BBC files UN complaint against Iran’s online violence towards women journalists

BBC Persian service presenter Fardad Farahzad gets ready to present the news, at the corporation's London headquarters. (AP/File Photo)
BBC Persian service presenter Fardad Farahzad gets ready to present the news, at the corporation's London headquarters. (AP/File Photo)
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Updated 25 March 2022

BBC files UN complaint against Iran’s online violence towards women journalists

BBC Persian service presenter Fardad Farahzad gets ready to present the news, at the corporation's London headquarters. (AP/File Photo)
  • Appeals calls on UN to take action against Iran’s treatment of BBC News Persian’s women journalists

DUBAI: The BBC World Service has filed a new urgent appeal to the UN this week against Iran over the online violence directed at women journalists working for BBC News Persian.

Women journalists at BBC News Persian face relentless online attacks and harassment, including threats of rape and death, the BBC said.

“We absolutely deplore the violent, misogynistic and gendered harassment our women journalists have to face every day,” said Liliane Landor, senior controller of BBC International News and director of the World Service.

The harassment includes threats of death and rape, attacks on their credibility, hacking and phishing of their emails and telephones, and false and defamatory stories about their personal lives.

The information obtained through hacking and phishing is often used to spread false stories about them online, which is then used in the interrogation of their family members in Iran, the BBC added.

The false stories not only attack them professionally but also aim to taint their character by questioning their relationship with co-workers and commenting on what they wear.

The online abuse and harassment is severely impacting female journalists at BBC News Persian, with many of them saying in interviews that they have opted out of using social media entirely due to fear of harassment.

Landor added: “Trusted and impartial journalism is fundamental to any democracy and it is only by working together that we can ensure the safety of journalists everywhere and ensure women’s voices are included. We have to be able to work unhindered, free from threats and free from abuse.”

The constant attacks have resulted in serious mental and physical health issues, including anxiety, psychological trauma and depression.

The appeal from the BBC calls on Iran to take action against those responsible for the online violence towards women journalists by investigating and prosecuting them.

International counsel for the BBC World Service, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson, said: “Women journalists at BBC News Persian face abhorrent online violence every day simply because they are doing their job. This is a paradigm case of what UN experts call ‘gendered censorship’.”

They added: “Misogynist, sexist online abuse and all threats of physical or sexual violence towards journalists are intended to force women offline and to silence women journalists. It is unacceptable and it must stop.”

BBC has made multiple UN complaints since 2017. Since BBC News Persian TV started in 2009, the staff and their families have faced harassment and intimidation, the BBC said.

BBC News Persian staff cannot return home to Iran because of the risk of arrest and prosecution resulting in the media network not having any staff working in the country.

And it is not just the female journalists who are harassed. Their family members have been arrested, detained, repeatedly interrogated, fired from their jobs, had their passports confiscated and pressured to encourage their family members to leave the BBC and return to Iran.

In 2017, Iran announced a national security criminal investigation targeting 152 BBC News Persian staff members and froze any assets they had in Iran.

Iran has “international obligations of due diligence,” said Gallagher and Robinson. “We call on the UN to condemn the attacks and to ensure Iran meets its international obligations.”


Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit
Updated 4 min 9 sec ago

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit
  • Wen Zongduo expresses gratitude for hospitality shown by “impressive” Saudi capital Riyadh 
  • Veteran Chinese journalist is in Saudi Arabia to cover President Xi’s landmark visit to the Kingdom

RIYADH: A veteran Chinese journalist, who is in the Kingdom to cover President Xi Jinping’s landmark visit, says he is overwhelmed by the warmth of Saudi hospitality and the rapid pace of development of the Saudi capital.

“This is my first visit. I had been eager to come over for years now,” Wen Zongduo, managing editor of China’s leading English-language newspaper China Daily, told Arab News.

“I am very grateful to Saudi officials and diplomats. They provided all help to me and my team to come over to Saudi Arabia, working extra hours on their weekend. Their devotion to work and the assistance they extended to us touched me and my team members.

Wen Zongduo, managing editor of China Daily, with Noor Nugali, assistant editor in chief of Arab News, and other Arab News staff. (AN Photo)

“I must say that Riyadh city is impressive. I can see many high-rise buildings here, with more coming up. It seems the city is going through a period of massive new construction. To me, it seems Riyadh is getting an altogether new life. The Boulevard World, a premier entertainment zone that has many elements from other countries, has just been finished.

“It seems to me that Riyadh is an inclusive city. It is introducing different elements from all over the world in order to make residents’ lives better and exciting and make Riyadh more attractive. These developments I find very impressive.”

Praising the local people for showing great hospitality, Wen told Arab News: “The residents of Riyadh have been kind, generous and helpful…Wherever I have been, everyone has been very helpful.”

Commenting on President Xi’s visit, Wen described it as very important from the standpoint of Chinese news media.

“The summits are significant, especially when our world needs the efforts of all countries, including China, Saudi Arabia and other countries that are facing the same challenges. We are going through a difficult period, which means every country has a responsibility to humanity,” he told Arab News.

According to Wen, instead of arms sales and launching wars, the world needs more efforts to achieve sustainable development, especially when billions of people in the developing world are already experiencing difficulties related to climate change.

There will be three summits in the Kingdom during the visit. (AFP)

“The decision of China and the Arab states to come together in this difficult time is very good news for the entire world,” Wen told Arab News.

“This is also because China and Arab states have been good partners and friends for a very long time…We have every reason to continue and do more for the world in this difficult time.”

President Xi arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday for a three-day visit during which he will meet Saudi, Gulf and Arab leaders.

Three summits will take place while he is in the Kingdom: the Saudi-Chinese summit, the Riyadh Gulf-China Summit for Cooperation and Development, and the Riyadh Arab-China Summit for Cooperation and Development.

The Chinese president’s visit reflects the desire of Saudi Arabia and China to strengthen their bilateral ties, enhance their strategic partnership, and realize the relationship’s full political and economic potential in order to advance their common interests.

More than 20 initial agreements between the two countries, worth over SR110 billion ($29.3 billion), will be signed during the presidential visit. Also on the agenda are a strategic partnership deal and a plan to harmonize the implementation of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development and diversification project with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.


Podcasts: The future of media in the Arab world?

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 07 December 2022

Podcasts: The future of media in the Arab world?

Photo/Shutterstock
  • As the sector evolves and grows, the introduction of video to podcasting might just be just the push the audio industry needs to propel it to ever-greater heights
  • It is not a question of ‘leaving audio behind,’ said one expert; video is ‘unlocking further potential for the content to reach new realms, creatively, and for more people to access the content’

Arabs are among the biggest consumers of media around the world, with many spending hours each day watching and listening to their various devices, from TVs to smartphones.

In the region, Saudis spend the most time watching TV, averaging 5.2 hours a day, followed by Emiratis on 4.2 hours, according to a report by the consultancy Strategy&.

Moreover, it found that Saudis on average spend 14.2 hours a day engaging with various types of media channels. However, long periods spent staring at devices can result in screen fatigue, which is perhaps a reason for growth of alternative media formats, such as podcasts.

“(A podcast) is an easily consumable content (format) and, most importantly, it offers a screen-less alternative to social media and doom scrolling,” Ramsey Tesdell, the CEO of Jordan-based podcast network Sowt Media, told Arab News.

There are estimated to be more than 10 million podcast listeners in the Middle East and North Africa region, who listen to an average of between five and seven hours of podcasts a week, according to Bella Ibrahim, marketing director of regional podcasting company the Kerning Cultures Network. The biggest markets are in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, she added, but other countries in the region are following suit. 

The rise of new creators and development of improved technologies have helped to create a burgeoning podcast ecosystem, with special events such as “Ignite the Sound” in Saudi Arabia, and “Sada” and “Podfest” in the UAE, bringing creators together.

Statistics reveal the growth in popularity of the medium in the region and internationally. According to Strategy&, 18.4 percent of Saudis listen to podcasts more than once a week. Globally, Spotify said that podcast engagement on its platform has grown from less than seven percent in 2018 to 30 percent this year.

Although podcasting is still a relatively new medium, the ideas and traditions it emerged from are not.

“Audio has always been part of our lives,” Rhea Chedid, a senior podcast manager at Spotify MENA, told Arab News. “The Arab world has a long history of oral storytelling, and podcasts are a continuation of that.”

Still, podcast listenership remains relatively low compared with the popularity of social media and video streaming. And so despite the clear benefits offered by audio content, including hands-free, screenless entertainment, video is, perhaps inevitably, increasingly becoming a pervasive part of the podcast scene.

“Video is an important aspect of entertainment and podcasts will adapt to that as well,” Tesdell said.

Spotify, for example, first flirted with the idea of adding video to podcasts in 2020 during limited tests, after which it rolled out video-podcast options to selected creators through Anchor, a podcast creation and distribution platform it acquired in 2019. Last month, it expanded it video-podcasting capabilities to most global markets in which Anchor is available, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Does that mean the days of the audio-only podcast might be numbered already? Experts say that this is not the way to look at it.

“It’s not a question about audio or video, or leaving audio behind,” said Chedid. Instead, video is “unlocking further potential for the content to reach new realms, creatively, and for more people to access the content they want, in the way they want.”

Moreover, people consume a variety of content types throughout the day, which means that they are not necessarily choosing video over audio.

“The more people there are consuming audio, no matter the format, is a good thing,” Tesdell said.

Videos have been around as a source of online entertainment much longer than audio podcasts — from the early days of YouTube to the new breed of short and snappy footage on sites such as TikTok and Instagram. As a result, distribution and monetization tools are well-developed across video platforms and creators are more familiar with the format, Tesdell added.

In fact, though it might appear counterintuitive, some experts suggest that video might very well be the factor that propels the podcast industry to greater heights.

Spotify, for example, said it has already seen strong adoption of video by podcast creators in markets where it is available, said Chedid.

Video can also serve as a marketing and promotional tool for podcasters, Ibrahim said, but she cautioned: “With all the buzz around video, it’s worth noting that not all podcasts should be forced into being video podcasts. It’s a great format for talk shows but less so for narrative or fiction shows.”

So, do podcasts represent the future of media in the Arab world? Ibrahim certainly believes so.

“Absolutely; the medium of audio storytelling creates a very intimate listening experience,” she said.

Tesdell and Chedid are also optimistic about the future of podcasting but view it more as an increasingly significant part of the wider media ecosystem rather than its future.

“Podcasts will play an important and significant role in the development of Arab media,” Tesdell said.

Chedid added: “Podcasts will be part of the future of media in the Arab world, just like they have become globally.”

 

 


‘Refs for Change’ makes first female referees at men’s World Cup messengers for empowerment

Photo/Supplied
Photo/Supplied
Updated 07 December 2022

‘Refs for Change’ makes first female referees at men’s World Cup messengers for empowerment

Photo/Supplied
  • As part of the campaign, every time a female World Cup ref blows the whistle, Moroccan nonprofit organization MALI tweets about achievements of women pioneers in male-dominated fields
  • The first women to officiate at a men’s World Cup have a ‘unique opportunity to draw attention to the patriarchal system, to male domination and male violence against women’ the organization said

DUBAI: In a groundbreaking move at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, three female referees were, for the first time in the 92-year history of the men’s competition, selected to officiate matches: Stephanie Frappart, Yamashita Yoshimi and Salima Mukansang.

Mouvement Alternatif pour les Libertes Individuelles, a Morocco-based nonprofit organization, decided to use this historic occasion to raise awareness and spark conversations about women’s issues through its “Refs for Change” campaign.

MALI launched its initiative on Nov. 25, coinciding with the start of UN Women’s campaign “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence,” which calls for an end to violence against women and girls.

As part of “Refs for Change,” every time a female referee blows the whistle during a World Cup match, MALI tweets in real time to highlight the achievements of women who are or were pioneers in other male-dominated fields.

“Every day, women across the world make great strides and pioneer in different fields that for a long time were reserved only for men,” said MALI spokesperson and activist Ibtissame Lachgar.

“At the same time, women across the world are subjected to different types of violence. The press often turns a blind eye, causing both groups to remain largely unknown.

“Being pioneers themselves, the first-ever female referees in a men’s World Cup have the unique opportunity to draw attention to the patriarchal system, to male domination and male violence against women through the power of their whistle.”

MALI’s tweets aim to do more than simply raise awareness. They also invite Twitter users to engage in conversation and debate about topics such as women’s rights and gender-based violence, and serve as call for donations to help empower women across the Middle East and North Africa region.

By tweeting in real time during World Cup matches, MALI said it aims to shift the spotlight from men to women who would otherwise never get global attention.

“Transforming female referees and their whistles into messengers of change is a powerful way to hijack the conversation during the World Cup and shine a spotlight on striking statistics that would otherwise remain in the shadows,” said Walid Kanaan, the chief creative officer at TBWA\RAAD, the creative agency that worked on the campaign. It marks the third consecutive year in which the agency has partnered with MALI.

 


Oman’s love of football highlighted with new campaign

Oman’s love of football highlighted with new campaign
Updated 06 December 2022

Oman’s love of football highlighted with new campaign

Oman’s love of football highlighted with new campaign
  • Industrial firm partners with Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj, players including Ali Al-Habsi

DUBAI: Jindal Shadeed, an Oman-based iron and steel company, has partnered with independent agency Wieden+Kennedy to create a new campaign that highlights the nation’s love of football during the FIFA World Cup 2022.

The agency’s India office created “The Steel of Oman” campaign, which celebrates the country’s culture and development.

The agency collaborated with celebrated Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj to create 15 portraits, which were used as print and outdoor averts. The portraits feature talented Omani achievers, the “steel” of the nation, who have been celebrated for their contribution to the nation.

The company also partnered with national team football players including Ali Al-Habsi. The agency collaborated with award-winning director Ayappa K.M. to create a three-minute film that showcases Omani culture with football as the backdrop. The track was composed by Danish musician Sofyann Ben Youssef and focuses on local folk songs.

“The brief was inspiring and the client’s faith in our ability to do something truly authentic pushed us for something truly special,” said Ruchika Khanna, director of digital and business head, W+K India.

“The creative team came up with a simple yet powerful narrative that also enabled us to find interesting production partners who could help bring our ideas to life and we found them in Ayappa and Hassan Hajjaj who are known for their stellar craft,” she added.


MENA content creators highlighted in new video, podcast series

MENA content creators highlighted in new video, podcast series
Updated 06 December 2022

MENA content creators highlighted in new video, podcast series

MENA content creators highlighted in new video, podcast series
  • ‘Play it Forward’ launched by YouTube
  • 5 episodes, stories from Saudi, Egypt, Iraq, UAE

DUBAI: YouTube has launched its latest video and podcast series “Play it Forward with YouTube” or “Hekayat YouTube” in Arabic, focusing on stories from the Middle East North Africa region.

The five-episode series, which is available on the YouTube Arabia channel, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify & Deezer, aims to shed light on the journey and aspirations of content creators from the MENA region.

The majority of watch time of YouTube content that is produced in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt comes from outside these countries.

Content produced in the UAE has the highest number of viewers from outside the country at 95 percent, followed by Saudi Arabia at 60 percent and Egypt at 55 percent.

“I’m always inspired by the creativity and dedication of YouTube creators from MENA,” said Tarek Amin, director of partnerships at YouTube MENA.

“Their journey to content creation and wanting to share more of what inspires them or what needs to be spoken about are stories we hope more people can hear and be inspired from through ‘Play it Forward with YouTube,’” he added.

In each episode, Amin interviews different creators including Passant Nur El-Din and Mostafa Attia from Egypt, Zainab Al-Eqabi from Iraq, Rehab Saad from Saudi Arabia and Anas Bukhash from the UAE.

The first episode was released on Dec. 5 with others coming out every week.