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.

We will not see his like again: Saudi royal tribute to British journalist Roger Harrison

We will not see his like again: Saudi royal tribute to British journalist Roger Harrison
Updated 20 October 2021

We will not see his like again: Saudi royal tribute to British journalist Roger Harrison

We will not see his like again: Saudi royal tribute to British journalist Roger Harrison
  • Prince Sultan bin Salman pays tribute to former Arab News senior reporter Roger Harrison, who documented his landmark glider tour of the Kingdom

RIYADH: In a heartfelt tribute to former Arab News staffer Roger Harrison, who has died on the Spanish island of Mallorca at the age of 75, Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab and Muslim astronaut, said that the journalist’s love of Saudi Arabia and its people was obvious in all that he did.

“He wasn’t doing those things only for his job with Arab News, but because he enjoyed it,” he said.

In an exclusive interview, Prince Sultan recalled that he was head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism when he met Harrison, a senior reporter with Arab News from 2001 until 2013, for the first time.

“Arab News was doing some fantastic articles about Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I think I noticed his name and subsequently we connected. It became a real friendship because his feelings were overwhelming.

“We ended up also doing some traveling together in different parts of the country. We invited him to come to our farm for various conferences. Basically Roger was often there when we had guests, official or nonofficial.

“And then in 2006, Bandar bin Khaled Al-Faisal came up with the idea of doing, for the first time ever, an aerial tour of Saudi Arabia using a glider.”

Harrison’s work in his seminal 2014 book, “Wings Over Arabia,” a photographic record of the three-man glider mission that flew over and photographed many spectacular and rarely seen areas of the Kingdom, has been widely praised. Prince Sultan explained how the adventure came about and how Harrison became a part of it.

“I got my gliding license in 1986 in Hawaii but I really hadn’t flown much after that,” he said. “Bandar and I started gliding in the 2000s. We met John Bally who was an English gliding instructor and he joined us when we started gliding in the Alps.

“Then we developed the idea of coming to Saudi Arabia and gliding in the Kingdom. We brought the team that worked on the documentary series. Then I brought Roger in as part of the Tourism Commission to document the mission and he threw himself completely into it.”

The prince said Roger became totally involved with the team planning Wings Over Arabia.

“It was a big team and I am very sorry to say that three of them have now passed away,” he said. “Ahmed Al-Zahrani was our mechanic in the Aviation Club. He unfortunately died in an accident. He was a great guy and you can see him in the video. I am still actually looking out for his two sons and his family.

“The other one was Captain Zakariah from Sri Lanka. He passed away only a few months ago, after he retired. He was with me for years and he flew a Twin Otter airplane, which you can see in the movie and also in the book.

“The Twin Otter was given to us by Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, though it was originally given to King Fahd. It’s a great airplane but a very slow one so we took the door off. It was then used by the photography team, the American team that comprised the other photographers and the cinematographers for the documentary.”

Prince Sultan said that he brought Harrison and Bally to the team, while Prince Bandar assembled the documentary crew.

“John came in to fly with us and, in fact, he had a great deal more experience than we did,” he said. “I was actually the most experienced pilot in the group because I had started flying in 1976 and was in the Saudi Royal Air Force. I have probably done 10,000 hours of flying jets but I had the least gliding experience in the group.

“John had the most and, of course, there was Bandar who had some gliding experience and was a great pilot, too. We flew around the Kingdom and planned the trip. Roger’s role was to do photography and write articles.”

Prince Sultan said Harrison was a vital part of the team that flew in the Twin Otter.

“He always told me he always felt sick in the plane but he kept flying, even though the door was open and he was hanging by a small strap,” said the prince. “We basically just went around Saudi Arabia on seven or eight-day trips.

“Roger of course published a number of things and we worked together on various ideas, and one of them was Saudi Colors. This was an initiative I supported within the Tourism Commission and it sponsored an annual event for photography and photographers.

“We sent Saudi photographers, and others, out of the country and, basically, we had an awards program that developed into making movies and videos. Ultimately the program even included expats and I wish it had continued. It showcased the great talents not only of Saudis but of expats as well.”

Talking about his passion for flying, Prince Sultan said: “It’s all about trying to live life fully. I do a lot of serious work, a lot of charity work, a lot of government work, and a lot of ministry work. After all, I live here.

“There are many people who tell me they have never seen me in a building because so much of my life is outside. In my childhood, Riyadh was much smaller and my brothers and I enjoyed horseback riding in the desert. The desert was not as far away as it is now; it was nothing but sand dunes and there was a small stable and a small villa which my father let us use.”

There were also more formal events, including visits from foreign dignitaries, but even these often had an outdoors element.

“There were a lot of beautiful dinners and I asked my father to host some visitors, such as the king of Morocco, the president of Lebanon and other people, in a big tent,” the prince said. “It was a real desert event and we rode horses and showed our falcons. We went hunting in the southern Iraqi desert north of Saudi Arabia, which is another empty quarter.

“The outdoors, for me, has always been something that I love and that is true even today. I can’t imagine life without being outdoors; I often sit outdoors and, especially in the evenings, I go to the desert.”

Prince Sultan said he developed a love of aviation when he was in America.

“I had a friend there, Joe Clarke,” he explained. “He owned a lot of airplanes and he is another fine man who has passed away. America is the country of adventure and is the most amazing place, too. I lived in Colorado and most of the time there I skied. I do hardcore skiing, and I used to go camping but not any more.”

Now, he has other places that inspire him.

“I sometimes go to Africa now, though I don’t shoot animals; instead I use a camera,” he said. “We go in cars following the animals as they do their seasonal migrations. I have worked with National Geographic and with some of its great photographers who have published books. I took National Geographic to places they wanted to go in the Kingdom.”

Prince Sultan said the Kingdom’s heritage and traditions remain extremely important to him.

“Our national heritage became an issue for me, and I live in a mudhouse here,” he explained. “I always pay attention to traditional things and ways of living and I visit a lot of towns and villages. I still go to Taif, for its high altitude, and just last weekend I went on a beautiful high-altitude hike there.

“The flying part is the cream on the cake in terms of adventure because you see the world from a different perspective. You can always see the beauty of the universe and of our country.

“Its beauty was opened up by Saudi Colors. We saw Saudi Arabia from so many different perspectives: That of thousands of Saudis, and thousands of photographers and movie makers. A whole industry grew from that and, InshaAllah, we will recreate it. I am working on that now.”

Roger Harrison’s affection for Saudi Arabia was also clear, the prince added.

“I think Roger was, first of all, a man who loved Saudi Arabia and loved its people too,” he said. “That’s basically what fired him up to research and write all those stories. He was a man with a lot of energy and it drove him to do many things and opened many doors. I worked with him on lots of ideas; some came (to pass) and as for the others, we had been waiting for the coronavirus to go away.

“I think Roger was somebody who appreciated beauty and adventure and the life of the people. I connect with those kinds of people: People who can feel life and not just live it, people who can identify things and ideas and run with them.

Harrison was born in 1946. He arrived in Saudi Arabia with his wife in 1996. (Supplied)

“Roger was truly unique and I always enjoyed time with him, whether it was a casual meeting or when he came to my farm for lunch or dinner. He always added an element of enthusiasm that we could all enjoy because he had been to places that he talked about and impressed us with his adventurous spirit.”

Prince Sultan said that when he was asked recently to make a video for an award presentation he immediately thought of Roger.

“In the US there is a huge aviation community and there is an annual award given to what they call ‘Legends of Aviation,’” he said. “To be an aviator is different from being a pilot, you know. A pilot is like a driver but to be an aviator is to have a passion, rather than simply a hobby you indulge in every once in a while.

“To my surprise, I was informed that the community wanted to nominate me for the award. They asked me for a two-hour video and the first person I thought of to do it was Roger. A month before, a mutual friend from the US had sent me a message saying he had been trying unsuccessfully to get in touch with Roger. So three or four days ago, I asked my assistant to reach out to Roger and tell him I wanted to talk to him about doing the video and also find out how he was.

“When my assistant finally got an answer, he spoke to Roger’s son who said: ‘My father passed away on Saturday.’"

The sad news was a great shock to the prince.

“That blew me away,” he said. “We had made plans to meet in Mallorca (where Roger had settled with his wife). Roger had even sent me suggestions of places to visit, where the Arabs from Spain had been (Al-Andalus). I was looking forward to going there in the off-season and enjoying spending some time with Roger again.

“After I had heard the bad news, I spoke to Roger’s wife and son and they were interested in seeing what Arab News had published about their husband and father. I told them there would be an event to honor Roger and we would bring them here.”

Prince Sultan said he had previously persuaded Roger to mount an exhibition of his photographs of Saudi Arabia, similar to one the prince had worked on with another distinguished expat, Richard Bodeker.

“Bodeker was a brilliant landscaper,” he said. “In fact, there is a YouTube movie called ‘The Gardener and the Princess’ that tells the story of Richard Bodeker and what he accomplished in Saudi Arabia.

“I had talked him into doing a documentary about his work; he probably had 20,000 to 30,000 photos of Saudi plants and of the landscaping he had done in the Diplomatic Quarter and Wadi Hanifah. He did the landscaping for the National Museum and though he died about a year and a half ago, his company and his son are still here. There is a garden in the Diplomatic Quarter that is named for him in acknowledgment of his 40 years in Saudi Arabia and the fantastic work he did.

“As with him, so with Roger and his achievements: We will not see his like again."

Axel Springer finalizes acquisition of POLITICO

Axel Springer finalizes acquisition of POLITICO
Updated 19 October 2021

Axel Springer finalizes acquisition of POLITICO

Axel Springer finalizes acquisition of POLITICO
  • Publishing group now owns 100 percent of the biggest and most influential sources of political news
  • Plans under the new ownership include putting content behind a paywall and broadening the scope of coverage 

LONDON: Publishing company Axel Springer announced on Tuesday it has completed the acquisition of POLITICO, one of the biggest and most influential sources of political news.

The publishing group now owns 100 percent of the media properties previously owned by the founder and publisher of POLITICO, Robert Allbritton, including POLITICO, POLITICO’s 50 percent interest in POLITICO Europe, Protocol, E&E News, and Agency IQ. 

Last week, Axel Springer announced plans to eventually put POLITICO’s content behind a paywall and immediately boost the political news publisher’s headcount by more than 10 percent. 

Plans under the new ownership also include growing POLITICO’s footprint in the US and internationally through the introduction of new industry-focused products and services and by broadening the scope of coverage.

“We have always believed deeply in the digital journalism business model and POLITICO is a prime example of how to make it work,” Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer, said. “They have a superior team with the highest quality standards and an impressive sense of how to convey their superior offerings in a digitized world.” 

Similarly, Allbritton shared a positive note on the acquisition.

“Today marks the dawn of a new era of opportunity for everyone connected to POLITICO,” he said. “Axel Springer is the perfect owner to take our publications to the next level as we build on our excellence in Washington and Brussels.”

The completion of the acquisition comes shortly after the news of Axel Springer ousting the editor of Europe’s largest newspaper, Bild, after misconduct charges. 

The publishing group accused editor Julian Reichelt of continuing to mix his “private and professional affairs” and giving false statements to the publisher’s board.

Facebook to review Arabic, Hebrew content moderation policies

Facebook to review Arabic, Hebrew content moderation policies
Updated 19 October 2021

Facebook to review Arabic, Hebrew content moderation policies

Facebook to review Arabic, Hebrew content moderation policies
  • Social networking giant accepts recommendation to engage neutral, independent entity for policy assessment

DUBAI: Facebook has recently come under renewed criticism over inadequate content moderation policies in languages other than English.

Whistleblower Frances Haugen, who leaked internal Facebook research documents to The Wall Street Journal and appeared before a US Senate committee, has revealed that while only 9 percent of the social networking giant’s users were English speakers, 87 percent of its misinformation spending was dedicated to that category.

The imbalance, it has been claimed by critics, has led to increased hate speech and real-life violence in non-English speaking countries where Facebook is widely used such as India, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Iran.

On Oct. 14, Facebook agreed to a recommendation by the Oversight Board to “engage an independent entity not associated with either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to conduct a thorough examination to determine whether Facebook’s content moderation in Arabic and Hebrew, including its use of automation, have been applied without bias.”

The company intends to fully implement the measure and make public the resulting report and conclusions.

The decision follows repeated requests by 7amleh (the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media) and several other local, regional, and international human rights organizations, coalitions, and networks, that Facebook guaranteed a transparent and equitable policy with regard to Palestinian content.

An investigation by Human Rights Watch found that Facebook wrongfully silenced Palestinian content, including documentation of Israeli human rights violations, during the uprising that occurred in May.

Following an internal inquiry, Facebook admitted that it had made errors in some of its decisions, but HRW said the “company’s acknowledgment of errors and attempts to correct some of them are insufficient and do not address the scale and scope of reported content restrictions.”

The May violence, followed by Facebook’s discriminatory acts, increased pressure against the firm to end any and all bias against Palestinian content.

The Oversight Board also made three other recommendations — one that is being partly implemented and two that are being assessed for feasibility.

Facebook is partly implementing the board’s recommendation to formalize a transparent process on how it receives and responds to all government requests for content removal and ensure that they are included in transparency reporting.

It is currently assessing feasibility for two other recommendations, which are ensuring “swift translation of updates to the community standards into all available languages,” and adding “criteria and illustrative examples” to the company’s “dangerous individuals and organizations policy to increase understanding of the exceptions for neutral discussion, condemnation, and news reporting.”

In a statement, 7amleh said it welcomed Facebook’s “surprising” decision.

But the center also called on Facebook to accept the other recommendations made by the Oversight Board, including specifying the criteria for dangerous individuals and organizations or parties whose content was automatically removed from the platform, as well as disclosing all cooperation with governments and positive responses to governmental requests for content removal, in addition to translating content moderation policies to all languages and making them more accessible.

TikTok launches new privacy campaign, teams up with leading regional creators

TikTok launches new privacy campaign, teams up with leading regional creators
Updated 19 October 2021

TikTok launches new privacy campaign, teams up with leading regional creators

TikTok launches new privacy campaign, teams up with leading regional creators
  • TikTok’s #PrivacyMatters campaign partners with regional content creators to showcase the importance of privacy

DUBAI: Short-form video app TikTok has launched its latest campaign, #PrivacyMatters, focusing on digital privacy.

Through a partnership with prominent regional creators, the platform has created a series of educational short films featuring real-life scenarios that demonstrate how users can control their privacy online. The creators include Hadeel Marei, Twinzy’s Abdullah and Noor, Abeer Sinder, Zainab Al-Eqabi, Faris Al-Khalidi, and Nadin Smaili, together reaching over 3 million users.

The campaign follows a series of safety enhancements made on the platform including the introduction of Family Pairing, the enhancement of filtering capabilities, and the launch of tools to combat bullying.

“While we celebrate the creativity and expression that is seen in abundance on the platform, we have an inherent understanding of the important role privacy plays in the digital experience,” said Hany Kamel, content operations director at TikTok, Middle East and North Africa.

In the MENA region, online users spend an average of 90 minutes every day consuming short-form content, making up 15 percent of total time spent by users on media platforms across the region, according to management consultancy RedSeer. As users spend more and more time in the digital space, sharing and over-sharing personal details of their lives, privacy is more important than ever before.

Kamel added: “At TikTok, we see safety as a job that is never complete, and consistently look for ways in which to further bolster our existing privacy, safety and engagement protection measures. As we update our offering, we will also continue to creatively communicate these changes to our community, to ensure everyone is aware of the ways in which they can keep themselves and their content safe on the platform.”

In addition to its Community Guidelines, TikTok has dedicated privacy controls that each user can customize as per their preferences, including making their account private, controlling comments and messages, managing screen time, using restricted mode to curate their feed, and limiting duets to control who can duet their content.

Instagram launches new campaign to tackle phishing

Instagram launches new campaign to tackle phishing
Updated 19 October 2021

Instagram launches new campaign to tackle phishing

Instagram launches new campaign to tackle phishing
  • Social networking service offers users 5-step action plan to protect against phishing attacks

DUBAI: Phishing has become one of the main methods for hackers to access the personal information of social media users across different platforms.

The online hoaxers typically use deceptive messages that appear to come from an official source such as a bank, social media platform, or email service to encourage users to download an attachment or click on a link.

Nadia Diab Caceres, public policy manager for Instagram in the Middle East and North Africa region, told Arab News: “Phishing is one of the most common types of cyberattacks and it can take many forms – from fun quizzes about your favorite cereal brand to receiving direct messages claiming to be from Instagram about issues with your account.”

Instagram users, in particular, have been the target of many such attacks. In September, Romania’s cybersecurity incident response team warned about a targeted campaign against Instagram users in the county, and last year TrendMicro reported similar activity led by Turkish-speaking hackers preying on high-profile accounts on the social networking platform.

Diab Caceres did not reveal the number of users that had been subject to phishing but said: “Phishing on social platforms is an evolving issue that has been increasing in both frequency and sophistication.

“We are constantly evolving our safety and security features to protect our community from cyberattacks. We have strong defenses in our existing security tools and features, and we continue to upgrade these in line with the needs of the times.”

As part of its efforts to raise awareness and increase usage of its safety tools, Instagram has collaborated with influential content creators including Khaled Mokhtar, Amr Maskoun, Aly Osman, Adel Aladwani, and Mazen Yaseen.

Additionally, it is educating users on steps they can take to protect their accounts.

One such way is its new security checkup feature that guides users whose accounts may have been hacked through the steps needed to secure them, including checking login activity, reviewing profile information, confirming the accounts that share login information, and updating account recovery contact information such as phone number or email.

Another method users can take is to enable two-factor authentication, whereby they receive a notification or are asked to enter a special login code when someone tries logging into their account from a device the platform does not recognize.

Enabling login request is available to users setting up two-factor authentication on Instagram. Any login attempt from an unrecognized device or web browser triggers an alert showing details of the device that tried logging in and its location. Users can then approve or deny the request from their already logged-in devices.

A further safety step is to update phone numbers and emails. Instagram advises users to always keep the email and phone numbers associated with their device up to date, so the platform can reach them if something happens to their account, as well as aid the recovery process even when a hacker changes their information.

In addition, Instagram encourages users to report suspicious or spammy accounts and content to help the platform better combat attacks.

There has recently been an increase in malicious accounts direct messaging people to try and access sensitive information, such as account passwords, by falsely stating that the user account is at risk of being banned, that users are violating Instagram’s policies around intellectual property, or that their photos are being shared elsewhere.

Users are urged to report these accounts to Instagram which has stressed that it would never send a direct message to users and would only communicate through the emails from Instagram tab in settings.

“Instagram is a people’s platform, and we are at our strongest when our entire community is aware of and uses the safety features at their disposal,” said Diab Caceres.