Citizen journalism in Arab world dominates International Journalism Festival

The conference ran for five days with over 700 speakers, holding panels, discussions and presentations across Perugia’s charming historic town center. (Luca Venelli)
The conference ran for five days with over 700 speakers, holding panels, discussions and presentations across Perugia’s charming historic town center. (Luca Venelli)
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Updated 11 April 2022

Citizen journalism in Arab world dominates International Journalism Festival

The conference ran for five days with over 700 speakers, holding panels, discussions and presentations across Perugia’s charming historic town center. (Luca Venelli)
  • Participants urge support for independent operators, training, enhancing media freedom
  • Reporters grappling with conflict, world indifference to regional issues

PERUGIA: The International Journalism Festival returned to Italy after a two-year hiatus with a broad selection of Arab- and Middle East-related sessions that dominated the agenda.

This year’s edition is of particular significance to media and journalism practitioners in the Arab world, as the festival featured the biggest selection of sessions pertaining to the region to date.

“When you come from almost a cataclysmic sort of context, like Syria, or very repressive contexts like Egypt, there is always this notion that we’re not just journalists, we’re not just professionals, but that this is our calling,” said Karam Nachar, editor and co-founder of Al-Jumhuriya.

From context-specific discussions of media practices, such as in Syria and Egypt, to more general panels presenting an overview of the current media climate in the region, the festival was a chance for journalists to share experiences and discuss pressing issues facing the news industry.




Director of the The Counter Academy for Arab Journalism, Hala Droubi. (Francesco Cuoccio)

“Conferences like this give us the chance to talk about Arab media, one that did not exist 10 years ago,” said Michael Jensen, MENA regional director at International Media Support.

“It also gives us the chance to present new ideas and discuss tangible results for shared problems experience(d) across the region.”

The conference ran for five days with over 700 speakers, holding panels, discussions and presentations across Perugia’s charming historic town center, theatres, auditoriums and libraries, living up to its reputation as a festival.




The streets of Perugia filled with people from all over the world coming to attend the festival. (Supplied)

The whole town transforms to accommodate one of the biggest journalism events in Europe as residents take advantage of the heavy influx. One pastry shop situated in the main town square even displayed a placard of the festival made out of chocolate.

Founded in 2006, the festival is held every year in Perugia, the capital city of Umbria in central Italy, bringing together journalists, students, media outlets and NGOs to discuss current media practices and developments in the world.

The emergence of independent media and enhancing media freedoms were common themes across these sessions.

In a panel titled “The development and future of Syria’s emerging media,” experts discussed the rise of independent media in post-2011 Syria.




Panel discussion on the future of media and journalism in Syria. (Francesco Ascanio Pepe)

“We were a group of activists who wanted to know what was happening in neighboring cities, only one of us was a journalist who actually studied journalism in university,” explained Kholoud Helmi, the co-founder of Enab Baladi, an independent Syrian media outlet that became prominent following the Syrian uprising.

“We did not know anything about the rules of journalism, how to be objective and balanced but we were enthusiastic. We want to tell the people about our stories. We wanted to inform the locals and internationals what is going on in the Syrian cities.”

Explaining why independent journalism is of utmost importance in conflict areas such as Syria, the panel painted a portrait of the extremely constrained pre-2011 media landscape in the country, described in its pre-war era as a “country of silence.”

The panelists stressed on the need to support citizen journalism, citing that many of those who founded, or currently work in, Syria’s independent media sphere started off as activists and citizens with little to no experience in journalism.

In another panel titled “Breaking ground: fresh media practices from the Arab region,” editors highlighted the emergence of various types of new media practices in the last decade that are fighting the traditional notion of journalism. 

“Cultural journalism, for example, emerged strongly over the last few years in the region,” highlighted Karam Nachar. “This type of journalism, focusing on highlighting Arab culture to foreign audiences from an Arab perspective is particularly important because it challenges the traditional style of breaking news and focuses more on storytelling.”

Many sessions were also tailored to inform foreign reporters and international media outlets about the needs of local media. In a session titled “The future of Afghanistan coverage,” panelists gave an emotional account of what it was like for Afghan journalists operating under the de-facto Taliban rule.




Attendees queuing to enter one of the many sessions held in the town square. (Supplied)

“On April 30, 2018 there was a double suicide blast in Kabul, targeted at journalists in the country. Twenty-five people died, nine of which were journalists, including three of my colleagues,” recounted Malali Bashir, an Afghan award-winning journalist and senior editor with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty’s Afghan Service, known locally as Radio Azadi.

“I want to mention this to reiterate the commitment of Afghan journalists to their work, and how they have contributed to a free media, freedom of speech and the right to know correct and unbiased information in Afghanistan.”

More than 300 media outlets have shut down in Afghanistan since August 15 when the Taliban took power. Hundreds of journalists fled Afghanistan and those who remain have either stopped working, adapted to the increasingly unstable context, or face dangerous security risks when conducting their work.




Session on the future of media coverage in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule, held in the historic library. (Supplied.)

The panelists also spoke about how to report on Afghanistan from a local lens and stressed on the necessity to teach local and foreign journalists how to cooperate, given that they both rely heavily on one other.

“We must support citizen journalism, and train local journalists to tell their own stories,” recommended Vanessa Gezari, the national security editor at The Intercept.

“As foreign journalists, we should help Afghans tell their stories about their own countries, look for stories to tell and then get Afghans involved in telling them and utilize social media for storytelling.”

A common concern shared across these region-specific sessions of the festival was how to keep the stories of certain contexts like Syria or Afghanistan relevant, while many conflicts and crises arise across the world.


Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced

Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced
Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced

Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced
  • Four famous Arab artists to judge contestants as filming starts in October
  • A joint venture between Saudi GEA and MBC Group, the program discovers local talent, mainly in Riyadh

RIYADH: A Saudi version of the international ‘Idol’ talent show franchise was unveiled on Saturday in a partnership between the Kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) and MBC Group.
GEA’s chairman Turki Al-Sheikh tweeted that the Authority and MBC engaged in a partnership to launch the first season of “Saudi Idol,” which will kick off in December.
With filming scheduled to start in October, the Saudi Idol program will attempt to unearth local talent, mainly in Riyadh, with a four-member jury that constitutes of Saudi singer Aseel Abu Bakr, Emirati singer and actress Ahlam, popular Arab singer Asala (Syrian), and Iraqi-Saudi singer and composer Majed Al Mohandis.
“I’m happy to announce a new partnership between GEA and MBC Group to launch Saudi Idol… The program begins in December 2022” tweeted Al-Sheikh.
MBC’s program, “Trending,” a show that sheds light on news of artists, announced the start of preparations for the Saudi talent show with filming scheduled to start next month.
Announcing registration for the program, MBC tweeted: “You have a beautiful voice and would you like to sing? Do you like competition and enter the world of limelight and fame? Participate in the largest singing program. Don’t miss the chance, register now.”

 

 


MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum
Updated 24 September 2022

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum
  • Two companies have signed a strategic partnership to coordinate their efforts to further women’s careers

DUBAI: The Dubai Business Women Council organized the “Women in Media” forum in collaboration with MBC Group, to discuss the role that media organizations can play in increasing the representation and accountability of women in media.

The event is part of the council’s #DBWCFORUMS initiative, which includes a series of talks that aim to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities for women in different industries. 

During the event, MBC Group and DBWC signed a memorandum of understanding, which aims to coordinate and align both companies’ efforts in providing their female employees and members with access to mentorship programs, workshops and speaker sessions.

“This collaboration is of special importance as it unites two partners who value women and recognize their critical contribution to the economy,” said Nadine Halabi, business development manager of the Dubai Business Women Council.

“The council will continue to be committed to harnessing all available resources to serve its members and the business community, by organizing specialized events and seminars that add value to their personal and professional lives,” she said.

The forum focused on the importance of maximizing women’s strengths and potential to advance media work, develop strong female media role models, increase gender diversity, and foster a culture of success in the media industry.

Participants discussed the mechanisms needed to ensure balanced female representation in media, the best practices adopted by media leaders and officials, and the value of diversity in the workplace.

Samar Akrouk, group director of production at MBC Group, who held a fireside chat at the event, said: “MBC Group is proud to be a progressive trailblazer — on and off screen — in promoting gender equality. Throughout our organization and across most departments we have women in top leadership positions, as well as women that are identified and set on leadership tracks.”

“However, we are progressive enough to look at ourselves and say we can do more — and we will do more,” she said.

Akrouk highlighted self-limiting beliefs and how they can affect women in the workplace. She also offered advice on how to overcome these beliefs and offered guidance to those seeking a career in media.

The forum also featured three panel discussions.

The first panel brought together Rana Alamuddin, founder of BAYNEH W BAYNEK; Sally Moussa Hajjar, managing partner, Humanagement and Mohammed Abdulhaq, executive producer at MBC Group, to discuss the role and responsibility of media outlets in creating positive role models for regional audiences.

The second panel saw Bedriya Al-Saeed, employee engagement manager at MBC Group; Tala Obeidat, client partner, Leading Retail & Restaurants, Meta and Sara Eltarzi, communications director at OSN, discuss the steps and policies that led to better inclusivity and gender parity in media organizations.

The third and final panel brought together Rola Ghotmeh, founder and chief creative officer, The Creative 9; Natasha Romariz Maasri, executive creative director, Leo Burnett MEA and Andrej Arsenijevic, executive creative director and sustainability lead at Commonwealth McCann Dubai, to talk about responsible and impactful advertising and how to push boundaries through strategic messaging in society.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with MBC Group and look forward to coordinating our future efforts to develop the abilities of women and female business owners while also assisting them in acquiring media and marketing skills that can advance their careers,” Halabi said.
 


STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends
Updated 23 September 2022

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends
  • Comedy, anime and Arabic drama are most watched categories in Kingdom

DUBAI: Regional streaming platform STARZPLAY has released a study revealing the viewership trends of Saudi audiences in 2022.

Comedy, anime and Arabic drama were the most watched categories in the Kingdom, the study found.

“The Big Bang Theory,” “The Office and “Two and a Half Men” are among the top watched comedy shows, while “Naruto,” “Naruto: Shippuden” and “Attack on Titan” top the list of anime shows.

In line with the popularity of anime content, STARZPLAY is adding an anime movie, “One Piece: Stampede” by Takashi Otsuka, to its library.

This year, “Ertugrul” and “Al Mo’asses Osman” were the most watched Turkish titles among Saudi viewers, while the new seasons of “Bab Al-Hara” and “Al-Daheeh” topped the charts for premium Arabic content.

In addition to these categories, Saudi audiences also favored exclusive action movies like “Hummingbird,” “Wild Card,” “Gringo” and “Misfits,” as well as first-run movie releases such as “House of Gucci,” “Infinite,” “Last Seen Alive” and “Clean.”

The most binge-watched shows this year included “Dexter: New Blood,” “The Flash,” “Your Honor,” “Young Sheldon,” “The Good Doctor” and “Mr. Robot.”

Most STARZPLAY users in Saudi Arabia streamed content via their TVs, with 42 percent of all consumption occuring on smart TVs, followed by iOS and Android devices.

“While anime, comedy and Arabic drama remain favorite genres for our viewers, we also saw an increasing interest for live sporting events this year, which has immensely benefited our position as the ultimate platform for sports in the MENA region,” said Nadim Dada, vice-president of programming and content acquisition at STARZPLAY.

In celebration of Saudi National Day, all new users who sign up on the day can enjoy a discounted rate of SR9.2 ($2.4) per month with lifetime validity.

The Kingdom “continues to be one of our largest markets, with our platform witnessing stupendous growth this year,” said Dada, who added: “We look forward to strengthening our presence in the market.”


Media rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian journalists as anti-state protests spread

Media rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian journalists as anti-state protests spread
Updated 25 September 2022

Media rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian journalists as anti-state protests spread

Media rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian journalists as anti-state protests spread
  • Government-imposed internet blackout makes it difficult to obtain information on individuals in detention

LONDON: Media rights watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists has demanded the release of all journalists detained while reporting on anti-government protests in Iran.

“Iranian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all journalists arrested while covering mass protests around the country and restore blocked internet access to the country,” the CPJ said in a statement on Thursday.

As reported by CPJ, Iranian authorities have arrested at least seven journalists since protests began last Saturday.

A government-imposed, near-total internet blackout has caused major disruptions to phone networks and social media apps, making it difficult to obtain further information about individuals who have been detained.

According to exile-based Iranian human rights group Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, clashes between security forces and protesters have left 15 people dead and 733 injured.

“Iranian authorities must immediately release all journalists arrested because of their coverage of Mahsa Amini’s death and the protests that have followed,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour.

“Iranian security forces must drop their repressive measures against the journalists telling this critical story and restore the internet access that is vital to keep the public informed.”

Protests erupted across Iran last week following the death of Amini, a 22-year-old woman detained by morality police after allegedly violating Iran’s strict hijab law.

Women first took to the streets to protest against police brutality and call for more freedom from Islamic law, which requires them to cover their hair and wear long, baggy clothing.

In the past few days protests intensified, with other women posting online videos of themselves cutting their hair and burning the hijab.

On Monday, authorities arrested photojournalist Yalda Moaiery. Two days later,  reporter Niloofar Hamedi was detained after security forces raided her home and confiscated personal devices.

Recent events in Iran have provoked an international outcry, with protesters staging rallies in front of Iranian embassies worldwide.

 


People with hearing disabilities to experience Saudi anthem at this year’s National Day

People with hearing disabilities to experience Saudi anthem at this year’s National Day
The flag features multi-force sensors woven into the fabric of a Saudi Arabian flag. (Supplied)
Updated 23 September 2022

People with hearing disabilities to experience Saudi anthem at this year’s National Day

People with hearing disabilities to experience Saudi anthem at this year’s National Day
  • Haptic technology used to create immersive flag experience, bringing music to life

LONDON: The King Salman Center for Disability Research and Saudi Research & Media Group announced on Thursday the launch of cutting-edge haptic technology that allows people with hearing disabilities to experience the Kingdom’s national anthem.

The two companies have teamed up to design a wearable “hearing flag” that enables people to “feel” the song as part of a campaign celebrating Saudi Arabia’s 92nd National Day.

The flag features multi-force sensors woven into the fabric of a Saudi Arabian flag, to create an immersive experience that brings music to life in a way that can be felt physically on the body.

“Using the ‘hearing flag,’ people can immerse themselves in sound through real-time touch haptics which recreate the sensation of sound on the body,” said the two companies in a statement.

King Salman Center for Disability Research tweeted from its official account: “Have you heard of a sound that gives life? Have you heard of a flag that sings to the nation?”

The campaign, which is a partnership between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, highlights how Saudi National Day “symbolizes the spirit of cooperation and empowerment of all members of society.”

To promote the initiative, King Salman Center for Disability Research and SRMG also launched an emotional campaign film across social media platforms depicting people’s first encounters with the flag and their own national anthem.

The flag, born out an idea by SRMG, was produced by London-based wearable technology brand CuteCircuit, which pioneers smart textile and interactive fashion.