Russian court fines TV protester amid outcry

An anti-war protester interrupted a live news bulletin on Russia's state TV Channel One on Monday (March 14), holding up a sign behind the studio presenter and shouting slogans denouncing the war in Ukraine. (Reuters)
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An anti-war protester interrupted a live news bulletin on Russia's state TV Channel One on Monday (March 14), holding up a sign behind the studio presenter and shouting slogans denouncing the war in Ukraine. (Reuters)
Russian court fines TV protester amid outcry
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A woman who says to be the employee of Russia's state TV Channel One, Marina Ovsyannikova, speaks in a statement recorded before holding up an anti-war sign live on air, in this still grab taken from a video uploaded March 14, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 15 March 2022

Russian court fines TV protester amid outcry

An anti-war protester interrupted a live news bulletin on Russia's state TV Channel One on Monday (March 14), holding up a sign behind the studio presenter and shouting slogans denouncing the war in Ukraine. (Reuters)
  • Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at Channel One television, barged onto the set of its flagship Vremya (Time) evening news late Monday, holding a poster reading “No War” in English
  • After her protest she was detained and questioned for 14 hours then was released after a Moscow court judge fined her $280 on Tuesday

MOSCOW: A Russian editor who protested against Moscow’s military action in Ukraine during a prime-time news broadcast on state TV was released with a fine Tuesday after an international outcry over her detention.
Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at Channel One television, barged onto the set of its flagship Vremya (Time) evening news late Monday, holding a poster reading “No War” in English.
The mother of two still risks criminal charges with a penalty of up to 15 years in jail, one of her lawyers said.
Ovsyannikova’s case drew international attention and raised new alarm over press freedom in Russia in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s decision to send troops to pro-Western Ukraine.
On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron offered asylum or other forms of consular protection to the journalist.
After her protest she was detained and questioned for 14 hours, she told reporters on Tuesday.
She was released after a judge at Moscow’s Ostankino district court ordered her to pay a fine of 30,000 rubles ($280) on Tuesday.
She could have faced a maximum punishment of 10 days in detention for calling for illegal protests.
This charge was based not specifically on her interruption of the news broadcast, but on a video statement she released explaining the reasons for her protest and urging Russians to take to the streets.
Ovsyannikova pleaded not guilty in court, saying: “I am still convinced that Russia is committing a crime.”
“These are very difficult days in my life,” she said after the ruling.
“I’ve spent two days literally without sleep.”
One of Ovsyannikova’s lawyers, Daniil Berman, told AFP she also risked criminal charges and up to 15 years in jail under new legislation against “fake news” on the Russian military, introduced after Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.
Macron, who has maintained a dialogue with Putin despite Moscow’s military action, said he would bring up her case during his next conversation with the 69-year-old Russian leader.
“We will launch diplomatic efforts aiming to offer (her) protection — either at the embassy but also protection through asylum,” said Macron.
“I will have the chance at my next talks with President Putin to propose this solution in a very direct and concrete manner,” he added.
Channel One said an internal investigation was underway. It was a highly unusual event in Russia where state media is strictly controlled.
“I want to have as quickly as possible all clarity about her personal situation and her ability to continue with her work,” Macron said.
EU Commission external affairs spokesman Peter Stano said she took a “brave moral stance and dared to object Kremlin’s lies and propaganda live on air on a state-controlled TV channel.”
The incident was widely picked up by international media, while Russian publications blurred out the message on the poster to avoid running afoul of a new media law.
Thousands of people posted tributes on social media to Ovsyannikova’s “extraordinary courage” amid a historic crackdown on the opposition in Russia.
Press freedom activists outside Russia accuse state television of painting a severely distorted picture of Moscow’s military action in a bid to maintain popular support.
Ovsyannikova’s message in Russian read: “Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.”
It was signed in English: “Russians against the war.”
Ovsyannikova managed to say a few phrases in Russian, including “Stop the war!,” while news anchor Yekaterina Andreyeva tried to drown her out by speaking louder before the channel switched hastily to footage of a hospital.
In a video posted on social media, Ovsyannikova speaking before her action says she is “ashamed” to have been involved in “Kremlin propaganda” and describes Moscow’s military action as a “crime.”
“I’m ashamed I allowed Russian people to be zombified,” she added.
Her action won praise from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said: “I am grateful to those Russians who do not stop trying to tell the truth and specifically to the lady who entered the studio of Channel One with a poster against the war.”


Meta accused of playing double game on data scraping

Meta accused of playing double game on data scraping
Updated 02 February 2023

Meta accused of playing double game on data scraping

Meta accused of playing double game on data scraping
  • Tech giant filed lawsuit against data collection company it collaborated with for years
  • Evidence shows Meta hired firm to pull information from a number of e-commerce sites

LONDON: Meta is accused of playing a double game on scraping, with the tech giant criticized for having scraped data for years while denouncing the practice.

According to evidence that surfaced from a legal case being pursued by the company, the tech giant has been subcontracting a company for years to scrape data from other websites, despite publicly criticizing the practice and suing companies that scrape data from its own social media platforms.

In an ironic twist, Meta filed a lawsuit against Israel-based data collection company Bright Data for allegedly pulling data from its platforms, but a series of emails between the two businesses reveals that Meta has worked with the Israeli firm for years.

The professional relationship was confirmed by Meta spokesperson Andy Stone, who said that the social media giant had hired Bright Data to pull information from a number of e-commerce sites in order to build brand profiles, as well as identify “harmful websites” and “phishing operations.”

“The collection of data from websites can serve legitimate integrity and commercial purposes, if done lawfully and in accordance with those websites’ terms,” said Stone.

He said that Meta was not using Bright Data to scrape rivals’ websites, but declined to specify what websites users’ data were pulled from.

Stone added that Meta interrupted its partnership with Bright Data after it found that the Israeli company breached terms and conditions for carrying out the practice on Meta’s own platforms.

“Many companies scrape websites to retrieve data that can help them keep track of competitors, better understand a specific audience, follow market trends and compare prices,” tech expert and writer Marissa Newman said.

“However, scraping can pose a privacy risk when it targets personal information, such as contact details, and runs foul of EU law if companies do not make an effort to prevent that through technical and legal means.”

In recent years, Meta has cracked down on scraping practices and pursued legal action against companies that carry out scraping-for-hire services on its platform.

Earlier in January, Meta filed a claim against surveillance company Voyage Lab, claiming it allegedly created more than 38,000 accounts to collect data from over 600,000 Facebook users.

Bright Data CEO Or Lenchner said the two companies had a “long-lasting successful partnership,” adding that Meta “has long been a valued client of our proxy and scraping services for six years.”

The Israeli data collection company decided to file a countersuit, claiming that it followed EU and US regulations, and acquired only public information that was not password-protected.


OpenAI launches ChatGPT $20-a-month subscription service

OpenAI launches ChatGPT $20-a-month subscription service
Updated 02 February 2023

OpenAI launches ChatGPT $20-a-month subscription service

OpenAI launches ChatGPT $20-a-month subscription service
  • Paid model will help subsidies-free version
  • ChatGPT is fastest-growing consumer application in history

LONDON: ChatGPT parent company OpenAI announced on Wednesday it is launching a pilot subscription plan for its popular AI-powered chatbot, called ChatGPT Plus, for $20 per month.

As part of the premium plan, subscribers will receive access to ChatGPT even during peak times, faster responses, and priority access to new features and improvements.

The company said that the pilot version will initially be rolled out to a limited number of users on the waiting list but said it is planning to make the service available to the wider public in the near future.

The new subscription-based model will help to support the free version, the company said in a blog post.

Experts estimate that the AI-powered chatbot, which is capable of generating human-like text and interaction-style conversations, costs OpenAI at least $100,000 per day or $3 million per month to run.

Since its launch in early December, ChatGPT has become a global phenomenon, attracting the attention of millions of users seeking to experiment with the technology.

On Wednesday, a UBS study reported that the service reached an estimated 100 million monthly active users in January, making it the fastest-growing consumer application in history.

Besides the enthusiasm, the tool has also raised concerns and dilemmas including ethical challenges, copyright ownership, underlying prejudice and the question of authenticity.

In particular, ChatGPT has also raised questions about the facilitation of academic dishonesty and misinformation, prompting universities around the world to forbid students from using the tool to complete assignments and exams.

To address the issue, OpenAI released on Tuesday an “imperfect” tool designed to detect when written works are authored by artificial intelligence.


The Kingdom vs Captagon: Arab News investigates war on drug in latest Deep Dive

The Kingdom vs Captagon: Arab News investigates war on drug in latest Deep Dive
Updated 02 February 2023

The Kingdom vs Captagon: Arab News investigates war on drug in latest Deep Dive

The Kingdom vs Captagon: Arab News investigates war on drug in latest Deep Dive

RIYADH: The rogue Assad regime in Syria and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon are the primary source of a potent and toxic drug that is destroying lives across the region, an Arab News investigation has revealed.

The 14-month investigation — “The Kingdom vs Captagon — was carried out by the Arab News Research and Studies Unit, whose team conducted exhaustive research, interviews and information gathering in Beirut, Jeddah, Makkah and Syrian Kurdistan.

Recognizable by the distinctive twin half-moons logo, which gives the drug its Arabic street name Abu Hilalain,or Father of the Two Crescents, Captagon pills are easy to make, readily available and cheap to buy.

“While Captagon is known widely across the region, the outside world is still only coming across its notoriety and persistent dangers to children and families,” said Tarek Ali Ahmad, head of the Research and Studies Unit.“As journalists, it is our duty to raise awareness and uncover the truth behind what is happening.”

Mohammed Al-Sulami, Arab News’s regional manager in Saudi Arabia, said: “The drug smuggling operations the Kingdom is facing, and the targeting of its youth, are not novel. This war started a long time ago, and the Saudi government has been ferociously fighting and harnessing all capabilities to protect its citizens.

“The continuous seizure of large quantities of Captagon is not only evidence that the country is being targeted,but is also testimony to the immense efforts of the competent authorities, who have been relentlessly tracking and capturing smugglers and dealers.”

The Kingdom vs Captagon
Inside Saudi Arabia's war against the drug destroying lives across the Arab world
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Netflix announces premier date for season 2 of Saudi TV show ‘Masameer County’

The new episodes of the smash hit animated series, which has taken the Kingdom by storm, will premier on March 2. (Netflix)
The new episodes of the smash hit animated series, which has taken the Kingdom by storm, will premier on March 2. (Netflix)
Updated 02 February 2023

Netflix announces premier date for season 2 of Saudi TV show ‘Masameer County’

The new episodes of the smash hit animated series, which has taken the Kingdom by storm, will premier on March 2. (Netflix)
  • The smash hit animated series, which took the Kingdom by storm when it debuted in 2021, will premier on the streaming platform on March 2
  • Viewers can expect the “usual suspects to get into more complex stories,” Malik Nejer, one of the creators of the series, told Arab News

LONDON: Netflix on Thursday announced the official release date for the second season of Saudi TV show “Masameer County,” and revealed some of the key art for the upcoming episodes.

The new episodes of the smash hit animated series, which has taken the Kingdom by storm, will premier on March 2.

“The second season of ‘Masameer County’ builds on the first season, only bolder and bigger,” Malik Nejer, one of the creators of the series, told Arab News.

“This season will see the usual suspects get into more complex stories, with a signature ‘Masameer’ comedic twist. We know the fans have been anxiously waiting and they are in for a treat.”

 

 

The new season will include six episodes featuring the same cast of beloved, mischievous characters audiences got to know and love in season one, producers said, who will get involved in various wild escapades, including a daring 24-hour mission, an unexpected elevator ride, and an out-of-control rocket launch.

Created by Nejer and Abdulaziz Almuzaini, “Masameer County” offers a darkly comic take on the evolving social landscape of Saudi Arabia and producers promise the second season will continue to reflect and address the process of change the Kingdom is undergoing.

The first season, which debuted on Netflix in July 2021, was praised for showcasing Saudi artistic creativity in a “shocking, stunning, hilarious and wild” way, while posing awareness-raising questions about sensitive themes through an “apolitical” approach.

“Masameer County” is produced as part of a five-year exclusive partnership signed by Netflix and Saudi animation studio Myrkott in 2020 to create Saudi-focused TV shows and films.


France weighs up ban on influencers promoting risky products, services

France weighs up ban on influencers promoting risky products, services
Updated 01 February 2023

France weighs up ban on influencers promoting risky products, services

France weighs up ban on influencers promoting risky products, services
  • Bill will stop content creators’ promotion of diet pills, crypto, cosmetic surgery
  • French parliament to debate wider regulatory proposal for influencers in spring

LONDON: France is considering making it illegal for influencers to promote dangerous products or services deemed risky to public health via social media platforms.

The French parliament is due to discuss a proposal by a group of MPs aimed at banning the promotion of plastic surgery and drugs, as well as risky financial investments, including cryptocurrencies.

“Influencers have a lot of weight, so they have a lot of responsibility. The rules are not sufficiently respected and they must be reinforced,” French economy chief Bruno Le Maire told French radio.

“There are interesting proposals coming from parliamentarians. We will try to agree on a common text.”

The draft follows a major debate among French politicians over the need to regulate the scandal-plagued industry.

In recent months, the government has pledged to address the issue and create a legal framework for influencers’ activity on social networks.

In a separate proposal, lawmakers focused on developing a legal definition covering influencers, as well as requiring online platforms to implement a “flagging feature” to report content relating to prohibited, aggressive and misleading commercial practices.

The document was reported to also include the establishment of a code of conduct and a legal requirement for influencers living abroad to have legal representation in France.

The text is due in the National Assembly in mid-March and will include the results of a consultation launched by Le Maire in January, which has gathered more than 12,000 contributions.

In recent years, online influencers have prospered as brands have looked to so-called content creators to capture the attention of consumers.

According to the media company Influencer Marketing Hub, more than 50 million individuals worldwide consider themselves to be influencers, with the Middle East home to over 200,000 content producers.

In 2022, the global creator economy was estimated to be worth $104.2 billion.

Along with traditional goods such as apparel items or food articles, content creators promote a host of questionable products and services to millions of followers on platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Snap, including diet pills, fake music festivals and counterfeit products.

Experts believe that the proposal advanced by French politicians might resonate with EU lawmakers since the bloc in recent months has sought to establish a legal framework for influencers and businesses that work with them.

“This legislation, if successful, could be the inspiration for an EU-wide regulation on the issue,” a spokesperson for international legal practice Osborne Clarke said.

Although the proposal represents one of the first attempts by a European country to better regulate the sector, other states around the world have already taken steps in the same direction.

In October, the Saudi government launched a new licensing system to properly monitor the influencer industry in the country.

Under the system, Saudi and non-Saudi content creators in the Kingdom who earn revenue by advertising on social media must apply for an official three-year permit from the General Commission for Audiovisual Media in order to promote products or services, as long as they do not violate the Kingdom’s laws or values.

Similarly, in the UAE content creators must apply for a permit and cannot promote products or services that are harmful to individuals, such as tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs.