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

BBC appeals to UN over Iran’s harassment of Persian staff
In an internal survey, more than two thirds of BBC Persian service staff said they had been harassed. (BBC)
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Updated 25 June 2021

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.”


EU gives Google 2 months to improve hotel, flight search results

EU gives Google 2 months to improve hotel, flight search results
Updated 26 July 2021

EU gives Google 2 months to improve hotel, flight search results

EU gives Google 2 months to improve hotel, flight search results
  • EU provides Google with two months to improve the way the platform shows internet search results in relation to hotels and flights
  • Google has long faced scrutiny from antitrust enforcers and consumer groups around the world over its business practices
BRUSSELS: Alphabet unit Google has two months to improve the way it presents Internet search results for flights and hotels and explain how it ranks these or face possible sanctions, the European Commission and EU consumer authorities said on Monday.
The world’s most popular Internet search engine has long faced scrutiny from antitrust enforcers and consumer groups around the world over its business practices, which in some cases have landed it with hefty fines.
The latest grievance centers on the prices on its services Google Flights and Google Hotels.
The final prices for these should include fees or taxes that can be calculated in advance, while reference prices used to calculate promoted discounts should be clearly identifiable, the EU executive and national consumer watchdogs, led by the Dutch agency and the Belgian Directorate General for Economic Inspection, said in a joint statement.
“EU consumers cannot be misled when using search engines to plan their holidays. We need to empower consumers to make their choices based on transparent and unbiased information,” EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said.
The agencies also told Google to revise the standard terms of its Google Store because some cases showed that traders have more rights than consumers.
If Google’s proposals are not sufficient, the agencies will discuss the issue further with the company and may impose sanctions.
Google said in a statement: “We welcome this dialogue and are working closely with consumer protection agencies and the European Commission to see how we can make improvements that will be good for our users and provide even more transparency.”

Tunisian journalist union calls for protection of journalists after Ennahda threats

Yousfi announced via his personal Facebook page on Saturday that he had been confined to his house over the weekend “because of serious … and dangerous threats.” (Facebook)
Yousfi announced via his personal Facebook page on Saturday that he had been confined to his house over the weekend “because of serious … and dangerous threats.” (Facebook)
Updated 26 July 2021

Tunisian journalist union calls for protection of journalists after Ennahda threats

Yousfi announced via his personal Facebook page on Saturday that he had been confined to his house over the weekend “because of serious … and dangerous threats.” (Facebook)
  • The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists demanded that Tunisian authorities provide protection for journalists in the country
  • Tensions in the North African country rose on Sunday after President Kais Saied suspended Parliament, fired PM Mechichi and dissolved the government

LONDON: The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) demanded that Tunisian authorities provide protection for journalists in the country on Monday, after reporter Mohamed Yousfi announced he had received threats from members of the Muslim Brotherhood-associated Ennahda party.

Yousfi reportedly received threats from Ennahda supporters over claims he made during an appearance on Al-Mayadeen television channel earlier this week that members of the movement blackmailed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and prevented his resignation. 

 

 

Tensions in the North African country rose on Sunday after President Kais Saied suspended Parliament, fired Mechichi and dissolved the government. 

Parliament’s speaker, Rached Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda party, called the president’s move a coup and an “assault on democracy.”

Yousfi announced via his personal Facebook page on Saturday that he had been confined to his house over the weekend “because of serious … and dangerous threats.” 

In the post he said he held the president, prime minister, head of the military and the acting minister of the interior responsible for his safety. 

In a statement published on its Facebook page, the SNJT said that Yousfi had received “death threats regarding his media statements in which he portrayed the general situation of the country, including the political, health and social crisis,” which had “caused a systematic campaign of incitement, insult and assault against him by electronic accounts and militias working on behalf and for the benefit of political parties supporting the government.”

Saudi Arabia and Egypt have designated the Ennahda party as a terrorist organization.

The SNJT also condemned campaigns of incitement and violence aimed at silencing and intimidating other journalists in Tunisia. 

It highlighted in a monthly report that attacks against journalists and photographers in June had increased, with the 18 attacks reported up from 13 incidents in May. 

According to Reporters Without Borders, Tunisia ranks 73rd in the world on the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

Saied’s move to dissolve Parliament comes in response to nationwide protests over the past few days, prompted by Tunisia’s economic, political and health crises. 

Over the weekend, hundreds of Tunisians rallied in Tunis and other cities demanding the government step down after a surge in cases of the coronavirus disease COVID-19.

The protests turned violent when police used pepper spray against demonstrators, who threw stones and shouted slogans demanding Mechichi’s resignation.


Police shut Al Jazeera TV’s Tunis office

Al Jazeera television said on Monday that Tunisian police had stormed its bureau in the capital Tunis. (File/AFP)
Al Jazeera television said on Monday that Tunisian police had stormed its bureau in the capital Tunis. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 July 2021

Police shut Al Jazeera TV’s Tunis office

Al Jazeera television said on Monday that Tunisian police had stormed its bureau in the capital Tunis. (File/AFP)
  • “Around 15 policemen, some in uniform others in civilian clothes, entered our offices and asked us to leave,” Al Jazeera director in Tunis Lotfi Hajji said
  • The move came a day after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended parliament

TUNIS: Tunisian police on Monday closed the office of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera television in the capital Tunis, its bureau chief said, amid political turmoil in the North African country.
“Around 15 policemen, some in uniform others in civilian clothes, entered our offices and asked us to leave,” Al Jazeera director in Tunis Lotfi Hajji told AFP.
He said the law enforcement officers gave no reason for the actions, but confiscated the keys to the premises and forced all staff to leave.
The move came a day after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended parliament, following a day of street protests against the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic.
Hajji said the police told Al Jazeera staff “we are following orders.”
“What is happening is very dangerous, it is proof that freedom of the press is threatened. Today it is Al Jazeera, another day another media,” Hajji said.
AFP contacted the interior minister for further details but no immediate explanations were given for the closure of the outlet’s office.


Asharq News partners with Newsbridge for AI archiving technology

Asharq News partners with Newsbridge for AI archiving technology
Updated 26 July 2021

Asharq News partners with Newsbridge for AI archiving technology

Asharq News partners with Newsbridge for AI archiving technology
  • News service to revolutionize user and work experience in broadcasting industry

RIYADH: Asharq News, the 24/7 Arabic-language multiplatform news service owned by Arab News’ parent company Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG), has partnered with the cloud-based platform Newsbridge.

The company will offer its signature multimodal indexing AI technology that leverages time-stamped metadata.

“Our partnership with Newsbridge provides our production teams with a fast and efficient means of searching and finding the shots they need, in English or Arabic. We look forward to leveraging AI-powered archiving technology to maximize multilingual search, accuracy, efficiency, and convenience,” said Kathey Battrick, senior manager, library and media management, at Asharq News.

The next-gen solution enables Asharq News to auto-index its archive via multimodal AI and scalable processing in the cloud. The technology will organize and merchandise media assets into collections, or smart folders, that automatically update when new media matches predefined criteria, future-proofing the news service’s archive collections in a structured manner.

“Asharq News’ track record as innovation leaders in the media sector makes our partnership all the more meaningful. By leveraging Newsbridge’s multimodal indexing AI technology, Asharq is setting a new standard to future-proof media asset management in the industry while also transforming end-user experience, offering next-gen search exploration and retrieval,” said Philippe Petitpont, CEO of Newsbridge.

Newsbridge’s AI-powered next-gen cloud platform is aimed at revolutionizing the user experience of managing and working with critical amounts of media assets, providing unprecedented access to content. The complete solution consists of media asset collections, multimodal indexing AI, cloud video tools, and the recently launched content monetization showcase and resale portal.

By taking into account facial, object and scene recognition with audio transcription and semantic context, the solution enables smart media asset management, be it media logging, archiving, or investigative research.

Asharq News is integrating Newsbridge’s AI archiving technology into its advanced digital infrastructure, which is unparalleled in the region in terms of studio equipment, broadcast technology, asset management and Internet connectivity.

Asharq’s cutting-edge features include a chroma key green screen, a Barco 2 LED screen, a fully virtual studio, as well as cameras that can be steered remotely from the control room, robotic cameras, a four-screen mobile video wall, an LDL screen that can run augmented reality, Pebble playout technology, LiveU file-sharing system and Megaphone TV viewer engagement platform.


TikTok launches new advertisements format

TikTok launches new advertisements format
Updated 26 July 2021

TikTok launches new advertisements format

TikTok launches new advertisements format
  • Spark Ads will make it easier for brands, creators to promote native content

DUBAI: TikTok For Business has announced the launch of a new advertisements format in the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey region.

Spark Ads is a native ad display format that enables brands and businesses to boost their own organic posts and amplify relevant content shared by the community.

Brands can also use two of TikTok’s popular features — Stitch, which allows users to pull together clips from other videos into their own, and Duet, where a new video can be created to play alongside existing videos from other users.

Shant Oknayan, general manager of global business solutions for TikTok in the Middle East, Africa, Turkey, and Pakistan, said: “With Spark Ads, brands can build long-lasting connections that are authentic and rooted in the community while also delivering sustainable and impactful business value.”

The most notable difference between regular ads and Spark Ads is that the latter allows advertisers to promote videos made by other creators with their permission.

Spark Ads also features additional functions such as allowing users to directly follow the account that created the video. (Supplied)

Spark Ads also features additional functions such as allowing users to directly follow the account that created the video and click on the music/singer name and music disc to go to the designated music page.

According to TikTok’s data, Spark Ads delivered a 58 percent increase on two-second view through rate (VTR) and 66 percent on six-second VTR, as well as a 70 percent rise in paid comments, 100 percent increase in share, and 222 percent in likes compared to non-Spark Ads.

Oknayan noted that the new hybrid ad format combined organic content and advertising that provided “businesses across the region with even more opportunities to drive deeper engagement and connection with their audience.”