Indian writers celebrate first International Booker Prize for Hindi novel

Author Geetanjali Shree, centre, and translator Daisy Rockwell receive the 2022 International Booker Prize author and translator awards for Shree's novel 'Tomb of Sand' from Booker Prize Foundation chair Mark Damazer in London, May 26, 2022. (AP)
Author Geetanjali Shree, centre, and translator Daisy Rockwell receive the 2022 International Booker Prize author and translator awards for Shree's novel 'Tomb of Sand' from Booker Prize Foundation chair Mark Damazer in London, May 26, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 28 May 2022

Indian writers celebrate first International Booker Prize for Hindi novel

Indian writers celebrate first International Booker Prize for Hindi novel
  • Geetanjali Shree’s ‘Tomb of Sand,’ translated by Daisy Rockwell, won this year’s prize on Thursday

NEW DELHI: India’s literary world celebrated on Friday as Geetanjali Shree’s “Tomb of Sand” became the first book written in an Indian language to win the prestigious International Booker Prize.

The prize is awarded annually to a book that has been translated into English and published in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  

Shree wrote “Tomb of Sand” (Hindi title “Ret Samadhi”) in 2018. It is a family saga set in the shadow of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, when British India was split into two independent states — India and Pakistan — triggering one of the largest migrations in history, with around 15 million people forced to swap countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.

The novel follows an 80-year-old Indian woman who travels to Pakistan following the death of her husband to confront the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of partition and, while doing so, reevaluates what it means to be a mother, daughter, and woman.

The book was translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, who shares the prize with Shree. It was the first Hindi-language novel to secure a nomination for the prize.

In her acceptance speech in London on Thursday night, Shree said that behind her was a “rich and flourishing literary tradition in Hindi, and in other South Asian languages.”

“World literature will be the richer for knowing some of the finest writers in these languages. The vocabulary of life will increase from such an interaction,” she said.

Writers in India welcomed Shree’s recognition with the same hope.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful achievement,” Arundhati Roy, one of India’s most renowned writers, told Arab News.

Namita Gokhale, director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, India’s largest literary event, said the award will bring a “much-needed understanding of Hindi literature, one of the great world literatures.”

She continued: “It will lead to more and more translation (of Hindi works). There are so many wonderful translations out there, but certainly many, many more need to be done, because there is wonderful writing happening at all levels of contemporary Hindi literature.”

For Hindi novelist Bhagwandass Morwal, Shree’s win was a “matter of great pride.”

“After the Nobel Prize, the Booker is the most recognized award for literature,” he said. “This is one Booker prize. It is the beginning. In the future we will see more.”

“Tomb of Sand” beat out five other shortlisted titles for the prize, including “The Books of Jacob” by Nobel Prize-winning Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk and “Heaven” by Mieko Kawakami, the Japanese author best known for “Breasts and Eggs.”


Russia moves forward on proposed law on banning foreign media

Russia moves forward on proposed law on banning foreign media
Updated 57 min 16 sec ago

Russia moves forward on proposed law on banning foreign media

Russia moves forward on proposed law on banning foreign media
  • The proposal must still pass a third reading in the Duma and secure the upper house's approval
  • The draft law also calls for allowing Russia's prosecutor general to cancel the registration of media outlets

MOSCOW: The lower house of Russia’s parliament on Wednesday approved the critical second reading of a proposed law that would allow the banning of foreign news media in response to other countries taking actions against Russian news outlets.
The proposal must still pass a third reading in the Duma and secure the upper house’s approval before going to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into law. But the Duma’s approval on second reading, when a proposal still can undergo substantial changes, almost always prefigures a law’s enactment.
Russia has repeatedly complained in recent months that Western countries were improperly restricting Russian media by banning their operation or denying visas to their journalists. In early June, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called in representatives of American media, including The Associated Press, to warn that they could be denied renewal of their visas and accreditation.
The draft law also calls for allowing Russia’s prosecutor general to cancel the registration of media outlets for disseminating “illegal, dangerous, unreliable publicly significant information or information expressing clear disrespect for society, the state, the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as aimed at discrediting the Russian armed forces,” state news agency RIA-Novosti reported.
Many foreign news organizations suspended or curtailed their operations in Russia following the passage in March of a law calling for up to 15 years in prison for reports seen as discrediting the Russian military.
The foreign ministry in May ordered the closure of the Moscow bureau pf the state-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in response to Canada’s ban on RT, a Russian state-controlled broadcaster.
In February, as Russia built up troops along Ukraine’s border, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle was ordered to close in Moscow after Germany banned the broadcast of RT’s German-language programs.
Before the vote on the second reading, Vladimir Solovev, the head of the Russian Journalists’ Union, told the committee preparing the draft that the measure was justified by an “information war unprecedented in history” against Russia.
Russia in recent years has persistently clamped down on independent journalism. Following the start of the Ukraine conflict, many significant independent news media shut down or suspended operations. Those included the Ekho Moskvy radio station and the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, whose editor, Dmitry Muratov, was last year’s co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.


Hong Kong bars some journalists from handover anniversary

Hong Kong bars some journalists from handover anniversary
Updated 29 June 2022

Hong Kong bars some journalists from handover anniversary

Hong Kong bars some journalists from handover anniversary
  • The journalists represent at least seven media outlets, including international news agencies Reuters and Agence France-Presse and several others
  • At least three other journalists from local news outlets were informed Wednesday that their applications to cover the July 1 events were rejected

HONG KONG: Hong Kong authorities, citing security reasons, have barred more than 13 journalists from covering events this week marking the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association and media reports.
The journalists represent at least seven media outlets, including international news agencies Reuters and Agence France-Presse and several others from Hong Kong, the association said in a statement posted online late Tuesday.
“The authorities have made ad hoc and narrow interview arrangements at this important juncture and have put forth vague grounds for refusal, seriously undermining the freedom of the press in Hong Kong,” the statement said. It said at least 10 journalists have been barred.
The Hong Kong Economic Journal said at least three other journalists from local news outlets were informed Wednesday that their applications to cover the July 1 events were rejected.
Hong Kong police have confirmed that Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit the city for the anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997. Xi’s visit will be his first trip outside of mainland China since the coronavirus pandemic took hold about 2 1/2 years ago. Police in Hong Kong, a special semi-autonomous region of China, have announced a raft of security measures, including road closures and a no-fly zone.
Strict requirements have been set for those attending the events. Journalists must have daily COVID-19 nucleic acid tests starting last Sunday and stay in a quarantine hotel from Wednesday.
Despite receiving initial approvals that included instructions for checking in to the quarantine hotel, some journalists received rejection notices on Wednesday while on their way to the hotel, while others were informed that they were barred from the events upon arrival, the Hong Kong Economic Journal said.
Authorities had invited media outlets to submit up to 20 applications to cover the events — which include a flag-raising ceremony and the inauguration of the new Hong Kong government — but later specified that only one journalist from each outlet could be sent to cover each of the two events.
Reuters said in a news report it submitted the names of two journalists to cover the events, and that both were rejected.
A Reuters spokesperson said the company was seeking further information on the matter.
The affected Hong Kong media outlets include the English-language South China Morning Post, the Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao and online news outlet HK01, the journalists association said. The South China Morning Post said in a news report that one of its photographers had been rejected, with no reason given.
Ming Pao and HK01 did not immediately comment. Agence France-Presse declined to comment and a South China Morning Post spokesperson declined to comment beyond their news report.
The affected media organizations were invited to send other journalists to cover the events, but the replacements must also meet the quarantine and testing requirements, according to the journalists association.
The Information Services Department, which sent out the initial invitations to media outlets to register to cover the events, declined to provide information on how many journalists were given accreditation and would not comment on a South China Morning Post report that one of the department’s own photographers had been barred from the events.
“The government is striking a balance as far as possible between the need of media work and security requirements,” the department said in a statement. “We will not comment on the accreditation outcome of individual organizations and persons.”


Philippine Nobel laureate to fight order to shut Rappler news site

Philippine Nobel laureate to fight order to shut Rappler news site
Updated 29 June 2022

Philippine Nobel laureate to fight order to shut Rappler news site

Philippine Nobel laureate to fight order to shut Rappler news site
  • Co-founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, Rappler is known for its scrutiny of President Rodrigo Duterte
  • Shutdown order comes as Duterte set to complete presidential term on Thursday

MANILA: Philippine journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa vowed on Wednesday to fight a government order to shut down her online news site Rappler, known for its tough scrutiny of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.

The order, issued by the Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, affirmed the corporate regulator’s 2018 decision to revoke the certificates of incorporation of Rappler over what it said was a breach of the ban on foreign ownership of media outlets.

The ruling came as Duterte was set to complete his six-year presidential term on Thursday and hand over power to President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“We are entitled to appeal this decision and will do so,” Ressa said during a press conference. “We will continue to work. It is business as usual. We will follow the legal process; we’ll continue to stand up for our rights.”

Ressa, who last year became the first Nobel laureate from the Philippines — sharing the prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov — was recognized by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for efforts to safeguard freedom of expression and her work and criticism of the Duterte regime’s “controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign,” an antidrug policy that since 2016 has led to the deaths of thousands of Filipinos, mostly urban poor, and drawn international condemnation.

She told reporters the corporate regulator’s decision to shut down Rappler was “political tactics.”

“Over the last six years, we have been harassed,” she added. “We’re not going to voluntarily give up our rights. And we really shouldn’t. I continue to appeal for that. Because when you give up your rights, you’re never going to get them back.”

Ressa co-founded Rappler in 2012. Since Duterte took office in 2016, he has openly slammed journalists and publications criticizing him and his war on drugs campaign.

In 2018, the SEC ruled that Rappler violated foreign equity restrictions on domestic media when it sold depositary rights to a foreign entity.

Rappler argued the Omidyar Network, the philanthropic arm of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, was a silent investor. Omidyar later announced donating the depository receipts to Rappler’s staff to resolve foreign ownership issues.

The news outlet’s chief legal counsel, Francis Lim, said they had two weeks to file a petition for review of the shutdown decision before the Court of Appeals.

“There are powerful, factual, and legal grounds to reverse the SEC decision,” he told reporters. “It’s not the end of the world for us. There’s still a very long process to go.”

The shutdown announcement sparked an outcry among local journalists.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines called on its members to stand together against attempts to silence the media.

“Throughout the six years of the Duterte administration, we have seen lawsuits and regulatory processes used as tools to muzzle the press,” the union said in a statement. “It is clear now, if it had not been clear before, that the journalism community and the communities that we report about and for must stand together against government moves to harass, restrict, and silence any of us to keep the press free for all of us.”

The Philippines ranks 147th out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, after having dropped in the ranking each year from 133rd in 2018.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Rappler was “facing government retaliation for its fearless reporting about rights abuses.”

“This is an effort to shut up Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, and shut down Rappler, by hook or by crook,” HRW Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said. “It’s entirely predictable that the SEC would bend over backwards to interpret rules in a way that would enable them to take Rappler down while spuriously claiming that this is a normal regulatory action.”


Instagram hides some posts that mention abortion

Instagram hides some posts that mention abortion
Updated 28 June 2022

Instagram hides some posts that mention abortion

Instagram hides some posts that mention abortion
  • Instagram covered a post on one page with more than 25,000 followers that shared text reading: “Abortion in America How You Can Help”
  • The Associated Press identified nearly a dozen other posts that mentioned the word “abortion” and were subsequently covered up by Instagram

WASHINGTON: Instagram is blocking posts that mention abortion from public view, in some cases requiring its users to confirm their age before letting them view posts that offer up information about the procedure.
Over the last day, several Instagram accounts run by abortion rights advocacy groups have found their posts or stories hidden with a warning that described the posts as “sensitive content.”
In one example, Instagram covered a post on one page with more than 25,000 followers that shared text reading: “Abortion in America How You Can Help.” The post went on to encourage followers to donate money to abortion organizations and to protest the Supreme Court’s decision to strip constitutional protections for abortion in the US
The post was slapped with a warning from Instagram that covered the post, reading “This photo may contain graphic or violent content.”
Berlin photographer Zoe Noble has run the Instagram page, which celebrates women who decide not to have children, for more than a year. Monday was the first time a post mentioning abortion was restricted by Instagram.
“I was really confused because we’ve never had this happen before, and we’ve talked about abortion before,” Noble said. “I was really shocked that the word abortion seemed to be flagged.”
The platform offers no way for users to dispute the restriction.
The Associated Press identified nearly a dozen other posts that mentioned the word “abortion” and were subsequently covered up by Instagram. All of the posts were informational in nature, and none of the posts featured photos of abortions. An Instagram post by an AP reporter that asked people if they were experiencing the problem was also covered by the company on Tuesday, and required users to enter their age in order to view it.
The AP inquired about the problem on Tuesday morning. Hours later, Instagram’s communication department acknowledged the problem on Twitter, describing it as a glitch.
“We’re hearing that people around the world are seeing our ‘sensitivity screens,’ on many different types of content when they shouldn’t be. We’re looking into this bug and working on a fix now,” the company tweeted.
A spokesman for Instagram-owner Meta Platforms Inc. said in an email that the company does not place age restrictions around its abortion content.
Instagram’s latest issue follows a Monday AP report that Facebook and Instagram were promptly deleting posts that offered to mail out abortion pills in states that restrict their use. The tech platforms said they were deleting the posts because they violated policies against selling or gifting certain products, including pharmaceuticals, drugs and firearms.
The AP’s review found that similar posts offering to mail a gun or marijuana were not removed by Facebook. The company did not respond to questions about the discrepancy.


Mastercard launches ‘Priceless’ music album 10-song release available first on Spotify

A Mastercard logo is seen on a credit card in this picture illustration. (REUTERS)
A Mastercard logo is seen on a credit card in this picture illustration. (REUTERS)
Updated 28 June 2022

Mastercard launches ‘Priceless’ music album 10-song release available first on Spotify

A Mastercard logo is seen on a credit card in this picture illustration. (REUTERS)
  • As part of the Beatclub collaboration, Mastercard will purchase and provide one-year Beatclub memberships for hundreds of up-and-coming creators from disenfranchised communities

DUBAI: Mastercard unveiled its first-ever music album, “Priceless,” at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last week.

The album, available first on Spotify and then other streaming platforms, features 10 songs by 10 artists from around the world, with each song incorporating the recognizable melody of the Mastercard jingle.

“Our first-ever music album featuring the inspiring, original work of 10 rising stars takes our innovative sonic branding approach to an even higher, unmatched level,” said Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer.

“From Algeria to Australia and Slovenia to Sweden, each of the artists integrated our melody into their songs and created something that we are all truly proud of. We hope others will enjoy these songs as much as we do,” he added.

To further its commitment to music and emerging talent, Mastercard partnered with producer Timbaland’s Beatclub music creator platform. Inspired by the original songs developed for Mastercard’s album, up-and-coming Beatclub creators were mentored by Timbaland as they remixed two standout tracks.

As part of the Beatclub collaboration, Mastercard will purchase and provide one-year Beatclub memberships for hundreds of up-and-coming creators from disenfranchised communities.

For Timbaland, the partnership was a “natural fit” given the companies’ “mutual goal of supporting artists and the industry.”

He said: “Together we’re elevating emerging artists through the power of music and mentorship. Providing platforms, tools and connections for creators to pursue their passions opens doors for countless artists to break into an industry that is often impenetrable.”

Mastercard collaborated closely with executive producer Niclas Molinder to find artists from different cultures, languages and genres. Each artist was tasked with incorporating the brand’s melody into the song, demonstrating how audio branding can be used innovatively.

The full album will feature tracks from up-and-coming artists including Michael Rice (UK), Shiraz (Lebanon), Good Harvest (Sweden), Alma Lake (Colombia/USA), Raees (Algeria), Tejas (India), Nadine Randle (UK/Sweden), Tania (Australia), Elle B. (USA) and Amaya (Slovenia).

Sonic or audio branding has existed in different forms, from radio jingles to podcasts, with brands looking to cut through the clutter in innovative ways.

Mastercard has already established a relationship with the music industry through the Priceless platform, working with artists like Jennifer Hudson and SZA, among others.

The new album was introduced at a launch party with Mastercard’s exclusive launch partner, Spotify.