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)
Short Url
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.”


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.


Metaverse-into-reality event Metacon to take place in Dubai this month

Metaverse-into-reality event Metacon to take place in Dubai this month
Each ticket comes with a Metacon One NFT Token. (Supplied)
Updated 26 May 2022

Metaverse-into-reality event Metacon to take place in Dubai this month

Metaverse-into-reality event Metacon to take place in Dubai this month
  • The event will feature 4 zones: MetaStage, MetaConnect, MetaArena and MetaSpaces

DUBAI: The first edition of Metacon, a one-of-a-kind “metaverse into reality” pop culture convention, is set to take place on May 28 and 29 in Dubai with tickets being sold as non-fungible tokens.

Each ticket comes with a Metacon One NFT Token, giving visitors always-on access to exclusive NFT drops, satellite events, networking sessions and more at Metacon and upcoming events.

The event aims to highlight the latest technologies in blockchain gaming and tech, eSports, NFTs, Web3, art, music and entertainment. Metacon will be divided into four zones: MetaStage, MetaConnect, MetaArena and MetaSpaces.

MetaStage will host sessions and panel discussions on the hottest topics about the metaverse; MetaConnect will feature workshops focused on practical and useful tips on kick-starting one’s blockchain journey; MetaSpaces will function as an exhibition zone, and MetaArena will be dedicated to eSports and blockchain gaming.  

The MetaStage will bring together speakers such as Dr. Marwan Al-Zarouni, member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council and CEO of the Dubai Blockchain Centre, and Jason Brink, president of blockchain at Gala Games. The panels include topics like “Metaverse Real Estate versus Traditional Real Estate by Damac Properties,” “Ethereum Towers and Master Ventures,” “The Metaverse and How it Can Save our Climate Crisis,” and “Play-to-Earn: The Future of Gaming.”

The event will also host the Metavator Challenge, a pitch competition and the first-of-its-kind platform for innovators in the metaverse, NFT, gaming and Web3, with prizes including AED 75,000 ($20,400) in cash, NFTs, mentorship support and investor connections.

The MetaArena stage will see eight international guilds competing in the first-ever blockchain, multi-game eSports tournament featuring titles such as “Axie Infinity,” “Thetan Arena” and “Spider Tank” with a $50,000 cash prize pool.

Metacon is organized by OnChain Events, the brainchild of Abdelrahman Mohammed, one of the UAE’s eSports pioneers who currently sits on the advisory board for the Emirates eSports Federation; Kyle Chasse, a cryptocurrency industry veteran and technology entrepreneur, and Domain Entertainment, a pop culture consultancy firm created by the co-founders of events such as the Middle East Film and Comic Con and ANI:ME.

“We now see ourselves at the exact spot when we first came together in 2010, at a time when pop culture was only consumed by a small eager community that was excited to discover, learn and grow together,” said Somaya Soeryadiredja, managing partner of Domain Entertainment.

“A lot of heart and hard work went into building events into well-loved IPs in the region, and we hope to create the same love for the metaverse through Metacon,” she added.


e& launches region’s first telco NFT collection

e& launches region’s first telco NFT collection
Updated 26 May 2022

e& launches region’s first telco NFT collection

e& launches region’s first telco NFT collection
  • Inaugural set of non-fungible tokens to be “distributed selectively,” company says

DUBAI: e&, formerly Etisalat Group, has launched its first set of non-fungible tokens, marking the first time a technology and investment conglomerate in the Middle East has launched NFTs.

The inaugural set of NFTs will be “distributed selectively,” according to a company statement, and further updates are expected soon. The move follows the advancement of e&’s blockchain arm, which crossed 10 billion dirhams ($2.72 billion) in transactions last year.

“The digital transformation that we are experiencing on all fronts will accelerate our quest to innovate,” said Hatem Dowidar, the group CEO of e&.

“The metaverse is opening up several avenues for us to investigate the digital realm in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago,” he added. “At this defining moment in our journey, we are proud to leverage our legacy in blockchain-enabled tech to launch pioneering NFTs that allow us and our customers to explore the limitless potential that the metaverse holds.”

The designs of the NFTs were sourced in the UAE as “we are keen to support the local development of new products, technologies and solutions,” Dowidar said.

NFTs have gained popularity as digital assets that transcend different sectors in recent years. They encompass a range of subjects from art to music, gaming and multimedia and are regularly bought online.

The NFT market was reported to be worth $41 billion in 2021, according to blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis.

Dowidar said: “We live in the renaissance of connectivity where we must capitalize on every opportunity that strengthens our continued leadership as the champion digital telco in a hyper-connected world.”