The future of Arabic content is paid, says Majarra executive chairman

 Abdulsalam Haykal, executive chairman of Majarra, explains why paid content is the right business model for Arabic digital content. (Supplied)
Abdulsalam Haykal, executive chairman of Majarra, explains why paid content is the right business model for Arabic digital content. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 April 2021

The future of Arabic content is paid, says Majarra executive chairman

 Abdulsalam Haykal, executive chairman of Majarra, explains why paid content is the right business model for Arabic digital content. (Supplied)
  • Abdulsalam Haykal, executive chairman of Majarra, explains why paid content is the right business model for Arabic digital content

DUBAI: It is no surprise that English is the language of the internet, with 60 percent of the top 10 million websites using it.

Arabic, on the other hand, ranks 12th, with only 1.1 percent of the top 10 million websites using the language despite the fact that it is spoken by 3.5 percent of the world’s population.

In comparison, Russian ranks second, with 8.5 percent of the top 10 million websites using the language, even though the world’s Russian-speaking population (3.3 percent) is almost the same as the Arabic-speaking population.

That is the problem Majarra, formerly Haykal Media, is looking to solve.

“We realized that the content gap in the region is not only too big to ignore but also something that people have not been able to solve effectively,” Abdulsalam Haykal, executive chairman of Majarra, told Arab News.

He is often asked if Arabs actually read, and his answer is: “Do they have the content they want to read placed in front of them and distributed to them in a way that is easily accessible?”

In his experience, not only do Arabs read, but they are also willing to pay for quality content.

Good-quality Arabic content on the internet is limited. The existing content mainly consists of entertainment, religion and news, which means that users are forced to turn to English-language content for other topics, said Haykal.

“The Arabic web resembles corner shops. There’s no problem with corner shops; they fulfill a need for the neighborhood they’re in. However, they do not have enough room to innovate or returns to reinvest,” he added.

“There is no ambition to serve more than the basic needs.”

By this definition, the Arabic online content industry does not think of itself as an industry. Haykal said: “Any industry that is dominated by corner shops is not an industry. An industry needs major players. And this is something that has been lacking in the Arabic content space so far.”

At any given time, people are using the internet either through a messaging app, social media channel or search engine.

And while English is more commonly spoke in countries like the UAE, Arabic continues to be the primary language in most countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. For instance, eight out of the top 10 trending Google queries for 2020 in Saudi Arabia were in Arabic.

Furthermore, Haykal added, 85 percent of internet users in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, 50 percent in the UAE and 70 percent across the MENA region use Google Search in Arabic.

He asserted that contrary to common perception, not everyone in the region speaks English. “Everyone can probably transact in English, but a different level of the language is needed to consume knowledge, understand content and share it.”

The goal is to “give high-quality instructive and analytical content that is highly reliable in the region’s language, and that is Arabic.”

The rebrand of Haykal Media to Majarra includes a single subscription sign-on for the company’s publications, which include Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, Stanford Social Innovation Review and Popular Science.

Most online publishers today publish content to increase site views and time spent so that they can attract advertisers.

This model assumes that there is some advertising money, said Haykal, but since the advent of social media, “Big Tech has taken most of the advertising money here, and everyone can feel that impact in the industry.

“Publishers are still trying to publish online content based on the business model of advertising, but there’s no real advertising money, and they’re competing on a very small pie. And when the stakes are low, people become vicious.”

This, in turn, creates a loop whereby publishers steal content and repackage it to improve their ranking on Google and grab a higher share of advertising revenue. “It feeds a spiral of lower-quality content, and so you’ll find that a lot of the Arabic web is basically pirated or recycled content.”

What then is the ideal business model?

“The solution for us is a combination of creating content at scale — the most reliable content in partnership with the most reliable publishers anywhere in the world — and then becoming a hub for the best quality content in our region and attracting the best creators here as well,” said Haykal.

Majarra also plans to publish original content at a very high standard.

The second component to making this model successful is user engagement. “It’s often said that content is king, but distribution is the emperor,” Haykal said.

“It is important to put content in front of people based on what they’re looking for and make it easy to access, consume and share, but we need to be able to understand their needs and bring them the content they want through the channels they use.”

Once a company offers excellent content, distribution, convenience and a seamless experience, it can put a price on the value it is offering.

“This is the model that we are proposing: a subscription-based ecosystem for Arabic content.”

The vision to “build a sustainable, defensible and growing membership-based platform through Majarra” is not only transformative for the industry, said Haykal. “It could actually create an industry.”


First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part
Updated 11 May 2021

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part
  • Fitness enthusiast Shireen Khan says “SAS Who Dares Wins” placed her in some uncomfortable situations
  • The entrepreneur of Pakistani origin said her parents did not want her to take part, and share room and toilets with men

LONDON: The first Muslim woman to take part in a popular British TV show, in which contestants are set challenges by former Special Forces members, has described both her pride in taking part but the “difficult situations” she faced linked to her faith and upbringing.
Shireen Khan, an aesthetics and tech entrepreneur from London, was chosen among thousands as one of the recruits in the action-packed series “SAS Who Dares Wins.”
The sixth season, which started airing on Sunday on Channel 4, involves an elite team of ex-Special Forces soldiers putting 21 men and women through a series of grueling physical and mental exercises designed to mirror selection for the Special Air Services (SAS).
“A lot of people thought I wasn’t going to get on the show or even pass their fitness tests,” Khan told Arab News of the entry process. “At one point, I actually thought myself I was’t going to pass, because they were so difficult.”
Even to enter the show, contestants must be able to do 44 push-ups in a minute-and-a-half, and run 1.9 kilometers in nine minutes.
Khan, 28, received the call to say she made it as one of the final recruits, but her parents were not very happy, which posed a “real conflict” for her.
“My mum was like, you are a Muslim girl and how are you planning to go onto the show, when you are going to be sleeping next to men, and going to the toilet, and all of these things, if you go on the show, I am practically going to disown you,” Khan told Arab News.
For Khan, this was “a once in a lifetime opportunity,” although it “was a very difficult situation.”
“There are Muslim women who want to go into the SAS or army, because that is their passion and the big question is, is that something they can do in the correct way of Islam?”
Since then, her father has come around due to her achievement and knowing her values, but her mother has not, however at the time of the interview, they still had not seen her contribution to the show.
On the show, the men and women share open toilets and sleep in army camp beds in the same room. They also get changed together.

The sixth season of “SAS Who Dares Wins” started airing on Sunday on UK Channel 4. (Channel 4)

“I got very constipated, because mentally that is not something I am used to, whereas a lot of the other recruits, they have been in scouts and been wilderness camping since they were young, they have been exposed to these type of things, so they did not find it as a culture shock,” Khan said. “Whereas with me, I have been brought up in a very strict Muslim household in some way, so I physically couldn’t go to the toilet.”
At one point, they returned to camp and were washed off in freezing cold water to clear the mud and filth, and were told to undress and get into their dry kit.
“It meant that everyone had to strip, and when it came to me, I just said no,” Khan said. Instead, she wore her dry kit over her wet clothes, prompting warnings from the show’s staff that she risked hypothermia.
“It was a very uncomfortable situation and what you see on TV and in reality is absolutely nothing what they put you through, they literally just put a few snippets, but you are constantly going through that trauma behind the cameras.”
Another problem she faced was that the show did not not provide halal food.
Women were only allowed to apply for the real SAS since 2018.
On the TV show, Khan is not the first Muslim to take part. In the second season, Iraqi-born Mohammed Abdul Razak, who reached the final stage, used to pray five times a day on the show.
It was filmed in a remote part of Scotland, where the British Special Forces do most of their challenging training.
Despite her best efforts, Khan was the first to be eliminated during the first task, where they had to race 2.2 kilometers up a mountain carrying 18 kilos on their backs, as she along with another contestant, would have been a liability in a real war zone, the judges said.
Contestants often have a story of hardship, which has given them the strength to turn their lives around.
“Since I was young, I was bullied at school, I was not one of the best looking girls, I had a mustache growing up, being from a Pakistani background I was extremely hairy and that was one of the targets for bullies to pick on me and beat me up in the playground,” Khan said.
She suffered from self-esteem issues, which made her binge eat and become overweight. She also went through a really tough time with her parents’ divorce and growing up without much money.
She changed her life to become as physically fit as possible and went from “rags to riches,” training as a nurse before setting up a a chain of beauty clinics across London.
“I have come a long way and...it took a lot for me to do that, but I am a pure example of when you put your mind to something it is possible.”

Shireen Khan, an aesthetics and tech entrepreneur from London, was chosen among thousands as one of the recruits in the action-packed series “SAS Who Dares Wins.” (Supplied)

Khan joined the show because wanted to experience the real SAS and army, “who are actually going through this day to day just to save us, and for us to be sleeping peacefully at night. Coming off the show, my admiration, I’ve just got no words to describe what they get exposed to every day, it’s a real honor.”
Khan does not think she is capable of a career in the SAS because she discovered on the show she has physical, mental limitations. Weighing 51kg, Khan is 157cm, and said she was physically unable to compete with the men in the same tasks.
“It has definitely changed and shaped the way I look at life in general and I am exposing myself to new challenges,” she said.
Khan said she now plans to focus on her business and charitable work “and give back to the world in a different way.”
Khan runs a charity called Carrott Kids, which helped rebuild an earthquake-damaged school for 100 children in a remote Pakistan village. The new school building opened in March.


MBC's Waleed Al-Ibrahim receives King Abdulaziz medal

MBC's Waleed Al-Ibrahim receives King Abdulaziz medal
Updated 11 May 2021

MBC's Waleed Al-Ibrahim receives King Abdulaziz medal

MBC's Waleed Al-Ibrahim receives King Abdulaziz medal

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian media mogul Waleed Al-Ibrahim received on Monday the King Abdulaziz Order of Merit for his success in the media and broadcasting world.

The King Abdulaziz Order of Merit is a medal awarded to citizens of Saudi Arabia and foreigners for meritorious service to Saudi Arabia. It is considered the highest civilian honor in the Kingdom.

Al-Ibrahim founded and chaired the Middle East Broadcasting Center, also known as MBC Group, in London in 1991. At that time of its launch, MBC was the first pan-Arab free-to-air satellite TV network. Today, MBC is one of the biggest media broadcasting stations in the Arab world. It includes several movie, TV show, and children channels such as MBC 2, MBC 3, MBC 4 and MBC Action. Al Ibrahim launched Al Arabiya in 2003, a free-to-air television news channel based in Dubai.

Al-Ibrahim is widely recognized for his contributions in the field of Arab media. In 2007, he was chosen as the 27th most influential Arab among 100 Arab personalities by Arabian Business. He received the title ‘Media Man of the Year’ at the 4th MENA Cristal Awards held in Lebanon in 2008. In 2011, he was chosen among the top 50 figures in MENA’s media, marketing and advertising industry. Al Ibrahim was also named as the world's 66th most influential Arab personality by Gulf News in 2012, while Arabian Business named him as the world's 24th most influential Arab among 500 others in 2012.

 


Facebook, Instagram accused of bias by censoring Palestinian content 

Facebook, Instagram accused of bias by censoring Palestinian content 
Updated 11 May 2021

Facebook, Instagram accused of bias by censoring Palestinian content 

Facebook, Instagram accused of bias by censoring Palestinian content 
  • Director of 7amleh said the censorship of Palestinians happened through two channels
  • The organization was able to restore some content and pages of users who reported removals to them

DUBAI: Imagine the pain of being kicked out of your own home. Then imagine being unable to let the world know what is happening to you.

This is the reality for Palestinians living in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which houses 28 families from the 1948 Nakba. Under international law, East Jerusalem is considered part of the Palestinian Territories.

Earlier this year, the Israeli Central Court in East Jerusalem approved a decision to evict four Palestinian families from their homes in the neighborhood. 

The court was scheduled to issue a ruling on the evictions on May 6 amid heated demonstrations and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers, but the decision was delayed until May 10.

Hundreds of social media users have accused Instagram and Facebook of removing content and accounts reporting on the Sheikh Jarrah violence.

One of the videos that was deleted from the story archives of Palestinian journalist Maha Rezeq was about Israeli settler Jacob, who took over the house of Muna El-Kurd in 2009. He told her that if he did not steal her house then someone else would.

“What I’ve been sharing is raw footage, videos, testimonies of people on the ground, some are actually coming from the mouth of an Israeli, the mouth of a settler, why is that controversial? Everything was self-explanatory, there is no blood or graphic footage that violates the community standard,” Rezeq said.

Rezeq told Arab News that only her content on Sheikh Jarrah was removed.

“The only thing that was removed from my archive were stories and posts related to exposing Israeli crimes against Palestinians.”

Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian writer from Jerusalem, was posting videos and stories on violence in Sheikh Jarrah when he received a warning that his account might be deleted.

“Some of your previous posts didn’t follow our Community Guidelines,” the message read. “If you post something that goes against our guidelines again, your account may be deleted, including your posts, archive, messages and followers.”

Facebook also removed “57 pieces of content” from his page because they went against the guidelines.

Yasmin Dabat said her stories with the hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah, dated to May 3, were “removed by Instagram without any warnings or updates.”

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, tweeted it was facing technical issues on May 6, after hundreds of people began reporting the censorship.

“We know that some people are experiencing issues uploading and viewing stories. This is a widespread global technical issue not related to any particular topic and we’re fixing it right now. We’ll provide an update as soon as we can.”

Nadim Nashif, the director of a nonprofit organization called 7amleh that advocates for Palestinian digital rights, said the explanation did not make sense to them.

“(It) is very weird, like you know, to compare what happened in a certain neighborhood in Jerusalem, with huge countries like Canada, the US and Colombia, doesn’t sound logical to us, doesn’t sound like it’s really explaining, because in Canada and the US they were taking down stories that are about various topics, (but) here (it was) about (a) certain hashtag, specifically about Sheikh Jarrah,” he said.

Nashif said the censorship of Palestinians happened through two channels.

“One factor is what the Israelis are doing, they are basically trying to push the social media platforms to adopt their own standards of what should be there and what shouldn’t be there. There’s strong cooperation between them and Facebook mainly.”

According to Nashif, this leads to what’s called “voluntary takedowns,” where Israeli cyber units send requests to social media platforms to take down specific content without a court order.

Another way that Palestinian content was pushed out of social media was through “armies of trolls and applications called Act.IL organizing people to report in a massive way,” he added.

Act.IL is an app that describes itself as “the place where all pro-Israeli advocates, communities and organizations meet to work together to fight back against the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state.”

According to the app, users “will be able to remove inciting content from social media, fight antisemitism and anti-Zionism, influence the online narrative regarding Israel, and take part in special pro-Israel campaigns and efforts.”

Palestinians are also being silenced on social media through the use of Artificial Intelligence by those platforms to identify what content violates their user guidelines.

“Social media platforms are (using) artificial intelligence for takedowns and there is lots of use of keywords, mainly around what the US government consider(s) as terrorist organizations,” Nashif explained.

Some of those who reported content takedowns and account removals to 7amleh were able to restore their content after the organization reached out to Facebook.

“We managed to restore tens or hundreds of them in this struggle, because we are (a) trusted partner of Facebook,” Nashif added.

Dabat was able to recover her stories around 12 hours later after getting in touch with Instagram.

“I emailed Instagram directly mentioning this and applied pressure on them to put them back. They then put them back without replying to me,” she said.

Nashif said the system was still biased despite the restoration of content and accounts.

“We (haven’t) managed to get a transparent, clear system of content moderation. The keyword here is transparency and equality, because this is not happening in the Israeli side.”

Instagram hid the hashtag #الأقصى (Al-Aqsa in Arabic) two days ago, when Israeli police in riot gear were deployed in large numbers as thousands of Muslims held Tarawih prayers. Medics said over 200 Palestinians were wounded that night.

“Part of the escalation that happened is that they were even taking down hashtags, I mean they were hiding hashtags like Al-Aqsa, which is something new,” Nashif said.

He advised social media users to continue reporting instances of censorship through their platforms and contact organizations that handled these issues to raise awareness and correct such behavior.

Instagram sent a clarification on May 11 to Arab News about the removals of accounts and posts related to Sheikh Jarrah.
“Earlier this week, many of our Instagram users faced significant issues accessing certain hashtags and content - including our Palestinian community. We sincerely apologize for the frustration this has caused and assure you that we were in no way trying to limit anyone’s ability to freely express themselves,” the statement read.

On Thursday, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland urged Israel to cease demolitions and evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law.

On Sunday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel rejected pressure not to build in Jerusalem, after days of unrest and growing international condemnation of planned evictions of Palestinians from homes in the city claimed by Jewish settlers.

“We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late.”

Last week, the Red Cross reported that 22 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli police in annexed East Jerusalem.


UAE-based Kerning Cultures Network acquires first podcast

UAE-based Kerning Cultures Network acquires first podcast
Updated 10 May 2021

UAE-based Kerning Cultures Network acquires first podcast

UAE-based Kerning Cultures Network acquires first podcast
  • ‘Faslah’ is narrative-driven Arabic podcast about life-changing moments

DUBAI: Middle East podcast network Kerning Cultures has acquired its first podcast, “Faslah.”

Founded by Bahraini creator Mohammed Jaafar in May last year, “Faslah” is a narrative-driven podcast in Arabic about life-changing moments.

Dubai-based Kerning Cultures, which was established in 2015, produces original content including tech show “Akhbar el Tech,” and self-reflection and mental wellness show “Sukoun.”

In a blog post, the company said: “As creatives, we’re perfectly aligned: Like Kerning Cultures, ‘Faslah’ values authenticity and simplicity in storytelling.

“We both believe in highlighting untold stories from our communities: The everyday heroes whose stories will make us laugh, cry, ruminate, and bring us a little closer together.”

The acquisition of the show is in line with Kerning Culture’s vision of building the largest podcast network in the Middle East and North Africa region.

In recent months, the company has doubled its team size and is in the process of doubling its show offerings. The network currently has 12 Arabic and English shows with plans for more.


Fast food firm’s Ramadan Pizza aims to taste, do good

Fast food firm’s Ramadan Pizza aims to taste, do good
Updated 10 May 2021

Fast food firm’s Ramadan Pizza aims to taste, do good

Fast food firm’s Ramadan Pizza aims to taste, do good
  • Pizza2Go, MullenLowe MENA, Emirates Red Crescent join forces to tackle food wastage during holy month

DUBAI: Ramadan is marked by fasting throughout the day and eating at suhoor and iftar. However, takeaway restaurant firm Pizza2Go claims an estimated 25 percent of food goes to waste during the holy month, which goes against the principles of Ramadan.

So, to address the issue, Dubai-based Pizza2Go has launched its three-quarter pizza box, a normal pizza but with 25 percent removed to eliminate wastage.

The reduced-size pizza costs 44 dirhams ($12), with normal ones ranging in price between 33 dirhams and 65 dirhams, and 25 percent from the sale of every three-quarter-sized pizza will be donated to the UAE charity organization Emirates Red Crescent.

The campaign was inspired by creative shop MullenLowe whose regional executive creative director for the Middle East and North Africa, Paul Banham, said: “The three-quarter pizza box is just like any other pizza except for one important difference: We have one slice missing.

“It’s a great idea and opportunity to help solve a huge problem while also tying in with the spiritual side of the holy month of Ramadan.”