Facebook news goes dark in Australia as content spat escalates

Facebook news goes dark in Australia as content spat escalates
Facebook’s drastic move represents a split from Alphabet Inc-owned Google after they initially joined together to campaign against the laws. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2021

Facebook news goes dark in Australia as content spat escalates

Facebook news goes dark in Australia as content spat escalates
  • The move was swiftly criticized by news producers, politicians and human rights advocates
  • Frydenberg said Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg gave no warning of the news shutdown when the pair spoke over the weekend

SYDNEY: Australians woke to empty news feeds on their Facebook Inc. pages on Thursday after the social media giant blocked all media content in a surprise and dramatic escalation of a dispute with the government over paying for content.
The move was swiftly criticized by news producers, politicians and human rights advocates, particularly as it became clear that official health pages, emergency safety warnings and welfare networks had all been scrubbed from the site along with news.
“Facebook was wrong, Facebook’s actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed, and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a televised news conference.
Frydenberg said Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg gave no warning of the news shutdown when the pair spoke over the weekend about looming laws that will force both Facebook and search engine giant Google to pay local publishers for content.
The two men had a subsequent conversation on Thursday morning which was “constructive,” Frydenberg said, adding they discussed what he called “differing interpretations” about how the new Media Bargaining Code would work.
Facebook’s drastic move represents a split from Alphabet Inc-owned Google after they initially joined together to campaign against the laws. Both had threatened to cancel services in Australia, but Google has instead sealed preemptive deals with several outlets in recent days.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. was the latest to announce a deal in which it will receive “significant payments” from Google in return for providing content for the search engine’s News Showcase account.
Google declined to comment on the Facebook decision on Thursday.
The Australian law would require Facebook and Google to reach commercial deals with news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms, or be subjected to forced arbitration to agree a price.
Facebook said in its statement that the law, which is expected to be passed by parliament within days, “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between itself and publishers and it faced a stark choice of attempting to comply or banning news content.
Blank Pages

The changes made by Facebook wiped clean pages operated by news outlets and removed posts by individual users sharing Australian news, three days before the country begins a nationwide vaccination program to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Lisa Davies, editor of daily The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, owned by Nine Entertainment Co. Ltd, tweeted: “Facebook has exponentially increased the opportunity for misinformation, dangerous radicalism and conspiracy theories to abound on its platform.”
The Facebook pages of Nine and News Corp, which together dominate the country’s metro newspaper market, and the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corp, which acts as a central information source during natural disasters, were blank.
Also affected were several major state government accounts, including those providing advice on the coronavirus pandemic and bushfire threats at the height of the summer season, and scores of charity and non-governmental organization accounts.
“This is UNACCEPTABLE,” tweeted Brianna Casey, chief executive of hunger relief charity Foodbank.
“Demand for food relief has never been higher than during this pandemic, and one of our primary comms tools to help connect people with #foodrelief info & advice is now unavailable. Hours matter when you have nothing to eat. SORT THIS OUT!“
SOME PAGES RESTORED
By mid-afternoon, many government-backed Facebook pages were restored but several charity pages and all media sites remained dark, including those of international outlets like the New York Times, the BBC and News Corp’s Wall Street Journal.
A Facebook representative in Australia did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the situation. Facebook Australia’s own page was down for a period of time before being restored.
“This is an alarming and dangerous turn of events,” said Human Rights Watch in a statement. “Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable.”
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said Facebook had sent the message to Australians that “you will not find content on our platform which comes from an organization which employs professional journalists, which has editorial policies, which has fact-checking processes.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Facebook pages of numerous community health projects had been shuttered and “the fact that the kids cancer project could be affected, is, frankly a disgrace.”


Filming of Hollywood movie ‘Kandahar’ in AlUla is a sign of things to come

The magical landscape of the ancient city and surrounding area in northwestern Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international filmmakers, thanks to its rich history and scenic splendor. (Supplied)
The magical landscape of the ancient city and surrounding area in northwestern Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international filmmakers, thanks to its rich history and scenic splendor. (Supplied)
Updated 33 sec ago

Filming of Hollywood movie ‘Kandahar’ in AlUla is a sign of things to come

The magical landscape of the ancient city and surrounding area in northwestern Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international filmmakers, thanks to its rich history and scenic splendor. (Supplied)
  • ‘If I get to show the world AlUla for the first time on this scale, I’m all in. It’s a dream come true; I love it,’ said ‘Kandahar’ director Ric Roman Waugh
  • ‘Saudi Arabia is coming together as a film community to show the wider world’ the country can host major productions, according to the head of Film AlUla

RIYADH: The director and executive producer of “Kandahar,” the first big-budget Hollywood movie to film extensively in AlUla in Saudi Arabia, are full of praise for the natural beauty of the area, and the efforts of Saudi authorities to establish it as a global filming location.
The magical landscape of the ancient city and surrounding area in northwestern Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international filmmakers, thanks to its rich history and scenic splendor.
To support this process, the Royal Commission for AlUla in 2020 established Film AlUla to attract and assist film and television productions from around the world. It is led by film commissioner Stephen Strachan, a veteran of the UK industry and a respected film producer in the Middle East and North Africa.
Strachan said he believes the Kingdom is setting the bar high for the region as it takes its first steps in film and TV production, and confirmed that there are plans to establish a studio in AlUla.
“Kandahar” stars Scottish actor Gerard Butler as a CIA operative stuck in hostile territory in Afghanistan. Filming in AlUla and 14 locations in Jeddah began in late November.
“Saudi Arabia is coming together as a film community to show the wider world that there are people on the ground who can look after a large film like ‘Kandahar,’” Stachan told Arab News. About 10 percent of the crew and extras working on the film were hired locally, he added.
The Saudi Film Commission and the Ministry of Culture offered the producers of “Kandahar” exceptional incentives to film in AlUla, Strachan said.
“We also scouted in Tabuk, Hail, Jeddah and Taif with the Ministry of Culture for three weeks to find the best locations, as Ric Roman Waugh, the director of Kandahar, was really keen to shoot in Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Waugh, whose previous films include 2019’s “Angel Has Fallen,” which also starred Butler, said that he knew he wanted to film in AlUla as soon as he saw photos of the area for the first time.
“When I came here I realized that the photos do no justice to this place and it is a breathtakingly beautiful place,” he told Arab News. “As a selfish filmmaker, if I get to show the world AlUla for the first time on this scale, I’m all in. It’s a dream come true; I love it.
“Coming here, in a place that doesn’t have the infrastructure, can have some challenges but it would never have happened without the partnership with the Saudis themselves, and how much they wanted to embrace what we are about.”
Waugh thanked the Royal Commission for AlUla and the Ministry of Culture for their help, dedication and patience while making this film.
“We brought over 25 nationalities to do this film,” he said. “We have Christians, Muslims, Hindus and agnostics who came here to be part of a melting pot, as we wanted to do it together and we would overcome any challenge thrown our way.”
Indian actor Ali Fazal, who plays a character called Kahil Nazir in “Kandahar,” said he and his wife were impressed by the sheer beauty of AlUla.
“I was fascinated by AlUla and when my wife came here she was baffled by the rocks and the landscapes,” he said. “We went to Hegra and other places and it was very cool. We will also go to Jeddah and Makkah to do Umrah.”
Scott LaStaiti, the executive producer of “Kandahar,” congratulated the Saudi authorities for the rapid development of AlUla.
“The Royal Commission for AlUla has a master plan for developing AlUla, and in some specific locations we shot in, like the Sultan Valley, … you think about the history of AlUla and who was standing here 3,000 years ago,” he said. “The beauty here has a lot to offer in terms of looks.”
“The incentives that Saudi Arabia and The Royal Commission of AlUla are offering are very attractive. I think that the commission, and Saudis in general, are very smart in the way they are rolling it out and I think it’s a way that’s going to attract a lot of films to be produced here.”
Prior to “Kandahar,” two other movies spent time filming on location in AlUla. “Cello,” is a horror movie written by Turki Al Sheikh, the chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, and based on one of his novels. The English and Arabic language film, which stars veteran British actor Jeremy Irons, is about an aspiring musician who learns that the cost of his cello might be higher than he thought. It is due for release this year.
“Cherry,” directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and starring Spider-Man actor Tom Holland, tells the story of a disenfranchised young man from Ohio who goes from being a college dropout to an army medic in Iraq. He meets the love of his life, only to risk losing her through a series of bad decisions and challenging circumstances. It was released early last year.


CNN Arabic celebrates 20th anniversary

CNN Arabic celebrates 20th anniversary
Updated 18 January 2022

CNN Arabic celebrates 20th anniversary

CNN Arabic celebrates 20th anniversary
  • Network announces 3 multi-year partnerships to celebrate the milestone

CNN Arabic is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The Arabic edition of the international news network first went live in 2002 as a digital news service based out of Dubai Media City in the UAE, with the aim of telling stories for Arab audiences around the world.

The channel had its biggest year ever in 2021 in terms of daily audience numbers. The figure has grown by more than 150 percent in the last six years, according to Adobe Analytics. The network attributes this success to a healthy mix of mobile-first video, interactive and written news, delivered to Arabic-speaking digital audiences worldwide.

 

 

“When we launched CNN Arabic 20 years ago, I don’t think anyone envisaged the changes the world would go through over the following two decades,” said Rani Raad, president of CNN Worldwide Commercial.

“In that time, the role that the Arabic speaking world plays on the global geopolitical landscape has changed significantly, and the UAE, where CNN Arabic is based, has developed as a major strategic player in the global economy.”

The Arabic network also ranked as the number one news provider against competitors including Sky News, Al Arabiya and BBC Arabic, among others, according to an independent study of news consumers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and the US.

The same study found that the CNN Arabic was highly trusted, scoring more than three times the average trust rating. This is an achievement for the network at a time when overall trust in news remains low, with more than 50 percent of young Arabs not having much trust in any channel — be it TV and newspapers, or online portals and social media — as a source of news, according to the Arab Youth Survey 2021.

“The role of responsible and accurate news brands has become even more important in a world awash with misinformation, and we will continue to serve Arabic speaking audiences around the world with the news they need to inform the most important decisions in their lives,” said Raad.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, CNN Arabic has formed three multi-year partnerships focusing on specific topics in the Arab world.

It has partnered with UN Women in the Arab States to develop and implement a strategy across editorial output, events and other projects, to support the acceleration of gender equality, financial inclusion and female employment throughout the Arab world.

It has also partnered with the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, which will see CNN Arabic upskill Arab youth over three years to enable them to succeed in the future of work, promote sustainability in the UAE and more.

Lastly, it has partnered with Sharjah Press Club to train young journalists over the next three years in various areas covering multimedia news and content production. The training will also include teaching teenagers about using social media and identifying misinformation.

“We are incredibly proud to have provided independent news with a global perspective to Arab audiences for 20 years now,” said Caroline Faraj, vice-president of Arabic services at CNN.

Faraj, who has led CNN Arabic since its inception and was named winner of the media category in the Arab Women of the Year Awards 2021, added: “However, we never want to stand still. As a digital news service from the very outset, it’s in our DNA to always evolve and experiment in order to remain relevant as people’s news habits continue to change.”


STARZPLAY live streams ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2022

STARZPLAY live streams ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2022
Updated 18 January 2022

STARZPLAY live streams ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2022

STARZPLAY live streams ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2022
  • Firm’s coverage of tournament builds on partnership with Etisalat

DUBAI: Regional streaming platform STARZPLAY has secured the rights for the International Cricket Council Under-19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2022.

The deal follows the company’s recent strengthening of its partnership with Discovery, Inc. to offer GolfTV as an add-on channel.

Danny Bates, chief commercial officer at STARZPLAY, told Arab News: “Strengthening the live sports category is one of our top priorities and we have seen the popularity for the genre grow exponentially in the Middle East and North Africa region.”

Continuing its long-standing partnership with Etisalat, STARZPLAY will be streaming the U19 World Cup along with the UAE telecoms firm and will provide cricket fans access to all the live action taking place until Feb. 5.

Last year, STARZPLAY partnered with Etisalat, which won the rights from Star TV Network to broadcast the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 across the MENA region.

Bates said: “We witnessed record-breaking growth in subscribers on our platform when we brought the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021, which shows how our audience responds to content that is relevant for them.

“We want to further build on our live sports portfolio to offer the very best in live sports entertainment and look forward to bringing more such exciting games for our existing as well as potential subscribers,” he added.

The 14th edition of the U19 World Cup is being held for the first time in the West Indies, with 48 one-day international matches planned between the 16 participating teams.

Subscribers can access all cricket content via STARZPLAY’s CricLife and CricLife 2 channels. They can also subscribe to the PowerPlay package, available for 24.99 Emirati dirhams ($6.80).


German journalist acquitted of terror charges in Turkey

German journalist acquitted of terror charges in Turkey
Updated 18 January 2022

German journalist acquitted of terror charges in Turkey

German journalist acquitted of terror charges in Turkey
  • Mesale Tolu was accused of engaging in terror propaganda and being a member of a banned left-wing group
  • Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey at 153 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index of 2021

ISTANBUL: A Turkish court has acquitted German journalist Mesale Tolu after years on trial for terror-related charges.
“After 4 years, 8 months and 20 days: Acquitted of both charges!” Tolu tweeted after her acquittal. She was accused of engaging in terror propaganda and being a member of a banned left-wing group — the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party.
Tolu, 38, was placed in pre-trial detention for eight months in 2017. She was later released but was barred from leaving Turkey until August 2018. She lives in Germany.
Before her arrest, Tolu worked as a translator and journalist for the Turkish ETHA news agency.
German-Turkish relations were tense at the time of Tolu’s arrest, when eight other German or German-Turkish citizens were imprisoned. Berlin considered the arrests to be politically motivated.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey at 153 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index of 2021. At least 34 media employees are currently behind bars, according to Turkey’s Journalists Union.


Lebanon: Hezbollah trolls harass critical Black news anchor with racist tweets

The fury targeting Dalia Ahmad came after she described the country’s long-reigning party officials as crocodiles. (Twitter)
The fury targeting Dalia Ahmad came after she described the country’s long-reigning party officials as crocodiles. (Twitter)
Updated 18 January 2022

Lebanon: Hezbollah trolls harass critical Black news anchor with racist tweets

The fury targeting Dalia Ahmad came after she described the country’s long-reigning party officials as crocodiles. (Twitter)
  • Al Jadeed’s Sudanese TV anchor Dalia Ahmad was racially harassed and targeted by Hezbollah
  • Sudanese TV host Dalia Ahmad called a “black dog” and worse in racist abuse campaign launched by Hezbollah on Twitter

BEIRUT: Hate-filled, misogynist, and racist tweets have targeted a Sudanese TV anchor following a report on her show that criticized the Lebanese government, including Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The fury targeting Dalia Ahmad came after she described the country’s long-reigning party officials as crocodiles during her show “Fashet Khalq” on Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed news channel. 

#DogBreedImprovement was trending in Lebanon in Arabic after vicious tweets sent out by Hezbollah loyalist accounts attacked Ahmad and the color of her skin.

“You’d be sitting under the safety of God when a black dog comes and starts barking, you want to hit it but then it appears not to be a dog but a black female dog from Sudan,” read a tweet from a profile featuring a photo of the slain Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

 

 

“May God curse the sperm that settled in the womb of the mother of those who offend you, Mr. Nasrallah #DogBreedImprovement,” read another tweet in Arabic. The account’s profile has the word Hezbollah in Arabic with a yellow heart next to it.

 

 

Another tweet read: “Without #hizbollah Dalia Ahmed would have been offered for sale in the slave market, along with her ilk, by ISIS.”  

“Never in my life have I bullied or criticized the creation of our Lord, but this despicable woman, because her heart and tongue are so black they are reflecting on her ugly and malicious face,” read a tweet from @KassemHala555, which had a black smiley face emoji at the end and two images of Ahmad.

 

 

“By God, by God, whoever wants to attack the Al-Sayyed (Nasrallah), I want to wipe the ground with them and curse those who gave birth to them,” read another tweet from @KassemHala555, whose profile features the Lebanese and Iranian flags. This tweet had an image of Ahmad with the face of a dog photoshopped over hers.

 

 

Journalists loyal to Hezbollah and media representatives also chimed in. Journalist Hosein Mortada, who has more than 494,000 followers, tweeted a picture of Ahmad with the comment: “There are breeds that don’t improve because their genes are unclean from the start.”

His tweet is no longer visible because, according to the platform, it “violated the Twitter Rules.”

“Abuse and harassment have no place on our service. Our Abusive Behavior Policy prohibits behavior which intimidates, harasses or tries to silence another user’s voice, while we also robustly enforce hateful conduct and violent threats policies,” a Twitter spokesperson told Arab News. 

“We have taken action against Tweets found to be in violation of Twitter Rules. We use a combination of machine learning-based automation and human review to enforce our policies across the different languages on the service.”

There were some who came to the defense of Ahmad, including Emmy-nominated director and writer Lucien Bourjeily who tweeted: “My dears: ‘crocodiles’ is a very nice description. Your leaders are corrupt, scammers, and criminals, and an entire society is being destroyed at their hands! How many are you after defending those who impoverished you, plundered you, and destroyed your lives?”

 

 

And while the Twitter spokesperson said that the company “proactively surface more than 65 percent of abusive content we remove, reducing the burden on individuals on Twitter,” Hezbollah and its loyalists maintain a record of harassing and attacking female journalists.

In January of last year, Alhurra news anchor Layal Alekhtiar received death threats and was subjected to harassment online after tweeting a video of the unveiling of a Soleimani statue and a line from the Qur’an that said: “What are these statues to which you are so devoted?”

In October 2020, independent journalist Luna Safwan was targeted by Hezbollah in an online abuse campaign after her tweet criticizing the party was carried by an Israeli news channel and she was accused of cooperating with Israel. 

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

Before that, as the country witnessed mass protests in 2019, former LBC news anchor and Shiite journalist Dima Sadek was subjected to harassment by the 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.

MTV 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.