INTERVIEW: ‘Our focus will always be on credible, authentic and factual reporting’

INTERVIEW: ‘Our focus will always be on credible, authentic and factual reporting’
Caroline Faraj, Vice President of Arabic Services at CNN. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 February 2022

INTERVIEW: ‘Our focus will always be on credible, authentic and factual reporting’

INTERVIEW: ‘Our focus will always be on credible, authentic and factual reporting’
  • Caroline Faraj, vice-president of Arabic services at CNN, talks to Arab News about the network’s success and its evolution over the last 20 years

DUBAI: Social media is by far the most popular source of news for young Arabs with 61 percent getting their news from the medium in 2021, according to the annual Arab Youth Survey. In comparison, 43 percent got their news from TV and 9 percent from newspapers.

The quick, bite-sized, always-on nature of social media channels has challenged many traditional media brands.

One such brand is CNN. Its Arabic edition, CNN Arabic, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, ranked as the number one news provider against competitors such as Sky News, Al Arabiya and BBC Arabic, according to an independent study of news consumers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and the US.

Speaking to Arab News, Caroline Faraj, vice-president of Arabic services at CNN, reflected on the network’s decision to branch into Arabic 20 years ago. “Back in 2002, CNN already had networks in English and Spanish, and the addition of CNN Arabic gave us the ability to reach, engage, better represent and understand those of us who speak one of the world’s most popular languages.”

“Since then, we have realized that vision by telling stories for Arab audiences all over the world in myriad ways via mobile-first video, interactive content, written news and more,” she said. 

The digital transformation of CNN has been at the forefront of its success. “As a digital news service from the very outset, it has always been in our DNA to evolve, experiment and be relevant as people’s news habits continue to change.”

For example, when CNN first launched, there were no smartphones. Today, however, 90 percent of the network’s traffic comes via mobiles because “long ago we started tailoring our content to engage with people on the devices they carry around with them 24/7,” she said.

Despite social media being the most popular news source, it is the least trusted. Only 26 percent of young Arabs consider it “very trustworthy” as a news source, according to the Arab Youth Survey. More than 50 percent of them don’t have much trust in any channel — be it TV and newspapers, or online portals and social media.

Yet, CNN Arabic emerged as highly trusted, scoring more than three times the average trust rating compared to other brands in the industry.

“This trust factor is crucial,” said Faraj, “especially at a time when research such as the Arab Youth Survey shows high levels of distrust in news, particularly on social media.

“Looking further ahead, the way that news is consumed will undoubtedly change, just as it has changed in the last 20 years.”

CNN Arabic witnessed its biggest year in 2021, with daily audience numbers growing by more than 150 percent in the past six years, according to Adobe Analytics.

Although “we are in a strong position right now due to our audience growth across various digital platforms,” said Faraj, “the platforms that people use for news will certainly evolve in line with new technology and ways of communicating.”

“Our focus will always be on credible, authentic and factual reporting. Our commitment to the Arabic-speaking world is that we will continue to innovate in the way that we provide people with news and information wherever they need it.”


Senior Jerusalem Catholics condemn behavior of Israeli police at journalist’s funeral

Senior Jerusalem Catholics condemn behavior of Israeli police at journalist’s funeral
Updated 17 May 2022

Senior Jerusalem Catholics condemn behavior of Israeli police at journalist’s funeral

Senior Jerusalem Catholics condemn behavior of Israeli police at journalist’s funeral
  • The Vatican’s representative in the holy city claims raid on funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh on Friday breached 1993 religious freedom agreement
  • Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem slams ‘severe violation of international norms and regulations’

LONDON: Senior Roman Catholic figures in Jerusalem said Israel “brutally” violated religious freedom in the city after police confronted mourners at the funeral procession of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on Friday.

Police beat people carrying Abu Akleh’s coffin from St. Joseph Hospital and fired stun grenades at the crowd.

Monsignor Tomasz Grysa, the Vatican’s representative in Jerusalem, said the incident violated a 1993 agreement between the Holy See and Israel that “upholds and observes the human right of freedom of religion, which in this case has been brutally violated.”

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Roman Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem, added: “The Israel Police’s invasion and disproportionate use of force — attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades, shooting rubber bullets, frightening the hospital patients — is a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental human right of freedom of religion.”

The statements came as part of a series of condemnations made in a press conference at St. Joseph Hospital by the leaders of 15 religious denominations based in the city.

Jamil Koussa, the hospital’s director, said he believed the police targeted Abu Akleh’s coffin, not just the mourners, in an effort to intimidate and “horrify” onlookers.

A number of medical staff were also injured by the police after they stormed the hospital. Dr. Mohammed Hmeidat, who works in the neonatal intensive care unit, told the BBC he was burned by a stun grenade.

“One of them was very close to my feet, and [it] exploded. After that, we hurried to the emergency department and [the police] also followed us [there],” he said.

Israeli law enforcement warned Jerusalem’s religious figures against making “extreme statements, which include assertions about events that are still being examined, only stir up emotions and are not responsible.

“We expect clerics to help calm the area and avoid statements that agitate it.”

Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist and a Christian, was shot while covering an Israeli military raid in a Palestinian refugee camp in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday.

The Israel Defense Forces initially denied they were responsible for her death, but amid evidence from eyewitnesses that the fatal shot came from IDF personnel, they have since opened an investigation into the activity of their soldiers during the operation.

Israeli police, meanwhile, claimed intervention in her funeral was necessary as the journalist’s family had planned to use a hearse to transport the coffin from the hospital but the crowd had threatened the driver and appropriated the body against their wishes.

“Police were present at the incident to maintain public order and to allow the funeral to take place when there were extremists on the ground who provoked and engaged in an attempt to turn the funeral into a violent event,” the police said in a statement.

However, Abu Akleh’s brother, Tony Abu Akleh, told the BBC: “Everybody saw the pallbearers beaten savagely by batons without any mercy, without any respect to the funeral, to the dead.

“This was a national funeral for all the Palestinians to participate in…[The police] had no business to do [what they did] at the gate.”

Abu Akleh’s niece, Lina, told the BBC: “I honestly was very afraid…because [the police] started throwing stun grenades, and one of them actually threatened to beat me if I don’t move out of the way,” she said.


There isn’t enough moderation in Arabic and non-English languages, Meta Oversight Board’s Head of Global Engagement tells AWF forum in Dubai

There isn’t enough moderation in Arabic and non-English languages, Meta Oversight Board’s Head of Global Engagement tells AWF forum in Dubai
Updated 17 May 2022

There isn’t enough moderation in Arabic and non-English languages, Meta Oversight Board’s Head of Global Engagement tells AWF forum in Dubai

There isn’t enough moderation in Arabic and non-English languages, Meta Oversight Board’s Head of Global Engagement tells AWF forum in Dubai
  • When it comes to content moderation, Meta and its various social-media platforms have time and again attracted criticism

DUBAI: There is not enough Arabic and non-English-language content moderation online, the head of global engagement for Meta’s Oversight Board, Rachel Wolbers, said at the Arab Women Forum conference in Dubai on Tuesday.

“Meta and Facebook are making numerous efforts to detect fake news,” Wolbers told the audience, adding, “Detecting misinformation is a hard process.”

“I would not ignore that the company is not doing enough; the board is constantly pushing for this — it is not well developed, not well invested in” in comparison to English-language moderation, she continued.

When it comes to content moderation, Meta and its various social-media platforms have time and again attracted criticism as racism, extremism and anti-social behavior surfaced across them. The company set up the independent Oversight Board to moderate such content.

However, Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas questioned whether the board can truly make a significant difference.

“As much as I am in favor of having an oversight board at Facebook, at Twitter or at Snap or TikTok…how much say do they really have?” he asked. “How much can they really do?”

Snap Inc’s MENA GM Hussein Freijeh claimed that social-media technology itself was neither good nor bad — it depends on the user.

“Snapchat works with regional cultural dynamics in terms of security and content. Snapchat is considered a useful tool for content creators,” Freijeh said.

While fake news was in no way created by social media, the sheer speed and accessibility the networks provide means that harmful and malicious behavior now has a greater reach than ever before.

“Social media gave people freedom,” Khaled Janahi, the Chairman of Vision 3, told the panel but warned that people needed to use it correctly.

Abbas said: “Nobody is against freedom but we should also be against chaos.”

He explained: “We are talking about billions of people, billions of posts, it is physically impossible to monitor everything and by the time they get to it, the damage would most probably have been done.

“If you remember from 2016 the fake story which was spreading on Facebook and other platforms about the pizzeria that had a child abuse ring, and somebody took a gun and went and shot up the place,” the editor continued, referring to PizzaGate — a conspiracy theory that received widespread attention on social media and led to severe consequences, including the ‘creation’ of a fake newspaper, the Denver Guardian, which claimed to have hacked into former secretary of state and presidential runner-up Hillary Clinton’s emails and discovered a Democrat-run child prostitution ring.

“The story got more views than the rebuttals. The more crazy the news, the more content it creates, the more websites like Facebook get traction,” Abbas said. “There is no end to fake news but we must continue to battle it.”


Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister

Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister
Updated 17 May 2022

Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister

Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister
  • Russia has blocked other foreign social media platforms
  • Moscow restricted access to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in early March

Russia is not planning to block Alphabet Inc’s YouTube, the minister for digital development said on Tuesday, acknowledging that such a move would likely see Russian users suffer and should therefore be avoided.
Russia has blocked other foreign social media platforms, but despite months of fines and threats against YouTube for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal and for restricting access to some Russian media, it has stopped short of delivering a killer blow to the video-hosting service.
With around 90 million monthly users in Russia, YouTube is extremely popular and plays an important role in the digital economy. Though Russia has domestic versions of other social media, a viable YouTube alternative on that scale is yet to emerge.
“We are not planning to close YouTube,” Maksut Shadaev, who is also minister of communications and mass media, told an educational forum. “Above all, when we restrict something, we should clearly understand that our users won’t suffer.”
Competition is the engine of progress and blocking is an extreme measure, he told a vast auditorium of mostly young Russians, some scattered around the room on bean bags.
Alphabet’s Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Simmering tensions between Moscow and Big Tech erupted into a full-on information battle after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Russia restricted access to Twitter and Meta Platform’s Facebook and Instagram in early March. It vowed in April to punish Google for shutting out Russian state-funded media globally on YouTube, accusing it of spreading fakes about what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine.


Elon Musk says Twitter purchase will not go ahead without clarity on spam accounts

Elon Musk says Twitter purchase will not go ahead without clarity on spam accounts
Updated 17 May 2022

Elon Musk says Twitter purchase will not go ahead without clarity on spam accounts

Elon Musk says Twitter purchase will not go ahead without clarity on spam accounts
  • ‘Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO publicly refused to show proof of <5 percent. This deal cannot move forward until he does’

NEW YORK: Billionaire Elon Musk said Tuesday that his purchase of Twitter would not go ahead unless he was assured that fewer than five percent of accounts on the platform were fake.
“Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO publicly refused to show proof of <5 percent,” tweeted Musk, who has almost 94 million followers on the social network.
“This deal cannot move forward until he does.”


Twitter defends anti-bot efforts, Musk replies with poo emoji

Musk has said bots plague Twitter and that he would make getting rid of them a priority if he owned the platform. (File/Twitter)
Musk has said bots plague Twitter and that he would make getting rid of them a priority if he owned the platform. (File/Twitter)
Updated 17 May 2022

Twitter defends anti-bot efforts, Musk replies with poo emoji

Musk has said bots plague Twitter and that he would make getting rid of them a priority if he owned the platform. (File/Twitter)
  • “The bot issue at the end of the day was known by the New York City cab driver and feels more to us like the ‘dog ate the homework’ excuse to bail on the Twitter deal or talk down a lower price”

SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter’s chief on Monday defended the messaging platform’s battle against “bots” that aspiring buyer Elon Musk says vex the platform, only to have the billionaire respond with a poo emoji.
The exchange played out in tweets as Musk’s $44 billion buy of Twitter remained “temporarily on hold,” pending questions over the social media company’s estimates of the number of fake accounts, or “bots.”
“It appears the spam/bot issue is cascading and clearly making the Twitter deal a confusing one,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors.
“The bot issue at the end of the day was known by the New York City cab driver and feels more to us like the ‘dog ate the homework’ excuse to bail on the Twitter deal or talk down a lower price.”
Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal said the platform suspends more than a half-million seemingly bogus accounts daily, usually before they are even seen, and locks millions more weekly that fail checks to make sure they are controlled by humans and not by software.
Internal measures show that fewer than five percent of accounts active on any given day at Twitter are spam, but that analysis can’t be replicated externally due to the need to keep user data private, Agrawal contended.
Musk, who has said bots plague Twitter and that he would make getting rid of them a priority if he owned the platform, responded to that tweet by Agrawal with a poo emoji.
“So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money?” Musk tweeted in a subsequent response about the need to prove Twitter users are real people.
“This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter.”
The process used to estimate how many accounts are bots has been shared with Musk, Agrawal said.
The chief of SpaceX as well as Tesla, Musk is currently listed by Forbes as the world’s wealthiest person, with a fortune of some $230 billion, much of it in Tesla stock.
Seen by his champions as an iconoclastic genius and by his critics as an erratic megalomaniac, Musk surprised many investors in April with his pursuit of Twitter.
Musk has described his motivation as stemming from a desire to ensure freedom of speech on the platform and to boost monetization of an Internet site that is influential in media and political circles but has struggled to attain profitable growth.
Musk said he favored lifting the ban on Donald Trump, who was kicked off the platform in January 2021 shortly after the former US president’s efforts to overturn his election defeat led to the January 6 assault on the US Capitol.