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.


Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association launches awards for exceptional reporting

Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association launches awards for exceptional reporting
Updated 11 August 2022

Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association launches awards for exceptional reporting

Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association launches awards for exceptional reporting
  • Jury panel includes award-winning reporters from NPR, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC and NYU Journalism School
  • Each winner will receive a $500 cash prize

DUBAI: The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association has launched a series of awards to highlight exceptional work by and about Arab, Middle Eastern and North African communities.
“Promoting accurate and nuanced coverage of the Middle East and North Africa regions and people is at the core of our mission,” said Hoda Osman, AMEJA president.
“We’re excited to launch the AMEJA awards so we can lift up exceptional news coverage by journalists working tirelessly to get the story right.”
The awards program includes three awards: Best coverage of the MENA region; best coverage of MENA immigrant and heritage communities in North America; and the Walid El-Gabry Memorial Award, named after one of AMEJA’s founders to recognize the work of an AMEJA member.
Each winner will receive a $500 cash prize.
The first two awards are open to all journalists.
Entries will be judged by a jury panel, including Mohamad Bazzi, NYU journalism professor and director of the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies; Nima Elbagir, CNN chief international investigative correspondent; Leila Fadel, host of NPR’s Morning Edition; Kareem Fahim, Middle East bureau chief for The Washington Post; Ayman Mohyeldin, MSNBC host of the show “Ayman”; and Jason Rezaian, columnist at The Washington Post and host of the 544 Days podcast.
The Walid El-Gabry Memorial Award will be voted on by AMEJA’s members.
AMEJA is accepting submissions until Aug. 28. To be eligible, the work must have been published, in English, between Jan. 1, 2021, and Aug. 1, 2022. Entries can be submitted in any format from print to podcasts.
Winners will be announced in the fall of this year.


Facebook hands in private data to police in abortion case against teen

Facebook hands in private data to police in abortion case against teen
Updated 11 August 2022

Facebook hands in private data to police in abortion case against teen

Facebook hands in private data to police in abortion case against teen
  • Authorities obtained incriminatory messages between the mother and the daughter after they approached Facebook with a search warrant

LONDON: Facebook is under intense scrutiny after handing in private messages of a 17-year-old girl accused of crimes relating to an abortion to Nebraska police.

The teenager is accused, along with her mother, of having broken the law that prohibits abortion after 20 weeks. According to court files, the teenager miscarried at 23 weeks of pregnancy and secretly buried the fetus with her mother’s help.

The two were charged in July with allegedly removing, concealing or abandoning a dead human body, concealing the death of another person and false reporting.

Authorities obtained incriminatory messages between the mother and daughter after they approached Facebook with a search warrant.

Facebook reportedly had the option of challenging the court’s decision but chose to provide police access to the teen’s direct messages instead. The teenager is currently facing three criminal charges as a result of using an abortion pill purchased online and burying the unborn fetus.

“Nothing in the valid warrants we received from local law enforcement in early June, prior to the Supreme Court decision, mentioned abortion. The warrants concerned charges related to a criminal investigation and court documents indicate that police at the time were investigating the case of a stillborn baby who was burned and buried, not a decision to have an abortion,” Meta Spokesperson Andy Stone said in a statement.

This case represents one of the first instances in which a person’s social media activity has been used against them in a state where access to abortion is restricted, and it is perceived as a stab in the back after tech companies vowed to protect users in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The news comes just a few weeks after Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged to “expand encryption across the platform in an effort to keep people safe.” Meta also said it would offer financial assistance to employees having to travel to a different state to seek an abortion.


Google opposes Facebook-backed proposal for self-regulatory body in India - sources

Google opposes Facebook-backed proposal for self-regulatory body in India - sources
Updated 11 August 2022

Google opposes Facebook-backed proposal for self-regulatory body in India - sources

Google opposes Facebook-backed proposal for self-regulatory body in India - sources
  • India wants a panel to review complaints about content decisions
  • Google says self-regulatory system sets bad precedent - sources

NEW DELHI: Google has grave reservations about developing a self-regulatory body for the social media sector in India to hear user complaints, though the proposal has support from Facebook and Twitter, sources with knowledge of the discussions told Reuters.
India in June proposed appointing a government panel to hear complaints from users about content moderation decisions, but has also said it is open to the idea of a self-regulatory body if the industry is willing.
The lack of consensus among the tech giants, however, increases the likelihood of a government panel being formed — a prospect that Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Twitter are keen to avoid as they fear government and regulatory overreach in India, the sources said.
At a closed-door meeting this week, an executive from Alphabet Inc’s Google told other attendees the company was unconvinced about the merits of a self-regulatory body. The body would mean external reviews of decisions that could force Google to reinstate content, even if it violated Google’s internal policies, the executive was quoted as saying.
Such directives from a self-regulatory body could set a dangerous precedent, the sources also quoted the Google executive as saying.
The sources declined to be identified as the discussions were private.
In addition to Facebook, Twitter and Google, representatives from Snap Inc. and popular Indian social media platform ShareChat also attended the meeting. Together, the companies have hundreds of millions of users in India.
Snap and ShareChat also voiced concern about a self-regulatory system, saying the matter requires much more consultation including with civil society, the sources said.
Google said in a statement it had attended a preliminary meeting and is engaging with the industry and the government, adding that it was “exploring all options” for a “best possible solution.”
ShareChat and Facebook declined to comment. The other companies did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

THORNY ISSUE
Self-regulatory bodies to police content in the social media sector are rare, though there have been instances of cooperation. In New Zealand, big tech companies have signed a code of practice aimed at reducing harmful content online.
Tension over social media content decisions has been a particularly thorny issue in India. Social media companies often receive takedown requests from the government or remove content proactively. Google’s YouTube, for example, removed 1.2 million videos in the first quarter of this year that were in violation of its guidelines, the highest in any country in the world.
India’s government is concerned that users upset with decisions to have their content taken down do not have a proper system to appeal those decisions and that their only legal recourse is to go to court.
Twitter has faced backlash after it blocked accounts of influential Indians, including politicians, citing violation of its policies. Twitter also locked horns with the Indian government last year when it declined to comply fully with orders to take down accounts the government said spread misinformation.
An initial draft of the proposal for the self-regulatory body said the panel would have a retired judge or an experienced person from the field of technology as chairperson, as well as six other individuals, including some senior executives at social media companies.
The panel’s decisions would be “binding in nature,” stated the draft, which was seen by Reuters.
Western tech giants have for years been at odds with the Indian government, arguing that strict regulations are hurting their business and investment plans. The disagreements have also strained trade ties between New Delhi and Washington.
US industry lobby groups representing the tech giants believe a government-appointed review panel raises concern about how it could act independently if New Delhi controls who sits on it.
The proposal for a government panel was open to public consultation until early July. No fixed date for implementation has been set.


Saudi Arabia to host Arab Radio and Television Festival

Saudi Arabia to host Arab Radio and Television Festival
Updated 11 August 2022

Saudi Arabia to host Arab Radio and Television Festival

Saudi Arabia to host Arab Radio and Television Festival
  • Festival running from Nov. 7 to Nov. 10 in Riyadh

RIYADH: Hundreds of media officials are expected at the 22nd edition of the Arab Radio and Television Festival, which will be hosted in Saudi Arabia.

Running from Nov. 7 to Nov. 10 in Riyadh, more than 1,000 media professionals are expected at the four-day event.

Activities will include a broad selection of workshops, discussions and competitions based on the broadcast industry.

The festival, organized by the Saudi Broadcasting Authority, will also have representatives from media organizations including World Broadcasting Unions, European Broadcasting Union, Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, African Union of Broadcasting, Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development, China Global Television Network, International Telecommunication Union and the Mediterranean Center for Audiovisual Communication.

Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the festival, considered one of the most prominent media forums, gives a nod to its importance in the Arab and Islamic worlds as well as efforts to push for cultural transformation the Kingdom is witnessing, state news agency SPA reported.


All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s new social media influencer permit

All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s new social media influencer permit
Updated 11 August 2022

All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s new social media influencer permit

All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s new social media influencer permit
  • Kingdom’s media regulator says new law to take effect from October, with all social media influencers affected

LONDON: As more Saudis connect through their social media profiles and even begin to profit from these platforms, the Kingdom has launched a new licensing system to properly monitor the influencer industry.

From early October, every Saudi and non-Saudi content creator in the Kingdom who earns revenue through advertising on social media must first apply for an official permit from the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM).

For a fee of SR15,000 (roughly $4,000), content creators will receive a permit lasting three years, during which time they can work with as many private entities as they wish and promote any product or service, as long as it does not violate the Kingdom’s laws or values.
 

The incoming influencer license “is not a permit to censor or to block,” Esra Assery, CEO at GCAM, told Arab News. “It’s more of a permit to enable the maturity of the sector. We want to help those individuals grow, but grow in a professional way so they can make a career out of (social media revenue).”

The new regulations are being touted as legal protections, both for influencers and businesses wishing to advertise with them, so that rates and contractual obligations are standardized across the industry.

“The market is so unregulated,” said Assery. “We’re not against influencers or those individuals. Actually, we want to enable them. If you check out the new bylaw, it protects them also, because the bylaw regulates their relationship with the advertisers.”
 

Esra Assery, CEO at Saudi Arabia's General Commission for Audiovisual Media. (Supplied)

Currently, anyone in Saudi Arabia is able to advertise on social media and earn money from deals with private entities — with payments per post climbing into the thousands of riyals, depending on the number of followers an influencer can reach.

Concern has been expressed that introducing permits and regulations will undermine how much money influencers can make and might even constitute censorship. However, GCAM insists the permits are designed to ensure transparency between influencers and their clients.

Saudi influencers, whether based in the Kingdom or abroad, must apply for the permit if they wish to work with a brand — local or international. However, non-Saudi residents in the country must follow a different track.

After applying to the Ministry of Investment for a permit to work in the country, they can then apply for an influencer permit through GCAM. However, non-Saudi residents must be represented by specific advertising agencies.

“While some influencers may focus on the short-term loss of paying the license fee, there is a huge benefit to licensing coming in as it legitimizes the sector on a national level,” Jamal Al-Mawed, founder and managing director of Gambit Communications, told Arab News.

“This is crucial in the influencer industry as it has been a bit of a wild west for marketing in the past, with no clear benchmarking for rates or contracts.”

Al-Mawed said that the new measures can protect brands that are susceptible to fraud “when they pay huge budgets to influencers who are buying fake followers and fake engagements. This creates a vicious circle, as hard-working content creators are undermined by the bad apples.”

Although the new license is unlikely to solve every issue overnight, “it does create a foundation for more professionalism and accountability,” Al-Mawed added.

In June, non-Saudi residents and visitors to the Kingdom were prohibited from posting ads on social media without a license. Those who ignore the ruling face a possible five-year prison sentence and fines of up to SR5 million.

GCAM announced the ban after finding “violations by numerous non-Saudi advertisers, both residents and visitors, on social media platforms.”

“After checking their data, it was found that they had committed systemic violations, including lack of commercial registrations and legal licenses, and they are not working under any commercial entity or foreign investment license,” the commission said at the time.

Now, with a regulated license, such violations will be easier to monitor and the sector will be better regulated to ensure full transparency.
 

Businesses such as bakeries or hair salons that hold social media accounts and advertise their own products or services are not covered by the prohibition. (Shutterstock image)

Although Saudi influencers will be able to hold full-time jobs while earning on the side through promotional campaigns on their social media profiles, the law states that non-Saudis can work only in one specific role while residing in the Kingdom.

However, the system does not apply to businesses and entities — such as bakeries or hair salons — that hold social media accounts and advertise their own products or services on these platforms. Only individuals are affected by the new law.

There are certain exceptions, however, such as individuals who have been invited to the country by a ministry or government entity in order to perform, including musicians and entertainers.

With the rise of social media over the past decade, content creators and so-called influencers with thousands of followers on Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and other platforms have drawn audiences away from traditional outlets, such as television, newspapers and magazines, to new and largely unregulated media.
 

Sensing the shift in content consumption, advertisers have followed the herd. Crystal-blue waters caressing white, sandy beaches at luxury resorts and scrumptious feasts at the finest restaurants are now commonplace on influencer profiles as businesses rush to take advantage of more “natural-feeling” product placement.

However, regulators have struggled to keep up with this rapid transformation, leaving the process open to legal disputes, exploitation and abuse. That is why authorities elsewhere in the world have also been exploring influencer permits.

Dubai, widely seen as the influencer hub of the Middle East, is among them.

In 2018, the UAE’s National Media Council launched a new electronic media regulation system, which required social media influencers to obtain a license to operate in the country.

The cost of the annual license is 15,000 AED (roughly $4,000). Those who fail to obtain or renew the license can face penalties including a fine of up to 5,000 AED, a verbal or official warning, and even closure of their social media accounts.

The rules apply to influencers visiting the UAE as well. They must either have a license or be signed up with an NMC-registered influencer agency to operate in the country.

With Saudi Arabia progressing in the entertainment and creative industries, the introduction of the license is viewed as a step in the right direction.

“It’s great news for the industry,” said Al-Mawed. “When someone is licensed by the government to offer their services, that gives them a level of safety and trust and can help filter out the scammers who prefer to fly under the radar.”

 

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