Streaming services send Saudi film talent around the world

Netflix — Middle East and North Africa has recently introduced a great range of Saudi content to regional, international and non-English-speaking audiences. (Supplied)
Netflix — Middle East and North Africa has recently introduced a great range of Saudi content to regional, international and non-English-speaking audiences. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 January 2022

Streaming services send Saudi film talent around the world

Netflix — Middle East and North Africa has recently introduced a great range of Saudi content to regional, international and non-English-speaking audiences. (Supplied)
  • Netflix is among the best platforms for promoting Saudi films to a global audience

JEDDAH: The Saudi film industry has enjoyed significant growth in the past few years, with the rise of thriving Saudi talent indicating the Kingdom’s global reach in the industry.

Filmmakers and actors have received support from the Saudi Film Commission to enhance their efforts, which has accelerated production, marketed Saudi films domestically and overseas, and encouraged investment in development.

Netflix is among the best platforms for promoting Saudi films to a global audience.

The streaming service has partnerships with two of the most important Saudi film companies: A seven-year exclusive deal with animation studio Myrkott to produce Saudi-focused content, and a partnership with production and financing group Telfaz11 for eight new films.

Netflix — Middle East and North Africa has recently introduced a great range of Saudi content to regional, international and non-English-speaking audiences.

The world-leading streaming service shared an updated list of all the Saudi films and series being streamed, including dramas, comedies, cartoons, community-based stories, horror films, romances and teen movies.

Titles include “Six Windows in the Desert”, “Whispers”, “Masameer the Movie,” and “Carnival City.” 

Faris Godus, a Saudi film writer and producer of “The Book of Sun,” told Arab News: “The film did great in cinemas, selling more than 100,000 tickets which got Netflix’s interest. It is the most streamed film in Saudi Arabia.”

The film attracted critical acclaim and huge audiences in Saudi theaters in 2020, two years after cinemas were reopened in the Kingdom. The film, which was also streamed on Netflix, was one of the most trending pieces in Saudi Arabia.

Godus said that he strongly believes that streaming services help films to be approached by a wider audience. However, nothing can replace movie theaters.

“I think streaming services are the replacement for physical media, it is where a film would eventually reach the masses, especially in countries where the film is not available in theaters. However, it should not replace cinemas. Movies should be collectively experienced. It is what creates a dialogue between communities.”

Godus added that he and the cast were happy to stream the film on one of the biggest video streaming services and expressed how satisfied he was with the response.

“Although the film is not a Netflix original, it really did well on Netflix. I’m very satisfied. Until its last day, tickets were sold out.”

He said that the film industry in Saudi Arabia is very promising. 

“What I like about this period is that everyone is still experimenting (with) new ideas, every short and feature film is fresh, and the momentum of Saudi film growth every year is just astonishing.”

In a previous interview with Arab News, Majed Samman, head of performing arts and cinema at The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), said: “Ithra has produced more films in Saudi Arabia than any other entity. Including 20 films to date for the past three years now, two feature films and 18 short films. Most of these films are now on Netflix, Shahad and Saudi airlines.”

“Wasati,” a Saudi comedy-adventure film directed by Ali Kalthami, was the first Ithra movie to stream on Netflix in 2016.

Samman, who is also a Saudi filmmaker, producer, actor and editor, said that there are four other Saudi films produced by Ithra that are streaming on Netflix: “Is Sumiyati Going to Hell?”, “Predicament in Sight”, “Zero Distance,” and “Last Visit.”

Samman believes that Netflix is an effective way to reach a global audience, adding: “We are aiming to have participation in international film festivals to reach more audiences.”

Saudi Arabia recently hosted the first iconic Red Sea International Film Festival in its first tournament in Jeddah’s Al-Balad district.

The festival featured world premieres of selected films made by the Kingdom’s up-and-coming talent, with 138 films from over 60 countries in total.


TikTok launches Creator Hub program in UAE and Egypt

TikTok launches Creator Hub program in UAE and Egypt
Updated 29 September 2022

TikTok launches Creator Hub program in UAE and Egypt

TikTok launches Creator Hub program in UAE and Egypt
  • The new initiative aims to identify talented creators and connect them with the right mentors and skill-building experts
  • The annual competition requires creators to produce a creative content idea around a specific theme

DUBAI: TikTok has announced the launch of the inaugural TikTok Creator Hub program in the UAE and Egypt.

The new initiative aims to identify talented creators and connect them with the right mentors and skill-building experts to support and nurture their skills.

The annual competition requires creators to produce a creative content idea around a specific theme.

A group of judges, including top TikTok content creators from across the MENA region, will assess the skills of the creators and provide them with the required learning to help elevate their content, as well as advise them on their career as a creator.

Inspired by the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference of Parties — COP27 — held in Egypt in November, this year’s theme is climate change.

“With the launch of the inaugural edition of TikTok Creator Hub, we aim to generate awareness and advocacy around causes and pressing issues that touch the community, securing a dedicated destination for content creation and conversations focused on the most important societal issues of our time, such as climate change,” said Tarek Abdalla, regional general manager at TikTok Middle East, Africa, Turkiye, Pakistan and South Asia.

The theme also aligns with TikTok’s launch of the #ClimateAction program in support of COP27 in the MENA region, which is a campaign encouraging TikTok users to join the climate conversation.

The TikTok Creator Hub program is divided into three phases, which include online learning modules, a live training session and the judging process to name the winner of the competition.

Once the creators have been shortlisted, TikTok will host a welcome workshop in collaboration with celebrity creators to introduce them to the TikTok Creator Hub concept.

TikTok will also host a live training day, enabling creators to spend one live session with a creator mentor, ahead of their creation of a TikTok focused on climate change, which will be submitted for the judging process.

Lastly, the judges will choose the winning entries, which will be announced in November.

Creators living in the UAE and Egypt who would like to participate can visit the TikTok MENA Creator Hub website MENATikTokCreatorHub.com to register and share a 30-60 second video on why they want to be part of the program for a chance to be selected.

Registration closes on Oct. 10.


Brands blast Twitter for ads next to child pornography accounts

Brands blast Twitter for ads next to child pornography accounts
REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration/File Photo
Updated 29 September 2022

Brands blast Twitter for ads next to child pornography accounts

Brands blast Twitter for ads next to child pornography accounts
  • Mazda, Forbes and Dyson are among the brands to suspend their marketing campaigns on the platform

 

Some major advertisers including Dyson, Mazda, Forbes and PBS Kids have suspended their marketing campaigns or removed their ads from parts of Twitter because their promotions appeared alongside tweets soliciting child pornography, the companies told Reuters.

DIRECTV and Thoughtworks also told Reuters late on Wednesday they have paused their advertising on Twitter.

Brands ranging from Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), NBCUniversal (CMCSA.O) and Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) to a children's hospital were among more than 30 advertisers that appeared on the profile pages of Twitter accounts peddling links to the exploitative material, according to a Reuters review of accounts identified in new research about child sex abuse online from cybersecurity group Ghost Data.

Some of tweets include key words related to “rape” and “teens,” and appeared alongside promoted tweets from corporate advertisers, the Reuters review found. In one example, a promoted tweet for shoe and accessories brand Cole Haan appeared next to a tweet in which a user said they were “trading teen/child” content.

“We’re horrified,” David Maddocks, brand president at Cole Haan, told Reuters after being notified that the company’s ads appeared alongside such tweets. “Either Twitter is going to fix this, or we’ll fix it by any means we can, which includes not buying Twitter ads.”

In another example, a user tweeted searching for content of “Yung girls ONLY, NO Boys,” which was immediately followed by a promoted tweet for Texas-based Scottish Rite Children's Hospital. Scottish Rite did not return multiple requests for comment.

In a statement, Twitter spokesperson Celeste Carswell said the company “has zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation” and is investing more resources dedicated to child safety, including hiring for new positions to write policy and implement solutions.

She added that Twitter is working closely with its advertising clients and partners to investigate and take steps to prevent the situation from happening again.

Twitter’s challenges in identifying child abuse content were first reported in an investigation by tech news site The Verge in late August. The emerging pushback from advertisers that are critical to Twitter’s revenue stream is reported here by Reuters for the first time.

Like all social media platforms, Twitter bans depictions of child sexual exploitation, which are illegal in most countries. But it permits adult content generally and is home to a thriving exchange of pornographic imagery, which comprises about 13 percent of all content on Twitter, according to an internal company document seen by Reuters.

Twitter declined to comment on the volume of adult content on the platform.

Ghost Data identified the more than 500 accounts that openly shared or requested child sexual abuse material over a 20-day period this month. Twitter failed to remove more than 70 percent of the accounts during the study period, according to the group, which shared the findings exclusively with Reuters.

Reuters could not independently confirm the accuracy of Ghost Data’s finding in full, but reviewed dozens of accounts that remained online and were soliciting materials for "13+" and “young looking nudes.”

After Reuters shared a sample of 20 accounts with Twitter last Thursday, the company removed about 300 additional accounts from the network, but more than 100 others still remained on the site the following day, according to Ghost Data and a Reuters review.

Reuters then on Monday shared the full list of more than 500 accounts after it was furnished by Ghost Data, which Twitter reviewed and permanently suspended for violating its rules, said Twitter’s Carswell on Tuesday.

In an email to advertisers on Wednesday morning, ahead of the publication of this story, Twitter said it “discovered that ads were running within Profiles that were involved with publicly selling or soliciting child sexual abuse material.”

Andrea Stroppa, the founder of Ghost Data, said the study was an attempt to assess Twitter’s ability to remove the material. He said he personally funded the research after receiving a tip about the topic.

Twitter’s transparency reports on its website show it suspended more than 1 million accounts last year for child sexual exploitation.

It made about 87,000 reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a government-funded non-profit that facilitates information sharing with law enforcement, according to that organization's annual report.

“Twitter needs to fix this problem ASAP, and until they do, we are going to cease any further paid activity on Twitter,” said a spokesperson for Forbes.

“There is no place for this type of content online,” a spokesperson for carmaker Mazda USA said in a statement to Reuters, adding that in response, the company is now prohibiting its ads from appearing on Twitter profile pages.

A Disney spokesperson called the content “reprehensible” and said they are “doubling-down on our efforts to ensure that the digital platforms on which we advertise, and the media buyers we use, strengthen their efforts to prevent such errors from recurring.”

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola, which had a promoted tweet appear on an account tracked by the researchers, said it did not condone the material being associated with its brand and said “any breach of these standards is unacceptable and taken very seriously.”

NBCUniversal said it has asked Twitter to remove the ads associated with the inappropriate content.

CODE WORDS

Twitter is hardly alone in grappling with moderation failures related to child safety online. Child welfare advocates say the number of known child sexual abuse images has soared from thousands to tens of millions in recent years, as predators have used social networks including Meta’s Facebook and Instagram to groom victims and exchange explicit images.

For the accounts identified by Ghost Data, nearly all the traders of child sexual abuse material marketed the materials on Twitter, then instructed buyers to reach them on messaging services such as Discord and Telegram in order to complete payment and receive the files, which were stored on cloud storage services like New Zealand-based Mega and US-based Dropbox, according to the group’s report.

A Discord spokesperson said the company had banned one server and one user for violating its rules against sharing links or content that sexualize children.

Mega said a link referenced in the Ghost Data report was created in early August and soon after deleted by the user, which it declined to identify. Mega said it permanently closed the user's account two days later.

Dropbox and Telegram said they use a variety of tools to moderate content but did not provide additional detail on how they would respond to the report.

Still the reaction from advertisers poses a risk to Twitter’s business, which earns more than 90 percent of its revenue by selling digital advertising placements to brands seeking to market products to the service's 237 million daily active users.

Twitter is also battling in court Tesla CEO and billionaire Elon Musk, who is attempting to back out of a $44 billion deal to buy the social media company over complaints about the prevalence of spam accounts and its impact on the business.

A team of Twitter employees concluded in a report dated February 2021 that the company needed more investment to identify and remove child exploitation material at scale, noting the company had a backlog of cases to review for possible reporting to law enforcement.

“While the amount of (child sexual exploitation content) has grown exponentially, Twitter’s investment in technologies to detect and manage the growth has not,” according to the report, which was prepared by an internal team to provide an overview about the state of child exploitation material on Twitter and receive legal advice on the proposed strategies.

“Recent reports about Twitter provide an outdated, moment in time glance at just one aspect of our work in this space, and is not an accurate reflection of where we are today,” Carswell said.

The traffickers often use code words such as “cp” for child pornography and are “intentionally as vague as possible,” to avoid detection, according to the internal documents.

The more that Twitter cracks down on certain keywords, the more that users are nudged to use obfuscated text, which “tend to be harder for (Twitter) to automate against,” the documents said.

Ghost Data’s Stroppa said that such tricks would complicate efforts to hunt down the materials, but noted that his small team of five researchers and no access to Twitter’s internal resources was able to find hundreds of accounts within 20 days.

Twitter did not respond to a request for further comment.


BBC announces job losses at World Service

BBC announces job losses at World Service
Updated 29 September 2022

BBC announces job losses at World Service

BBC announces job losses at World Service
  • The BBC said its international services needed to make savings of £28.5 million as part of wider reductions of £500 million
  • Radio services in Arabic, Persian, Kyrgyz, Hindi, Bengali, Chinese, Indonesian, Tamil and Urdu will stop, if the proposals are approved by staff and unions

LONDON: Nearly 400 staff at BBC World Service will lose their jobs as part of a cost-cutting program and move to digital platforms, the broadcaster announced on Thursday.
The BBC said its international services needed to make savings of £28.5 million ($31 million) as part of wider reductions of £500 million.
In July it detailed plans to merge BBC World News television and its domestic UK equivalent into a single channel to launch in April next year.
BBC World Service currently operates in 40 languages around the world with a weekly audience of some 364 million people.
But the corporation said audience habits were changing and more people were accessing news online, which along with a freeze on BBC funding and increased operating costs meant a move to “digital-first” made financial sense.
“Today’s proposals entail a net total of around 382 post closures,” it said in an online statement.
Eleven language services — Azerbaijani, Brasil, Marathi, Mundo, Punjabi, Russian, Serbian, Sinhala, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese — are already digital only.
Under the restructuring plans they will be joined by seven more: Chinese, Gujarati, Igbo, Indonesian, Pidgin, Urdu and Yoruba.
Radio services in Arabic, Persian, Kyrgyz, Hindi, Bengali, Chinese, Indonesian, Tamil and Urdu will stop, if the proposals are approved by staff and unions.
No language services will close, the broadcaster insisted, although some production will move out of London.
The Thai service will move to Bangkok, the Korean service to Seoul and the Bangla service to Dhaka.
The “Focus on Africa” television bulletin will be broadcast from Nairobi, it added.
BBC World Service director Liliane Landor said there was a “compelling case” for expanding digital services, as audiences had more than doubled since 2018.
“The way audiences are accessing news and content is changing and the challenge of reaching and engaging people around the world with quality, trusted journalism is growing,” she added.
BBC World Service is funded out of the UK license fee — currently £159 for a color TV and payable by every household with a television set.
The BBC has faced increasing claims from right-wingers since the UK’s divisive Brexit referendum in 2016 of political bias, and pushing a “woke,” London-centric liberal agenda.
But it has faced similar accusations of political bias in favor of the right from the left.
The government announced a freeze on the license fee earlier this year, in what was seen as a brazen attack on a cherished British institution.
But ministers claimed the funding model needed to be revised because of technological changes, including the uptake of streaming services.
Rival commercial broadcasters have long complained that the guaranteed funding is unfair.


Rohingya seek reparations from Facebook for role in massacre

Rohingya seek reparations from Facebook for role in massacre
Updated 29 September 2022

Rohingya seek reparations from Facebook for role in massacre

Rohingya seek reparations from Facebook for role in massacre
  • “Meta — through its dangerous algorithms and its relentless pursuit of profit — substantially contributed to the serious human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingya,” the report says

With roosters crowing in the background as he speaks from the crowded refugee camp in Bangladesh that’s been his home since 2017, Maung Sawyeddollah, 21, describes what happened when violent hate speech and disinformation targeting the Rohingya minority in Myanmar began to spread on Facebook.
“We were good with most of the people there. But some very narrow minded and very nationalist types escalated hate against Rohingya on Facebook,” he said. “And the people who were good, in close communication with Rohingya. changed their mind against Rohingya and it turned to hate.”
For years, Facebook, now called Meta Platforms Inc., pushed the narrative that it was a neutral platform in Myanmar that was misused by malicious people, and that despite its efforts to remove violent and hateful material, it unfortunately fell short. That narrative echoes its response to the role it has played in other conflicts around the world, whether the 2020 election in the US or hate speech in India.
But a new and comprehensive report by Amnesty International states that Facebook’s preferred narrative is false. The platform, Amnesty says, wasn’t merely a passive site with insufficient content moderation. Instead, Meta’s algorithms “proactively amplified and promoted content” on Facebook, which incited violent hatred against the Rohingya beginning as early as 2012.
Despite years of warnings, Amnesty found, the company not only failed to remove violent hate speech and disinformation against the Rohingya, it actively spread and amplified it until it culminated in the 2017 massacre. The timing coincided with the rising popularity of Facebook in Myanmar, where for many people it served as their only connection to the online world. That effectively made Facebook the Internet for a vast number of Myanmar’s population.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh that year. Myanmar security forces were accused of mass rapes, killings and torching thousands of homes owned by Rohingya.
“Meta — through its dangerous algorithms and its relentless pursuit of profit — substantially contributed to the serious human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingya,” the report says.
A spokesperson for Meta declined to answer questions about the Amnesty report. In a statement, the company said it “stands in solidarity with the international community and supports efforts to hold the Tatmadaw accountable for its crimes against the Rohingya people.”
“Our safety and integrity work in Myanmar remains guided by feedback from local civil society organizations and international institutions, including the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar; the Human Rights Impact Assessment we commissioned in 2018; as well as our ongoing human rights risk management,” Rafael Frankel, director of public policy for emerging markets, Meta Asia-Pacific, said in a statement.
Like Sawyeddollah, who is quoted in the Amnesty report and spoke with the AP on Tuesday, most of the people who fled Myanmar — about 80 percent of the Rohingya living in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine at the time — are still staying in refugee camps. And they are asking Meta to pay reparations for its role in the violent repression of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, which the US declared a genocide earlier this year.
Amnesty’s report, out Wednesday, is based on interviews with Rohingya refugees, former Meta staff, academics, activists and others. It also relied on documents disclosed to Congress last year by whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist. It notes that digital rights activists say Meta has improved its civil society engagement and some aspects of its content moderation practices in Myanmar in recent years. In January 2021, after a violent coup overthrew the government, it banned the country’s military from its platform.
But critics, including some of Facebook’s own employees, have long maintained such an approach will never truly work. It means Meta is playing whack-a-mole trying to remove harmful material while its algorithms designed to push “engaging” content that’s more likely to get people riled up essentially work against it.
“These algorithms are really dangerous to our human rights. And what happened to the Rohingya and Facebook’s role in that specific conflict risks happening again, in many different contexts across the world,” said Pat de Brún, researcher and adviser on artificial intelligence and human rights at Amnesty.
“The company has shown itself completely unwilling or incapable of resolving the root causes of its human rights impact.”
After the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar highlighted the “significant” role Facebook played in the atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya, Meta admitted in 2018 that “we weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.”
In the following years, the company “touted certain improvements in its community engagement and content moderation practices in Myanmar,” Amnesty said, adding that its report “finds that these measures have proven wholly inadequate.”
In 2020, for instance, three years after the violence in Myanmar killed thousands of Rohingya Muslims and displaced 700,000 more, Facebook investigated how a video by a leading anti-Rohingya hate figure, U Wirathu, was circulating on its site.
The probe revealed that over 70 percent of the video’s views came from “chaining” — that is, it was suggested to people who played a different video, showing what’s “up next.” Facebook users were not seeking out or searching for the video, but had it fed to them by the platform’s algorithms.
Wirathu had been banned from Facebook since 2018.
“Even a well-resourced approach to content moderation, in isolation, would likely not have sufficed to prevent and mitigate these algorithmic harms. This is because content moderation fails to address the root cause of Meta’s algorithmic amplification of harmful content,” Amnesty’s report says.
The Rohingya refugees are seeking unspecified reparations from the Menlo Park, California-based social media giant for its role in perpetuating genocide. Meta, which is the subject of twin lawsuits in the US and the UK seeking $150 billion for Rohingya refugees, has so far refused.
“We believe that the genocide against Rohingya was possible only because of Facebook,” Sawyeddollah said. “They communicated with each other to spread hate, they organized campaigns through Facebook. But Facebook was silent.”


Netflix launches ‘New Saudi Voices’ collection to celebrate Saudi filmmakers

Netflix launches ‘New Saudi Voices’ collection to celebrate Saudi filmmakers
Updated 29 September 2022

Netflix launches ‘New Saudi Voices’ collection to celebrate Saudi filmmakers

Netflix launches ‘New Saudi Voices’ collection to celebrate Saudi filmmakers
  • 11 films will celebrate creativity and talent of emerging figures in the Kingdom

DUBAI: Netflix is releasing a collection titled “New Saudi Voices” consisting of 11 specially curated short films to celebrate the creativity of emerging Saudi filmmakers.

The collection comprises movies across genres including horror, fantasy and animation, in an attempt to capture the full scope of Saudi filmmakers’ creativity and talent.

The 11 films are part of the New Saudi/New Cinema Shorts showcased at the Red Sea Film Festival last year and encapsulate the work of some of the most promising new voices in the Kingdom.

The films include Mohamed Basalamah’s “Hallucinated,” which tells the story of a delivery worker who suffers from worsening insomnia until the line blurs between his reality and hallucinations; and Rami Alzayer’s “The Day I Lost Myself,” which explores how a young man with anxiety finds himself stuck in an elevator on his way to an interview.

Documentaries like “Arufea” by Abbas Alshuwayfie offer a peek into an old Saudi neighborhood, and Omar Al-Omirat’s “Covida the 19th” explores lifestyle changes post-pandemic.

The collection also includes an animated short called “Whisper Down the Lane” by Raghad Albarqi, “The Jakar” by Abdulaziz Saleh, “The Palm Witch” by Hala Alhaid, “Hide and Seek” by Mohammad Helal, “Red Circle” by Abdulaziz Sarhan and “Little Bird” by Khalid Fahad.

Nuha El-Tayeb, director of content acquisitions, Netflix, MENA and Turkey, said: “We’re very excited to amplify the voices of up-and-coming filmmakers in Saudi Arabia through this collection. There’s incredible talent in the Kingdom, and they have unique stories to tell. We hope that as people tune into the films, they learn more about these creators, and catch a glimpse of their passion, originality and creativity, as we have.”

It is not the first time that Netflix has shined the spotlight on Saudi cinema. Earlier this year, the company launched a specially curated collection of 21 Arab films, “Because She Created,” featuring movies from filmmakers across Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt and more.

At the time, El-Tayeb told Arab News: “There’s incredible talent in Saudi Arabia. The entertainment landscape is rapidly evolving and Saudi women — like other women from the Arab world and globally — have beautiful, complex and layered stories to tell.”

The streaming giant has also worked with writer and director Hana Al-Omair on “Whispers,” an eight-part psychological thriller, as well as with Haifaa Al-Mansour on “Wadjda,” the first feature film made by a female Saudi director.

The “New Saudi Voices” collection will be available on Netflix on Sept. 29.