Hezbollah threatens Lebanese journalist working with US-funded Alhurra News channel

Hezbollah threatens Lebanese journalist working with US-funded Alhurra News channel
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Layal Alekhtiar is latest victim of cyber bullying by the Iran-backed terror group. (Screenshot)
Hezbollah threatens Lebanese journalist working with US-funded Alhurra News channel
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Layal Alekhtiar is latest victim of cyber bullying by the Iran-backed terror group. (Screenshot)
Hezbollah threatens Lebanese journalist working with US-funded Alhurra News channel
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Layal Alekhtiar is latest victim of cyber bullying by the Iran-backed terror group. (Screenshot)
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Updated 08 January 2021

Hezbollah threatens Lebanese journalist working with US-funded Alhurra News channel

Hezbollah threatens Lebanese journalist working with US-funded Alhurra News channel
  • Layal Alekhtiar is latest victim of cyber bullying by the Iran-backed terror group
  • Committee to Protect Journalists slams online harassment of female reporters, says must be investigated

LONDON: Lebanese news anchor Layal Alekhtiar is the latest victim of a Hezbollah-led campaign to silence free media in and out of the country.

The journalist, who works for US State Department-funded Alhurra, received death threats via text following an incitement campaign launched by viewers loyal to Hezbollah. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told Arab News that these threats must be investigated. 

The campaign comes after Alekhtiar tweeted a video of the unveiling of the newly erected statue of the late Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani with a line from Ayat Al-Anbya (The Prophets) from the Qur’an that said: “What are these statues to which you are so devoted?”

Alekhtiar told Arab News: “I didn’t provoke them specifically in any way, all I did was place this Ayat as a matter of freedom of speech, nothing more. I didn’t demean them, nor did I do it in any impolite way.

“So, they let their whole army loose on me, and all those from Al-Manar and Al-Mayadeen and all their news channels and I didn’t understand why, there is nothing to it.

“I tweeted the Ayat regarding the statues because what grabbed my attention was that there were Shiite religious men there. Anyway, to me, any statue that would be erected for someone not Lebanese — especially since he has a political agenda — paid by the Lebanese, should not be placed. Whoever it may be, not just Qassem Soleimani,” she said.

Shortly after, a senior member of the Israeli Army tweeted the same Ayat which added fuel to the fire.

“So, they begin to create a link between my tweet and his and they begin to photoshop both tweets together and spread it and say that I am a foreign agent and that I am an Israeli spy,” she added.

Speaking to Arab News, Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said: “the use of online harassment against women journalists is abhorrent tactic that aims to silence their reporting and opinions. 

“Threats by non state actors and their supporters online must not go unnoticed and must be throughly investigated.”

Alekhtiar is not the first journalist to be harassed and targeted by Hezbollah and accused of spying for Israel and will surely not be the last — this includes Lebanese  journalists who are also Shiite Muslims, but don’t agree with Hezbollah’s political beliefs. 

Late last year, journalist Luna Safwan, who happens to be Shiite, was subjected to an online abuse campaign after her tweet criticizing Hezbollah was carried by an Israeli news channel and she was accused of cooperating with Israel.

Similarly, Lebanese journalist Maryam Seif Eddine, known for her staunch criticism of Hezbollah despite being Shiite, had been issued death threats by the group while her mother and brother were physically assaulted, the latter being left with a broken nose. Hezbollah loyalists had targeted her family home in Burj El-Barajneh, in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut.

Before that, as the country witnessed unprecedented nationwide protests in 2019, former LBC news anchor Dima Sadek, another Shiite journalist, was subjected to harassment by the Lebanese militia group after her phone was stolen from her during a demonstration. The harassment, she said, was followed by insulting and threatening phone calls to her mother, who suffered a stroke as a result of the stress.

And prior to that, MTV television reporter Nawal Berry, also a Shiite, suffered violent attacks by supporters of Hezbollah and its allies while covering the early days of the protests. Loyalists smashed her team’s camera, snatched the microphone she was holding, spat on her, and kicked her in the leg.

Alekhtiar said: “Now, they continued with their campaign, but the principle is that we, in Lebanon, the foundation is freedom of expression and the democracy that puts it apart from other countries.

“We don’t want to become a part of another country, nor do we want the nationality of our country to change no matter who is coming.”

Activist and journalist Ali Al-Amin, who claimed that he had been attacked on more than one occasion by Hezbollah-linked people, in a previous interview told Arab News: “Hezbollah has always resorted to accusing its opponents of working for Israel, the US, or foreign embassies.

“It has mobilized its electronic armies to launch (online) campaigns against them over the past 15 years. There is much evidence for this.”

Alekhtiar, who remains unfazed by the threats, said: “An opinion must stay an opinion, no matter what happens, because without freedom of expression, journalism has no point, and the media has no point.”

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

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Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day
Updated 08 March 2021

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day
  • New miniseries tells the stories of six Saudi women

DUBAI: Unilever’s Miraa has partnered with regional podcast network Finyal Media to release a six-episode podcast series titled “A Breath, a Step, a Mirror” for International Women’s Day.

Miraa is an Arabic-only regional publication for, by and about Arab women, focusing on health, beauty and lifestyle.

The podcast series delves into the lives of six women from Saudi Arabia who write a letter to a younger version of themselves.

“With the launch of our new podcast, our hope is that the personal and intimate stories and growth journeys of our hosts inspire more women to look beyond their challenges and rise above judgments to pursue their growth and goals,” said Sonia Kapoor, senior content manager at Unilever and Miraa.

From encouraging their younger selves to break free of rigid molds to wishing they had had the confidence to be themselves instead of trying to please others, these women tell stories that are a reflection of their journeys and a chance to explore what they might have done differently.

“We look forward to women across the region having the chance to listen to the series, and we hope these stories will help other young Arab women to grow in confidence and reach their true potential as we mark another International Women’s Day,” added Leila Hamadeh, co-founder and CEO of Finyal Media.

The first season, produced in collaboration with Lux, was released in the first week of March, with more seasons expected throughout the year.

The series is available on all podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Anghami, Deezer and Spotify.


Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him
Updated 06 March 2021

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him
  • Bloomberg published news that the Biden administration was considering sanctions against the central bank governor
  • Both Salemeh and the US State department deny the claim

LONDON: Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh announced on Friday that he will be taking legal action against Bloomberg after it published an article claiming that the US is considering sanctioning him, a move the US State Department denies.

“We have seen reports about possible sanctions of Riad Salameh. They are untrue,” a State Department spokesperson told Arab News.

Last week, Bloomberg published news that the Biden administration was considering sanctions against the central bank governor, a claim both Salemeh and the US State department deny.

An investigation into possible money laundering and embezzlement has been opened by Swiss authorities.

Salemeh, his brother and assistant were also being probed over multimillion-dollar transfers out of the country at a time when Lebanese citizens were allowed minimum withdrawal amounts from their bank accounts.

The country’s currency hit 10,000 Lebanese pounds to one US dollar on Wednesday, an unprecedented mark that sparked a resurgence of protests that have been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lebanon witnessed nationwide protests in October 2018 calling for the end of widespread corruption and worsening economic conditions that have since seen more than half the population living below the poverty line.

The country’s current economic and financial crisis has been largely blamed on Salemeh due to his long tenure, having headed the central bank for 28 years after assuming control in 1993.


Why the world needs to take deepfakes seriously

Why the  world needs to take deepfakes seriously
Updated 06 March 2021

Why the world needs to take deepfakes seriously

Why the  world needs to take deepfakes seriously
  • Report highlights danger Artificial Intelligence can pose; warns of danger to politics, media 

LONDON: In 1938, American filmmaker Orson Welles’ narration of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion novel “The War of the Worlds” caused panic and pandemonium for listeners in the US who believed the tale to be a public broadcast by the government.

The next day, headlines across newspapers read “Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact.” Historical research, however, suggested that the actual panic itself was overstated by the media, as the broadcast itself had few listeners.
Fast-forward to 2021 with the long arms of social media and the internet, what would happen if a video showing US President Joe Biden sitting in the Oval Office announcing that he will be striking Iran imminently were to appear? Or if a video showing French President Emmanuel Macron crassly insulting Muslims surfaced?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, called deep learning, which generates images of fake events, known as deepfakes, allows for the creation of a moving image that looks and sounds exactly like Biden or Macron, but isn’t them, to speak and say whatever the creator wants, with most observers unable to tell if it is fake.

“Even before deep fakes, social media has platforms, and the different services have led to some threats on users in our region, especially women and other vulnerable communities,” Mohamed Najem, executive director of SMEX, a digital-rights organization focusing on Arabic-speaking countries, told Arab News.
“Deep fakes bring more serious threats to the aforementioned groups, especially if (criminals) want to destroy someone’s reputation — women, especially, are at risk, with them having gained more freedom within different conservative communities, which could see them suffer real damage” he added.

Recently, a series of very convincing TikTok videos showing Actor Tom Cruise doing multiple activities has left millions confused as to whether or not it really is the famous actor. Other known deepfakes show former US President Barack Obama calling his successor Donald Trump a “dipsh*t” and Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking about stealing users’ private data.
According to a report published last year by University College London (UCL), deepfakes rank as the most serious AI crime threat.
“As the capabilities of AI-based technologies expand, so too has their potential for criminal exploitation. To adequately prepare for possible AI threats, we need to identify what these threats might be, and how they may impact our lives,” author Lewis Griffin stated in the report.

Crimes in the digital realm can be easily shared, repeated, and even sold, allowing criminal techniques to be marketed.

Among the most serious concerns posed by fake content such as deepfakes is that, as they are so difficult to identify, they could be used for all manner of dubious purposes, ranging from discrediting a politician or a public figure to blackmail.
“Unlike many traditional crimes, crimes in the digital realm can be easily shared, repeated, and even sold, allowing criminal techniques to be marketed and for crime to be provided as a service. This means criminals may be able to outsource the more challenging aspects of their AI-based crime,” co-author Dr. Matthew Caldwell stated in the report.
To make matters worse, the rise in convincing deepfakes could in turn play a major role in discrediting major news institutions.
“If even a small fraction of visual evidence is proven to be convincing fakes, it becomes much easier to discredit genuine evidence, undermining criminal investigation and the credibility of political and social institutions that rely on trustworthy communications,” the report stated.
“Social media platforms need to understand the threats and act on them. Unfortunately there is no trust in governments in our region to do the right thing; my assumption is that they will use this to restrict more speech and criminalize it, which will lead to more closure of civic spaces,” Najem said.
The UCL report goes on to note that awareness and changes in people’s behaviors toward the spread and creation of these videos might be the only effective line of defense. While so far many of the videos popping up on social media are fun — of politicians singing and dancing, say, or Nicholas Cage’s face on Wonder Woman’s body — things may take a sharper, darker turn soon.


Lebanese media outlet Sawt Beirut International launches English-language edition

Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
Updated 05 March 2021

Lebanese media outlet Sawt Beirut International launches English-language edition

Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
  • Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app

LONDON: Sawt Beirut International (SBI) launched an English-language edition of its news website with the aim of reaching the Lebanese diaspora abroad.

“The English-language website will take Lebanon and Beirut’s voice to all the Lebanese diaspora living in Europe or the US,” SBI Chariman and CEO Jerry Maher told Arab News. “It’s for those who can speak Arabic but can’t read Arabic.”

SBI is a Lebanese media outlet that is on a mission to fight corruption and hold accountable the country’s politicians.

“We can share with them the pains the country is going through and allow them to take part in the change that is coming. We want them to be part of the next phase of Lebanon and understand all that is going on in the country.”

The English-language website will also be coupled with a mobile app, similar to the Arabic version. Maher says SBI is planning a French and Spanish version in the future.

“We are focusing on political, economic and social issues on the news website so Lebanese abroad will know exactly what is going on in the country, where the problem is and how they can help solve it,” the SBI founder said.

Maher said the new website will include a “stories” feature similar to other social-media outlets like Facebook and Instagram.


YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos
Updated 05 March 2021

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos
  • The company said it was monitoring the situation for any content that might violate its rules
  • YouTube said it had terminated around 20 channels and removed over 160 videos in the past couple months

BANGKOK: YouTube has removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its community guidelines and terms of service.
The company said Friday that it terminated channels of broadcasters Myawaddy Media, MRTV, WD Online Broadcasting, MWD Variety and MWD Myanmar. The decision follows a Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the country’s elected government, provoking massive public protests.
“We have terminated a number of channels and removed several videos from YouTube in accordance with our community guidelines and applicable laws,” YouTube said in an emailed statement.
The company said it was monitoring the situation for any content that might violate its rules.
YouTube said it had terminated around 20 channels and removed over 160 videos in the past couple months for violating its policies regarding hate speech and harassment, spam and deceptive practices, violent or graphic content policy and violations of its terms of service.
In December, it pulled 34 channels as part of an investigation into content uploaded in a coordinated influence campaign. That campaign uploaded content about elections in Myanmar, regional conflicts and news related to the US, China and Malaysia, the company said.
The decision by YouTube followed Facebook’s earlier announcement that it had removed all Myanmar military-linked pages from its site and from Instagram, which it also owns.