Lebanese podcasters offer escape from nation’s woes while trying to make sense of them

Lebanese podcasters offer escape from nation’s woes while trying to make sense of them
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Mouin Jaber and Medea Azouri, hosts of Lebanese podcast “Sarde After Dinner” (Supplied)
Lebanese podcasters offer escape from nation’s woes while trying to make sense of them
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Mouin Jaber and Medea Azouri, hosts of Lebanese podcast “Sarde After Dinner” (Supplied)
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Updated 23 February 2021

Lebanese podcasters offer escape from nation’s woes while trying to make sense of them

Lebanese podcasters offer escape from nation’s woes while trying to make sense of them
  • The ‘Sarde After Dinner’ podcast has built a following by tackling important, but often taboo, topics with the help of experts and international guests
  • Notable interviewees include blogger-activist Gino Riady, economist Karim Daher, Emirati talk-show host Anas Bukhash and Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef

LONDON: The black-market exchange rate of the Lebanese lira against the dollar shot up to an unprecedented 9,500 this week as the country slowly began to re-open after a month and a half of a strict national lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has yet to form a government after four months of trying, and the Lebanese people are still reeling from the devastating explosion at Beirut Port more than six months ago, the investigation into which has been marred by corruption allegations and delays.

It is no surprise, then, that Lebanese citizens around the world welcome any respite, however brief, from the current grim state of affairs in their home country. This is where Mouin Jaber and Medea Azouri come in, with their “Sarde After Dinner” podcast.

Born from a mix of common interests and passions forged during the protests that began in Lebanon in October 2019, the podcast aims to tackle the important, but often taboo, topics that are on the minds of many Lebanese people, and offer deeper insights from experts into issues that have long plagued the country.

“We decided to do the podcast because there were a lot of things Medea and I were thinking of and talking about, and we noticed no one was talking about them,” Jaber told Arab News. “We noticed that we all have the same outlook but not many speak openly about these topics, such as suicide, sex, prisons and so on.

“There was a big void that wasn’t being filled because of this cognitive dissonance that the media feeds off of, which is hyperbolic statements and big, loud people to hold viewers. There were a lot of things that were left unsaid and we felt that it could all start with a conversation.”

Recorded in the dining room of Azouri’s apartment in Beirut, the weekly podcast, which releases new episodes every Sunday night, quickly started to build a following in part thanks to its notable local and international guests, including blogger-activist Gino Riady, renowned economist Karim Daher, Emirati talk-show host Anas Bukhash and Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef.

The show takes its name from a Lebanese slang term which perhaps best translates in English as “hanging out.” This is reflected by the informal mood of the conversation as well as the welcoming atmosphere, something both hosts said is crucial to the flow of the discussion.

“It’s the time when you finish dinner and you stay at the table and you start talking with people about subjects, and sometimes you don’t speak because you want to listen to the other person,” said Azouri, who is also a columnist for French-language Lebanese daily newspaper L’Orient Le Jour.

Jaber added: “Conversations are more free flowing; you let your guard down after dinner. When you break bread with someone you are at your most vulnerable, so the flow of the conversation isn’t obstructed by this kind of posturing … you let go and the conversation is very honest.”

Azouri said it is often the case that guests come onto the show and are allowed to speak without interruption or input from the hosts because of the significance and weight of what they are saying. She compared it to a “masterclass.”

“Besides politics and Lebanon and the situation right now, we decided to break some taboos,” Azouri said. “We talk about sexuality, but we’re the only media in the Arab world that hosted (former adult-movie star) Mia Khalifa at the time where she was helping Lebanon.

“Also (when political activist and social-justice advocate) Ali Baroudy (appeared, the episode) was not about the political situation but his experience (as a prisoner) in Roumieh prison for five years.”

Guests such as these reflect an important aspect of the show which is, the hosts explain, that they want to talk to people that can help them to learn and understand.

“The only people that we get on ‘Sarde’ are people we are actually interested in, who we want to ask questions and pick their brains,” said Jaber. “And it’s not a dry question-and-answer dynamic because we feel also that we have a say, and we ask the questions and don’t pretend that we know (the answers).”

“When we discover things, the viewers discover them with us,” Medea added.

Given the media landscape in Lebanon, where TV networks and newspapers are aligned with political parties, “Sarde After Dinner” is one of a number of alternative news sources that many people turned to after the protests in the country began.

“We want to reconcile the differences that many people have that were unspoken by many people, and show that it is easy,” said Jaber, who is studying international business law online at the Sorbonne-Assas International Law School.

“And to just make the point that traditional media outlets are never going to give us the full story — it’s always subject to extremely politicized narratives or subject to the highest bidder.”

In addition to fans in Lebanon, Lebanese expatriates in 115 countries listen to the podcast, the majority of whom are in the US, UAE and Saudi Arabia.

“The majority of the messages that we receive from abroad are very touching,” Azouri said. “They are from expats who tell us that we are their link with Lebanon, because there are a lot of people who don’t have (access to) LBC and MTV abroad. We are available free on the internet and social media.”


TikTok’s #RamadanVibes includes challenges & shows through the holy month

TikTok’s #RamadanVibes includes challenges & shows through the holy month
Updated 22 April 2021

TikTok’s #RamadanVibes includes challenges & shows through the holy month

TikTok’s #RamadanVibes includes challenges & shows through the holy month

DUBAI: TikTok is celebrating Ramadan this month by engaging its community in the Middle East and North Africa region, featuring key Ramadan traditions, from Fawazeer, soaps, dramas and recipes under the hashtag #RamadanVibes.

“Last year, we saw people embrace the spirit of Ramadan on TikTok and come together virtually to celebrate key traditions. As our community couldn’t gather with their families and friends in line with the COVID-19 restrictions, TikTok truly became the platform where Ramadan traditions lived on,” said Rami Zeidan, head of video and creative at TikTok.

“This year, we are building on those traditions to offer our creators a space for celebration, gratitude and entertainment,” he added.

TIkTok’s Ramadan offerings include live events, activities and in-app challenges including:

#GuessTheDish: Through an interactive trivia quiz, users can guess the name of Ramadan dishes in under 3 seconds based on the key ingredients. The #GuessTheDish challenge has received over 50 million views to date, with submissions from the likes of Chef Shaheen and Walid Yari.

#RamadanCheck: Creators can share their daily Ramadan routines using this hashtag. The challenge has received over 188.7 million views to date, including a submission from Rand Majali.

#RamadanMubarak: With 2.5 billion views to date, #RamadanMubarak features Egyptian singer and actor Yousra, and the TikTok community, sharing wishes of good health and wealth to users.

#RamadanStyle: Creators on TikTok can show off their Ramadan outfits under this hashtag. Fashion icon Nirvana Abdul has already shared her own looks this Ramadan.

#Ramadan_Preps: TikTok users share videos about how they prepare for Ramadan. The challenge has reached over 358 million views to date, with submissions from Ahmed Aziz and Rania Ali.

Live shows on TikTok include:

#CookWithTheStars: TikTok will produce a series of cooking episodes to be aired on April 21, 24, 28, and May 1 at 4 p.m. Saudi Arabia Standard Time (SAST) with popular regional celebrities, including Amir Karara, Hend Sabry, Nelly Karim, and Hana Shiha.

Ramadaniat Live Cooking: Viewers will be able to tune in to live cooking sessions with multiple TikTok content creators and regional brands, including Yara Aziz, Hadeel Marei, AtyabTabkha.com and Arla.

The Ramadan UTURN Show: running on April 28, May 2 and May 6 at 11 p.m. SAST, this show is a partnership with leading Saudi online entertainment network UTURN. It will feature entertaining sketches and content covering topics such as sports and entertainment.

Ramadan Radio Shows: Radio stations around the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, including Fujairah FM and Marina FM, will be streaming live shows daily that include contests and giveaways.

Aghla Min Al-Dahab: In partnership with production company Yas Pro Media, the show includes daily interview streams with renowned regional celebrities every night at 1 a.m. SAST.

Fawazeer Ramadan: Users can tune into Go Arabi’s channel every other day at 10 p.m. SAST to answer trivia questions and participate in challenges.


Arab News radio show discusses future of print media, partnership with FII institute

Arab News radio show discusses future of print media, partnership with FII institute
Updated 22 April 2021

Arab News radio show discusses future of print media, partnership with FII institute

Arab News radio show discusses future of print media, partnership with FII institute
  • ‘Only journalism can save save journalism,’ says renowned media consultant Juan Senor
  • Arab News assistant editor Noor Nugali says FII partnership will help bring stakeholders together

CHICAGO: Despite harsh restrictions and widespread health fears caused by the year-long COVID-19 Pandemic, the newspaper industry is beginning to see a brighter future, media industry experts agreed Wednesday.

Assistant Editor-in-Chief Noor Nugali and London-based INNOVATION Media Consulting Group President Juan Senor said that a new partnership they are forging will together provide more information and news in a faster and more efficient manner than previously possible.

Contrary to common beliefs, Senor suggested that the future of journalism and the news industry is much brighter today, in part because of needs caused by the COVID pandemic.

 

 

“The future is very bright for the news industry. A pandemic without journalism -- unthinkable. And that is a global reality. And this is a turning moment, a landmark moment where people have realized that indeed they have rediscovered the value of journalism,” said Senor.

“When your lives are at stake. When the health of your loved ones are at stake, who are you going to turn to? The Politicians saying this is a fluke? Somebody on Facebook saying that if you inject bleach you will be cured? Or take a steam shower? Journalism has reconnected with a global audience and the turning point is that people are willing to pay for that journalism.”

Senor called the COVID pandemic a major influence in spurring a journalism resurgence.

 

 

“What’s happened during the pandemic is that before the pandemic people said we get our news from Facebook and that was good enough,” Senior said. 

“Now people are saying well I now develop a half a retaking and rediscovered the value of visiting a local or regional news site everyday to find out what is true. What is really going on? Because my life is at stake. … We call it the Netflix moment for digital news.”

Nugali detailed how Arab News evolved through expanding its editorial and writing staff and assimilating into the expanding social media world.

 

 

“Arab News is the Middle East’s leading English Language Daily. It initiated 46 years ago in a garage by two young brothers, the Hafez Brothers,” Nugali said. 

“Now it has become an international newspaper born from Saudi with three online editions in different languages. In 2018 we had the Pakistani edition that was launched. In 2019 we launched the Japanese edition. And remarkably in the midst of the pandemic, in 2019 we launched the French edition.”

Nugali said the partnership with the Future Investment Initiative Institute and Arab News will bring all of the industry stakeholders together to provide the best platform for news information.

 

 

“What you are going to see is a co-production of a series of expert panel discussions. You’re going to see surveys, white papers and recommendations on how the industry can survive the digital disruption and create sustainable models for the future,” Nugali said.

 

 

“The first deliverable of this cooperation is going to be in May. And it is going to be a White Paper produced by the Arab News Research and Studies Unit which is based in London. The first paper is going to be under the title ‘The Myth of Digital Transformation’ and it is going to explain in detail the technical problems that face the media industry from a commercial perspective and what impacts they have.”

“The Ray Hanania Show” is broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network on WNZK AM 690 in Detroit and WDMV AM 700 in Washington DC, and live streamed on Facebook.com/ArabNewswhere you can view the entire interview.


Black Lives Matter leader to take Houthi violence against Ethiopians to UN

Black Lives Matter leader to take Houthi violence against Ethiopians to UN
Updated 22 April 2021

Black Lives Matter leader to take Houthi violence against Ethiopians to UN

Black Lives Matter leader to take Houthi violence against Ethiopians to UN
  • Hawk Newsome wants Americans to focus on the killings of Blacks inside and outside of the US
  • Arab News reporter Rua’a Al-Ameri details Houthi kidnapping of Yemeni-Ethiopian model

Hawk Newsome, the leader of the Black Lives Movement of Greater New York City, said Wednesday he might take the plight of Africans and especially Ethiopians in Yemen to the United Nations.

Newsome, whose organization confronts racism and racist actions against African Americans, said he was shocked at how little attention the mainstream American news media has placed on Blacks and Ethiopian migrants in places like Yemen.

During an interview on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show,” the BLM leader said people must “rise above” and not just focus on the politics of the conflicts. He wants people to focus on the killing of Blacks inside and outside of the US. A good example was when 44 Ethiopian migrants were massacred in a Houthi-controlled detention center in Sana’a last month.

“I do not have time to get into the personal politics but what I do know is that people were being raped and people were starving in Ethiopia,” Newsome said.

“So, when I hear about what the Houthis did to these African refugees or asylum seekers it really, truly breaks my heart and I am glad that you (Arab News) are all doing a great job in shining a light on this.”

Newsome said that concern for human life should be prioritized above the “politics” of a conflict.

“What we need to do is explain Black Lives Matter across the globe. It does not just matter here because we have phenomenal activists and we also have the first amendment which protects our speech and gives us the right to push back and fight back against this government, at the risk of our deaths,” Newsome said.

“But what folks really need to understand is that a new day has arrived. Black people refuse to be the world’s punching bag, or that they are second-class citizens. We will unify and we will unite and we will shed justice on injustice against Black people wherever it occurs in the world. To my Ethiopian brothers and sisters: My heart bleeds for you and I am terribly sorry for what you are experiencing. But I will do my absolute best to shed light on this subject and to draw attention to this.”

Newsome said that most Americans are unaware of what is happening to Africans in other countries like Yemen and fixate on the politics rather than on the toll it takes on the people, especially Blacks and he blamed the mainstream American news media.

Arab News reporter Rua’a Al-Ameri detailed the kidnapping of Entisar Al-Hammadi, a Yemeni-Ethiopian model, by the Houthi rebels. Al-Hammadi has been held since Feb. 20 as little information on her health or wellbeing has been revealed.

“Entisar is a young Yemeni and Ethiopian model who lives in Sana’a and she was abducted by the Houthis almost two months ago now,” Al-Ameri said.

“She was meant to have her case opened two weeks ago in front of her prosecution. For the second week, it has not been possible. Her lawyer has called for her immediate release. He said she is in a terrible condition and he has also said she is threatening to go on a hunger strike because of her conditions.”

Al-Ameri added the Houthis have a history of persecuting and killing minorities such as the Ethiopians.

“In terms of the Houthis targeting ethnic minority groups, that has been evident in the past,” Al-Ameri said.

“Of course there was the fire in the migrant detention center. The Houthis also have a history of targeting the Jewish community and the Baha’i community in Yemen. So, there has been a lot of issues involving the Houthis and their approach towards minorities.”

Newsome said he was learning more and more about the Ethiopians massacre from last March and is in contact with the Yemeni community in New York City. But he said he was unaware of the kidnapping of Al-Hammadi by the Houthis.

“There is a huge problem in America and in the rest of the world and that problem is called white supremacy,” Newsome said.

“A lot of people will say ‘Oh, you are just calling out racism’ but no the fact is when things happen to Black people they do not matter as much as when they happen to white people. When there is mass murder and genocide happening to Black people across the world, no one cares. But if the same thing were to happen to little blond-haired, blue-eyed white children, then everybody would care.

“So, when you start talking about my Ethiopian brothers and sisters and them being murdered, people barely lift a brow. And that is Black people, that is white people and that is everyone in between because that has been indoctrinated into them. You are taught through the media, you are taught through television, you are taught in so many different ways that our Black lives truly do not matter and that is on a global scale.”

* “The Ray Hanania Show” is broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network on WNZK AM 690 in Detroit and WDMV AM 700 in Washington DC, and live streamed on Facebook.com/ArabNews where you can see the entire interview.


Prank TV show with fake Daesh fighters sparks outrage in Iraq

Prank TV show with fake Daesh fighters sparks outrage in Iraq
Updated 22 April 2021

Prank TV show with fake Daesh fighters sparks outrage in Iraq

Prank TV show with fake Daesh fighters sparks outrage in Iraq
  • Playfully entrapping celebrities is a staple of primetime Ramadan programs, but some viewers say “Tanb Raslan” goes too far 

LONDON: A prank TV show in Iraq has sparked outrage after featuring fake Daesh fighters who kidnap celebrities, strap fake suicide bombs to their chest and threaten the celebrities with execution.

The controversial program, called “Tanb Raslan,” invited celebrities to visit displaced Iraqi families who supposedly fled the clutches of the extremist terrorist group. As participants arrive at the alleged house, they are ambushed with actors disguised as Jihadist fighters who immediately threatened to kill them.

Celebrities were then blindfolded and fake suicide bombs were strapped to their chest. Unknown to the participants that their surroundings are fictitious, they were shown on their knees and get emotional all while the cameras are rolling. 

Iraqi footballer Alaa Mhawi became tearful and pleaded for his life while Nessma, a 58-year-old Iraqi actress, lost consciousness after the fake explosive belt was strapped to her.

Playfully entrapping celebrities has become a staple of primetime Ramadan TV shows in Iraq. However, this program, in particular, attracted criticism, considering Daesh and extremist violence still remain a real threat in the country.

The show is reportedly underwritten by the state-sponsored Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary, whose fighters helped expel Daesh fighters from Iraqi cities. These paramilitaries, still armed, have their own role in the TV show and are portrayed as heroes saving the day.

In the show, the homes of the alleged displaced families are located in the agricultural belt outside of Baghdad where Daesh sleeper cells still roam and extort locals.

Many Iraqi viewers took to social media to criticize the TV show. 

“This is not entertainment,” Bilal Al-Mosuli, a resident of Mosul, wrote on Twitter. 

Ahmed Abderradi expressed disbelief at the show after it made a tongue-in-cheek reference to Saddam Hussein, the dictator who terrorized Iraqis from 1979 to 2003. 

“Or we can throw guests into a river like the victims of Speicher,” Abderradi wrote on Twitter, referring to the 2014 Camp Speicher massacre when Daesh executed 1,700 Shiite conscripts and dumped their bodies into the Tigris.

For others, however, the show saluted anti-Daesh fighters with a slight reservation.

“But it is possible to show the bravery of the Hashd Al-Shaabi and Iraqi troops without introducing terrorism,” Noor Ghazi, an Iraqi living in the US, wrote on Twitter. 

A writer on the show, Dargham Abu Rghif, defended the program: “The scenes are harsh but if Daesh had won, artists would have had a far harder life. And all Iraqis, too.”


Gulf News to charge for digital content

Gulf News to charge for digital content
Updated 21 April 2021

Gulf News to charge for digital content

Gulf News to charge for digital content
  • UAE newspaper launches two subscription models for readers as it sets up paywall

DUBAI: The UAE English-language daily Gulf News has announced that it will start putting its online content behind a paywall.

It is unclear when the content will stop being available for free.

Print subscribers will receive a complimentary one-year access to gulfnews.com; other readers can sign up for Standard Access for AED 5.95 ($1.6) per month or Prime Access AED 8.96 per month or AED 52 per year.

The Standard package allows access to most of the website content, while the Prime package will also allow access to the new categories the newspaper is launching, including Living in UAE, Your Money, Parenting and The Good.

The move is a first for a UAE newspaper. Print revenues have been steadily declining with print media taking less than 5 percent of the total ad revenue in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, according to a GroupM report.

In a Gulf News article, CEO, Editor-in-Chief and Executive Director of Publishing, Abdul Hamid Ahmad, said: “We were offering our high-quality content online for free for the longest time, when the print revenue gave us the freedom to do so. But that is on the decline, as can be seen the world over.”

He added that the decision to put content behind a paywall was taken “a while ago” as it is no longer possible to carry on offering content for free while revenues keep declining.

He said the digital paywall is not meant to be a deterrent for people reading the news. Instead, “it is a gateway for trusted, credible and verified news” that is aimed at protecting readers from “fake news, clickbait and low-quality advertising.”

The Gulf News website has an average of 230 million page views and 15 million unique visitors every month. Yet, said Ahmad, “the commensurate revenue has not come in,” which has an impact on the quality of advertising.

He believes that the paywall will not only encourage better journalism but also better advertising. “Once you have paid subscribers, it will mean a targeted market that advertisers can optimise and utilise more effectively.”

Over the past two years, more publishers have introduced paywalls to sustain their business, although some lowered their paywalls during the pandemic.

“The idea was that information about the outbreak of COVID-19 had life-saving potential, and so it should be available to everyone, not just to subscribers — a fraction of news readers who tend to be the wealthiest and most highly-educated,” reported the Columbia Journalism Review.

Meher Murshed, Executive Editor, Digital at Gulf News, said in an article on the paper’s website that the need of the hour is to break news instantly, which can compromise accuracy.

“There is a cost to fact-checked, responsible journalism, one that is not click bait or chases page views. We have to spend resources for in-depth reporting.”

That is why Gulf News decided to launch a digital subscription, said Murshed, “so we can continue giving our readers quality journalism.”