US begins court battle against publishing giants’ merger

US begins court battle against publishing giants’ merger
A book published by Simon & Schuster is displayed on Saturday, July 30, 2022, in Tigard, Ore. The government and publishing titan Penguin Random House are set to exchange opening salvos in a federal antitrust trial Monday. (AP)
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Updated 02 August 2022

US begins court battle against publishing giants’ merger

US begins court battle against publishing giants’ merger
  • The Justice Department has sued to block the $2.2 billion merger, which would reduce the Big Five US publishers to four

WASHINGTON: The government and publishing titan Penguin Random House exchanged opening salvos in a federal antitrust trial Monday as the US seeks to block the biggest US book publisher from absorbing rival Simon & Schuster. The case comes as a key test of the Biden administration’s antitrust policy.
The Justice Department has sued to block the $2.2 billion merger, which would reduce the Big Five US publishers to four.
The government’s star witness, bestselling author Stephen King, is expected to testify at Tuesday’s session of the weekslong trial in US District Court in Washington, D.C. King’s works are published by Simon & Schuster, but he has expressed unease with the merger.
At Monday’s opening session, attorneys for the two sides presented their cases before US District Judge Florence Pan.
Justice Department attorneys charged that the merger would shrink competition and, inevitably, the vital public discourse that books help spark. Penguin Random House countered that the new company would enhance competition because the combined company could turn out books more efficiently.
The DOJ and the publisher are jousting over a central part of the government’s case: whether the merger will lower advances for the most popular authors, those receiving advances of $250,000 or more. Government attorney John Read said “competition results in authors being paid more” and outlined in depth how joining the two largest publishers would lead to fewer bidders for high-profile books.
But Penguin Random House attorney Daniel Petrocelli, who in 2018 successfully represented Time Warner and AT&T when the government attempted to block their merger, responded that the $250,000 benchmark was an artificial standard that does not reflect how the industry works. The publisher contends that the merger will have at worst a minimal downward effect on advances, for a tiny percentage of book deals.
“The government created an artificial market to create artificial concentration to create artificial harm,” Petrocelli said.
The government contends that it would hurt authors and, ultimately, readers if German media titan Bertelsmann, of which Penguin Random House is a division, is allowed to buy Simon & Schuster, the fourth-largest publisher, from US media and entertainment company Paramount Global. It says the deal would thwart competition and give Penguin Random House gigantic influence over which books are published in the US, not just how much authors are paid, but giving consumers fewer books to choose from.
The publishers counter that the merger would strengthen competition among publishers to find and sell the hottest books, by enabling the combined company to offer bigger advance payments and marketing support to authors. It would benefit readers, booksellers and authors, they say.
The merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would form by far the biggest publisher in US and reduce by one publishing’s so-called Big Five, which includes HarperCollins Publishing, Hachette Book Group and Macmillan.
Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch was called by the government as its first witness. He expressed concern about the consequences of a “super dominant” publisher, one that could control half the overall market, with outcomes including the shutting down of imprints the new company deems redundant and outsize advantages in the terms it could offer booksellers.
At the same time, Pietsch acknowledged that he had hoped his parent company, the French publisher Hachette Livre, had bid for Simon & Schuster and would welcome acquiring it should the deal with Penguin Random House fall through.
“It is my belief that they (Hachette Livre) would” be open to buying Simon & Schuster, he said.
Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster already have two of publishing’s most impressive lists of blockbuster authors. Penguin Random House’s includes Barack and Michelle Obama, whose package deal for their memoirs totaled an estimated $65 million; Bill Clinton, who received $15 million for his memoir; the late Nobel laureate Toni Morrison; John Grisham; and Dan Brown.
Simon & Schuster counts Hillary Clinton, who received $8 million for her memoir, Bob Woodward and Walter Isaacson. And King.
Bruce Springsteen splits the difference: His “Renegades: Born in the USA,” with Barack Obama, was published by Penguin Random House; his memoir, by Simon & Schuster.
The Justice Department contends that as things now stand, No. 1 Penguin Random House and No. 4 Simon & Schuster, by total sales, compete fiercely to acquire the rights to publish the anticipated hottest-selling books. If they are allowed to merge, the combined company would control nearly 50 percent of the market for those books, it says, hurting competition by reducing advances paid to authors and diminishing output, creativity and diversity.
The Big Five are the dominant presence in US publishing, always on top of agents’ minds when submitting proposed works. They make up 90 percent of the market for anticipated top-selling books, the government says.
The Biden administration is staking out new ground on business concentration and competition, and the government’s case against the publishers’ merger is an important test.
President Joe Biden has made competition a pillar of his economic policy, denouncing what he calls the outsized market power of an array of industries and stressing the importance of robust competition to the economy, workers, consumers and small businesses. Biden, a Democrat, has called on federal regulators, notably the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, to give greater scrutiny to big business combinations.


Social app Parler says sale to Kanye West called off

Social app Parler says sale to Kanye West called off
Updated 02 December 2022

Social app Parler says sale to Kanye West called off

Social app Parler says sale to Kanye West called off
  • Owners said the decision was made “in the interest of both parties in mid-November.”

NEW YORK: Social network Parler announced Thursday that its planned sale to Kanye West has been called off, as the rapper-businessman now known as Ye continues to alienates fans and commercial partners with anti-Semitic comments.
“Parlement Technologies would like to confirm that the company has mutually agreed with Ye to terminate the intent of sale of Parler,” the network — seen as a home for online extremist rhetoric — said in a tweet.
It said the decision was made “in the interest of both parties in mid-November.”
Parler had announced a deal for West to buy the platform popular with conservatives in mid-October — just over a week after the rapper’s Twitter and Instagram accounts were restricted over anti-Semitic posts he made.
But the rapper, who has spoken openly about his struggles with mental illness, has seen his business relationships crumble in recent weeks as his erratic behavior and extreme speech continue to raise concerns.
In perhaps his most provocative outburst to date, West on Thursday declared his “love” of Nazis and admiration for Adolf Hitler during a rambling livestream with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
The 45-year-old’s restrictions on Twitter and Instagram last month were not the first time his posts prompted punitive action from major social media platforms.
Earlier this year, West was banned from posting on Instagram for 24 hours after violating the social network’s harassment policy amid his acrimonious divorce from reality star Kim Kardashian.
Launched in 2018, Parler became a haven for Donald Trump supporters and far-right users who say they have been censored on mainstream social media platforms. It has since signed up many more traditional Republican voices.
Parler was temporarily removed from Apple and Google app stores last year for failing to moderate calls for violence after the attack on the US Capitol by supporters of the former president.
It has since been allowed back in the both stores, ostensibly after improving its content moderation systems.


Israel slams Netflix movie scene of 1948 Palestinian family murder

Israel slams Netflix movie scene of 1948 Palestinian family murder
Updated 01 December 2022

Israel slams Netflix movie scene of 1948 Palestinian family murder

Israel slams Netflix movie scene of 1948 Palestinian family murder
  • Israel threatens to withdraw Al-Saraya Theater funding for screeing Farha

LONDON: Officials in Israel have slammed a Netflix film showing the murder of a Palestinian family by Zionist forces during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war as “creating a false narrative.”

“Farha,” a historical drama by Jordanian filmmaker Darin J. Sallam and Jordan’s Oscars entry for 2023, has premiered at several film festivals globally since its release in 2021 and will begin streaming on Netflix on Thursday.

The movie tells the story of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl who, while locked in a storage room by her father during the events of the Nakba, witnesses through a crack in the pantry door Israeli soldiers murdering an entire family, including a baby and two small children.

In a statement reported by The Guardian, Israel’s outgoing finance minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said: “It’s crazy that Netflix decided to stream a movie whose whole purpose is to create a false pretence and incite against Israeli soldiers.”

And he added that he would consider revoking state funding from Al-Saraya Theater in the Arab-majority town of Jaffa for having screened “Farha.”

Israeli Culture Minister Hili Tropper said the movie depicted “lies and libels,” describing its screening in an Israeli cinema as “a disgrace.”

In an email to The Guardian on Thursday, the theater’s manager, Mahmoud Abo Arisheh, said: “We responded to incitement with the fact that we (went ahead with) showing the movie.

“As for the public’s response, Saraya’s supporters once again proved to be many. We are committed to defending our right to exist and to express ourselves … We are committed to freedom of art, all art.”

The Palestinian Nakba of 1948 saw the ethnic cleansing and displacement of some 700,000 Palestinians by pre-Israeli-state Irgun and Stern Gang Zionist militias. On April 9 of the same year, Zionist forces, in one of their most infamous crimes, killed more than 110 men, women, and children in the village of Deir Yassin on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Portrayals of genocide committed by Zionist forces during the 1948 war remain a highly sensitive subject in Israel.

In interviews, Sallam said that she made “Farha” because very few narrative films about Palestine explored the root cause of the conflict. She noted that “Farha” told the story of her mother’s friend, who first met Sallam’s mom in Syria.

In a 2021 interview with Arab News, Sallam said: “The story traveled over the years to reach me. It stayed with me. When I was a child, I had this fear of closed, dark places and I kept thinking of this girl and what happened to her.”


MBC Group to expand Shahid catalog with hit anime titles

MBC Group to expand Shahid catalog with hit anime titles
Updated 01 December 2022

MBC Group to expand Shahid catalog with hit anime titles

MBC Group to expand Shahid catalog with hit anime titles
  • Group secured rights to various series, including TV Tokyo’s ‘Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War,’ ‘Bleach’ and ‘One Piece’

LONDON: MBC Group, the Middle East and North Africa region’s leading media company, announced new partnerships on Thursday to expand the number of anime titles available on its streaming platform Shahid.

The Riyadh-based organization said in a statement it had teamed up “with key anime studios and production houses in Japan beyond to bring more anime content to its streaming platform.”

“Anime is extremely popular in the Middle East region — particularly in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — so needless to say, we are incredibly excited to be making new additions to our ever-expanding anime catalog on Shahid, bringing new and hit titles that audiences will love exploring,” said Tareq Al-Ibrahim, director of content for subscription video on demand at Shahid.

As part of the new deals, MBC Group said it has secured exclusive rights in MENA to TV Tokyo’s “Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War,” the 52-episode Japanese anime television series based on the “Bleach” manga series by Tite Kubo, and a direct sequel to the “Bleach” anime series.

The title, which returns after an eight-year hiatus, is available to stream on Shahid at the same time as in Japan and the US.

The group also announced the extension of the partnership with TOEI Animation, the Japanese anime studio behind the 25-year global hit manga series “One Piece.” As part of the renewed collaboration, MBC Group will air the new upcoming episodes of the series exclusively on its platform.

Following the success of the anime adaptation of “Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai” on Shahid, the media group has also expanded its partnership with its production company, Aniplex.

Under the new collaboration, fans will enjoy more than 200 hours of Aniplex content on Shahid, including “Fate/Stay Night,” “Sword Art Online,” and “Gurren Lagann.”

The move reinforces MBC Group’s commitment to expanding its anime offering, continuing to add to an already rich catalog that includes renowned titles “Hunter x Hunter,” “Legend of the Galactic Heroes,” “Belle,” as well as the Japanese–Saudi Arabian animated action fantasy film, “The Journey.”

The company said the new titles will be available to stream on Shahid by the end of the year.

The news comes at an exciting moment for the MBC Group. The company was reported last month to be working with HSBC Holdings and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to go public as early as next year.


Netflix to let more subscribers preview content

Netflix to let more subscribers preview content
Updated 01 December 2022

Netflix to let more subscribers preview content

Netflix to let more subscribers preview content
  • Feature allows selected members to preview shows or films

LONDON: Netflix Inc. is planning to let tens of thousands of users around the world to preview content from early next year, expanding beyond its current previewer base of 2,000-plus subscribers, sources reported on Thursday.
Netflix’s Preview Club, which started more than a year ago, allows its members to watch some shows or films before they appear broadly on the platform and review them, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The video streaming giant did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The move underpins Netflix’s efforts to ensure quality content, at a time when investors and analysts focus more on the profitability of streaming firms.


Taliban silence Voice of America broadcasts in Afghanistan

Taliban silence Voice of America broadcasts in Afghanistan
Updated 01 December 2022

Taliban silence Voice of America broadcasts in Afghanistan

Taliban silence Voice of America broadcasts in Afghanistan
  • Voice of America and Radio Free Europe are funded by the US government, though they claim editorial independence
  • Afghanistan has lost 40 percent of its media outlets and 60 percent of its journalists since the Taliban takeover

WASHINGTON: The Voice of America said Wednesday that Taliban authorities have banned FM radio broadcasts from VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Afghanistan, starting Thursday.
VOA said Taliban authorities cited “complaints they have received about programming content” without providing specifics.
VOA and RFE are funded by the US government, though they claim editorial independence.
The Taliban overran Afghanistan in August 2021 as American and NATO forces were in the final weeks of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war.
Despite initially promising a more moderate rule, they have restricted rights and freedoms and widely implemented their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.
Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Thursday that Afghanistan has press laws and any network found “repeatedly contravening” these laws will have their privilege of working in the country taken away.
“VOA and Azadi Radio (Radio Liberty) failed to adhere to these laws, were found as repeat offenders, failed to show professionalism and were therefore shut down,” he said.
The advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said recently that Afghanistan has lost 40 percent of its media outlets and 60 percent of its journalists since the Taliban takeover.