National Enquirer owner fined for illegal Trump campaign aid

The National Enquirer was fined for covering up a story about a Playboy model claiming she had an affair with former President Trump. (File/AFP)
The National Enquirer was fined for covering up a story about a Playboy model claiming she had an affair with former President Trump. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 June 2021

National Enquirer owner fined for illegal Trump campaign aid

The National Enquirer was fined for covering up a story about a Playboy model claiming she had an affair with former President Trump. (File/AFP)
  • The National Enquirer was fined $187,500 for suppressing a story that claimed former president Trump had an affair with a Playboy model.
  • The National Enquirer for years buried stories about Trump and some other celebrities by buying the rights to these stories and then not publishing them.

A federal election watchdog fined the publisher of the National Enquirer $187,500 for squelching the story of a former Playboy model who claimed she’d had an affair with former President Donald Trump.

The Federal Election Commission fined A360 Media, formerly known as American Media, for paying Karen McDougal $150,000 in August 2016, saying the payment was made to keep her story from becoming public before the presidential election.

The FEC said the publisher’s “payment to Karen McDougal to purchase a limited life story right combined with its decision not to publish the story, in consultation with an agent of Donald J. Trump and for the purpose of influencing the election, constituted a prohibited corporate in-kind contribution.”
Campaign finance laws prohibit corporations from cooperating with a campaign to affect an election.

The publisher didn’t immediately return a message left via its website. An emailed statement from a representative for David Pecker, who stepped down as CEO of the publisher in 2020, said that Pecker was not a party to the settlement and had not paid a fine.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan agreed in 2018 not to prosecute American Media in exchange for its cooperation in a campaign finance investigation. That probe led to a three-year prison term for Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who had urged the publisher to obtain the rights to McDougal’s story and promised to reimburse them for the payment.

Cohen served about a year of his sentence before he was released to home confinement as the coronavirus spread through prisons. Since then, he has spoken out frequently against Trump, and tweeted on Wednesday that he was willing to cooperate with federal prosecutors on any other prosecution of Trump or his associates.

The National Enquirer for years buried stories about Trump and some other celebrities with a “catch-and-kill” strategy of buying the rights to these stories and then not publishing them.

Common Cause, a public interest group which filed the complaint with the FEC in 2018, said in a statement that the fine was a “win for democracy” but said the agency’s “failure to hold former-President Trump and his campaign accountable for this violation lays bare the dysfunction at the FEC.” In its 2018 complaint, it also asked the agency to investigate Trump and his campaign. In a letter to Common Cause Tuesday, the agency said there was “an insufficient number of votes to find reason to believe that the remaining respondents violated the Federal Election Campaign Act “

Common Cause also noted that the FEC’s Republican commissioners had blocked enforcement against Trump for a payment to Stormy Daniels in a decision released last month. The FEC has three Republicans, two Democrats and an Independent commissioner.

Common Cause said that the FEC “has again shown itself incapable of fully enforcing the campaign finance laws passed by Congress.”

The National Enquirer and A360 Media are owned by hedge fund Chatham Asset Management. A Chatham representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment. A 2019 deal that would have sold the Enquirer to the former head of the airport newsstand company Hudson News was not completed.


BBC appeals to UN over Iran’s harassment of Persian staff

BBC appeals to UN over Iran’s harassment of Persian staff
Updated 56 sec ago

BBC appeals to UN over Iran’s harassment of Persian staff

BBC appeals to UN over Iran’s harassment of Persian staff
  • Agents have sent death threats, harassed staff, used their families as bargaining chips
  • Reporter: ‘It’s a matter of life and death for us — and our families — to speak out’

LONDON: The BBC has complained to the UN about Iran’s harassment of its Persian-language staff.

According to the British broadcaster, Iranian agents have threatened to kidnap London staff and take them to Iran.

The BBC’s legal team has urged the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to take action on the issue.

BBC Persian is a very popular source of information for Iranians, boasting an estimated 18 million regular readers and listeners — around a quarter of the country’s population.

In an internal survey of 102 BBC Persian staff carried out in March last year, 71 said they had experienced harassment.

A third have also had one or both parents harassed or called in for questioning by Iranian authorities, and over half say they feel under pressure to leave their jobs.

In one instance, a reporter received threats to her life via online messaging platform Skype, and was told to quit her job — or spy on her colleagues — in return for the release of her 27-year-old sister who had been detained in Iran.

Tehran also froze the assets of BBC Persian staff in 2017. A year later, it accused all 152 current and former staff of “conspiracy against national security,” and initiated criminal investigations against them.

On Thursday, the BBC hosted a virtual side event to coincide with a UNHRC meeting, in which it raised concerns about an escalating campaign of harassment by Iran toward its Persian journalists and other Persian-language media.

BBC Persian reporter Kasra Naji spoke at the event and revealed the threats and cyberbullying that he, his colleagues and their families have endured.

He said in December 2020, six staff members had family called in for questioning by Tehran’s intelligence agents. All were told to pass on death threats to their London-based relatives.

According to Naji, agents made consistent references to Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian journalist operating from Paris who was tricked into traveling to Baghdad, kidnapped by Iranian agents while there and then executed for his writing.

“Perhaps the most shocking thing is the intelligence officers who made these threats against our lives were so comfortable that they handed over their phone numbers for us to contact them — acting with total impunity on behalf of the state,” said Naji.

“We ask you to help shine a light on what’s happening to us. It’s the only way to safeguard us. It’s a matter of life and death for us — and our families — to speak out.”

The BBC first complained in 2018 when criminal cases were opened against all staff, but staff say the assault on them began over a decade ago when Iran was convulsed by its worst unrest since the 1979 revolution.

The harassment campaign began in 2009 when the BBC covered Iran’s “Green Revolution,” which saw millions take to the streets to protest what they saw as a rigged election that placed hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power as president.

Tehran blamed Western media for stoking unrest, and since then BBC Persian staff say they have been subjected to a campaign of harassment and death threats that has escalated in recent years. In some cases, staff have required police protection.

In March 2019, a group of UN experts condemned Iran’s treatment of the broadcaster, saying its actions violated international law and “ultimately (constituted) serious threats to global security.”


Assange’s fiancée urges Biden to free WikiLeaks founder to show US has changed

English lawyer and partner of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Stella Morris wearing a facemask reading:
English lawyer and partner of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Stella Morris wearing a facemask reading: "Free Assange." (AFP)
Updated 25 June 2021

Assange’s fiancée urges Biden to free WikiLeaks founder to show US has changed

English lawyer and partner of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Stella Morris wearing a facemask reading: "Free Assange." (AFP)
  • Julien Assange's fiancee urges US president Joe Biden to free WikiLeaks founder to reflect the US's commitment to free press.
  • he US Justice Department said it plans to continue seeking the extradition for Assange to face hacking conspiracy charges.

LONDON: President Joe Biden must let Julian Assange go free if he wants the United States to become a beacon for a free press once again and put the legacy of Donald Trump behind it, the fiancée of the WikiLeaks founder told Reuters.
Washington has sought the extradition of Assange over his role in one of the biggest ever leaks of classified information, accusing him of putting lives in danger by releasing vast troves of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables.
He has now spent nine years in jail or self-incarceration in Britain, and both Assange’s fiancée Stella Moris and the British judge overseeing the extradition request have warned he may not survive a process to send him across the Atlantic.
“If Biden really wants to break with the Trump legacy, then he has to drop the case,” Moris told Reuters in an interview. “They can’t maintain this prosecution against Julian while saying that they defend a global press freedom.”
When Barack Obama served as president and Biden was his vice president, the US decided not to seek Assange’s extradition on the grounds that what WikiLeaks did was similar to journalistic activities protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Weeks after taking office Trump administration officials stepped up public criticism of Assange and later filed a series of criminal charges accusing him of participating in a hacking conspiracy.
The US Justice Department said in February it planned to continue to seek the extradition for Assange to face hacking conspiracy charges.
Moris said the couple were planning to marry soon at the top-security Belmarsh prison where he is being held.
US prosecutors and Western security officials regard Assange as a reckless enemy of the state whose actions threatened the lives of agents named in the leaked material.
Supporters pit him as an anti-establishment hero who exposed US wrongdoing in Afghanistan and Iraq and say his prosecution is a politically-motivated assault on journalism that gives a free pass to oppressive regimes around the world.
WikiLeaks came to prominence when it published a US military video in 2010 showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.
An effort to extradite him was launched in 2019 after he was detained in London after taking refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in the British capital for seven years to avoid being extradited to Sweden.
British judge Vanessa Baraitser said in January that although she accepted the US legal arguments in the case, she said Assange’s mental health issues meant he would be at risk of suicide if extradited, leading to her rejecting the request.
Moris, who has two young boys with the Australian-born Assange, said the 49-year-old was very low but still fighting. She likened his treatment as akin to the way some journalists are treated in China and Saudi Arabia.
“I think there’s no doubt that Julian wouldn’t survive an extradition,” she said.
She argued that any robust democracy had to accommodate internal dissent. “A superpower that has a free press is very different in nature from one that does not.”
She said she is hopeful that the case will be viewed differently under a Biden administration, but refused to say if his legal team had held talks with US officials.
Despite that hope, she said the couple were planning to marry soon inside Belmarsh, once the paperwork is done, rather than wait to hear his fate.
She said Assange had been given a huge lift recently when she was allowed to take their two sons to visit, allowing him to touch his children for the first time in over a year.
“He was happy to see us, but he’s struggling,” she said. “He’s very low but he’s fighting. He has the hope that this will end soon.”


Amazon, Google face formal fake review inquiry in Britain

Google and Amazon said they would continue to assist the CMA with its enquiries. (File/AFP)
Google and Amazon said they would continue to assist the CMA with its enquiries. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 June 2021

Amazon, Google face formal fake review inquiry in Britain

Google and Amazon said they would continue to assist the CMA with its enquiries. (File/AFP)
  • The United Kingdom starts a formal investigation into Amazon and Google's efforts in preventing fake reviews.
  • The British competition regulator could take enforcement action if firms broke the law.

Britain’s competition regulator started a formal investigation on Friday into whether Amazon and Google may not have done enough to prevent or remove fake reviews.
Along with regulators in the United Sates and the European Union, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has stepped up its scrutiny of big tech firms in recent years.
The British regulator said it will gather more information to decide if the firms may have broken consumer law by taking insufficient action to protect shoppers. Both Google and Amazon said they were continuing to assist the CMA.
CMA action last year over the trading of fake reviews resulted in Facebook, Instagram and eBay removing groups and banning individuals for buying and selling fake reviews on their sites.
Google said on Thursday it would delay blocking tracking cookies on its Chrome browser following intervention by the CMA.
The CMA started its investigation into reviews in May 2020, focusing on the internal systems and processes of several platforms for identifying and dealing with fake reviews.
The regulator said it was also concerned that Amazon’s systems had failed adequately to prevent and deter some sellers from manipulating product listings, through for example co-opting positive reviews from other products.
“Our worry is that millions of online shoppers could be misled by reading fake reviews and then spending their money based on those recommendations,” the CMA’s Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said in a statement.
“Equally, it’s simply not fair if some businesses can fake 5-star reviews to give their products or services the most prominence, while law-abiding businesses lose out.”

ENFORCEMENT ACTION
The CMA said it has not reached a view on whether Amazon and Alphabet’s Google have broken the law.
However, if it concludes they have broken consumer protection law, it can take enforcement action ranging from securing formal commitments to change the way they deal with fake reviews or escalating to court action.
Amazon said it would continue to assist the CMA with its enquiries.
“We are relentless in protecting our store and will take action to stop fake reviews regardless of the size or location of those who attempt this abuse,” said a spokesperson.
Google too said it would continue to work with the regulator.
“Our strict policies clearly state reviews must be based on real experiences, and when we find policy violations, we take action — from removing abusive content to disabling user accounts,” a spokesperson for the company said.


India’s IT minister slams Twitter for denying access to account

Prasad reiterated that all social media firms must abide by the new IT rules. (File/AFP)
Prasad reiterated that all social media firms must abide by the new IT rules. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 June 2021

India’s IT minister slams Twitter for denying access to account

Prasad reiterated that all social media firms must abide by the new IT rules. (File/AFP)
  • India's Technology Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, slams Twitter for denying access to his account for a period of an hour.
  • Prasad was denied access after his post allegedly violated the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

NEW DELHI: India’s technology minister slammed Twitter on Friday for denying access to his account for almost an hour amid growing tensions between the US company and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration over compliance with new IT rules.
Ravi Shankar Prasad said in a thread on Koo, a home-grown rival to Twitter, that the company had denied access on the grounds he had violated the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), subsequently restoring access.
Prasad said Twitter had violated India’s new IT rules, which became effective in May and mandate that an intermediary or a host of user content must inform a user of the grounds for its action.
The rules also say that a user must be “provided with an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action” taken by an intermediary.
It was not immediately clear which of Prasad’s posts violated the DMCA.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The dispute over the minister’s account comes as India’s federal government and Twitter are wrangling over non-compliance with the new IT rules.
In a separate case, police summoned Twitter’s India head Manish Maheshwari earlier this month for failing to stop the spread of a video that allegedly incited religious discord. On Thursday, a court gave Maheshwari relief in that case.
Prasad has previously criticized Twitter over the viral video, saying its failure to act was “perplexing.”
On Friday, Prasad reiterated that all social media firms must abide by the new IT rules, which also mandate the appointment of new compliance executives.
“Twitter’s actions indicate that they are not the harbinger of free speech that they claim to be but are only interested in running their own agenda,” Prasad said, adding that users faced the threat of being “arbitrarily” removed if they did not follow the company’s line.


UEFA EURO kicks off on TikTok with challenges, talk shows and more

UEFA EURO kicks off on TikTok with challenges, talk shows and more
Updated 25 June 2021

UEFA EURO kicks off on TikTok with challenges, talk shows and more

UEFA EURO kicks off on TikTok with challenges, talk shows and more
  • From an exclusive Ed Sheeran show to football challenges, TikTok is the digital home of UEFA EURO

DUBAI: Short-form mobile video app TikTok was announced as the sponsor of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) EURO, making it the first digital platform to sponsor a major international tournament.

As an official partner, TikTok’s aim is to provide a place where fans can follow football content creators, share football content and create personal moments around the tournament. As part of its efforts, TikTok is working with UEFA to launch a variety of features such as augmented reality effects, Hashtag Challenges and live shows.

The partnership also includes broadcast sponsorship rights, giving TikTok brand exposure around UEFA’s live match programs across all European broadcast channels.

The platform has fast become a home for football teams, players and content. The Al-Jazira football club has a prominent presence on the platform with over 120,000 followers. Regional celebrities like Ali Saleh, Yahya Al-Ghassani and Mohammed Abdulbasit are also active and popular on TikTok. In fact, over 25 percent of top league football clubs in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), including UAE Pro League, Al Jazira, Al-Ain and Shabab Al-Ahli, are on the platform.

“We have noticed great engagement on a global level with EURO 2020 on TikTok, with users from the Middle East and North Africa region coming together and celebrating the joy of football on the platform,” a TikTok spokesperson told Arab News.

Even before the partnership, sports — football, in particular — has been a popular topic on the mobile video app. Football content alone has received 700 million views on the #TikTokFootball hashtag in the region and 129 billion views on the #football hashtag globally.

Since the beginning of the partnership, more than 4 billion videos have been posted with the hashtag #EURO2020.

“In addition, we’re launching a series of challenges until July 11, all catered for the EUROs,” the spokesperson added.

Some of these challenges include #GameReady, which allows creators to engage with followers and build up excitement prior to the game; #FootballColors, which focuses on having fans express their support for their favorite football teams by wearing the team’s jersey and applying their team’s flag on their face; and #CelebrateFootball, which amps up the energy on game day by showing users how to react to the highs and lows of the game.

Currently, the #GameReady challenge has over 165 million views, the #FootballColors challenge over 24 million views and the #CelebrateFootball challenge over 76 million views.

Throughout the month, TikTok is also hosting live shows that bring together players and creators to analyze, discuss and predict games.

“These exclusive EURO live shows combine behind-the-scenes footage, star pundits and media figures from the region who go on TikTok daily and analyze the games with attendees including Mohammed Awaad, Nabaa Al-Dabbagh, Mansour Al-Blooshi and many more,” said the spokesperson.

The biggest milestone of the partnership is an exclusive TikTok-only performance by Ed Sheeran. The show will be staged at Portman Road, home ground stadium of the Ipswich Town FC in the UK, and streamed only on TikTok through his channel @edsheeran on June 25. The show will feature the first performance of the artist’s latest single “Bad Habits,” which is being released on the same day.

“We know that Ed Sheeran has many fans across the region, and we are very excited to be able to tune in to this truly special moment during the UEFA Euro 2020,” said Rami Zeidan, head of video and creative at TikTok, in a statement.

“Music [and sport play] such an important part in the TikTok community as they have the power to bring people together in magical ways. We look forward to seeing everyone there.”

FAST FACTS

The #TikTokFootball hashtag has over 700 million views in the region

The #football hashtag has received 129 billion views globally

Over 25 percent of top league football clubs in the UAE are on TikTok

The #GameReady challenge has over 165 million views

The #FootballColors challenge has over 24 million views

The #CelebrateFootball challenge has over 76 million views