Media outlets demand action after protesters storm Baghdad studios

Images shared by MBC presenter Malek Al-Rogui on Twitter show extensive damage to studios and other facilities in the MBC office in Baghdad on Tuesday. (Photo/Social Media)
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Updated 21 May 2020

Media outlets demand action after protesters storm Baghdad studios

  • Saudi broadcaster MBC’s offices ransacked after documentary mentioning militia leader

LONDON: Journalists in the Middle East have condemned an attack by supporters of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), who broke into the offices of the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) in Baghdad on Tuesday, causing “severe damage” to the bureau’s studios and other facilities. 

Images shared by MBC presenter Malek Al-Rogui on Twitter showed extensive damage, including smashed equipment and glass, doors knocked from their frames and graffiti daubed on walls across the premises, but a statement by the broadcaster added that no members of staff had been harmed. 

However, MBC, a Saudi-owned broadcaster, along with other journalism outlets in the region, called on Iraqi authorities to investigate the assault and to bring those responsible to justice. 

“MBC Group strongly condemns the deliberate attack that has targeted MBC Iraq’s studios and offices in Baghdad today, which has resulted in severe damage to studio and office property,” it said in a statement. 

“In terms of immediate action, MBC Group places the matter in the hands of the Iraqi authorities, trusting in its security protocols, as well as judicial process, in order to protect MBC Iraq’s employees and the organization, which operates in Iraq in accordance with the laws and regulations of the country. 

“MBC Group hopes to receive full details of the circumstances of the attack at the earliest, and work with the authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable, as well as bring them to justice, in order to prevent similar attacks in the future,” the statement added. 

Ignacio Miguel Delgado, the Middle East and North Africa representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement: “Iraqi authorities are utterly failing to protect broadcasters and media outlets from attacks by protesters or armed assailants, who are taking the law into their own hands. 

“Iraqi authorities must transparently investigate the storming of the Baghdad office of MBC and do their utmost to ensure journalists and media outlets can carry out their job safely, regardless of their affiliation or opinions.” 

The attack allegedly came in response to a program, aired by MBC, which suggested that the Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, leader of the Kataib Hezbollah militia, which forms part of the PMF, was involved in a terrorist attack in Lebanon in 1981. 

The PMF, called Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi in Arabic, is a state-sponsored umbrella group of Shiite political activists and militias. 

Al-Muhandis, whose real name was Jamal Jafaar Mohammed Ali Ebrahimi, was assassinated on Jan. 3 in the drone strike at Baghdad Airport that also killed the Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force. 

The program in question centered on the life of Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, which mentioned the death of Qabbani’s wife in Beirut in 1981 in an attack it claimed was connected to Al-Muhandis. 

After the show went to air on May 15, several PMF affiliates and members, including the Sanad Bloc, Badr Organization and the Martyrs Foundation, condemned it in separate statements, and called on the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) to close MBC. 

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that it condemned the attack, and added that the CMC would conduct a thorough investigation alongside Iraqi security services. 

“While we affirm and guarantee the right to peaceful protest by legitimate means, we reject any outlawed aggression or behavior against the media or private and public property, and it will be dealt with in accordance with the laws in force,” it added.


Hit play: Sports content takes on new life on social media

Updated 26 October 2020

Hit play: Sports content takes on new life on social media

  • Sport — along with related topics like fitness and health — is one of the top three categories on TikTok right now

DUBAI: Whether you are playing or watching, sports are best enjoyed in person. But with social distancing measures in place since earlier this year, like many other activities, sports have gone virtual.

In May, when ESPN aired the final two episodes of its Michael Jordan docuseries “The Last Dance,” 20 of the 30 trending topics on Twitter were related to it. That night saw more than 1.5 million tweets about the final episode, bringing the total volume of tweets about the series above 11 million. Even before the pandemic, in 2019, 22 percent of consumers were seeking sports content on social media — up 47 percent from just 2016.

In fact, sport — along with related topics like fitness and health — is one of the top three categories on TikTok right now. “In the last couple of months, we have built a concentrated community that started allowing us to engage with different pillars of fitness and health,” said Rami Zeidan, head of video and creative at TikTok. These pillars include everything from fitness motivation and health, lifestyle and workout tips to stunts and street performances, such as parkour and freestyle football.

A 2020 study in Saudi Arabia found that 73 percent of people on Twitter are football fans, with 85 percent of them using Twitter to follow along while watching a game on TV. The respondents also said that they use Twitter to follow the official accounts of players (27 percent), to check out the latest video clips (38 percent) and to view pre-match news and post-match analysis (28 percent). The football fandom on the platform is evidenced by the 91 million tweets related to the 2019-20 Saudi Professional League (SPL) season just this month.

According to recent research by Twitter, football is the most popular sport on the platform in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the SPL season was marked by a three-day Twitter campaign that was launched on Oct. 19 under the hashtag روح_الدوري# (“The League’s Spirit”). The first day of the campaign saw Twitter’s account in the Middle East invite comedians to share their takes on the best SPL commentary moments. These were shared through voice tweets, which add a more human dimension to conversations and which allowed the comedians to incorporate their own personal style in the commentary. Although the feature is currently being tested on iOS devices, everyone on Twitter is able to hear voice tweets and reply to them.

FASTFACTS

Sport and Social Media

- 73% of Twitter users are football fans.

- Sports is one of the top three content categories on TikTok.

- 520% more Instagram Live videos were produced from March-July 2020, compared to 2019.

The focus for the second day of the campaign was Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology. The comedians created their own VAR moments through humorous video content shared on the platform, which illustrated real-life scenarios in which VAR could come in handy — for example, to settle a challenge between friends or to find out who really spilled the popcorn. “Fans have always turned to Twitter to be part of the action in real time. We’re seeing the passion and energy of the football stadium now surging online. Twitter is where fans, players, experts and leagues weigh in with a range of viewpoints. With humor being a key element of Twitter conversation in Saudi, the روح_الدوري# campaign brought levity to a much-anticipated event in the Kingdom,” said Kinda Ibrahim, director of media partnerships, Middle East and North Africa, Twitter.

More than 170 million people follow fitness-related accounts (e.g. weightlifting, cycling, yoga, etc.) on Facebook, and more than 120 million people follow similar accounts on Instagram. Based on an index of Facebook and Instagram’s top fitness partners, 75 percent more Facebook Live videos were produced during the months of March through July in 2020 as compared to 2019, while 520 percent more Instagram Live videos were produced during the same months as compared to 2019. These numbers have resulted in the company capitalizing on the rise of sports and fitness content by building a team to focus on fitness, introducing products to help fitness businesses build an audience and generate revenue, and planning a Fitness Summit, where Facebook will share the latest product tips and best practices with fitness organizations. 

Even for fans that consume sports content on more traditional media like TV, social media platforms are almost always a part of the experience as a second screen. For instance, Snapchatters in the US send Snaps and Chats to their inner circle (29 percent), watch friends’ Stories (28 percent), post their own Stories (20 percent) and check out Discover highlights and shows (26 percent) while watching sports. Moreover, approximately 30 percent want sports leagues to use Snap to go behind the scenes, share news and player interviews, and tap into augmented reality (AR) that recreates the sporting venues they cannot visit.

The Middle East and North Africa region is among the most socially active and engaged regions, as well as one that loves consuming sports content. Social media plays a huge role, whether it is for clubs like Al-Ahli, celebrities like Mo Salah or independent social media fitness star Walid Yari. And with 26 to 33 percent of people in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, South Africa and Egypt saying that they use social media to follow sports news and events, it is time for brands to start paying attention. The sports industry is already realizing the power of social media, but advancements in technologies such as AR, accelerated by post-pandemic digitization, present new opportunities for growth.