Asharq’s GM Nabeel Khatib on channel launch, Bloomberg collaboration and regional competition

Asharq’s GM Nabeel Khatib on channel launch, Bloomberg collaboration and regional competition
Nabeel Alkhatib, general manager of the new Asharq operation, sees a distinct need for the imminent channel, despite the fact that there are already 18 Arabic TV stations broadcasting in the Gulf region. (Supplied)
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Updated 11 November 2020

Asharq’s GM Nabeel Khatib on channel launch, Bloomberg collaboration and regional competition

Asharq’s GM Nabeel Khatib on channel launch, Bloomberg collaboration and regional competition
  • Nabeel Alkhatib explains the need for a new approach to Middle East media

DUBAI: Media launches are exciting and demanding events, but launching an entirely new multi-platform channel in the Middle East is a task of a different order of magnitude.
Nabeel Alkhatib soon will turn on the switch to start broadcasting Asharq News on television, the internet and across a variety of social media platforms in Arabic.
This ambitious project — an exclusive content agreement between the international information giant Bloomberg and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which also owns Arab News and the world’s biggest Arabic news outlet, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, as well as several other titles in the Kingdom — has been some time in the planning.
Alkhatib, general manager of the new operation, sees a distinct need for the imminent channel, despite the fact that there are already 18 Arabic TV stations broadcasting in the Gulf region. “There are certain target groups who are not being catered to terms of the proper content, or with content that is not suitable for them,” he told Arab News.


Although Alkhatib is talking about the targeting of content, what is “suitable” for readers and viewers is at the heart of the debate that has been going on at Asharq since the launch was announced three years ago.
Bloomberg is a big, brash global news organization with 2,700 journalists and experts around the world, known for their independence of thought and a tendency to often take a counter-cyclical view in its business-oriented coverage. That could sometimes offend viewers, readers and, not least, governments and policymakers in the region.
How will Alkhatib approach the issue if Bloomberg content goes beyond what is normally considered acceptable in the Middle East?
“We have a mechanism for that. Whatever we think is suitable for the region, we take it as is. If we see an article of potential interest to our viewers or readers, we translate it as it stands. If it’s not suitable or appropriate for whatever reason, we don’t take it. But we either take  in full, or we don’t take it at all,” he said.
“What do we do if they (Bloomberg) publish something that is not suitable for us from an editorial perspective, or is politically sensitive, or maybe it contradicts the laws we abide by in the region? If so, we either take it as is or we don’t take it at all. We will not be modifying any of their content. We respect the integrity of their content,” he added.


On the crucial question of editorial decision-making, he is determined to abide by internationally accepted guidelines.
“Our editorial guidelines and directions in Asharq are that we try to publish anything that might be of real interest to our public appearing on Bloomberg as long as it is balanced, fair and accurate, and does not contradict any laws.
“Sometimes there might be a masterpiece, but a lawyer will say don’t run it because you will be under liability. But anything that is legally viable and is of real interest to our potential viewers or readers, we need to push for publishing,” he added.
Although these are standard editorial guidelines in many parts of the world, in the Middle East, he said, it amounted to “pushing the envelope.”
The new channel will be different from existing products in other ways, too, Alkhatib said, serving audiences that he believes are not well catered for at the moment.

“The first group is the main business leaders, entrepreneurs and political leaders who need to be aware of economic developments around the world, and how that might affect the Middle East and their respective countries.
“There is no such content in Arabic, believe it or not, because none of the players is giving priority to covering international markets, economic opportunities or challenges, and how they might affect the region,” he said.
The other target audience is the huge number of young Arabs overlooked by existing channels. A majority of the Arab-speaking population is under the age of 25.

*******

BIO

BORN: Palestine, 1962

EDUCATION: Undergraduate and doctoral qualifications from former Soviet Union

CAREER
Founder of journalism school at Birzeit University, Palestine
Lecturer at Jordan Media Institute and American University in Dubai
MBC News bureau chief, Jerusalem
Executive Editor, Al Arabiya
General Manager, Al Arabiya
General Manager, Asharq News

*******

 

“Everybody sees them, but nobody is catering for them. They are not being catered for by any mainstream media. We thought we should appeal to them and tackle their issues and concerns, and we will do that via lots of digital platforms, because this is the way they like to consume content,” he added.
After a life-long career in the senior echelons of regional journalism, Alkhatib believes a new approach is needed.
“We are not trying to be ‘TV-centric’ like the others. The others are stuck with TV. They have been there a long time and are stuck with workflows that cannot change very easily. We are new so have learned from the difficulties that others have been through, and we are trying to be ‘story-centric.’ That will help us become agile and more appealing,” he said.
By ‘story-centric’ he means a fresh way of looking at news coverage. “We do not concentrate on what suits TV, or what might suit a website. We think about the issue itself, the content, and we serve it with whatever it requires in terms of research and information. We always try to give a perspective of the event, and this is something that has rarely been done in Arabic-speaking news journalism,” he said.
“We try to give a 360-degree view on a story, ‘Connecting the Dots’ is the Asharq News slogan that drives its journalistic work and sets its ultimate goal. The dots at Asharq News connect the news to its context, geographical setting, historical dimension, political depth, economic impact and social reality.


This is something which has not been popular in the region,” he said, explaining that regional news coverage had relied too much on international news agencies for global coverage, without giving a regional context.
The other reason traditional regional media has come up short is, “in my very personal view”, political. “There are a lot of players in the region who are imprisoned by political polarization, and that limits the ability to tell a story the way it is. If you’re telling a story, you either try to be fair and balanced, or you try to cater for your own ideology,” Alkhatib said.
The flagship of the new venture will be a 24-hour news channel, with a strong business element largely provided by the Bloomberg content agreement. “There will be around 30 percent of business in the beginning, but there are no walls between business and non-business. The interesting thing is that we’ll be offering a morning show that is business led.
“For the first time in the region, and with all due respect, the two-hour morning show will not be catering for housewives, but for CEOs who like to know how North America closed last night, how the Asia markets are now working, and how this might affect our region, so they can have a panoramic view of what’s happening around the world,” he said.
The rest of the daily broadcasting schedule will consist of news, documentaries and investigative content. One segment, entitled “The Link,” will explain to viewers how political events are affecting business and economics, while another will explore the implications of global events for the Middle East. Another program, “East Circle,” will take a deep dive into areas such as politics, economics and technology.
The TV channel will be accompanied by a “very strong” digital operation, with content, including sports news, automatically tailored to individual users’ taste and interests.
“We don’t think people appreciate news organizations imposing on them what they think they will like,” he said. There will also be a video-on-demand platform for viewers to see Bloomberg and original content.
Alkhatib expects a big chunk of the coverage to be about Saudi Arabia, as the biggest economy in the region and a member of the G20 group of leading nations. But the operation will cover the whole of the Middle East and North Africa in depth, with offices in Riyadh, Dubai and Cairo, as well as a planned operation in Morocco.
Asharq News is headquartered in Riyadh, and with central offices in DIFC, Dubai, and in Washington D.C, But there is a big and expanding operation in Riyadh that Alkhatib believes will one day be the main operations base for a hub of satellite offices around the region and beyond.
“We are bringing Bloomberg content and a new approach, a new way of dealing with the other platforms. We would like to think we are offering viewers and readers something they will not see on other platforms in the region,” he said.


US court orders Facebook to release records of anti-Rohingya content for genocide case

US court orders Facebook to release records of anti-Rohingya content for genocide case
Updated 1 min 19 sec ago

US court orders Facebook to release records of anti-Rohingya content for genocide case

US court orders Facebook to release records of anti-Rohingya content for genocide case
  • Social media giant had refused to release the data, saying it would violate a US law
  • ‘Facebook taking up the mantle of privacy rights is rich with irony’
A US federal judge has ordered Facebook to release records of accounts connected to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar that the social media giant had shut down, rejecting its argument about protecting privacy as “rich with irony.”
The judge in Washington, D.C, on Wednesday criticized Facebook for failing to hand over information to investigators seeking to prosecute the country for international crimes against the Muslim minority Rohingya, according to a copy of the ruling.
Facebook had refused to release the data, saying it would violate a US law barring electronic communication services from disclosing users’ communications.
But the judge said the posts, which were deleted, would not be covered under the law and not sharing the content would “compound the tragedy that has befallen the Rohingya.”
“Facebook taking up the mantle of privacy rights is rich with irony. News sites have entire sections dedicated to Facebook’s sordid history of privacy scandals,” he wrote.
A spokesperson for Facebook said the company was reviewing the decision and that it had already made “voluntary, lawful disclosures” to another UN body, the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said including mass killings and rape. Rights groups documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.
Myanmar authorities say they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.
The crackdown by the army, during the rule of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government, did not generate much outcry in the Buddhist-majority nation, where the Rohingya are widely derided as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Gambia wants the data for a case against Myanmar it is pursuing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide.
In 2018, UN human rights investigators said Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that fueled the violence.
A Reuters investigation that year found more than 1,000 examples of hate speech on Facebook, including calling Rohingya and other Muslims dogs, maggots and rapists, suggesting they be fed to pigs, and urging they be shot or exterminated.
Facebook said at the time it had been “too slow to prevent misinformation and hate” in Myanmar.
In Wednesday’s ruling, US magistrate judge Zia M. Faruqui said Facebook had taken a first step by deleting “the content that fueled a genocide” but had “stumbled” by not sharing it.
“A surgeon that excises a tumor does not merely throw it in the trash. She seeks a pathology report to identify the disease,” he said.
“Locking away the requested content would be throwing away the opportunity to understand how disinformation begat genocide of the Rohingya and would foreclose a reckoning at the ICJ.”
Shannon Raj Singh, human rights counsel at Twitter, called the decision “momentous” and “one of the foremost examples of the relevance of social media to modern atrocity prevention & response.”

Netflix acquires the whole works of Roald Dahl

Netflix acquires the whole works of Roald Dahl
Updated 22 September 2021

Netflix acquires the whole works of Roald Dahl

Netflix acquires the whole works of Roald Dahl
  • The streaming giant said it had bought The Roald Dahl Story Company, the family firm that owns the late British author’s copyright
  • No financial details of the deal were given

SAN FRANCISCO: Netflix has acquired the whole works of acclaimed children’s author Roald Dahl, creator of such classics as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda,” the company  announced Wednesday.

In 2018, Netflix signed a deal to create animated series based on 16 Dahl books. But now the streaming giant said it had bought The Roald Dahl Story Company, the family firm that owns the late British author’s copyright.

“This acquisition builds on the partnership we started three years ago to create a slate of animated TV series,” Netflix co-chief executive Ted Sarandos and Luke Kelly, RDSC managing director and Dahl's grandson, said in a joint statement.

Under the previous deal, Oscar-winning filmmaker Taika Waititi and “Zootropolis” screenwriter Phil Johnston are working on a series based on the world of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and an adaptation of “Matilda the Musical,” both of which are currently underway.

“These projects opened our eyes to a much more ambitious venture – the creation of a unique universe across animated and live action films and TV, publishing, games, immersive experiences, live theater, consumer products and more,” Netflix said.

Dahl died in 1990 aged 74. His books have been translated into 63 languages and sold more than 300 million copies worldwide.

“These stories and their messages of the power and possibility of young people have never felt more pertinent,” the statement said. “As we bring these timeless tales to more audiences in new formats, we're committed to maintaining their unique spirit and their universal themes of surprise and kindness, while also sprinkling some fresh magic into the mix.”

No financial details of the deal were given. However, in 2018, The Hollywood Reporter quoted sources as saying that the licensing deal covering the 16 Dahl books cost Netflix more than $100 million.


Facebook’s Project Amplify blatantly pushes pro-company stories: US newspaper

Despite Facebook owning up to some of its mistakes and promising to take corrective measures, the platform continued to come under fire for the same issues. (File/AFP)
Despite Facebook owning up to some of its mistakes and promising to take corrective measures, the platform continued to come under fire for the same issues. (File/AFP)
Updated 22 September 2021

Facebook’s Project Amplify blatantly pushes pro-company stories: US newspaper

Despite Facebook owning up to some of its mistakes and promising to take corrective measures, the platform continued to come under fire for the same issues. (File/AFP)
  • CEO Mark Zuckerberg signed off pushing pro-platform stories to users via Facebook News Feed, reported The New York Times

LONDON: A recently launched Facebook initiative codenamed Project Amplify was set up to push pro-platform stories on users’ news feeds, The New York Times reported.

And some of the promoted articles were written by the social networking giant to help paint the company in a positive light, the newspaper claimed.

The article said Project Amplify came into being at a meeting in January with the aim of reshaping Facebook’s image by adopting a multi-faceted approach including measures such as distancing the chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, from controversies, and reducing external access to data.

Despite Facebook owning up to some of its mistakes and promising to take corrective measures, the platform continued to come under fire for the same issues. As a result, Facebook executives decided to go on the offensive with a new approach involving marketing, communications, policy, and integrity teams, sources revealed.

Although Zuckerberg did not drive all the decisions as part of the new initiative, he reportedly approved them.

Denying the newspaper’s claims, Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said: “People deserve to know the steps we’re taking to address the different issues facing our company — and we’re going to share those steps widely.”

Since the recent launch of the new project, Facebook has been testing the changes in three US cities through a tool called Quick Promote. The stories appear with a Facebook logo and link to websites published by the company as well as third-party websites.

Osborne told The New York Times that it was a “test for an informational unit clearly marked as coming from Facebook,” adding that the new initiative was “similar to corporate responsibility initiatives people see in other technology and consumer products.”

In a series of tweets, Osborne said The New York Times’ article had attempted to “villainize Facebook,” included “clear falsehoods,” and had left out part of his statement which included him saying, “there is zero change to News Feed ranking.”

He added that the January meeting had never taken place, although according to the newspaper report one attendee had claimed that several executives at the meeting were shocked by the proposal.

Osborne concluded his tweets by suggesting that The New York Times’ story should have written that, “Facebook ran a small test of an informational unit on Facebook in three cities – clearly labeled as from Facebook on the top of the unit,” along with an image of what the stories looked like.

Screengrab of Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne's tweet of pro-Facebook stories in the News Feed. (Twitter:@JoeOsborne) 

 


Spotify celebrates Saudi National Day with patriotic playlist

Spotify celebrates Saudi National Day with patriotic playlist
Updated 22 September 2021

Spotify celebrates Saudi National Day with patriotic playlist

Spotify celebrates Saudi National Day with patriotic playlist
  • “Ana El Saudi” playlist brings east, west, central regions together with special selection

DUBAI: Music and podcast streaming platform Spotify is celebrating Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day through music by releasing a special playlist.

Its “Ana El Saudi” playlist brings together some of the finest male and female voices to pay homage to Saudis through a rich selection of 94 patriotic songs. The tracks are considered a treasure among Saudi nationals, and Spotify expects them to be especially overplayed to mark the momentous day.

Among the songs that Saudis listen to the most on Spotify’s Saudi National Day playlist is Fahad Bin Fasla’s “Haza El Saudi Foq.” The Sheilat star’s hit song was an instant fan favorite among locals and has established itself at the top spot.

Rabeh Saqr’s “Anta Malek” comes in second place; the iconic Saudi artist has been serenading the Kingdom with his oriental style for more than 30 years, cementing his legacy in Saudi music.

Ayed, Borhan, and Naif Al-Naif’s “Ya Mohammed” is third, with the three khaleeji-style artists collaborating to tribute a song to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

Mashael secures the top spot for female artists. Her recently released song “Sawb Alriyadh” has already garnered almost 2 million streams on Spotify. Waed, Shaikha Alaslawi, and Shamma Hamdan come in second, third, and fourth, respectively, among the female artists.

Riyadh has been the city leading the way in streaming “Ana El Saudi,” followed by Jeddah and Dammam.

Tune into “Ana El Saudi” here.


Facebook spent over $13 bln on safety, security since 2016

Facebook spent over $13 bln on safety, security since 2016
Updated 21 September 2021

Facebook spent over $13 bln on safety, security since 2016

Facebook spent over $13 bln on safety, security since 2016
  • The social media giant said it now has 40,000 people working on safety and security
  • Facebook played down the negative effects on young users of its Instagram app

DUBAI: Facebook Inc. said on Tuesday it has invested more than $13 billion in safety and security measures since 2016.
This comes days after a newspaper reported the company had failed to fix “the platform’s ill effects” researchers had identified.
The social media giant said it now has 40,000 people working on safety and security, compared with 10,000 five years ago.
Facebook played down the negative effects on young users of its Instagram app and had a weak response to alarms raised by employees over how the platform is used in developing countries by human traffickers, the Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing a review of internal company documents.
“In the past, we didn’t address safety and security challenges early enough in the product development process,” the company said in a blog post
“But we have fundamentally changed that approach.”
Facebook said its artificial intelligence technology has helped it block 3 billion fake accounts in the first half of this year. The company also removed more than 20 million pieces of false COVID-19 and vaccine content.
The company said it now removes 15 times more content that violates its standards on hate speech across Facebook and its image-sharing platform Instagram than when it first began reporting it in 2017.