Pulitzer board rejects Donald Trump’s plea to revoke prize for Russia coverage

Pulitzer board rejects Donald Trump’s plea to revoke prize for Russia coverage
The board of the Pulitzer Prize on Monday rejected a plea by former US President Donald Trump which called for the prize awarded to news reporters for their Russia coverage to be revoked. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 19 July 2022

Pulitzer board rejects Donald Trump’s plea to revoke prize for Russia coverage

Pulitzer board rejects Donald Trump’s plea to revoke prize for Russia coverage
  • Former US leader has called for prizes to be rescinded, citing ‘false reporting of a nonexistent link between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign’

LONDON: The board of the Pulitzer Prize on Monday rejected a plea by former US President Donald Trump which called for the prize awarded to news reporters for their Russia coverage to be revoked. 

The Pulitzer prize was awarded to The New York Times and Washington Post reporters in 2018 for their joint effort in covering Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, as well as Russian ties to Trump’s campaign and members of his administration.

The board’s decision comes after two separate independent reviews into Trump’s claims found that the award-winning reporting on Russian meddling in the presidential race between Trump and Hillary Clinton was conducted legitimately. 

“Both reviews were conducted by individuals with no connection to the institutions whose work was under examination, nor any connection to each other,” the board said in a statement.

“No passages or headlines, contentions or assertions in any of the winning submissions were discredited by facts that emerged subsequent to the conferral of the prizes.

“The 2018 Pulitzer Prizes in the National Reporting stand,” the statement added.

On Monday, the Pulitzer Center defended the awards, saying that Trump’s continued criticism of the media’s focus on the investigation was baseless given that reporters had no way of predicting the outcome.

Trump has repeatedly called for the prizes to be rescinded, citing “false reporting of a nonexistent link between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.” 

The former US president also threatened the board with legal action, accusing the Pulitzer group of “running cover” for the prize winners and said that its investigations were conducted “in a veil of secrecy.”

This is not the first time that Trump has criticized coverage of Russia’s interference into his campaign. 

In 2019, the former US leader called investigative efforts by special counsel Robert S. Mueller a “witch hunt.”


YouTube reveals year’s top-trending regional creators and content

YouTube reveals year’s top-trending regional creators and content
Updated 01 December 2022

YouTube reveals year’s top-trending regional creators and content

YouTube reveals year’s top-trending regional creators and content
  • The video-sharing platform unveiled five lists covering general videos, music videos, short-form videos, top creators and breakout creators in the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI: YouTube has released five lists that reveal the top-trending videos, music videos, shorts and creators in the Middle East and North Africa region over the past year.

The growth of popularity in short-form video platforms such as TikTok prompted YouTube to launch Shorts, its own version of the format, globally in 2020 and in MENA in 2021. The platform said more than 1.5 billion logged-in users watch Shorts each month, with an average of more than 30 billion daily views.

This year, for the first time, YouTube has released a top shorts list, which was topped by Omani football freestyler, Mohammed Alnoufali.

Meanwhile, YouTube’s top-trending videos list is based on a range of factors, including total views, engagement, shares and likes, that the platform said indicate how “trending” a video is.

A video by comedy creator Abdo Asalsily, which has racked up 20 million views, topped this list.

The top music video in the region this year was “Aleky Eyoun” by Ahmed Saad, followed by “El-Bakht” by Egyptian rapper Wegz, and “Hatha El-Helo” by Lebanese singer Myriam Fares.

The list revealed a growing interest in regional performers, with North African rap and hip-hop artists, including Mc Artisan, Didine Canon 16, and Marwa Loud, taking almost half of the spots.

Entertainment and gaming creator AboFlah was not only the top creator for a second year in a row but also appeared in Asalsily’s top-trending video of the year. Football specialist Mohamad Adnan took second spot, followed by cooking channel Afnanrecipes in third.

The top creators list includes producers active all formats — shorts, long-form and multiformat — and is based on the number of subscribers acquired during 2022 in the MENA region.

The final list unveiled by YouTube was its Breakout Creators list, which ranks channels that have at least tripled in size based on number of subscribers gained in the region this year compared with 2021.

With nearly 2 million subscribers, Mr. Beast in Arabic topped the list, followed by UAE-based Husam Kwaik in second place and Egypt-based Omar Migo in third.

“Every year, the YouTube End-of-Year Top Lists give us a glimpse into emerging trends and the diverse interests of people in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Tarek Amin, director of partnerships at YouTube MENA.

“Whether it’s the growing North African rap scene or creators helping people fall in love with learning and reading, one thing is for certain — no matter what your interest or curiosity is there is probably a community on YouTube for it.”

YouTube said it has has paid more than $50 billion to creators, artists and media companies in the region in the three years up to June 2022.


As crypto collapses in US, is Middle East going through digital renaissance?

As crypto collapses in US, is Middle East going through digital renaissance?
Updated 01 December 2022

As crypto collapses in US, is Middle East going through digital renaissance?

As crypto collapses in US, is Middle East going through digital renaissance?
  • NFT startups in region seem to think so

DUBAI: OasisX, the nascent curated multichain non-fungible token marketplace, which aims to drive adoption of NFTs in the Middle East and North Africa region is embracing Web3 in several ways integrating NFTs, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies within its platform.

Jimi Ibrahim, one of the co-founders of the company, who has described the new iteration of the internet as a digital renaissance, said: “Web3 has four pillars: Blockchain as a secure infrastructure, tokens like NFTs for proof of ownership and provenance, cryptocurrencies for store of value and transactions, and the metaverse, which is a combination of augmented reality and virtual reality.”

The adoption of Web3, however, has witnessed a slowdown as cryptocurrency and NFT scams have become rampant in markets such as the US. Despite the promise of a more secure internet, cryptocurrencies can be used and abused for fraudulent activities, as evidenced by the recent FTX scandal.

Founded by Sam Bankman-Fried in 2019, FTX is a cryptocurrency exchange, that rose to popularity thanks to celebrity endorsements and an aggressive marketing strategy.

In November, the crypto news site CoinDesk published the balance sheet of Alameda Research, a crypto investing firm also owned by Bankman-Fried, showing that Alameda held a large amount of a digital currency created by FTX called FTT.

“While there is nothing per se untoward or wrong about that, it shows Bankman-Fried’s trading giant Alameda rests on a foundation largely made up of a coin that a sister company invented, not an independent asset like a fiat currency or another crypto,” the article said.

However, if the value of the FTT were to drop, Alameda would essentially be at risk of insolvency.

The article set in motion a series of legal actions against Bankman-Fried, FTX, and the celebrities who promoted the crypto exchange, resulting in one of the biggest financial scandals.

The incident has slowed down the adoption of crypto, diminished faith in the industry, and cost a lot of people a lot of money. Although Ibrahim noted that it had “hurt the industry,” he pointed out that it had acted as a purge of sorts.

He said: “Foul play has to be shed light on, and such players have to be removed from the playing field so that the environment is much more safe and secure for natural growth.” He added that, ultimately, was the future where “decentralized finance is going to change the world for the better.”

The global NFT industry alone reached a market capitalization of $41 billion by the end of 2021, according to blockchain data company Chainalysis.

The space was also growing to include non-fungible assets, Ibrahim said, which would see it extending into the real world. For example, the real estate and NFT industries have been merging with several properties being sold as NFTs.

In February, US-based real estate company Propy sold an NFT-backed property, a 2,164-square-foot house in Florida, for $653,000 with the winning bidder receiving a NFT as proof of the home’s ownership.

“This is the future we’re looking to tap into, facilitate and expedite because it only makes sense to secure everything on the blockchain,” Ibrahim added.

OasisX aims to bring a new layer of security and accessibility to the world of NFTs in the MENA region for both artists and businesses.

Ibrahim along with co-founders Najib Khanafer and Ramzi Mneimneh started working on the platform more than one year ago and officially launched it at the NFT LB event in Lebanon in September.

The event featured the work of 23 artists, half of which were sold out during the event, as well as served as a platform for panel discussions, movie screenings, and AR and VR experiences.

The company’s marketplace features only vetted artists, unlike platforms such as OpenSea, which avoids any “bogus projects,” Ibrahim said.

Anyone can create and sell NFTs on OpenSea. Since the platform does not vet artists, many fraudulent NFTs end up on it. Earlier this year, OpenSea reported that more than 80 percent of the items on the platform were plagiarized works, fake collections, and spam.

“We want to keep the art community safe and secure with the right projects,” Ibrahim added.

Available in English and Arabic, the platform currently has 250 vetted artists and aims to grow into the biggest MENA-based marketplace. It also works with galleries through a referral program where the gallery receives a royalty over the first sale of any artist that gets onboarded and vetted on the platform.

It only charges 2 percent in transaction fees — among the lowest in the industry — because “artists should make the most of the sale of their hard work,” Ibrahim said. That was also why, he added, the company would never remove royalties.

Often, the technical skills needed to create NFTs can serve as a barrier to entry for both artists and brands. The company, therefore, created LaunchX, an NFT generator powered by artificial intelligence.

Recognizing that there are some still wary of NFTs and cryptocurrencies, the company has integrated options such as paying through credit cards, to make it more accessible.

The entire process is secured through a smart contract on the blockchain. Ibrahim said it was more secure than using traditional banking, especially in countries such as Lebanon, where the banking system was a shambles leaving many unable to use credit cards.

It was almost impossible to corrupt information on the blockchain making it more secure than traditional transaction methods used in Web2, he added.

Despite resistance and reluctance, Ibrahim forecasted that Web3, and cryptocurrencies, would become the norm in the next five to 10 years with people using it just as seamlessly as they use debit and credit cards today.
 


BeIN Sports racks up record number of viewers for World Cup broadcasts

BeIN Sports racks up record number of viewers for World Cup broadcasts
Updated 01 December 2022

BeIN Sports racks up record number of viewers for World Cup broadcasts

BeIN Sports racks up record number of viewers for World Cup broadcasts
  • More than 1bn viewers tuned in for opening ceremony and first round of matches

DUBAI: BeIN Sports has released initial viewing numbers for its World Cup coverage, which reveals a 113 percent increase when compared to the Qatar-based network’s coverage at Russia four years ago.

The official opening ceremony was watched by 111.7 million viewers across the Middle East and North Africa region, according to data from research company Ipsos.

More than 900 million fans then tuned in to see the first 16 group stage matches, with 99.2 million viewers watching the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador, an increase of 86 percent compared to the opener at Russia 2018.

Mohammad Al-Subaie, CEO of beIN MENA, said: “We are not surprised that the first World Cup in the Middle East is shattering regional viewership records, with more than 1 billion cumulative views of the opening ceremony and first 16 matches.”

Saudi Arabia drew a total of 99.3 million viewers for their unforgettable victory against Argentina.

In addition to live TV, sports fans in the region also turned to social media channels to catch up on the action.

BeIN Sports’ social media content published between Nov. 20 and 27 generated 1.7 billion impressions; some 235 million were generated throughout the previous World Cup.

Video was the most popular content format with such posts being viewed more than 330 million times.

Al-Subaie added: “Football fans across the Arab world are some of the most passionate, and we are delighted to be screening the tournament across the region as we continue to inspire, educate, and entertain as the tournament’s official broadcaster in MENA.”


Spotify Wrapped reveals the 2022 soundtrack to Saudi lives

Spotify Wrapped reveals the 2022 soundtrack to Saudi lives
Updated 01 December 2022

Spotify Wrapped reveals the 2022 soundtrack to Saudi lives

Spotify Wrapped reveals the 2022 soundtrack to Saudi lives
  • The annual campaign reveals the most-streamed songs, artists and podcasts in the Kingdom over the past 12 months
  • Canadian superstar The Weeknd topped the list of the most popular artists in Saudi Arabia, followed by Taylor Swift and K-Pop group BTS

DUBAI: Audio streaming service Spotify has released its annual Wrapped campaign, which includes a roundup of the most popular artists, songs, albums and podcasts streamed in each country over the past year, as well as a personalized experience for each user based on their own activity on the platform during that time.

“Wrapped is such an exciting time of the year where we celebrate the role music and podcasts play in soundtracking our lives,” said Mark Abou Jaoude, Spotify’s head of music.

“This year, once again, we saw how open Saudi listeners are to different genres of music and it was great to see local artists making huge splashes.”

Canadian superstar The Weeknd topped the list of the most-streamed artists in Saudi Arabia, followed by Taylor Swift and K-Pop group BTS. Another Canadian, Drake, was fourth, followed by veteran rapper Eminem. Billie Eilish, The Neighbourhood, Justin Bieber, Imagine Dragons and Lana Del Rey completed the top 10.

Local artists experienced a growth in listeners, Spotify said, with Abdullah Al-Farwan the most-streamed Saudi performer in the country, followed by Abdul Majeed Abdullah and Sheilat artist Badr Al-Ezzi.

Spotify reported that there has been a massive growth in the popularity of Sheilat, lyrically driven folkloric songs, in recent years. According to 2021 data from the company, 80 percent of Sheilat listeners on the platform stream the music while they are gaming. This year, the top 10 list of most-streamed Saudi artists included a higher number of Sheilat singers, including Ghareeb Al-Mukhles, Fahad bin Fasla, Abdullah Al-Mukhles, and Mohammed bin Grman, alongside popular household names such as Abdul Majeed Abdullah, Mohammed Abdu and Rashed Al-Majed.

Most-streamed Saudi artists in Saudi Arabia

Abdullah Al-Farwan

Abdul Majeed Abdullah

Badr Al-Ezzi

Ghareeb Al-Mukhles

Mohammed Abdu

Rashed Al-Majed

Khaled Abdul Rahman

Fahad Bin Fasla

Abdullah Al-Mukhles

Mohammed Bin Grman

In terms of the year’s most-popular songs, “Ya Ibn Khamash” by Mohammed Al-Najm is the most-streamed Khaleeji track in Saudi Arabia this year. Assala Nasri and Badr Al-Ezzi each have two songs in the top 10: “Henain” and “Al-Sourah” from the former, and “Kalemni” and “Zikrayat” from the latter.

Most-streamed Khaleeji songs in Saudi Arabia

“Ya Ibn Khamash” by Mohammed Al-Najm

“Kalemni” by Badr Al-Ezzi

“Henain” by Assala Nasri

“Al-Sourah” by Assala Nasri

“Ghazal Ma Yensady” by Abdul Majeed Abdallah

“Shoft El-Nejoum” by Lamiya Almalki

“Qalby Jobarny” by Yasser Abdul Wahab

“Ashofak Kil Youm” by Mohamed Abdu

“Adaaj Oyoun” by Majd Al-Raslani

“Zikrayat” by Badr Al-Ezzi

 

Most-streamed songs in Saudi Arabia

“Another Love” by Tom Odell

“As It Was” by Harry Styles

“Middle of the Night” by Elley Duhe

“Enemy” by Imagine Dragons featuring J.I.D.

“Heat Waves” by Glass Animals

“Sweater Weather” by The Neighbourhood

“After Dark” by Mr. Kitty

“Close Eyes” by DVRST

“Save Your Tears” by The Weeknd

“Industry Baby” by Lil Nas X featuring Jack Harlow

A number of educational, motivational and cultural podcasts also proved very popular with Spotify listeners in Saudi Arabia this year, including “Kanabet El-Sebt,” “Finjan” and “Podcast Tanafuss.”

Most popular podcasts in Saudi Arabia:

Kanabet El-Sebt

Finjan

Podcast Tanafuss

Abajoura

Sa7eb

E7tiyal

Al-Salfah

Jinayah

Sokrat

Areeka

Spotify users can access their personalized Wrapped experience on the platform’s mobile app now.
 


Brand activism: why companies should think twice before practicing it

Brand activism: why companies should think twice before practicing it
Updated 30 November 2022

Brand activism: why companies should think twice before practicing it

Brand activism: why companies should think twice before practicing it
  • From missing cultural nuances in the Arab world to targeting women, here’s how products can lose popularity
  • Audi, Pfizer, General Mills, and Volkswagen are among some of the biggest brands to pause ads over concerns about brand safety and content moderation

DUBAI: The last two years have seen consumers go from #BrandLove to #Boycott in a matter of seconds. People have always cared about what brands stand for, but the pandemic has made a brand’s social values even more important to consumers.
Last year, ice cream maker Ben and Jerry’s announced it would stop selling its products in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The decision prompted both praise and hate online, with some consumers accusing the business of antisemitism. Either way, Ben and Jerry’s was very much in the public eye.
“Ben and Jerry’s has a very long history of political positioning and commitment to a variety of progressive causes,” Robert Haigh, strategy and insights director at Brand Finance, told Arab News, in a separate interview.
Some 48 percent globally said that brands’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic affected their brand choices, and 41 percent in 14 countries, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, said they are boycotting brands still doing business in or with Russia, according to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer.
Moreover, the report also found that more than 80 percent of Gen Zs buy based on beliefs.
In March, users took to social media to call out big brands that continued to operate in Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, resulting in hashtags such as #BoycottCocaCola and #BoycottPepsi, among others, trending on Twitter.
Most recently, advertisers have paused, or at least dramatically reduced, their advertising spend on Twitter following Elon Musk’s takeover of the company.
Audi, Pfizer, General Mills, and Volkswagen are among some of the biggest brands to pause ads over concerns about brand safety and content moderation.
Nonprofits organizations such as the US-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have issued statements calling on advertisers to take action.
Following Musk’s possible reinstatement of former US President Donald Trump, President and CEO of the NAACP Derrick Johnson said: “Any advertiser still funding Twitter should immediately pause all advertising now.”
 


Earlier this month, too, the NAACP issued a statement asking advertisers to pause all advertising on Twitter.
“It is immoral, dangerous, and highly destructive to our democracy for any advertiser to fund a platform that fuels hate speech, election denialism, and conspiracy theories,” the statement said.
It added: “Unlike Elon Musk’s past ventures, this one should not be rocket science.”
“Consumers want to build a relationship with purposeful and belief-driven brands, meaning that they want to buy from a brand that shares their values and beliefs,” Ahmad Abu Zannad, author of books like “Adman vs. Chomsky” and “De-Commoditizing the Ad Industry,” and founder of Native Communications, an advisory firm dedicated to helping brands find a “native” role in people’s lives, told Arab News.
Enter brand activism, the new frontier of corporate social responsibility.
“Brand activism is a relatively new practice, and often we are seeing brands misunderstanding its purpose and misusing it by taking a divisive sociopolitical stand,” said Abu Zannad.
As beneficial as brand activism can be, it can also backfire if brands aren’t careful. A 2021 GfK report found that while 75 percent noticed examples of companies being a force for good during the coronavirus crisis, an overwhelming 78 percent noticed examples of companies trying to take advantage.
Consumers feel like brands are pandering, virtue signaling or worse, taking advantage of the crisis to sell.
Abu Zannad, too, warned: “There are traps that brands need to be wary of, specifically in a region like the Arab world.”
Arab News spoke to Abu Zannad to learn more about what brands should be wary of when practicing brand activism.
There are three traps to watch out for, he said: brands do not go to heaven; cultures differ vastly; and some relationships are better kept light.
He added: “There’s no such thing as a purely selfless brand that is taking an action or a stand for a greater good beyond the business.”
Research by Razorfish and Vice Media showed that 2 out of 3 consumers have become cynical toward such initiatives, and less than half of consumers believe that brands are living their stated purpose.
“Brands need to stand for something before taking a stand,” Abu Zannad said.
For example, Dove often tackles conventional ideas of beauty through its campaigns. As a personal care brand, the topic is relevant to both the business and the consumer.
On the other hand, a beverage brand decided to tackle the issue of the gender pay gap in the UK by offering their drink at a 20 percent discount to women — reflecting the approximate pay gap between salaries for men and women.
The brand also repackaged the drinks in pink.
The stunt drew a massive backlash with many calling it a gimmick and accusing the brand of patronizing women and trying to capture the female consumer segment.
Similarly, Nike’s brand purpose is centered around encouraging people to push their limits and “just do it.”
In 2016, athlete Colin Kaepernick took the knee during the national anthem as a stand against racial police brutality. Nike supported him by releasing an advert with the message: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Although the campaign generated a lot of controversy, Nike’s stocks rose by 5 percent in the weeks after the ad was released.
“There is a very large constituency of people for whom the Nike brand was re-energized” as it aligned itself with a younger, more progressive audience, Haigh previously said.
“The brand did not discuss its own personal take on the controversy; it showcased how Nike’s general beliefs and purpose are aligned with those of Kaepernick,” Abu Zannad said.
The second factor for brands to keep in mind is cultural differences across the world.
For example, Disney and Pixar’s movie “Lightyear,” which was slated for a June 16 release, was banned in the UAE — one of the most liberal countries in the Arab world — over content, including a same-sex intimate scene.
Around 14 other countries across the Middle East and Asia, including Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and Malaysia, have also banned the film.
On the other hand, Dove often localizes its campaigns based on cultural insight. In India, for example, the brand found that 3 out of 4 women are rejected for their looks during the arranged marriage process. So, it launched the “StopTheBeautyTest” campaign, encouraging women who have faced rejection to share their stories.
Lastly, Abu Zannad said, some relationships are better kept light.
In his book “How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know,” Prof. Byron Sharp applied years of statistical analysis of sales data to demonstrate that the majority of a brand’s business comes from what he refers to as “light buyers” — those who do not buy the brand very often and are enjoying a light and casual relationship with it.
“Such light buyers would still like to admire that brand for its beliefs,” Abu Zannad said.
He pointed out brands like Adidas and Nike, which encourage Arab women to exercise more often through empowering initiatives and messaging that challenges cultural notions that may be keeping them away from participating in activities.
However, they keep the messaging within the parameters of sport and do not engage in intense, political, or divisive stands.
Nike’s “What Will They Say About You?” film urges women to think about what people will say about them when they are playing sport.

 


Similarly, Adidas’ “Beyond the Surface” and “Liquid Billboard” campaigns encourage women to feel comfortable in their skin. The latter, which marked the launch of Adidas’ inclusive swimwear collection, was based on the insight that globally 32 percent of women are uncomfortable swimming in public, and in the Middle East the proportion rises to 88 percent.
Adidas, therefore, created the world’s first “swimmable billboard” in Dubai, which encouraged women to dive in, regardless of body shape, ethnicity or ability.
Whether it is being inclusive or challenging conventional ideas of beauty, a brand’s purpose must be aligned with its business and consumers.
Abu Zannad said: “A brand purpose is not a tool for a brand to be selfless; it is there for the brand to serve its audiences, its community, and consequently, its business.”