CPJ condemns Iraqi journalist’s arrest

n the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Iraq ranked 163rd out of 180 countries. (File/AFP)
n the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Iraq ranked 163rd out of 180 countries. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2021

CPJ condemns Iraqi journalist’s arrest

n the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Iraq ranked 163rd out of 180 countries. (File/AFP)
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arrest of Iraqi reporter Hamid Majed and urged Iraqi police to release him immediately

LONDON: The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday condemned the arrest of Iraqi reporter Hamid Majed and urged Iraqi police to release him immediately. 

Hamid Majed, a reporter for Al-Ahd TV, was called to the Anbar Crime Directorate in the city of Habbaniyah on Wednesday to discuss an “important topic” over coffee. Once Majed arrived, however, police officers arrested him. 

“Luring a journalist to a police station to arrest him is not only shameful practice, but an abuse of police power,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. 

“We call on Iraqi authorities to release Hamid Majed immediately and allow journalists to do their work freely and without fear of retaliation.”

Director of public relations at Al-Ahd TV, Reda Al-Akaili, said that Majed’s arrest is likely related to his reporting on the deteriorating conditions and public services in Anbar province in Iraq.

His reporting “has angered the relevant authorities and officials in Anbar province and prompted them to arrest Majed and prevent him from performing his duties,” Al-Akaili said.

In the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Iraq ranked 163rd out of 180 countries. Since the 2019 anti-government protests, Iraqi journalists have increasingly been targeted for covering protests, investigating corruption, and reporting the demands of demonstrators. 


Iranian officials bribing Instagram moderators to remove accounts hostile to regime: BBC

Iranian officials bribing Instagram moderators to remove accounts hostile to regime: BBC
Updated 27 May 2022

Iranian officials bribing Instagram moderators to remove accounts hostile to regime: BBC

Iranian officials bribing Instagram moderators to remove accounts hostile to regime: BBC
  • Among those targeted was Iranian American author and activist Masih Alinejad
  • Little coverage on state media was given to the protests, but social media was awash with reports of what was happening on the ground

LONDON: Iranian intelligence officials are offering Instagram content moderators more than $10,000 to remove the accounts of journalists and activists hostile to the regime, the BBC reported on Friday.
Among those targeted was Iranian American author and activist Masih Alinejad, with one former reviewer telling BBC Persia they were offered $10,700 to delete her account.
The content moderators were speaking after an outcry among Iranian Instagram users that posts about the recent wave of anti-government protests had been deleted.
Demonstrations were held in several provinces of Iran at the start of May after a government decision to cut subsidies to basic food items caused prices to soar, with the unrest quickly leading to protesters chanting slogans against Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the country’s President Ebrahim Raisi.
Little coverage on state media was given to the protests, but social media was awash with reports of what was happening on the ground.
However, users noticed that as the unrest continued, videos started being removed, with one opposition activist, @1500tasvir, claiming in a tweet to have been informed by Instagram that their account was being limited to “protect our community.”
The former content moderator said: “I know reviewers who supported the Iranian regime and received instructions from Iran, they can independently delete a post that has been reported without facing any serious consequences.
“If an auditor realizes, at most your accuracy rate may drop by a percentage point or two.”
German-based technology company and Instagram’s moderator, Telus International, told the BBC that although it took the allegations very seriously and had launched an investigation, it also believed them to be false.
In a statement, the firm said: “Telus does not have, nor has it ever had, any ties to the Iranian government.
“Processes are in place to eliminate the ability of reviewers to insert personal or political opinions into their job. Our team members review a randomized set of content to determine if it violates our client’s policies, standards, and guidelines, removing any room for subjectivity.
“These decisions are frequently audited for accuracy and to uncover any potential biases. Additional reviews have been undertaken and have found no validity to these claims.”
Two further moderators interviewed by the BBC supported the assertion that “it was likely” some videos had been removed as they included chants of “death to Khamenei,” although one of the reviewers said the Iranians working for Telus were “decent people” who followed company guidelines.


Woman claims her avatar was sexually assaulted in the metaverse

Woman claims her avatar was sexually assaulted in the metaverse
Updated 27 May 2022

Woman claims her avatar was sexually assaulted in the metaverse

Woman claims her avatar was sexually assaulted in the metaverse
  • SumOfUs director Vicky Wyatt said that while the attack did not take place in real life, “it still counts, it still has a real impact on users”  
  • Wyatt said that Meta needs to act now to deal with issues as it is not the first time Horizon Worlds accused of virtual harassment 

LONDON: A 21-year-old researcher with corporate accountability campaign group SumOfUs claimed on Thursday that her avatar was sexually assaulted in Meta’s virtual reality platform Horizon Worlds. 

In the footage, the woman’s avatar is seen in a virtual room in Horizon Worlds with two male avatars. One of the avatars is watching while the other appears very close to the woman. Both of the male avatars are seen making sexual comments.

SumOfUs director Vicky Wyatt said that while the attack did not take place in real life, “it still counts, it still has a real impact on users.”  

The group claims that the researcher also witnessed homophobic slurs and virtual gun violence.

Wyatt said that Meta needs to act now to deal with issues.

 

 

“Rather than Facebook rushing headlong into building this metaverse, we’re saying look, you need to stop and look at all the harms that are happening on your platforms right now that you can’t even deal with. Let’s not repeat and replicate those in the metaverse. We need a better plan here on how to mitigate online harms in the metaverse.”

This is not the first time Meta’s Horizon Worlds has been subject to allegations of virtual harassment and sexual assault. 

In February, a psychotherapist spoke out about her experience of being “virtually gang raped” in Facebook’s metaverse, citing that the technological advancement of the simulation made it feel like it had happened in real life.

The metaverse researcher said that she was left “shocked” after three or four avatars attacked her moments after she stepped into the virtual world.

Following the incident, Meta added more safety features to prevent similar attacks, such as “Personal Boundary,” which stops users from imposing on each other’s personal space and is activated by default.


Palestinians: Israel deliberately killed Al Jazeera reporter

Palestinians: Israel deliberately killed Al Jazeera reporter
Updated 26 May 2022

Palestinians: Israel deliberately killed Al Jazeera reporter

Palestinians: Israel deliberately killed Al Jazeera reporter
  • The findings echoed the results of a preliminary investigation announced nearly two weeks ago and were widely expected
  • Witnesses and Palestinian officials have said she was hit by Israeli fire

RAMALLAH, West Bank: The Palestinian Authority on Thursday announced the results of its investigation into the shooting death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, saying it had proven she was deliberately killed by Israeli forces as she tried to flee.
The findings echoed the results of a preliminary investigation announced nearly two weeks ago and were widely expected. Israel is likely to reject the report as biased and unfounded.
Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American reporter for Al Jazeera’s Arabic service, was shot in the head on May 11 during an Israeli military raid in the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
Witnesses and Palestinian officials have said she was hit by Israeli fire. Israel says she was shot during a battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. It says that only a ballistic analysis of the bullet — which is held by the Palestinian Authority — and the soldiers’ guns can determine who fired the fatal shot.
Announcing the results of his probe at a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah,, Palestinian Attorney General Akram Al Khateeb said he had determined there were no militants in the immediate area where Abu Akleh was located.
“The only shooting was by the occupation forces, with the aim of killing,” he said.
Abu Akleh was in a group of journalists wearing helmets and protective vests marked “press.” He said the army saw the journalists and knew they were journalists.
He accused Israel of shooting her “directly and deliberately” as she tried to escape. He also repeated the Palestinian position that the bullet will not be handed over to the Israelis for study. He said they decided not even to show images of the bullet “to deprive them of a new lie.”
Al Khateeb said his investigation was based on interviews with witnesses, an inspection of the scene and a forensic medical report.
There was no immediate response from Israel.
Israel denies targeting journalists and has offered two possible scenarios, saying she was either shot by Palestinian militants who were firing recklessly at an Israeli army convoy or that she was hit by Israeli gunfire aimed at a nearby militant. The military has identified the rifle that may have been used in that scenario, but says it needs to test the bullet to make any final determination.
An AP reconstruction of events has lent support to eyewitnesses who say she was shot by Israeli troops. But the reconstruction said it was impossible to reach a conclusive finding without further forensic analysis.
Palestinian witnesses say there were no militants or clashes anywhere near her. The only known militants in the area were on the other side of the convoy, some 300 meters (yards) from her position. They did not have a direct line of sight, unlike the convoy itself, which was some 200 (meters) away on a long straight road.
Israel has publicly called for a joint investigation with the PA, with US participation, and has asked the PA to hand over the bullet for testing. But the State Department said Wednesday that it had received no formal request for assistance from either side two weeks after her death.
The PA has refused to hand over the bullet to Israel or cooperate with it in any way, saying Israel cannot be trusted to investigate its own conduct. Rights groups say Israel has a poor record of investigating when security forces shoot Palestinians, with cases often languishing for months or years before being quietly closed.
The PA administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Hussein Al Sheikh, a top Palestinian official, said Thursday’s report would be shared with the US administration. Copies will also be delivered to her family and to Al Jazeera, he said.
The Palestinians say they will share their results with international parties, including the International Criminal Court, which launched an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes last year. Israel has rejected that probe as being biased against it and is not cooperating with it.
The severe distrust means the Israeli and Palestinian investigations into Abu Akleh’s death are unfolding separately, with neither likely to accept any conclusions reached by the other.
Each side is in sole possession of potentially crucial evidence. Ballistic analysis could match the bullet to a specific firearm based on a microscopic signature, but only if investigators have access to both. Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, a military spokesman, told the AP the military has additional footage from that day, but declined to say what it shows or when it would be released, citing the ongoing investigation.
Palestinians are still mourning Abu Akleh, a widely known and respected on-air correspondent who rose to fame two decades ago, during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli rule. The 51-year-old documented the harsh realities of life under Israeli military rule — now well into its sixth decade with no end in sight — for viewers across the Arab world.
Jenin has long been a bastion of Palestinian militants, and several recent attacks inside Israel have been carried out by young men from in and around the town. Israel has continued to carry out near-daily raids in Jenin since Abu Akleh’s death, which it says are aimed at preventing more.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war and has built settlements where nearly 500,000 Israelis live alongside nearly 3 million Palestinians. The Palestinians want the territory to form the main part of their future state, but peace talks broke down more than a decade ago, and Israel’s dominant right-wing parties are opposed to Palestinian statehood.
The PA itself is seen by many Palestinians as a corrupt and authoritarian body that aids the occupation by coordinating with Israel on security matters. Any cooperation with Israel on the Abu Akleh investigation would likely spark a popular backlash among Palestinians, who view her as a martyr to both journalism and their national cause.


Saudi Film Commission launches incentive program to boost local film and creative industry

Saudi Film Commission launches incentive program to boost local film and creative industry
Updated 26 May 2022

Saudi Film Commission launches incentive program to boost local film and creative industry

Saudi Film Commission launches incentive program to boost local film and creative industry
  • Incentive program will offer financial refunds of up to 40 percent for local and international producers shooting in the Kingdom
  • SFC CEO Abdullah Al Ayyaf: We are happy to welcome local, regional and international production companies to apply for the incentive program and produce in the Kingdom

CANNES: The Saudi Film Commission has announced an incentive program offering financial refunds of up to 40 percent for local and international producers shooting in the Kingdom.

The program provides significant support to local, regional and international film producers for shows and movies shot in Saudi Arabia, thereby boosting the film and production industry and creative economy in the Kingdom.

The commission has called on both Saudi and international production companies that are planning to partially or fully shoot in Saudi Arabia to apply for the incentive program through the website www.film.sa.

They will then be able to benefit from the financial refunds of up to 40 percent of expenses eligible for incentives according to criteria that include cooperating with local staff and talents and highlighting geographical and cultural landmarks in the Kingdom.

Abdullah Al Ayyaf, CEO of the commission, said: “We are happy to welcome local, regional and international production companies to apply for the incentive program and produce in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

He added that the Saudi film industry is growing as the Kingdom continues to “invest in developing the local efficiencies, infrastructure and regulations to ensure our ability to support all business sectors.”

Over the last 18 months, Saudi Arabia has hosted three major Hollywood productions: Ric Roman Waugh’s action thriller “Kandahar” filmed in AlUla; Rupert Wyatt’s historical epic “Desert Warrior” shot in Neom, and the Russo Brothers’ crime drama “Cherry” shot in AlUla and the capital Riyadh.

In the last year, eight local features have been produced and are now ready to be aired at leading film festivals, along with various documentaries, commercials and local productions including “Norah” written and directed by Tawfik Alzaidi and “Within Sand” directed by Moe Alatawi.
Both films were recipients of a fund award at the Saudi Film Commission’s Daw Film Competition, an initiative launched by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Culture to support Saudi film production.

The announcement was made during the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.


Meta launches first Mideast Spark AR Challenge

Meta launches first Mideast Spark AR Challenge
Updated 26 May 2022

Meta launches first Mideast Spark AR Challenge

Meta launches first Mideast Spark AR Challenge
  • More than $50,000 in cash prizes on offer
  • Through the challenge, creators across the world will be among the first to experience the transformative potential of the metaverse

DUBAI: Meta, in collaboration with Coders HQ and the Museum of the Future, announced the launch of the first global Spark AR Challenge in the Middle East.
The challenge will be held under the theme of “Tomorrow Today — What will the next decade bring?” It encourages creators to visualize the impact of technology and innovation on future lifestyles, mobility, work and communication by designing augmented reality (AR) effects using Meta’s AR tool, Spark AR.
Fares Akkad, regional director for MENA, Meta, said: “As Meta builds for the metaverse, the developer and creator community will play a crucial role in bridging the gap between the physical, augmented and virtual worlds. Through the challenge, creators across the world will be among the first to experience the transformative potential of the metaverse.”
The program, which is running from May 23 to June 17, challenges participants to use AR to identify how modern technologies will improve wellbeing across various sectors.
The Spark AR challenge is supported by Coders HQ, which aims to empower programmers with digital skills and train them to use programming languages in line with the UAE’s national efforts.
Omar Sultan Al-Olama, UAE minister of state for artificial intelligence, digital economy and remote work applications, said: “The global Spark AR Challenge that has been organized for the first time in Middle East keeps pace with the rapid developments in the sectors that are related to human life and driven by modern technology, data and digital solutions.”
He added: “It contributes to simulating innovation, finding viable proactive solutions, and continuous improvement to build a digital economy based on knowledge and innovation.”
Emirates and Accenture have also partnered with the program. As part of the partnership, participants will be asked to create AR effects around “Mobility of Tomorrow” for Emirates and the “Opportunities of the Future” for Accenture.
Winners will get the chance to have their winning effects featured on Emirates’ and Accenture’s social media pages as well as a chance to win cash prizes amounting to more than $50,000.
Meta is also offering participants the chance to enhance their skills through workshops with two expert AR developers: Kym Fiala, a Spark AR network partner and co-founder of South Africa-based digital agency Pixel Chefs; and Balraj Bains, a creative designer, project manager and freelance AR creator based in the UK.