Far right ‘posed as journalists to spread anti-Muslim lies’

Far right ‘posed as journalists to spread anti-Muslim lies’
A Muslim cleric leaves the Regent’s Park Mosque in London after attending a meeting called by the Muslim Council of Britain. (AFP/File)
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Updated 12 May 2020

Far right ‘posed as journalists to spread anti-Muslim lies’

Far right ‘posed as journalists to spread anti-Muslim lies’
  • Some extreme right-wing groups are trying to use the pandemic to create division

LONDON: Far-right activists in the UK are posing as journalists to spread fake news about Muslims breaking coronavirus lockdown restrictions during Ramadan, a prominent British imam has said.

Far-right extremists are exploiting the lockdown “to spread hatred of Muslims,” Qari Asim, chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board and the government’s adviser on Islamophobia, told The Telegraph newspaper.

“We’ve had reports that people have been going around mosques (in West Yorkshire) pretending to be independent journalists and talking to people, and effectively again trying to gather information and trying to make some footage saying Muslims are still congregating,” said Asim, the imam at Makkah Mosque in the northern city of Leeds.

Churches, mosques and other places of worship have been closed since the lockdown began in March to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. The restrictions have coincided with Muslims celebrating Ramadan.

Under normal circumstances, Muslims would visit their local mosque, fast during the day and share iftar. But while this is not possible, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has urged people to celebrate iftars over online video call software.

There have been cases of social media posts alleging that Muslims are ignoring the rules to gather in the evenings and flout restrictions on funerals.

“It’s extremely disappointing that even during such unprecedented times of national emergency, some people have continued to spread hatred of Muslims and unsubstantiated claims that an increase in coronavirus cases will happen during Ramadan because most Muslims tend to have social gatherings,” the MCB said.

“Some extreme right-wing groups are trying to use the pandemic to create division. So they’re targeting Muslims, in a way which is deplorable … We call on people to stand united and say that such unsubstantiated claims are fake news and should be challenged robustly.”

Asim said Makkah Mosque was closed before the lockdown, but “there are still some people going around and spreading some videos and images to say that Muslims are still congregating — but those images and videos were from well before the pandemic.”


Senior AJ+ figure compares French bill to China’s handling of Uyghur Muslims

Senior AJ+ figure compares French bill to China’s handling of Uyghur Muslims
Updated 25 July 2021

Senior AJ+ figure compares French bill to China’s handling of Uyghur Muslims

Senior AJ+ figure compares French bill to China’s handling of Uyghur Muslims
  • Some have criticized the AJ+ senior staffer’s tweet
  • In 2019, AJ+ Arabic drew widespread condemnation over a video that was branded “Holocaust denial”

LONDON: Reputable news groups around the world — from broadcast to print — follow a code of online conduct handbook that ensures unbiased and objective reporting from journalists and representatives of these entities.

AJ+ Head of Audience Development and Engagement Haris Alisic, however, took to social media to tweet criticism of France’s newly passed anti-separatism bill by suggesting that the Republic will begin creating Muslim concentration camps.

“Next step in #France is putting Muslims in concentration camps — like they did to Jews in World War Two or like #China does do Uyghurs,” Alisic tweeted on Saturday while quoting a thread from French-Egyptian author Marwan Muhammad on the bill.

Alisic also previously worked with Al Jazeera launching AJ+ and its Arabic and French subsidiaries, as well as Al Jazeera America, Al Jazeera Turk and Al Jazeera Balkans.

Indeed, the senior AJ+ employee’s tweets come at a politically sensitive time in France with the rise of Islamophobic rhetoric following a spate of attacks and President Emmanuel Macron’s comments on the religion.

Some have criticized the AJ+ senior staffer’s tweet, especially given his position, with Dubai-based Frenchwoman Nadine Laubacher saying “the nonsense someone high up at AJ+ is capable of writing is quite striking.

“I think some of the anti-Muslim rhetoric in France is merely an electoral strategy to siphon votes that were going to go to Marine. Things will go back to normal after next presidential election.”

It is not the first time Al Jazeera or AJ+ finds itself in hot water over alleged bias — be it through staffers’ online comments or through its own reporting.

In 2019, AJ+ Arabic drew widespread condemnation over a video that was branded “Holocaust denial” for claiming the Jews exaggerated the scale of the genocide to help establish Israel.

The Qatar-owned network was forced to delete the video, suspending two of its journalists over its broadcast.

A year later, Al Jazeera News conducted an interview with terrorist-designated group Hamas’ leader Ismail Haniyeh, as well as published a podcast glorifying killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, both of which have stirred the ongoing debate surrounding the network’s alleged promotion of terrorism.

The network’s Arabic news site also carried headlines such as “Martyr shot by Occupation forces in the West Bank for being accused of trying to run over soldiers,” to report on a Palestinian man who was shot while attempting to ram into Israeli soldiers with his car — which in other contexts would be described as an attacker or a terrorist.


Saudi snaps up iPhone photography award 

Saudi snaps up iPhone photography award 
Updated 25 July 2021

Saudi snaps up iPhone photography award 

Saudi snaps up iPhone photography award 
  • Talib Al-Marri picked up third place in the travel category with an image titled “The Muslim’s heart” 

DUBAI: With an image of Islam’s most sacred site, a Saudi photographer has captured an award for images taken on iPhones. 

Talib Al-Marri picked up third place in the travel category with an image titled “The Muslim’s heart.” 

He was competing alongside participants from over 140 countries at the independent 2021 iPhone Photography Awards, which showcases the best photos taken using the mobile phone around the world. 

“This image is dear to my heart, as it is the reason why I won the award, and at the same time, it is the image of the Great Mosque of Makkah, the Kaaba.” 

He added: “The moment the photo was taken, the sanctuary was full of pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba and I thought about using the slow motion feature to reflect the movements so viewers of the image would feel the crowd around the Kaaba and have the impression of moving within the image.”

Al-Marri said that it was an “indescribably beautiful feeling” to participate in the awards for the first time and win.

“I consider this a great achievement and dedicate it to my country, my family and, of course, myself.”

The talented Saudi photographer said he has been taking pictures of almost everything using an iPhone since 2016. He said that even while owning a professional camera, he still never stopped using his iPhone to take pictures, which he says were of good quality and similar to professional photos. 

In the same contest, Al-Marri also won an honorary award for his picture “It’s not time yet,” which includes a young camel called “Al-Hawar” trying to drink milk from his mother’s breast, but the red piece of cloth called “Shamala” prevents him. 

Whether they depicted the complicated construction in a mega city, captured the simplicity of a single flower, or exhibited shepherds with animals in the icy wilderness, all of the winning photographs depicted the power of places and people, providing a window into diverse experiences and emotions.


Journalists will not be seen as spies: UK government defends Official Secrets Act reform

The Home Office stressed that work on the legislation is still “ongoing and has not reached a conclusion.” (Reuters/File Photo)
The Home Office stressed that work on the legislation is still “ongoing and has not reached a conclusion.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 25 July 2021

Journalists will not be seen as spies: UK government defends Official Secrets Act reform

The Home Office stressed that work on the legislation is still “ongoing and has not reached a conclusion.” (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Some media outlets claimed that the legislation, if passed, will effectively treat journalists like spies
  • UK government claimed that freedom of the press is an integral part of the country’s democratic processes

LONDON: The UK government on Friday defended its stance regarding its proposed overhaul of the Official Secrets Act and claimed that freedom of the press is an integral part of the UK’s democratic processes.

“It is wrong to claim the proposals will put journalists at risk of being treated like spies and they will, rightly, remain free to hold the government to account,” a Home Office spokesperson told Arab News. 

“We will introduce new legislation so security services and law enforcement agencies can tackle evolving state threats and protect sensitive data,” the spokesperson added. “However, this will be balanced to protect press freedom and the ability for whistleblowers to hold organizations to account when there are serious allegations of wrongdoing.”

In early July, the UK government proposed new legislation to counter state threats which included an overhaul of the Official Secrets Act, legislation that essentially guarantees the protection of state secrets and official information.

According to the government, the proposed legislation is largely intended to modernize existing counter-espionage laws and improve the government’s ability to protect official data. 

The proposed reforms target the Official Secrets Acts of 1911, 1920 and 1939, which outline the main espionage offences, as well as the Official Secrets Act 1989, which governs the law around the “unauthorized disclosure of official material and its onward disclosure.”

The move has caused a major stir in the British media, where it is being widely interpreted as having serious consequences for journalists and their ability to hold governments to account. 

Some media outlets claimed that the legislation, if passed, will effectively treat journalists like spies and mean that the government can treat cases of unauthorized disclosure and acts of espionage in essentially the same way. 

While the UK government does equate acts of espionage to cases of unauthorized disclosure in terms of severity, it nevertheless highlighted in the new legislation document that “there are differences in the mechanics of, and motivations behind, espionage and unauthorized disclosure offences.”

The announcement came shortly after the homes of two people were raided in England last week by police officers and officials from the Information Commissioner’s Office in connection to the leak of compromising security-camera footage of former health minister Matt Hancock and his aide Gina Coladangelo in his ministerial office. 

If passed, the new legislation would mean such leaks would be classed as dangerous and criminal.

In the past, the Official Secrets Act was used to prosecute individuals responsible for revealing sensitive information — about the activities of security services, for instance — to newspapers. 

The Home Office stressed that work on the legislation is still “ongoing and has not reached a conclusion.”


Concern mounts about possible Turkish law on media funding

Concern mounts about possible Turkish law on media funding
Updated 23 July 2021

Concern mounts about possible Turkish law on media funding

Concern mounts about possible Turkish law on media funding
  • Top aide to Turkey’s president said this week the country needs a regulation on media outlets that receive foreign funds
  • Negative social media campaign targeted independent press outlet Medyascope and its founder, veteran journalist Rusen Cakir

ISTANBUL: Press freedom groups expressed concern Friday about comments by Turkish officials about possible legislation to regulate foreign funding for media and the dissemination of fake news, saying it could further curtail independent journalism in Turkey.
A top aide to Turkey’s president said this week that the country needs a regulation on media outlets that receive foreign funds. Director of Communications Fahrettin Altun said foreign media funding merits scrutiny when it comes from countries that “openly express their intentions and efforts to design Turkish politics.”
“We will not allow fifth column activities under new guises,” Altun said.
Turkish journalists flying back from a state visit to northern Cyprus this week reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party planned to review later this year whether the country needs a law against disseminating fake news. They quoted Erdogan as saying Turkey would have to fight the “terror of lies.”
The comments came as a negative social media campaign targeted independent press outlet Medyascope and its founder, veteran journalist Rusen Cakir, for receiving funds from the US-based Chrest Foundation. The private philanthropy group has also funded non-profit organizations and foundations working in arts, culture and diversity.
Media Freedom Rapid Response and 23 allied groups said in a statement Friday that foreign funding was a critical source of income for independent news outlets in Turkey as they face government pressure. Mainstream Turkish media is mostly run by businesses close to the government.
“Taken together, these statements create the impression that the Turkish government is preparing to introduce new legal measures that will further undermine media freedom and pluralism in the country,” the statement said.
But Altun said similar regulations apply in the United States, where media outlets funded by foreign countries must provide information on activities to US authorities. Turkey’s state-funded English-language broadcaster TRT World was required to register as a foreign agent last year under the Foreign Agent Registration Act for lobbyists and public relations firms working for foreign governments. TRT then said its performed new slathering and reporting like any other international media.
Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index ranked Turkey at 153 out of 180 countries in 2021. The Journalists’ Union of Turkey says 38 media workers remain behind bars.


Inside OSN Streaming’s digital transformation

Inside OSN Streaming’s digital transformation
Updated 25 July 2021

Inside OSN Streaming’s digital transformation

Inside OSN Streaming’s digital transformation
  • How OSN delivered a digital-first product in six months

DUBAI: A year after OSN rebranded its streaming platform WAVO to OSN Streaming, it has unveiled a brand new digital-first platform, putting technology and content at its core.
In October 2020, OSN Streaming changed its look and feel, but the technology remained the same. It was around the same time that the company decided to digitally overhaul the platform, delivering an entirely new user experience. 
“My early estimation was that we need to have 12-18 months,” Peter Riz, chief technology officer at OSN, told Arab News.
However, six months was a “very aggressive timeline” for a development such as this, he added. Riz and his team had to devise a hybrid approach using six different modules to achieve this vision. The next step was to find a way to bring together the modules in a seamless manner, because running them separately was not sustainable or cost-effective.
The two key areas of the rebrand were multiple user profiles — including dedicated children’s profiles — and content presentation focusing on enhanced search and discovery.
Content presentation and discovery were critical to the user experience, said Riz. The first layer was presenting content to each user based on the general interests of that audience segment determined by factors such as age and location. 
The second and more challenging layer was navigating personal user preferences. For example, Western expats generally watch movies and shows from the West, but also like watching certain Arabic dramas, explained Riz. The platform was also designed to learn from user behavior and tailor recommendations over time.
Riz said: “We wanted to show users the content we believe is relevant, so the question became: How do we do this quickly, and how do we give all this control to the editorial and marketing team?”


The answer came in the form of a custom technological component called the Customer Experience Builder (CXB). “The CXB is a new type of innovation from a technical point of view,” added Riz, because it enables the company to add new features and updates to various touchpoints — such as the mobile app, web browser, and TV apps — through one common system.
Digital disruption has been driven, in part, by a rapid change in user behavior, making it more important than ever before for companies to be able to adapt and improve their digital services quickly.
“OSN was not only able to deliver this new platform very quickly using the CXB, but we can continuously improve the experience,” said Riz. From building the CXB from scratch to writing new code, the new platform is a technological innovation for OSN.
“We changed the entire environment,” said Riz. “There is no legacy code in the new environment so every line of code that the engineers created to deliver the service is new.”
Since the launch of the new platform, OSN has been making tweaks through the CXB suite every two weeks. “Most of the logic, or ‘magic’ as we sometimes call it, happens on the backend,” he added.
Although these changes are almost imperceptible to users, they have a profound impact on how people discover and watch content on the platform, said Riz, resulting in OSN doubling content consumption on the platform.
Streaming companies reached their peak during the coronavirus disease pandemic, as more people spent time indoors and cinemas shut down. The surge in new users has forced these platforms to innovate in order to sustain their growth.
So, what is next for these companies?
“The real differentiator is still the content and how we present this content,” said Riz. “We are continuously working to find new content sources and secure current partnerships.”
Streaming platforms, including OSN, are also looking for new kinds of partnerships that will see them diversifying into gaming and audio. OSN, for instance, partnered with multi-player video game “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” (PUBG) to provide PUBG Mobile players an exclusive opportunity to access the OSN Streaming app.
On the technology side, OSN continues to measure multiple factors such as streaming quality, load time, lags, or delays, to constantly improve the user experience. When there is a new update on any operating system, the company immediately runs tests to see if it affects the performance of the OSN Streaming platform. It is also working on adding alternative payment methods, in addition to credit cards, to the platform.
But, behind it all, “you need to continue that invisible, seamless and perfect technology,” said Riz.
It is all about “continuous improvement and continuous innovation to bring the content to the audience, increase the partnerships and support the entire digital economy to grow and unlock all the potential in the region,” he concluded.