US Congress members push for Al Jazeera to register as foreign agent

The newsroom of the Qatari state-owned broadcaster Al Jazeera, in Doha. (Getty Images)
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Updated 13 July 2020

US Congress members push for Al Jazeera to register as foreign agent

  • US Congress amended the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in 2018 requiring all foreign media outlets based in America to detail their ties to foreign governments
  • The law is part of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which was adopted in 1938 to identify Nazi propaganda outlets in the US

CHICAGO: The Qatari-owned satellite news channel, Al Jazeera, is facing renewed pressure to register as a foreign agent in the US under a two-year-old law.

After a year-long push, the US Congress amended the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in 2018 requiring all foreign media outlets based in America to detail their ties to foreign governments.

The law is part of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which was adopted in 1938 to identify Nazi propaganda outlets in the US.

They are required to include, “a description of the relationship of such outlet to the foreign principal of such outlet, including a description of the legal structure of such relationship and any funding that such outlet receives from such principal.”

Among news outlets forced to register is the Russian-owned broadcaster RT. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, that prompted the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association — the body in charge of issuing press passes for the US House of Representatives and the Senate — to revoke the outlet’s pass.

Soon after, in February 2019, the China Global Television Network (CGTN) registered under the act and lost access to Congress, although another media outlet funded by the Chinese government, Xinhua News Agency, has not.

Last year, several influential lawmakers demanded the same requirement be imposed on Al Jazeera, whose chairman is Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al-Thani, a member of the ruling family.

The broadcaster was founded by the former emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who handed over power to his son, Sheikh Tamim, in 2013.

The current emir’s brother has been accused of committing murder and assault against Americans in a Massachusetts-based lawsuit, and the Qatar Charity funded by the Qatar Foundation were recently accused of funding terrorist violence that killed or maimed 10 American citizens in Israel.

The signatories include US Senators Tom Cotton, Chuck Grassley, John Cornyn, Todd Young, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, and Representatives Mike Johnson and Lee Zeldin.

“Qatar’s officials have said that government-controlled media is a form of ‘soft power.’ As such, one can reasonably infer that Al Jazeera is a messaging tool for the Qatari government and on its behalf has engaged in inherently political activities and sought to influence public opinion in the US,” the lawmakers wrote.

Click here to read the letter:

https://www.cotton.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=1161

Critics note that Al Jazeera’s videos on YouTube are stamped with the disclaimer, “Al Jazeera is funded in whole or in part by the Qatari government.”


Snapchat evolving the use of the camera from entertainment to utility

Updated 33 min 16 sec ago

Snapchat evolving the use of the camera from entertainment to utility

  • Hussein Freijeh: Our audience in the GCC market specifically understood the core product value of Snapchat and they use Snapchat as a camera
  • Hussein Freijeh: They communicate visually through pictures and videos and they understood the format that Snapchat created for a mobile-only world

DUBAI: At the core of every modern mobile phone is a camera and one self-declared “camera company” has placed its focus on the Snapchat community in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

As far as Snap is concerned, the camera is king. “Our audience in the GCC market specifically understood the core product value of Snapchat and they use Snapchat as a camera,” said Hussein Freijeh, general manager of Snap in MENA.

“They communicate visually through pictures and videos and they understood the format that Snapchat created for a mobile-only world.”

There are currently 34 million monthly unique users on Snapchat in MENA with the platform reaching 60 percent of 13- to 24-year-olds in the UAE and 90 percent of the same age bracket in Saudi Arabia – more than Instagram.

In fact, the company said that Snapchat had a higher open rate than Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, throughout Ramadan 2019 in Saudi Arabia.

“When the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic came, the need for people to communicate increased massively. As a result, we’ve seen a massive increase in our engagement because this is what Snapchat is all about,” added Freijeh.

As more people have spent time on the platform, Snapchat has evolved its offering beyond just entertainment and communication, to utility.

Freijeh noted that Snapchat already had an extremely engaged community and the next step was to work with developers and partners and bring them within the ecosystem to innovate further.

An example of this was the announcement of Minis at the Snap Partner Summit 2020, which are third-party apps that are integrated into Snapchat. Meditation app, Headspace, is one such example allowing users to meditate from within Snapchat.

“One of the things that makes us extremely excited about how we’re evolving as a platform is that idea of adding utility to entertainment on Snapchat. When I pull out my camera and point it toward a mathematic formula, and the camera solves it for me … automatically Snapchat and the camera of Snapchat moves from entertainment to the utility component,” the GM said.

Minis announced at the summit are being launched in the region based on local relevance and demand but Snap is already in active conversations with potential partners to “make sure that we find those cases where the utility would make sense to the local audiences and find the best partners that we can work with on those areas.”

Another topic of conversation at the summit was Originals, shows created specifically for Snapchat by publishers and broadcasters. Currently there are no regionally produced Originals but there are Shows.

Freijeh said that Snapchat expanded its content offering on Discover, which started with a list of news and media organizations such as Sky News and Al Arabiya, to creating Shows for the platform.

During Ramadan, the company announced 40 new Shows with top publishers across the MENA region. Freijeh said that Shows included content that sat on Snapchat but could be published on multiple platforms, whereas Originals were more exclusive to Snapchat and created for a specific purpose and genre.

The platform also works with streaming services such as OSN to promote its services and content on Snapchat. Depending on the partner’s objective, Freijeh said, for instance, that if a service wanted to publish its content on Snapchat and if Snap believed that the content was engaging and the community would appreciate it, it would publish it.

“So far, our value to those services, specifically OSN, has been around driving audiences to them and being able to drive subscription,” he added.

In April 2020, OSN ran a campaign on Snapchat to increase awareness and drive new subscriptions for OSN Streaming through a series of ads.

The campaign targeted a huge diversity of demographics in both English and Arabic within the GCC as well as Jordan and Lebanon and included the launch of a dedicated Snapchat Lens to bring to life the season premiere of “Killing Eve.”

The Lens reached more than 2.2 million unique Snapchatters throughout the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. Over the course of the campaign, Snapchat delivered 34 percent of the total purchases and one-fifth of all sign-ups.

Despite the overall dampening of the advertising industry due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Freijeh remained optimistic.

“One of the advantages of the pandemic, unfortunately, is the shift toward e-commerce and online purchases and behaviors. There’s a consensus in the market that one of the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 is going to be that aggressive and accelerated shift toward e-commerce behaviors across all sectors, and as a platform we’re very focused on that,” he said.

The hospitality, travel, and luxury sectors – big spenders on Snapchat – were naturally hit the most. “We’ve seen a lot of activity and ambition coming from major CPG (consumer packaged goods) players, retail, and e-commerce. We’ve built a very diverse business in the last four years at Snap and that has allowed us to be a little bit more resilient through this pandemic.”

By way of example he pointed out Dubai Tourism’s “Till We Meet Again” campaign, which included the launch of four Snapchat Lenses to transport users in the UK and France to Dubai to experience famous destinations including the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Frame, Al-Seef, and Madinat Jumeirah.

During the two weeks that the campaign ran, more than 9.2 million people in the UK and France used the Lenses to virtually visit local landmarks and users exceeded time-spent expectations by more than 180 percent.

According to a post-campaign brand study that ran in May to examine users’ desire to consider Dubai as a travel destination once travel became possible, 30 percent of Snapchatters in the UK and France were positive about visiting Dubai once COVID-19 restrictions were eased.

Snap is confident about its position and role in the face of competition and crises.

“We have a strong business in MENA; our position is really strong here and the way we diversified the business, gave us strength to make sure that we weather the impact of the pandemic for now,” Freijeh said.