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.

Zimbabwean film industry makes Netflix debut with ‘Cook Off’

Updated 02 June 2020

Zimbabwean film industry makes Netflix debut with ‘Cook Off’

  • The romantic film is about a struggling single mother who finds love during a cooking competition

HARARE: Zimbabwean film Cook Off, a romance about a struggling single mother who finds love during a cooking competition, premiered on Netflix on Monday, a debut that its makers hope will propel the country’s small film sector to global audiences.

Zimbabwe often grabs headlines for its economic woes and political crises, but producer Joe Njagu said the film sought to project a different image.

“I wanted the world to know that there is more to Zimbabwe than what they hear. We also fall in love, we also enjoy nice food. We also have very nice stories,” said Njagu.

With a production budget of only $8,000, Njagu said he used his personal relationships with the cast and crew to sign deferred contracts and to bring on board studio owners and equipment hire companies without making immediate payment.

The low budget film was shot in 2017 but very few people in Zimbabwe had heard of it, even after it won several awards at international film festivals, including in the Netherlands, South Africa and US. Everything changed two and half months ago, when Netflix, the world’s leading entertainment streaming service with 189 million paid viewers, came knocking on the door.

“It’s a big ‘hello, this is Zimbabwe we are here.’ It’s an opportunity for us to introduce our content to the rest of the world. It’s really a big deal for us,” Njagu said.

He would not say how much the Netflix deal was worth but that it was enough to pay the deferred expenses and make a profit.

The film creators are now in talks with Netflix about possible future productions while television stations in Europe, Africa, US also want to air Cook Off.

“It’s a different story, it’s no longer deferred payments, it’s now commissioned work, it’s now getting budgets to do productions,” he said.

“We can’t fall short anymore. This is the world stage.”