US blocks websites linked to Iranian disinformation including Press TV and Houthi's Al-Masirah

US blocks websites linked to Iranian disinformation including Press TV and Houthi's Al-Masirah
The message showing on the Houthi Al-Masirah channel's website. Similar messages appeared on other Iranian-linked sites. (Screengrab)
Short Url
Updated 23 June 2021

US blocks websites linked to Iranian disinformation including Press TV and Houthi's Al-Masirah

US blocks websites linked to Iranian disinformation including Press TV and Houthi's Al-Masirah
  • Iranian news agencies said that the US government had seized several Iranian media websites

DUBAI: The US Justice Department on Tuesday blocked some three dozen websites, many of them associated with Iranian disinformation activities, a US government source said, adding an official announcement was expected.
The source in Washington spoke after notices appeared earlier on Tuesday on a number of Iran-affiliated websites saying they had been seized by the United States government as part of law enforcement action.
Iranian news agencies said that the US government had seized several Iranian media websites and sites belonging to groups affiliated with Iran such as Yemen’s Houthi movement.
Some sites later started to display as normal.
The website of the Arabic-language Masirah TV, which is run by the Houthis, read:
“The domain almasirah.net has been seized by the United States Government in accordance with a seizure warrant ... as part of a law enforcement action by the Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement and Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
The site quickly opened up a new, working website at www.almasirah.com.
Iran’s Arabic language Alalam TV said on its Telegram channel: “US authorities shut down Al-Alam TV’s website.”
A US Justice Department spokesperson had no immediate comment. Two US government sources indicated that the Justice Department was preparing an announcement on this issue.
The notices appeared days after a prominent hard-liner and fierce critic of the West, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected as Iran’s new president and after envoys for Iran and six world powers including Washington adjourned talks on reviving their tattered 2015 nuclear accord and returned to capitals for consultations.
Notices also appeared on websites of Iran’s English-language Press TV and Lualua TV, an Arabic-language Bahraini independent channel which broadcasts from Britain.
“In what seems to be a coordinated action, a similar message appears on the websites of Iranian and regional television networks that claims the domains of the websites have been ‘seized by the United States Government’,” Press TV said on Twitter.
Last October, US prosecutors seized a network of web domains which they said were used in a campaign by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to spread political disinformation around the world.
The US Justice Department said then that it had taken control of 92 domains used by the IRGC to pose as independent media outlets targeting audiences in the United States, Europe, Middle East and Southeast Asia.
The semi-official Iranian news agency YJC agency said on Tuesday the US move “demonstrates that calls for freedom of speech are lies.” 


Biden caught on hot mic swearing at Fox News reporter

Biden responded to the Fox News question with sarcasm, “It’s a great asset — more inflation.” Then he shook his head and added, “What a stupid son of a bitch.” (AFP)
Biden responded to the Fox News question with sarcasm, “It’s a great asset — more inflation.” Then he shook his head and added, “What a stupid son of a bitch.” (AFP)
Updated 25 January 2022

Biden caught on hot mic swearing at Fox News reporter

Biden responded to the Fox News question with sarcasm, “It’s a great asset — more inflation.” Then he shook his head and added, “What a stupid son of a bitch.” (AFP)
  • US president Joe Biden was caught on camera insulting a Fox News reporter following a question about inflation

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden responded to a question about inflation by calling a Fox News reporter a vulgarity.
The president was in the East Room of the White House on Monday for a meeting of his Competition Council, which is focused on changing regulations and enforcing laws to help consumers deal with high prices. Reporters in the room shouted questions after Biden’s remarks.
Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked Biden about inflation, which is at a nearly 40-year high and has hurt the president’s public approval. Doocy’s network has been relentlessly critical of Biden.
Doocy called out, “Do you think inflation is a political liability ahead of the midterms?”
Biden responded with sarcasm, “It’s a great asset — more inflation.” Then he shook his head and added, “What a stupid son of a bitch.”
The president’s comments were captured on video and by the microphone in front of him. Doocy laughed it off in a subsequent appearance on his network, joking, “Nobody has fact-checked him yet and said it’s not true.”
Doocy told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that Biden called him later to the clear the air. Doocy said Biden told him, “It’s nothing personal, pal.”
The White House did not immediately responded to a request for comment.
The White House has insisted repeatedly that it is focused on curbing inflation, with Biden reorienting his entire economic agenda around the issue. But the president has also shown a willingness to challenge a media that he deems to be too critical, especially Fox News and Doocy.
At his news conference last week, Biden said to Doocy with sarcasm, “You always ask me the nicest questions.”
“I have a whole binder full,” the reporter answered.
“I know you do,” Biden said. “None of them make a lot of sense to me. Fire away.”


OSN commissions first original feature ‘Yellow Bus’

OSN commissions first original feature ‘Yellow Bus’
Updated 25 January 2022

OSN commissions first original feature ‘Yellow Bus’

OSN commissions first original feature ‘Yellow Bus’
  • Film to premiere on the platform this year after theatrical release

DUBAI: Streaming service OSN, which has been investing heavily in original content, has announced its latest original, “Yellow Bus,” which marks its foray into feature films.

“Yellow Bus” tells the story of a schoolgirl who dies from heat exhaustion after falling asleep on a school bus and is left behind.

The movie follows her mother Ananda, played by Tannishtha Chatterjee, as she searches for the truth about her daughter’s death.

“Yellow Bus” explores universal themes of motherhood, grief and dealing with loss against the backdrop of Gulf culture.

“We were drawn to the story as it works on many levels. It takes you on a heartbreaking roller-coaster of the mother’s desperation, while also covering controversial themes and concepts that are rarely addressed in this region,” said Darine ElKhatib, senior vice president of Arabic services and original production at OSN.

The film is written and directed by Wendy Bednarz, who has previously directed short films such as “On Crystal” and “Leaving Gussie,” and is produced by award-winning Jordanian screenwriter and producer Nadia Eliewat.

In addition to Chatterjee, the cast includes Amit Sial as the father, Gagan, and Kinda Alloush as the school owner, Mira.

“I can’t imagine a mother going through the loss of her child; it was a very emotional role for me to immerse myself in the character. The production of the film and the atmosphere on set were a truthful reflection of real life with its diversity of languages and accents,” said Chatterjee.

Alloush added: “When I read the script’s first 10 pages, I knew I wanted to be a part of this film. It’s a relatable story that can take place anywhere.”

The shooting of the film has been completed, and it will premiere on the platform later in the year after its theatrical release.


Netflix meets outrage in Egypt with risque comedy-drama

Netflix meets outrage in Egypt with risque comedy-drama
Updated 25 January 2022

Netflix meets outrage in Egypt with risque comedy-drama

Netflix meets outrage in Egypt with risque comedy-drama

CAIRO: Netflix's first Arabic film production was always set to be a big event, but within days of its release, public opinion in Egypt was so inflamed that critics called for a ban on the platform.
"Ashab wala Aaz" -- one of countless remakes of the Italian comedy-drama "Perfetti Sconosciutti" (Perfect Strangers) -- features renowned actors from Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.
The movie is about a group of friends meeting for dinner and deciding to make the night more interesting by agreeing to share every text message, email and phone call received with the rest of the group.
As events unfold, the game reveals shocking truths about members of the group as it touches on topics from adultery and premarital sex to homosexuality, all widely considered taboos in Egypt.
The film, which was released on January 20, immediately shot up to the most-watched list in Egypt.
But in the ensuing fracas, lawsuits have been filed against the culture ministry and the censor's office for allowing the film to be streamed, and MPs have called for a special session to discuss whether to ban Netflix altogether.
Online, many slammed celebrated Egyptian actress Mona Zaki, who took part in what they dubbed a "disgraceful" movie.
Amid the storm, the US streaming giant has refrained from commenting.

Lawmaker Mostafa Bakry argued Netflix should be banned altogether as he called for an urgent meeting in parliament to discuss it.
Premarital sex is also taboo in Egypt, where in extreme cases it may provoke "honour killings", especially in rural areas.
"This network targets Egyptian and Arab citizens ... we should ban Netflix," Bakri said in an interview with a private TV channel.
He said the film includes "more than 20 suggestive profanities which shocked Egyptian families".
Netflix rated the one-and-a-half hour long feature as not suitable for those under 16 years old, though it did not include any nudity or sex scenes.
Egyptian film critic Tarek Shennawy said he was "surprised" at the attack on actress Mona Zaki.
Zaki, who played the part of a wife trapped in an unsatisfying marriage, was particularly criticised for a scene in which she removes her underwear from under her dress.
On social media, many viewed the scene as a source of shame for her husband -- renowned actor Ahmed Helmi -- and their daughter.
"How did Ahmed Helmi allow his wife to play this part in the movie," one user asked on Twitter.
Another questioned how Zaki "was not afraid for her daughter to see her this bold".
But Shennawy argued that "the movie's content should not affect the personal or national honour of those who took part in it".
"We are confusing fiction with reality and this is very weird."


Mobile app downloads in UAE jump 15 percent in 2021, report shows

Mobile app downloads in UAE jump 15 percent in 2021, report shows
Updated 25 January 2022

Mobile app downloads in UAE jump 15 percent in 2021, report shows

Mobile app downloads in UAE jump 15 percent in 2021, report shows
  • UAE marketers spent $74m in 2021 on Android app installs

DUBAI: With consumers spending 3.8 trillion hours on mobile devices in 2021, it is no surprise that marketers are also spending more on mobile advertising.

UAE marketers spent $74 million in 2021 on Android app installs, representing a 35 percent year-on-year growth, according to a new report by global attribution company AppsFlyer.

A massive 84 percent of UAE businesses said that they consider mobile apps a “must” to remain relevant to their customers.

Overall app installs on iOS and Android devices grew by 15 percent last year. The study found that finance apps were among the most popular, with installs growing by 55 percent.

Retail or shopping apps also increased in popularity, especially during shopping seasons such as Ramadan and White Friday. Total installs of shopping apps in the UAE increased by 24 percent on White Friday (Nov. 26) compared with an average of the previous three Fridays in November.

“Propelled by forward-thinking government initiatives and use of apps, the UAE’s mobile-first economy has been one of the key markets that has quickly shifted to digital in recent years. Many brands are now recognizing that mobile needs to be at the forefront of their business activity,” said Samer Saad, Middle East regional manager of AppsFlyer.

Over 91 percent of UAE organizations now offer mobile apps, with the report highlighting “customer acquisition” and “customer retention and loyalty” as the top two reasons behind the focus on mobile apps.

The investment in mobile is paying off, with over 40 percent saying they believe there has been at least a 26 percent increase in mobile-driven revenues for their organization in the past 12 months.

UAE shoppers’ mobile-friendliness was most evident during the shopping periods of Ramadan and White Friday.

During the holy month, there was a 10 percent increase in overall installs for shopping apps and a massive 71 percent increase for finance apps, compared with the same period in 2020. In fact, in-app spending on both shopping and finance apps recorded triple-digit growth through Ramadan.

Overall spending on shopping apps during White Friday increased by 43 percent despite the number of installs dropping by 41 percent compared with the previous year, suggesting that the average spend per consumer is now higher than in the previous year.

“Looking ahead to 2022, the signs look positive for businesses looking to acquire more customers through their mobile devices. However, as this space becomes more competitive, just providing an app will no longer be enough. Organizations that leverage the power of mobile marketing to offer personalized experiences to their customers will rapidly pull ahead of the pack,” Saad said.


Facebook parent Meta creates powerful AI supercomputer

Facebook employees take a photo with the company's new name and logo outside its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Oct. 28, 2021. (AP)
Facebook employees take a photo with the company's new name and logo outside its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Oct. 28, 2021. (AP)
Updated 25 January 2022

Facebook parent Meta creates powerful AI supercomputer

Facebook employees take a photo with the company's new name and logo outside its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Oct. 28, 2021. (AP)
  • The computer, which is already up and running but is still being built, is called AI Research SuperCluster

MENLO PARK, California: Facebook’s parent company Meta on Monday said it has created what it believes is among the fastest artificial intelligence supercomputers running today.
The social media giant said it hopes the machine will help lay the groundwork for its building of the metaverse, a virtual reality construct intended to supplant the Internet as we know it today.
Facebook said it believes the computer will be the fastest in the world once it is fully built around the middle of the year.
Supercomputers are extremely fast and powerful machines built to do complex calculations not possible with a regular home computer. Meta did not disclose where the computer is located or how much it is costing to build.
The computer, which is already up and running but is still being built, is called AI Research SuperCluster. Meta says it will help its AI researchers build “new and better” artificial intelligence models that can learn from “trillions” of examples and work across hundreds of different languages simultaneously and analyze text, images and video together.
The way Meta is defining the power of its computer is different from how conventional and more technically powerful supercomputers are measured because it relies on the performance of graphics-processing chips, which are useful for running “deep learning” algorithms that can understand what’s in an image, analyze text and translate between languages, said Tuomas Sandholm, a computer science professor and co-director of the AI center at Carnegie Mellon University.
“We hope RSC will help us build entirely new AI systems that can, for example, power real-time voice translations to large groups of people, each speaking a different language, so they can seamlessly collaborate on a research project or play an AR game together,” Meta said in a blog post.
The company said its supercomputer will incorporate “real-world examples” from its own systems into training its AI. It says its previous efforts used only open-source and other publicly available data sets.
“They are going to, for the first time, put their customer data on their AI research computer,” Sandholm said. “That would be a really big change to give AI researchers and algorithms access to all that data.”