Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further

Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further
As the coronavirus ravages Iran, a growing number of people have turned to Instagram to make a living. (AP)
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Updated 04 August 2021

Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further

Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further
  • The law would also criminalize the sale and distribution of virtual private networks and proxies
  • Bill has yet to be approved by Iran’s hard-liner dominated parliament, but it is already stirring anxiety among young Iranians

TEHRAN: For Ali Hedieloo, a 40-year-old making wooden furniture in Iran’s capital, Instagram is more than just a surfeit of glossy images. Like an estimated 1 million other Iranians, it’s how he finds customers, as the app has exploded into a massive e-commerce service in the sanctions-hit country.
But now, the social media platform has come under threat. Iran moved last week toward further government restrictions on Instagram and other apps, as hard-line lawmakers agreed to discuss a bill that many fear will undermine communication, wipe out livelihoods and open the door to the banning of key social media tools.
“I and the people working here are likely to lose our jobs if this bill becomes effective,” said Hedieloo from his dimly lit workshop in the southern suburbs of Tehran, where he sands bleached wood and snaps photos of adorned desks to advertise.
The bill has yet to be approved by Iran’s hard-liner dominated parliament, but it is already stirring anxiety among young Iranians, avid social media users, online business owners and entrepreneurs. Iran is a country with some 94 million Internet devices in use among its over 80 million people. Nearly 70 percent of Iran’s population uses smartphones.
Over 900,000 Iranians have signed a petition opposing the bill. The protest comes at a tense time for Iran, with Ebrahim Raisi, the former judiciary chief and hard-line protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, assuming the country’s highest civilian position this week. Journalists, civil society advocates and government critics have raised the alarm about the possible increase of social repression once he takes office.
The draft legislation, first proposed this spring by conservative lawmakers, requires major foreign tech giants such as Facebook to register with the Iranian government and be subject to its oversight and data ownership rules.
Companies that host unregistered social media apps in Iran would risk penalties, with authorities empowered to slow down access to the companies’ services as a way to force them to comply. Lawmakers have noted that the crippling US sanctions on Iran make the registration of American tech companies in the country impossible, effectively ensuring their ban.
The law would also criminalize the sale and distribution of virtual private networks and proxies — a critical way Iranians access long-blocked social media platforms like Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube. It also would bar government officials from running accounts on banned social media platforms, which they now use to communicate with citizens and the press. Even the office of the supreme leader has a Twitter account with over 890,000 followers.
And finally, the bill takes control of the Internet away from the civilian government and places it under the armed forces.
The bill’s goal, according to its authors, is to “protect users and their rights.” Hard-liners in the government have long viewed social messaging and media services as part of a “soft war” by the West against the Islamic Republic. Over time, Iran has created what some have called the “halal” Internet — the Islamic Republic’s own locally controlled version of the Internet aimed at restricting what the public can see.
Supporters of the bill, such as hard-line lawmaker Ali Yazdikhah, have hailed it as a step toward an independent Iranian Internet, where “people will start to prefer locally developed services” over foreign companies.
“There is no reason to worry, online businesses will stay, and even we promise that they will expand too,” he said.
Internet advocates, however, fear the measures will tip the country toward an even more tightly controlled model like China, whose “Great Firewall” blocks access to thousands of foreign websites and slows others.
Iran’s outgoing Information Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, whom the hard-line judiciary summoned for prosecution earlier this year over his refusal to block Instagram, warned that the bill would curtail access to information and lead to full-blown bans of popular messaging apps. In a letter to Raisi last month, he urged the president-elect to reconsider the bill.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Social media is a highly contested space in Iran, where the government retains tight control over newspapers and remains the only entity allowed to broadcast on television and radio. Over recent years, anti-government protesters have used social media as a communication tool to mobilize and spread their message, prompting authorities to cripple Internet services.
During the turmoil in the fall of 2019, for instance, the government imposed a near-complete Internet blackout. Even scattered demonstrations, such as the recent protests over water shortages in Iran’s southwest, have seen disruptions of mobile Internet service.
But many ordinary Iranians, reeling from harsh American sanctions that have severed access to international banking systems and triggered runaway inflation, remain more preoccupied with the bill’s potential financial fallout.
As the coronavirus ravages Iran, a growing number of people like Hedieloo have turned to Instagram to make a living — tutoring and selling homemade goods and art. Over 190,000 businesses moved online over the past year.
Although much about the bill’s fate remains uncertain, experts say it already has sent a chill through commerce on Instagram, where once-hopeful users now doubt they have a future on the app.
“I and everyone else who is working in cyberspace is worried,” said Milad Nouri, a software developer and technology analyst. “This includes a teenager playing online games, a YouTuber making money from their channel, an influencer, an online shop based on Instagram.”
He added: “Everyone is somehow stressed.”


Georgian chess champion sues Netflix for ‘sexist’ portrayal in ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

Netflix faces defamation suit for wrong portrayal of female chess champion in the Queen's Gambit. (Netflix)
Netflix faces defamation suit for wrong portrayal of female chess champion in the Queen's Gambit. (Netflix)
Updated 20 September 2021

Georgian chess champion sues Netflix for ‘sexist’ portrayal in ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

Netflix faces defamation suit for wrong portrayal of female chess champion in the Queen's Gambit. (Netflix)

LONDON: Georgian chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili filed a defamation lawsuit on Thursday against Netflix, accusing the streaming giant of incorrectly portraying her in the hit series “The Queen’s Gambit.”

Gaprindashvili, 80, said Netflix’s claim in the series that she “never faced men” is “grossly sexist and belittling.”

The lawsuit refers to a specific line in the series finale which compares the main character, Elizabeth Harmon, to Gaprindashvili. The series makes a notable distinction between the fictional character and Gaprindashvili, which is that the latter never faced men during her chess tournaments. 

In the finale, a character narrates: “Elizabeth Harmon’s not at all an important player by their standards. The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”

Gaprindashvili began playing chess at 13, became the female world champion at 20 and was the first woman to be awarded the title of grandmaster, the highest title a chess player can attain. 

Contrary to Netflix’s portrayal, Gaprindashvili did indeed face men, 59 of them, including 28 in one simultaneous match when the series was supposedly set in 1968. 

“They were trying to do this fictional character who was blazing the trail for other women, when in reality I had already blazed the trail and inspired generations,” Gaprindashvili said in an interview with the New York Times. “That’s the irony.”

Another notable item in the lawsuit relates to Gaprindashvili’s nationality. While the series portrayed her as Russian, she in fact is Georgian and was born in Zugdidi, Georgia.

Netflix responded to Gaprindashvili and said it “has only the utmost respect for Ms Gaprindashvili and her illustrious career, but we believe this claim has no merit and will vigorously defend the case.”


Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened

Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened
Updated 20 September 2021

Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened

Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened
  • US journalist Danny Fenster appeared disheartened during a court hearing Monday, his lawyer said
  • Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the US
BANGKOK: US journalist Danny Fenster, imprisoned in Myanmar for almost four months while awaiting trial, appeared disheartened during a court hearing Monday, his lawyer said.
Fenster has been charged with incitement — spreading inflammatory information — an offense for which he could be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. The charge does not specify what he is accused of doing.
The military-installed government that took power in February has sought to curb independent news media by canceling their licenses and arresting dozens of journalists.
Fenster is being detained in Yangon’s Insein Prison, an overcrowded facility which for decades has housed political prisoners.
Lawyer Than Zaw Aung said Fenster seemed demoralized when he spoke with him in a video conference during Monday’s court hearing, his first opportunity to do so in more than a month. Hearings are conducted by video at a township court instead of in a special courtroom at the prison because of the coronavirus, which in the past few months has severely impacted Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
“His hair grew longer. He seemed disappointed and he told me in a frustrated tone that ‘I have nothing to say,’” the lawyer said. “I asked him if he had been vaccinated by the prison authorities, and he said no. His words showed that he is not feeling well. He didn’t request anything.”
Fenster said in mid-July that he believed he had contracted COVID-19 and was not given medicine he had requested. Prison authorities denied he was infected.
Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family. He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an independent online news outlet based in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
“We are very concerned about Danny’s physical and mental health, particularly given his demeanor at today’s hearing,” said Thomas Kean, editor-in-chief of Frontier. “It’s totally understandable that he would be frustrated and disappointed -– he should never have been detained in the first place. Danny is now approaching four months in Insein Prison and there is no reason for the authorities to hold him a single day longer. He should be released immediately so he can go home to his family.”
Monday’s hearing was held to extend Fenster’s pre-trial detention, and set Oct. 4 for his next appearance. It was not clear if it could include allowing an application for release on bail.
Press associations and free speech organizations around the world have called for Fenster’s release, as has the US government.
“We remain deeply concerned over the continued detention of US citizen Danny Fenster who was working as a journalist in Burma,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this month after Fenster marked his 100th day in detention. The United States refers to Myanmar as Burma, its name before a military government changed it in 1989.
“Journalism is not a crime. The detention of Daniel Fenster and other journalists constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma,” Price said. “We continue to press Burma’s military regime to release Danny immediately. We will do so until he safely returns home to his family.”

CNN expands global CNN Marketplace franchise to the Middle East

CNN expands global CNN Marketplace franchise to the Middle East
Updated 20 September 2021

CNN expands global CNN Marketplace franchise to the Middle East

CNN expands global CNN Marketplace franchise to the Middle East
  • Program across TV and digital platforms launched on Sept. 18

DUBAI: CNN has launched its new “CNN Marketplace Middle East” program across its TV and digital platforms to cover business stories shaping the Middle East region.

The program will also examine how industries and corporations are adapting at a critical time of political, economic and social change.

Launched on Sept. 18, the show offers its audience an insight into the region through exclusive interviews and on-the-ground reporting beginning with Expo 2020 Dubai, for which CNN is the official broadcaster.

As part of the new programming, CNN International will host a monthly show presented by anchor and correspondent Eleni Giokos, who is based in the UAE, alongside reporter Salma Abdelaziz and international correspondent Jomana Karadsheh. It will also include a dedicated new digital section on CNN Business and CNN Arabic.

“Audiences around the globe are eager to find out more about how businesses and countries are applying innovation and seeing economic growth as the world looks beyond the pandemic,” said Ellana Lee, senior vice president, CNN International.

The latest cross-platform programming is part of a continued global expansion of CNN’s business coverage. This also comprises dedicated cross-platform programming for Africa, Asia and Europe. The major focus areas for the new program are technology, sustainability, automotive and mobility, health and medicine, energy, and e-commerce.

“CNN Marketplace Middle East kicks off by looking at how economies and companies in the Middle East are using technological advances and innovation to emerge stronger from the pandemic,” Lee said.

“The Middle East has a unique story to tell as it applies new technologies, spearheads many areas of transformation and undergoes economic diversification. Through CNN Marketplace Middle East, CNN will uncover and tell these stories to inform our audiences of the latest trends and developments from right across the region in a way that no other news network can,” she said.

This first episode explores tech transformation in Saudi Arabia, analyzing the new retail revolution across the region for ultra-fast grocery deliveries, being driven by rapidly expanding companies.

In the coming months, the show will explore topics such as how sustainability is informing business in the region, as policy-makers and the private sector focus on the climate emergency and future of the planet during November’s COP26 summit. It will also examine the growing sports business and events sector in the Middle East.


Navalny allies accuse YouTube, Telegram of censorship in Russian election

Navalny’s camp said YouTube had also taken down one of their videos that contained the names of 225 candidates they had endorsed. (File/AFP)
Navalny’s camp said YouTube had also taken down one of their videos that contained the names of 225 candidates they had endorsed. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 September 2021

Navalny allies accuse YouTube, Telegram of censorship in Russian election

Navalny’s camp said YouTube had also taken down one of their videos that contained the names of 225 candidates they had endorsed. (File/AFP)
  • Navalny’s allies already accused Alphabet’s Google and Apple of buckling under Kremlin pressure
  • Russia has for years sought sovereignty over its part of the Internet

MOSCOW: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s allies accused YouTube and Telegram of censorship on Saturday after the video platform and messaging app restricted access to their anti-government voting recommendations for Russia’s parliamentary election.
Navalny’s allies already accused Alphabet’s Google and Apple of buckling under Kremlin pressure on Friday after the companies removed an app from their stores that the activists had hoped to use against the ruling party at the election.
Voting began on Friday and runs until late on Sunday.
The app gives detailed recommendations on who to vote for in an effort to challenge the party that backs President Vladimir Putin. It is one of the few levers Navalny’s allies have left after a sweeping crackdown this year.
Telegram’s founder Pavel Durov, who has carved out a libertarian image and resisted past censorship, said the platform would block election campaign services, including one used by Navalny’s allies to give voter recommendations.
He said the decision had been taken because of a Russian ban on campaigning once polls are open, which he considered legitimate and is similar to bans in many other countries.
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh condemned the move.
“It’s a real disgrace when the censorship is imposed by private companies that allegedly defend the ideas of freedom,” she wrote on Twitter.
Ivan Zhdanov, a political ally of Navalny, said he did not believe Telegram’s justification and that the move looked to have been agreed somehow with Russia’s authorities.
Late on Saturday, Navalny’s camp said YouTube had also taken down one of their videos that contained the names of 225 candidates they had endorsed.
“The video presentation of the smart voting recommendations for the constituencies with the nastiest (United Russia candidates) has also been removed,” they wrote.
Navalny’s camp said it was not a knockout blow as their voting recommendations were available elsewhere on social media.
But it is seen as a possible milestone in Russia’s crackdown on the Internet and its standoff with US tech firms.
Russia has for years sought sovereignty over its part of the Internet, where anti-Kremlin politicians have followings and media critical of Putin operate.
Navalny’s team uses Google’s YouTube widely to air anti-corruption videos and to stream coverage and commentary of anti-Kremlin protests they have staged.
’Dangerous precedent’
The ruling United Russia Party is widely expected to win the election despite a ratings slump. The voting, which opened on Friday and runs through Sunday, follows the biggest crackdown on the Kremlin’s domestic opponents in years.
The Navalny team’s Telegram feed continued to function normally on Saturday, and included links to voter recommendations available in Russia via Google Docs.
On a separate Telegram feed also used by the team, activists said Russia had told Google to remove the recommendations in Google Docs and that the US company had in turn asked Navalny’s team to take them down.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his statement, Durov said Google and Apple’s restrictions of the Navalny app had set a dangerous precedent and meant Telegram, which is widely used in Russia, was more vulnerable to government pressure.
He said Telegram depends on Apple and Google to operate because of their dominant position in the mobile operating system market and his platform would not have been able to resist a Russian ban from 2018 to 2020 without them.
Russia tried to block Telegram in April 2018 but lifted the ban more than two years later after ostensibly failing to block it.
“The app block by Apple and Google creates a dangerous precedent that will affect freedom of expression in Russia and the whole world,” Durov said in a post on Telegram.


South African Muslim woman becomes head of oldest media watchdog

South African Muslim woman becomes head of oldest media watchdog
Updated 18 September 2021

South African Muslim woman becomes head of oldest media watchdog

South African Muslim woman becomes head of oldest media watchdog
  • Khadija Patel, an investigative journalist and fourth-generation Muslim of Asian background, is the first female Chair of the International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Patel was editor in chief of South African’s Mail & Guardian and is now active in mentoring young journalists

VIENNA: South Africa’s leading media figure has been elected as the 35th chairperson of the International Press Institute, the world’s oldest media watchdog.

Khadija Patel, an investigative journalist and fourth-generation Muslim of Asian background, became the first woman, first non-European/American and first Muslim to ever become chair of the prestigious organization.

Set up in 1950 in New York City by 34 male editors and publishers and one female editor, the Vienna-based press institute has, in addition to Khadija, two other women in leadership positions: Italian Barbara Trionfi as executive director and Jordanian Etaf Roudan as an executive board member.

Speaking at the Vienna City Hall, Patel related her upbringing in South Africa where Muslim women were not encouraged to enter the media field. 

“I was 12 when I told my English teacher that I wanted to become a journalist,” Patel told fellow journalists from around the world. “After a long pause, my teacher said journalism is not an appropriate career for Muslim women.”

In addition to becoming an investigative journalist, Patel was editor in chief of South African’s Mail & Guardian and is now active in supporting young journalists in her position as head of programs for South Africa’s International Fund for Public Interest Media.

Speaking about the profession, Khadija said being a journalist is the best job in the world. “The pay is not great, but it brings joy to its practitioners. Stories about repression, stories about abuse of power, stories about corruption need also to exist. 

“We are complex beings. Our experiences are complex because there is no singular Hungarian or South African or Belarusian experience. Despite the complexity, journalism does allow us to understand each other better to bring joy to each other. 

“For me, it is a bridge to inform, and at its most basic level, it is a bridge for each other. In a time when hatred abounds, journalism allows us to be nice to each other and to bring joy to each other.”

Patel told Arab News: “I’m humbled by the volume of support that has greeted the news of my election to this position. I hope that I can repay that support by ensuring the IPI is led well during a particularly trying time for journalists around the world. And I hope we can inspire new generations of journalists around the world to do the same.”

Trionfi said: “We are thrilled to welcome Khadija Patel as IPI’s new board chair and greatly look forward to working with her to address the challenges facing independent journalism across the globe. 

“It is no surprise that Khadija earned the trust of her fellow board members to take over the chair position, and her deep experience as a journalist and editor make her perfectly suited to this role.”

Separately, the IPI General Assembly elected 10 new executive board members, including three journalists from the Arab region: 

Raheem Adedoyin, chairman, editorial board, Herald Newspapers, Nigeria. 

Walid Batrawi, media and communications expert, Palestine.

John Daniszewskivice president, Standards, editor at large, The Associated Press, US.  

Mбrton Gergely, editor in chief, HVG, Hungary. 

Emre Kızılkaya, project editor of journo.com.tr, Turkey. 

Elizaveta Osetinskaya, journalist and media manager, founder of The Bell, Russia.  

Etaf Roudan, Radio Al-Balad manager, Community Media Network, Jordan. 

Hiroki Sugita, columnist and associate executive director, Kyodo News, Japan. 

Jussi Tuulensuusenior editor in chief, Aamulehti, Finland. 

Sami Zeidan, principal presenter, Al Jazeera Media Network, Qatar.