Lebanon’s newest information minister stirs controversy after placing gagging order on first day

Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi hosts a special episode of the Arabic version of
Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi hosts a special episode of the Arabic version of "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" for MBC Group's 30th anniversary in Lisbon, Portugal. (MBC)
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Updated 13 September 2021

Lebanon’s newest information minister stirs controversy after placing gagging order on first day

Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi hosts a special episode of the Arabic version of "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" for MBC Group's 30th anniversary in Lisbon, Portugal. (MBC)
  • Kordahi’s comments - including his desire to set up a committee to approve media content before its aired - stirred controversy among the nation and drew criticism
  • Kordahi rose to stardom after taking on hosting the pan-Arab version of “Who wants to be Millionaire?” for several years

BEIRUT: Not two days had passed since taking the helm of Lebanon’s information ministry, and seasoned television presenter George Kordahi slapped an informal gagging order on media in the country, asking them not to host analysts critical of the new government. 

“Some of the geniuses and analysts who appeared in the media during the past two days and analyzed the formation of the government and the quotas,” he said at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri Airport after returning from Portugal where he hosted a special episode of the Arabic version of “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” for MBC Group’s 30th anniversary.

“Let them allow us and calm down a little,” he continued as he asked the media “not to host them because the government is new.”

Kordahi’s comments - including his desire to set up a committee to approve media content before its aired - stirred controversy among the nation and drew criticism from media watchdogs and comes as surprising given his previous work as a broadcast journalist.

“We view with regret and concern, and condemn what was said by the Minister of Information, media figure George Kordahi, who began his ministerial work by asking the media not to host journalists and media professionals who disagree with him,” watchdog group Journalists for Freedom said in a statement.

“No, Mr. Media Minister, neither you nor any other official decides who the media hosts, and if you have started your mission in this way, then know that you are a Minister of Information in a country where freedoms are stronger than frivolous dictates, as in a country that differs from the models in which it represents proudly.”

Kordahi rose to stardom after taking on hosting the pan-Arab version of “Who wants to be Millionaire?” for several years. His political opinions have also raised eyebrows in the country, with his admiration of Syrian President Bachar Al-Assad and ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak widely known.

 

 

He even went as far as describing Assad - the president who used chemical weapons on rebel-held areas in his country - as 2018’s Arab personality of the year in an interview on Hezbollah-owned channel Al-Manar.

“I’ll tell you this without any hesitation, and whoever wants to listen can listen. The Arab personality of the year (2018) is President Bachar Al-Assad for his resistance and endurance through this war on Syria,” he said.

In another interview, Kordahi held also preached high praise for terrorist-designated Hezbollah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, calling him “my flesh and blood.”

 

 

“I have a great appreciation and love for His Eminence Mr. Hassan Nasrallah. He’s a Lebanese whom I am proud of, I consider him my flesh and blood and the son of my country, whatever different sects we belong to,” he said.

“I am proud of him, appreciate him and hold him high. I appreciate his courage, his intellect, and I say that the work he led regarding the resistance was a heroic work,” he added.

Lebanon formed a cabinet on Friday after over a year of political stagnation as the country reels from an unprecedented economic and financial crisis.


Lebanese media minister George Kordahi stirs controversy yet again by defending Houthis

Lebanese media minister George Kordahi stirs controversy yet again by defending Houthis
Updated 27 October 2021

Lebanese media minister George Kordahi stirs controversy yet again by defending Houthis

Lebanese media minister George Kordahi stirs controversy yet again by defending Houthis

DUBAI: The Gulf Cooperation Council condemned Wednesday the comments made by the Lebanese Minister of Information on the situation in Yemen, saying it reflects limited knowledge and shallow understanding.

A day earlier, Lebanon’s information minister George Kordahi triggered a social media frenzy when a video of him referring to the Houthis as defending themselves emerged online. 

When the TV host of Barlamanasha3b asked him about his position on what is happening in Yemen, Kordahi said ‘they’ [referring to Houthis] are defending themselves’.
He questioned in an exclamatory tone, ‘Them! Are they assaulting anyone?’.
“In my opinion, this Yemeni war is absurd and should stop,” he said.

During his appearance on the media platform Barlamanasha3b [People’s Parliament]'s broadcast, carried out on Aug. 5, Kordahi also wished for a ‘temporary military coup’ to emanate and restructure Lebanon's political life. “I wish that a military coup happens in Lebanon, yet a temporary military coup that comes to organize and reorganize the political life in Lebanon,” Kordahi was heard telling the TV host in the short video.
An independent online media platform, Megaphone posted on Twitter the two-and-a-half-minute video that has so far been viewed by nearly 6000 users.

At the time, Kordahi had not yet been named as information minister in Prime Minister Najib Mikati's cabinet that was formed during September.
When the host opposed him by saying ‘there is nothing called temporary military coup’, Kordahi maintained saying: “Yes there is a temporary military coup for at least five years [in my opinion] then they reappoint the political regime.”

Meanwhile, a cohost asked him about the nonstop drone attacks carried out by Houthis against Saudi civilians and properties, he replied saying: “Yes but you could also see them as people … and see the damages that are being inflicted upon them while being bombarded at their homes, properties, villages, squares, funerals and weddings by warplanes … it is about time this war comes to an end.”
Kordahi reiterated his opinion that ‘it is an absurd war’.
The Lebanese minister said: “We cannot compare between the efforts of Hezbollah in liberation and liberating Lebanese lands and the efforts of Houthis who are defending themselves against foreign aggression.”
According to the video, the cohost asked Kordahi if he considers the Saudis and Emiratis a ‘foreign aggression’.
“What?” he replied hesitantly as he moved his head forward before the cohost rephrased his question asking ‘do you consider Saudis and Emiratis as foreign aggression against Yemen?’
“Aggression, for sure there is aggression. Not because it is Saudi or Emirati but yes there has been aggression for the past five or six years or for how long!” said Kordahi before the female host corrected him saying its ‘eight years’.
“Eight years [of aggression] continuously against those people! Enough! What couldn’t be achieved within two or three years, you won’t achieve it within eight years. So this has become an absurd war that’s my opinion,” he concluded.
Citing a Saudi source, MTV news posted on its twitter handle that the source said they were facing a severe diplomatic crisis because of Kordahi's offensive statements on Arab countries regardless of the timing of the interview, but it indicated his intentions’.
Beirut-based Washington Post correspondent Sarah Dadouch tweeted that the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon just retweeted several stories citing Saudi sources saying, “We are in front of a sharp diplomatic crisis because of the comments of Media Minister George Kordahi”
Meanwhile, Emirati Twitter user Hassan Sajwani tweeted “Lebanese Prime Minister: George Qardahi's words do not represent the government's official position on the Yemeni issue. - Al Arabiya TV”
A former television presenter, Kordahi has stirred controversy in the past given his questionable opinions on matters ranging from Syrian President Bashar Assad to his views on harassment in the workplace.
A well-known and highly popular among a large segment of the Lebanese population, the 71-year-old media figure rose to fame when he hosted the pan-Arab version of “Who Wants to be Millionaire?” for several years.
Arab News published earlier that his controversial political opinions might not have mattered then, but they sure do matter now that he is a member of Lebanon’s cabinet.


Facebook, YouTube take down Bolsonaro video over false vaccine claim

Bolsonaro, who tested positive for the coronavirus in July last year, had credited his taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, for his mild symptoms. (File/AFP)
Bolsonaro, who tested positive for the coronavirus in July last year, had credited his taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, for his mild symptoms. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 October 2021

Facebook, YouTube take down Bolsonaro video over false vaccine claim

Bolsonaro, who tested positive for the coronavirus in July last year, had credited his taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, for his mild symptoms. (File/AFP)
  • Both Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube said the video, which was recorded on Thursday, violated their policies

RIO DE JANEIRO: Facebook and YouTube have removed from their platforms a video by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in which the far-right leader made a false claim that COVID-19 vaccines were linked with developing AIDS.
Both Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube said the video, which was recorded on Thursday, violated their policies.
“Our policies don’t allow claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill or seriously harm people,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement on Monday.
YouTube confirmed that it had taken the same step later in the day.
“We removed a video from Jair Bolsonaro’s channel for violating our medical disinformation policy regarding COVID-19 for alleging that vaccines don’t reduce the risk of contracting the disease and that they cause other infectious diseases,” YouTube said in a statement.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), COVID-19 vaccines approved by health regulators are safe for most people, including those living with HIV, the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, known as AIDS.
Bolsonaro’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment outside normal hours.
In July, YouTube removed videos from Bolsonaro’s official channel in which he recommended using hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin against COVID-19, despite scientific proof that these drugs are not effective in treating the disease.
Since then, Bolsonaro has avoided naming both drugs on his live broadcasts, saying the videos could be removed and advocating “early treatment” in general for COVID-19.
Bolsonaro, who tested positive for the coronavirus in July last year, had credited his taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, for his mild symptoms. While Bolsonaro himself last January said that he wouldn’t take any COVID-19 vaccine, he did vow to quickly inoculate all Brazilians.
In addition to removing the video, YouTube has suspended Bolsonaro for seven days, national newspapers O Estado de S. Paulo and O Globo reported, citing a source familiar with the matter.
YouTube did not respond to a separate Reuters request for comment regarding the suspension on Monday night.


YouGov releases annual retail league table for Saudi Arabia

YouGov releases annual retail league table for Saudi Arabia
Updated 26 October 2021

YouGov releases annual retail league table for Saudi Arabia

YouGov releases annual retail league table for Saudi Arabia
  • 2021 rankings reflect firms enjoying best brand health among Kingdom’s audiences

DUBAI: YouGov has released its 2021 Retail Rankings for Saudi Arabia.

The brands on the list were ranked based on their index score, a measure of overall brand health calculated by taking the average of impression, quality, value, satisfaction, recommendation, and reputation over a period of 12 months.​

Jarir and Adidas emerged as the retail brands perceived as delivering the best against their promise on key brand health-related metrics, according to those surveyed in Saudi Arabia by YouGov.

With retail having pivoted to online channels due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, audiences have been growing in numbers drawn by the convenience, comfort, and speed offered by online shopping.

As COVID-19-related health and safety restrictions have lifted, retailers have had to work harder and innovate through personalization and the use of technology in-store to succeed.

In this year’s retailers category, the famous Saudi bookstore chain Jarir took top spot emerging as the healthiest brand with an index score of 35.4. The top 10 list was dominated by regional brands with the exception of IKEA, which came in second.

Grocery chains Panda and Lulu Hypermarket ranked third and ninth, respectively, while Centrepoint, the region’s largest fashion retailer, was positioned in sixth.

The sports and apparel category rankings put Adidas at the top of the table.

The brand’s 50th-anniversary collaboration with prominent women and its strong messaging around female empowerment may have resonated with the public, strengthening its position among consumers in the country, according to YouGov’s analysis.

Nike, which has also pioneered female-centric efforts in the Kingdom, came second, followed by Skechers and Puma. Lululemon came 10th on the list with a score of 2.4.


Whistleblower Haugen says Facebook making online hate worse

An installation depicting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg surfing on a wave of cash and surrounded by distressed teenagers. (AFP)
An installation depicting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg surfing on a wave of cash and surrounded by distressed teenagers. (AFP)
Updated 25 October 2021

Whistleblower Haugen says Facebook making online hate worse

An installation depicting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg surfing on a wave of cash and surrounded by distressed teenagers. (AFP)
  • Haugen told UK lawmakers how Facebook Groups amplifies online hate, saying algorithms that prioritize engagement take people with mainstream interests and push them to the extremes

LONDON: Former Facebook data scientist turned whistleblower Frances Haugen on Monday told lawmakers in the United Kingdom working on legislation to rein in social media companies that the company is making online hate and extremism worse and outlined how it could improve online safety.
Haugen appeared before a parliamentary committee scrutinizing the British government’s draft legislation to crack down on harmful online content, and her comments could help lawmakers beef up the rules. She’s testifying the same day that Facebook is set to release its latest earnings and that The Associated Press and other news organizations started publishing stories based on thousands of pages of internal company documents she obtained.
Haugen told UK lawmakers how Facebook Groups amplifies online hate, saying algorithms that prioritize engagement take people with mainstream interests and push them to the extremes. She said the company could add moderators to prevent groups from being used to spread extremist views.
“Unquestionably, it’s making hate worse,” she said.
Haugen added that she was “shocked to hear recently that Facebook wants to double down on the metaverse and that they’re gonna hire 10,000 engineers in Europe to work on the metaverse,” Haugen said, referring to the company’s plans for an immersive online world it believes will be the next big Internet trend.
“I was like, ‘Wow, do you know what we could have done with safety if we had 10,000 more engineers?’ It would be amazing,” she said.
It’s her second appearance before lawmakers after she testified in the US Senate earlier this month about the danger she says the company poses, from harming children to inciting political violence and fueling misinformation. Haugen cited internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in Facebook’s civic integrity unit.
The documents, which Haugen provided to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, allege Facebook prioritized profits over safety and hid its own research from investors and the public. Some stories based on the files have already been published, exposing internal turmoil after Facebook was blindsided by the Jan. 6 US Capitol riot and how it dithered over curbing divisive content in India, and more is to come.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has disputed Haugen’s portrayal of the company as one that puts profit over the well-being of its users or that pushes divisive content, saying a false picture is being painted. But he does agree on the need for updated Internet regulations, saying lawmakers are best able to assess the tradeoffs.
Haugen has told US lawmakers that she thinks a federal regulator is needed to oversee digital giants like Facebook, something that officials in Britain and the European Union are already working on.
The UK government’s online safety bill calls for setting up a regulator that would hold companies to account when it comes to removing harmful or illegal content from their platforms, such as terrorist material or child sex abuse images.
“This is quite a big moment,” Damian Collins, the lawmaker who chairs the committee, said ahead of the hearing. “This is a moment, sort of like Cambridge Analytica, but possibly bigger in that I think it provides a real window into the soul of these companies.”
Collins was referring to the 2018 debacle involving data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica, which gathered details on as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission.
Representatives from Facebook and other social media companies plan to speak to the committee Thursday.
Ahead of the hearing, Haugen met the father of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old girl who killed herself in 2017 after viewing disturbing content on Facebook-owned Instagram. In a chat filmed by the BBC, Ian Russell told Haugen that after Molly’s death, her family found notes she wrote about being addicted to Instagram.
Haugen also is scheduled to meet next month with European Union officials in Brussels, where the bloc’s executive commission is updating its digital rulebook to better protect Internet users by holding online companies more responsible for illegal or dangerous content.
Under the UK rules, expected to take effect next year, Silicon Valley giants face an ultimate penalty of up to 10 percent of their global revenue for any violations. The EU is proposing a similar penalty.
The UK committee will be hoping to hear more from Haugen about the data that tech companies have gathered. Collins said the internal files that Haugen has turned over to US authorities are important because it shows the kind of information that Facebook holds — and what regulators should be asking when they investigate these companies.
The committee has already heard from another Facebook whistleblower, Sophie Zhang, who raised the alarm after finding evidence of online political manipulation in countries such as Honduras and Azerbaijan before she was fired.


Australia wants Facebook to seek parental consent for kids

Social media platforms would be required to take all reasonable steps to verify their users’ ages. (File/AFP)
Social media platforms would be required to take all reasonable steps to verify their users’ ages. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 October 2021

Australia wants Facebook to seek parental consent for kids

Social media platforms would be required to take all reasonable steps to verify their users’ ages. (File/AFP)
  • Australia plans to crack down on online advertisers targeting children by making social media platforms seek parental consent for users younger than 16 years old

CANBERRA: Australia plans to crack down on online advertisers targeting children by making social media platforms seek parental consent for users younger than 16 years old to join or face fines of 10 million Australian dollars ($7.5 million) under a draft law released Monday.
The landmark legislation would protect Australians online and ensure that Australia’s privacy laws are appropriate in the digital age, a government statement said.
Social media platforms would be required to take all reasonable steps to verify their users’ ages under a binding code for social media services, data brokers and other large online platforms operating in Australia,
The platforms would also have to give primary consideration to the best interests of children when handling their personal information, the draft legislation states.
The code would also require platforms to obtain parental consent for users under the age of 16.
The proposed legal changes come after former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen this month asserted that whenever there was a conflict between the public good and what benefited the company, the social media giant would choose its own interests.
Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention David Coleman said the new code would lead the world in protecting children from social media companies.
“In Australia, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a consistent increase in signs of distress and mental ill health among young people. While the reasons for this are varied and complex, we know that social media is part of the problem,” Coleman said in a statement.
Facebook regional director of public policy Mia Garlick said her platform had been calling for Australia’s privacy laws to evolve with new technology.
“We have supported the development of international codes around young people’s data, like the UK Age Appropriate Design Code,” Garlick said in a statement, referring to British legislation introduced this year that requires platforms to verify users’ ages if content risks the moral, physical or mental well-being of children.
“We’re reviewing the draft bill and discussion paper released today, and look forward to working with the Australian government on this further,” she added.
Australia has been a prominent voice in calling for international regulation of the Internet.
It passed laws this year that oblige Google and Facebook to pay for journalism. Australia also defied the tech companies by creating a law that could imprison social media executives if their platforms stream violent images.