Russian court bans Facebook, Instagram on ‘extremism’ charges

A Moscow court on March 21, 2022 banned Facebook and Instagram as
A Moscow court on March 21, 2022 banned Facebook and Instagram as "extremist" organisations, after authorities accused US tech giant Meta of tolerating "Russophobia" during the conflict in Ukraine. (AFP)
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Updated 22 March 2022

Russian court bans Facebook, Instagram on ‘extremism’ charges

A Moscow court on March 21, 2022 banned Facebook and Instagram as "extremist" organisations, after authorities accused US tech giant Meta of tolerating "Russophobia" during the conflict in Ukraine. (AFP)
  • The court’s verdict comes amid multipronged efforts by Russian authorities to control the message about Russia’s military action in Ukraine, which the Kremlin describes as a “special military operation” intended to uproot alleged “neo-Nazi nationalists”

MOSCOW: A Moscow court banned Facebook and Instagram on Monday for what it deemed extremist activity in a case against their parent company, Meta.
The Tverskoy District Court fulfilled a request from prosecutors to outlaw Meta Platforms Inc. and banned Facebook and Instagram for what they called “extremist activities.” Russian prosecutors have accused the social media platforms of ignoring government requests to remove what they described as fake news about Russian military actions in Ukraine and calls for anti-war protests in Russia.
The court’s ruling bans Meta from opening offices and doing business in Russia. Meta declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.
Prosecutors haven’t requested to ban the Meta-owned messaging service WhatsApp, which is widely popular in Russia. The authorities also emphasized that they do not intend to punish individual Russians who use Facebook or Instagram.
Instagram and Facebook were already blocked in Russia after the country’s communications and media regulator Roskomnadzor said they were being used to call for violence against Russian soldiers. In addition to blocking Facebook and Instagram, Russian authorities also have shut access to foreign media websites, including BBC, the US government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Latvia-based website Meduza.
Continuing the effort, Roskomnadzor on Monday blocked the website of Euronews, a European news network. The regulator has also cut Euronews broadcasts.
The court’s verdict comes amid multipronged efforts by Russian authorities to control the message about Russia’s military action in Ukraine, which the Kremlin describes as a “special military operation” intended to uproot alleged “neo-Nazi nationalists.”
A new law fast-tracked on March 4 by the Kremlin-controlled parliament, a week after Russia launched the attack on Ukraine, envisions prison terms of up to 15 years for posting “fake” information about the military that differs from the official narrative.


Anghami expands into live events with acquisition of Spotlight

Anghami expands into live events with acquisition of Spotlight
Updated 04 July 2022

Anghami expands into live events with acquisition of Spotlight

Anghami expands into live events with acquisition of Spotlight
  • Platform aims to bridge the gap between online and offline channels

DUBAI: Music streaming platform Anghami has announced the acquisition of Spotlight Events, a company serving the Middle East.

Spotlight Events will become Anghami’s live event and concert arm. Its scope will include offline activities to expand Anghami's footprint in the music and entertainment ecosystem while also bridging the online and offline worlds.

The events arm will provide a stage for artists to perform and reach their audiences offline through live events and concerts, while the Anghami platform will provide access to exclusive concerts through its live video streaming capabilities and create immersive experiences through augmented reality and virtual reality.

The company envisions the acquisition as providing more opportunities for brands to collaborate with artists, and an enhanced experience for listeners including access to private concerts, VIP lounges, meet and greets, and backstage access.

“Our vision is to expand from music streaming to a fully integrated entertainment platform that meets our goal of building our own unique category that no other provider can compete with,” said Eddy Maroun, co-founder and CEO of Anghami.

Last year, Anghami partnered with hospitality company Addmind to launch the entertainment venue Anghami Lab in Dubai followed by Riyadh and other major cities.

“Spotlight and Anghami Lab are among a number of initiatives we plan to develop as new business extensions to accelerate our growth and improve our margins while widening the gap with our competitors,” added Maroun.

Spotlight Events has recently confirmed its program of upcoming concerts and events in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Paris, Cairo, and Riyadh, including Beat the Heat, a seven-concert festival organized in collaboration with Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

It also has six concerts planned in Abu Dhabi for the rest of the year and a live concert by Arab superstar Wael Kfoury in Paris.

Spotlight will be responsible for executing all Anghami events, including Amr Diab Live.

“Anghami is the largest music platform in the MENA region with an incredible number of users and a unique network of partnerships that, once connected to Spotlight, will open doors to amazing opportunities,” said Maher Khawkhaji, founder and CEO of Spotlight. “Our offline expertise, complemented by Anghami’s reach, data, and technical capabilities, is the perfect recipe for success.”


Saudi ministry launches virtual media center for Hajj season 2022

Virtual media center. (Shutterstock)
Virtual media center. (Shutterstock)
Updated 03 July 2022

Saudi ministry launches virtual media center for Hajj season 2022

Virtual media center. (Shutterstock)
  • The center is a digital platform through which virtual media services are provided to government agencies and the media

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Media has launched the virtual media center for the Hajj season 2022, which aims to unify media efforts and broadcast media content, and showcase the Kingdom’s efforts in serving pilgrims.

The center is a digital platform through which virtual media services are provided to government agencies and the media. The services provided are related to broadcasting Hajj news and programs by uploading news materials, photos and videos in their original quality for the benefit of all media outlets registered with the platform from inside and outside the Kingdom.

The launch of the virtual media center’s work coincides with the start of the tasks of the media operations room, which includes several work teams, including the press conference team that works on the daily briefing of the Hajj season. It also includes the government communication team, the media planning team, the public relations and partnerships team, the content creation team, the design team, the international communication team, and the monitoring and reporting team, with qualified national workers.

Media professionals can enter the virtual media center through the following website: https://vpo.media.gov.sa/Home/Index.


India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris
Updated 02 July 2022

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris
  • "Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” Sanna Irshad Mattoo said
  • She was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category

NEW DELHI: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Kashmiri photojournalist said on Saturday that she was stopped by Indian immigration authorities from flying to Paris without giving any reason.
In a tweet, Sanna Irshad Mattoo said she was scheduled to travel from New Delhi to Paris for a book launch and photography exhibition as one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020.
“Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” she said.
She said she was not given any reason but was told by immigration officials that she would not be able to travel internationally.
There was no immediate comment by Indian authorities.
Mattoo was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category for the coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India as part of a Reuters team.
She has been working as a freelance photojournalist since 2018 depicting life in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where insurgents have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with neighboring Pakistan.
Journalists have long braved threats in the restive region as the government seeks to control the press more effectively to censure independent reporting. Their situation has grown worse since India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019.


Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America

Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America
Updated 01 July 2022

Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America

Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America
  • An Ankara court ruled to restrict access to their websites late Thursday
  • Deutsche Welle said it did not comply with the licensing requirement because it “would have allowed the Turkish government to censor editorial content”

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s media watchdog has banned access to the Turkish services of US public service broadcaster Voice of America and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, prompting complaints of censorship.
The Supreme Board of Radio and Television enforced a February warning to the two companies which air Turkish-language television content online to apply for a broadcast license or be blocked. An Ankara court ruled to restrict access to their websites late Thursday.
Neither website was available in Turkey on Friday. Deutsche Welle is German taxpayer-funded and Voice of America is funded by the US government through the US Agency for Global Media.
In a statement, Deutsche Welle said it did not comply with the licensing requirement because it “would have allowed the Turkish government to censor editorial content.”
Director general Peter Limbourg said this was explained in detail to the Turkish radio and TV board, abbreviated as RTUK.
“For example, media licensed in Turkey are required to delete online content that RTUK interprets as inappropriate. This is simply unacceptable for an independent broadcaster. DW will take legal action against the blocking that has now taken place,” Limbourg said.
The German government said it took note of the reports “with regret.”
“Our concern about the state of freedom of opinion and the press in Turkey continues,” government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said, adding that Germany is in a “regular, critical exchange” with Turkey on the issue.
Asked whether the German government can intervene in this case, Hebestreit noted that Deutsche Welle has said it plans to take legal action “and we have to wait for that.”
RTUK dismissed any criticism in a statement on its website Friday, saying that “no one needs to have uncertainties on the freedom of expression or press, worry unnecessarily or incriminate our Supreme Board that is doing its duties based on legal grounds.”
The RTUK statement added that had the media organizations “acted in line with regulations,” there wouldn’t have been access bans. It also promised to request from the court that the restrictions be revoked if the websites launch companies in Turkey and get licensed.
But Ilhan Tasci, a RTUK member from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, said he opposed the move to block the two foreign broadcasters. “Here is press freedom and advanced democracy,” he tweeted sarcastically.
The RTUK board is dominated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist allies, and regularly fines critical broadcasters.
Thursday’s move is based on an August 2019 regulation that says the RTUK would give 72-hour advance notice to unlicensed online media regarding when they had to apply and pay three months of licensing fees. Failure to do so could result in legal action against a media organization’s executives and access restrictions.
In February, RTUK said it identified three websites without broadcast licenses, which also included the Turkish services of Euronews. But Euronews said it argued that it did not broadcast live in Turkish or air visual bulletins and was therefore exempt from the licensing requirements.
The Journalists’ Union of Turkey called the decision censorship. “Give up on trying to ban everything you don’t like, this society wants freedom,” it tweeted.
Voice of America noted in February that while licensing for TV and radio broadcasts is a norm because broadcast airwaves are finite resources, the Internet does not have limited bandwidth. “The only possible purpose of a licensing requirement for Internet distribution is enabling censorship,” VOA said in a statement then.
State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted when the licensing regulation emerged in February that the US was concerned with RTUK’s “decision to expand government control over free press outlets.”
In response, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic noted that the US required Turkey’s state English-language broadcaster, TRT World, to register as a foreign agent under a law intended for lobbyists and public relations firms working for foreign governments. TRT said it was newsgathering and reporting like any other international media but had to register as a foreign agent in 2020.
“TRT abides by relevant regulations for its activities in the US Is that censorship? We expect the same from @VoATurkish and others,” Bilgic tweeted.
Turkey was rated “Not Free” for 2021 on the Freedom of the Net index by Freedom House. Hundreds of thousands of domains and web addresses have been blocked.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey at 149 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, saying “all possible means are used to undermine critics,” including stripping journalists of press cards, online censorship, lawsuits and arrests.


Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints

Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints
Updated 01 July 2022

Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints

Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints

BRUSSELS: US online retail giant Amazon has made it easier for users to cancel their subscriptions to its fast shipping club Prime with just two clicks, following complaints from consumer groups, the European Commission said on Friday.
European Consumer Organization (BEUC), the Norwegian Consumer Council and the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue took their grievances to the EU executive in April last year.
They said users had to go through numerous hurdles such as complicated navigation menus, skewed wording and confusing choices, to unsubscribe from Amazon Prime.
The company will now allow users to unsubscribe from Amazon Prime with two clicks via a prominent and clear ‘cancel button’, the Commission said.
The changes will apply to all EU websites and for desktop devices, mobiles and tablets with immediate effect.
“Consumers must be able to exercise their rights without any pressure from platforms. One thing is clear: manipulative design or ‘dark patterns’ must be banned,” Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said in a statement.