Abducted Afghan journalists released, employer says

Afghan journalists covering a protest by women in support of the Taliban regime in front of the US embassy in Kabul. (File/AFP)
Afghan journalists covering a protest by women in support of the Taliban regime in front of the US embassy in Kabul. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 February 2022

Abducted Afghan journalists released, employer says

Afghan journalists covering a protest by women in support of the Taliban regime in front of the US embassy in Kabul. (File/AFP)
  • Two Afghan journalists who recently disappeared have been released after the UN called on the Taliban to provide information on their whereabouts

KABUL: Two Afghan journalists who disappeared this week have been released, their employer said on Wednesday, after the United Nations called on the Taliban to provide information on their whereabouts.
Two reporters for broadcaster Ariana News were taken by unknown abductors on Monday, according to their news agency. The Taliban denied arresting them but said they were investigating the matter.
Ali Asghari, the news manager at Ariana News, said they had been released but gave no more information.
A spokesman for the Taliban administration, Bilal Karimi, said he was not aware of the men’s release but would seek further information.
The case had been one of a growing number highlighted by the international community as fears grew over a crackdown on dissent since the Taliban took over in August.
The UN mission to Afghanistan on Tuesday called on the Taliban to release information on the missing men, as well as a group of women who had disappeared last month in connection with women’s rights protests.
In a separate briefing in Geneva, the UN human rights spokesperson echoed those criticisms and said reports indicated there was a growing pattern of arbitrary arrests in Afghanistan.
A Taliban spokesman denied the women were in their custody and said they were investigating their disappearance and rejected the UN allegations.


Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight

Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight
Updated 11 August 2022

Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight

Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight
  • The two men were escorted off an aircraft in Seattle after a fellow passenger told flight attendants they had been talking and sending text messages in Arabic

LONDON: Two Muslims have filed a lawsuit accusing Alaska Airlines of discrimination for allegedly removing them from a flight prior to takeoff because they were “talking and texting in Arabic.”

According to Abobakkr Dirar and Mohamed Elamin, the incident occurred after they boarded a flight from Seattle to San Francisco in February 2020. They said the airline’s staff humiliated them “before their fellow passengers by unnecessarily deplaning (them) and allowing (other passengers) to observe plaintiffs surrounded by uniformed law enforcement personnel.”

The men said that they had been talking and texting in Arabic in the first-class cabin when a fellow traveler informed flight attendants about the text messages. They allege that an Alaska Airlines employee subsequently removed them from the flight due to a “ticket issue.”

This is not the first time that Arab passengers have complained about the way they were treated by airline staff in the US. In 2019, for example, Issam Abdallah said he was “humiliated” when an American Airlines flight to Texas he boarded in Alabama was canceled because crew members felt “uncomfortable” with him on the flight.

In 2016, Khairuldeen Makhzoom, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Oakland after another passenger heard him speaking Arabic and saying the phrase “inshallah” (which means God willing) during a telephone conversation.


Disney+ subscribers surge as Netflix stumbles

Disney+ subscribers surge as Netflix stumbles
Updated 11 August 2022

Disney+ subscribers surge as Netflix stumbles

Disney+ subscribers surge as Netflix stumbles

SAN FRANCISCO: The Disney+ streaming service saw its number of paying subscribers leap beyond expectations in the last quarter, as rival Netflix’s client count ebbed, results showed Wednesday.
The number of people subscribing to Disney+ topped 152 million, up some 31 percent from the same period a year earlier, the entertainment giant said in an earnings report.
Disney’s bottom line was also boosted by rising revenue from its theme parks, which showed signs of recovering from stifled attendance during the pandemic.
Better-that-expected earnings reported by Disney came as many of the tech titans that flourished during the pandemic curb costs in the face of inflation and people get back to living life in the real world instead of online.
Disney shares were up more than 6 percent in after-market trades that followed release of the earnings figures.
“We had an excellent quarter, with our world-class creative and business teams powering outstanding performance at our domestic theme parks, big increases in live-sports viewership, and significant subscriber growth at our streaming services,” said Disney chief executive Bob Chapek.
The 14.4 million Disney+ subscribers added in the recently ended quarter raised the overall number of subscriptions to its streaming services, which include Hulu and ESPN+, to 221 million, Chapek added.
The overall number of subscribers to Disney streaming services topped those of Netflix for the first time.
“Investors will breathe a sigh of relief from Disney’s robust fiscal (quarterly) earnings,” said Insider Intelligence principal analyst Paul Verna.
“The streaming figures will be seen as an indicator of the health of the market, especially after lackluster subscriber figures from Netflix and Comcast.”
Disney also announced that an ad-subsidized version of its streaming television subscription service will be offered in the United States starting December 8 at a monthly price $3 less than the ad-free offering.
Taking a page from Netflix’s playbook, Disney has been investing in shows created in places outside the United States.
The company plans to “step up” investments in such local original content, Chapek said, pointing out a film concert and docu-series focused on South Korean music sensation BTS.
He expressed confidence in Disney theater films in the works, including an eagerly anticipated “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” addition to its Marvel superhero line-up.
A trailer for the Black Panther film logged more than 170 million views in the 24 hours after its release, Chapek said.
“Disney still faces economic uncertainty and intense competition, but performance should at least temporarily put to rest some of Wall Street’s gloomier perceptions about the company, and more broadly about the entertainment industry,” said Paul Verna, an analyst at Insider Intelligence.
Rival Netflix has reported losing subscribers for two quarters in a row, as the streaming giant battles fierce competition and viewer belt tightening, though the firm assured investors of better days ahead.
The loss of 970,000 paying customers in the most recent quarter was less than expected, leaving Netflix with just shy of 221 million subscribers.
“Our challenge and opportunity is to accelerate our revenue and membership growth... and to better monetize our big audience,” the firm said in its earnings report.
After years of amassing subscribers, Netflix lost 200,000 customers worldwide in the first quarter compared to the end of 2021.
Netflix said in its earnings report that it had expected to gain a million paid subscribers in the current quarter.
Netflix executives have made it clear the company will get tougher on sharing logins and passwords, which allow many to access the platform’s content without paying.
In an effort to draw new subscribers, Netflix said it will work with Microsoft to launch a cheaper subscription plan that includes advertisements.
The ad-supported offering will be in addition to the three account options already available, with the cheapest plan coming in at $10 per month in the United States.


Universal Pictures International partners with Majid Al Futtaim Distribution in new deal for Arab world

Universal Pictures International partners with Majid Al Futtaim Distribution in new deal for Arab world
Updated 10 August 2022

Universal Pictures International partners with Majid Al Futtaim Distribution in new deal for Arab world

Universal Pictures International partners with Majid Al Futtaim Distribution in new deal for Arab world
  • Partnership comes amid rapid cinema growth and strong box office results in Saudi Arabia and Middle East
  • Under the deal, Majid Al Futtaim Distribution will release Universal Pictures’ titles, including the M. Night Shyamalan thriller “Knock at the Cabin”

LONDON: Universal Pictures International and Majid Al Futtaim Distribution on Wednesday announced a partnership that will see the Emirati-based distribution company release Universal films in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UAE and Egypt.
“This is a very exciting time for cinema in the Middle East with the investment and audience interest at unprecedented levels. We are thrilled to be partnering with Majid Al Futtaim, one of the most ambitious and forward-thinking groups in the region,” said Paul Higginson, executive vice president, EMEA for Universal Pictures International.
News of the partnership, which will take effect on Feb. 1, 2023, comes as Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East experience rapid growth and strong box office results.
Under the deal, Majid Al Futtaim Distribution, one of the largest film distributors in the region and a subsidiary of Majid Al Futtaim Leisure, Entertainment & Cinemas, will release Universal Pictures’ titles, including the M. Night Shyamalan thriller “Knock at the Cabin,” the Super Mario Bros movie and “Renfield” starring Nicolas Cage.
“This strategic partnership reaffirms Majid Al Futtaim’s commitment to deliver compelling content and the ultimate cinematic experience to cinemagoers in the region,” said Ignace Lahoud, CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Leisure, Entertainment & Cinemas.
“We are proud to collaborate with Universal Pictures International, which has a long legacy of producing commercially successful and critically acclaimed movies. We look forward to bringing their impressive slate of blockbuster films and popular movie franchises to the big screen and working together to grow the Middle East’s cinema industry with films that attract a large and diverse audience,” he added.
Niels Swinkels, EVP and managing director of Universal Pictures International, said that the company will continue its distribution relationship with Four Star Films in Lebanon and Cyprus.
He said that Four Star Films “has been our trusted and exemplary partner in the region for over 40 years.”


Kerning Cultures’ new podcast tells ‘forgotten tales’ from around the region

Kerning Cultures’ new podcast tells ‘forgotten tales’ from around the region
Updated 11 August 2022

Kerning Cultures’ new podcast tells ‘forgotten tales’ from around the region

Kerning Cultures’ new podcast tells ‘forgotten tales’ from around the region
  • Arabic-language show ‘Masafat’ aims to bridge ‘gap in media coverage,’ host says

DUBAI: Kerning Cultures Network has released a new show “Masafat” that aims to tell overlooked and forgotten stories spanning the Middle East region — from Jerusalem and Palestine to Egypt and Morocco.

Inspired by the network’s first English show “Kerning Cultures,” “Masafat” was launched because “we believe it’s important to have the same narrative style podcast in Arabic, telling stories in our native language — especially stories that are often overlooked or even forgotten,” Heba Afify, managing editor for Arabic content, told Arab News.

The show’s 13 episodes explore various topics, such as women in mahraganat (a popular form of street music in Egypt), Al-Quds Radio and how it contributed to the cultural and art scene in Palestine, block painting in Syria and reclaiming public spaces in Lebanon.

Afify, who also hosts the show, said: “There’s a gap in the media coverage when it comes to representation of what life looks like in our region, away from the politics and the sensational takes that often constitute the majority of media attention the region receives.”

She said the company was keen on “producing every episode with the perspective and knowledge of a local producer who knows the place and topic inside and out. So besides our diverse team, we collaborated with freelance producers from the countries that we cover in each episode.”

Although podcasts are a relatively new medium, they have grown in popularity with 67 percent of listeners in Saudi Arabia tuning in at least once a week, according to a 2021 report by Rising Giants Network.

“‘Masafat’ is built on the understanding that podcasts as a medium offer a safe space for stories that often don’t get featured or picked up by mainstream media,” said the network’s marketing director, Bella Ibrahim.

“Podcasts especially resonate with younger listeners that don’t feel seen or represented in mainstream media,” she added, with more than half of podcast listeners aged under 22, according to Mohtwize’s latest report.

The goal of “Masafat” is not only to tell overlooked stories but also to shine a light on the true nature of the region by exploring the “lost pieces of our history, the complex realities behind flashy headlines, inspirational journeys and the multifaceted unique realities of living in each corner of this region,” Afify said.

“Such nuanced coverage of our region grounded in deep knowledge and experience and an authentic and sympathetic approach is very much lacking and is crucial in correcting misrepresentation and giving our stories a place to be told.”


Taliban gunmen attack Al-Hadath TV team during live broadcast in Kabul

Taliban gunmen attack Al-Hadath TV team during live broadcast in Kabul
Updated 10 August 2022

Taliban gunmen attack Al-Hadath TV team during live broadcast in Kabul

Taliban gunmen attack Al-Hadath TV team during live broadcast in Kabul
  • Journalists were covering the UN’s aid distribution
  • Cameraman attacked with a whip, reporters pushed around

LONDON: Several armed Taliban members attacked an Al-Hadath TV team on Wednesday during a live broadcast while they were covering the Food and Agriculture Organization’s humanitarian aid distribution in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul.

In the video of the incident, Al-Hadath’s Kabul correspondent Christiane Baissary and her camera crew are seen being pushed around by men carrying guns, while the camera pans away.

Baissary is then heard saying “they attacked the cameraman,” while the camera focuses on two men waving their hands and guns at the TV team.

Al-Hadath’s correspondent then explains that the men are Taliban members in civilian dress.

“Some said we could film here, but others said we cannot,” explains Baissary. In the video, one armed Taliban man waves the camera away, and then forces the cameraman from the scene.

Baissary reiterates that one man has allowed them to film the FAO’s food aid distribution, but that another has attacked the cameraman with a whip, which is seen in his hand.

Baissary is then heard saying that they have to leave the scene, with the camera still rolling.

As the team members climb into their car, another Taliban man with a gun approaches the vehicle and the reporter is heard saying: “They entered the car and they are armed.”

The armed man then speaks to the driver and they drive off.

Since their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban have cracked down on press freedom in the country, prompting several watchdogs to increasingly voice their concerns about the safety of media workers.

According to the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, Afghanistan ranks 156 out of 180 countries in terms of freedom of the press.

At least 12 journalists were arbitrarily arrested in Afghanistan in May, according to Reporters without Borders, despite the Taliban announcing the creation of a system for protecting media personnel.