of getting people to eat there more often and spend more money on extra items.
McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants, Kempczinski said in an internal message seen by Reuters. The company created the team “to remove some internal barriers and silos that ultimately lead to a fragmented customer experience,” Kempczinski said in the memo.
The company reports second-quarter earnings results on Wednesday.