UN formally ‘raises concerns’ over Iran’s ‘abuse’ of female journalists

UN formally ‘raises concerns’ over Iran’s ‘abuse’ of female journalists
The BBC has filed multiple complaints with the UN since 2017, the latest of which was in February 2022. (Shutterstock/File)
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Updated 09 August 2022

UN formally ‘raises concerns’ over Iran’s ‘abuse’ of female journalists

UN formally ‘raises concerns’ over Iran’s ‘abuse’ of female journalists
  • BBC filed multiple complaints to world body since 2017
  • Tehran alleges UK channel’s Persian service supports regime change

LONDON: The UN’s formal communication with Iran’s government over its alleged abuse of BBC Persian’s female staff and their families, has now been published, alongside a terse denial from Tehran.

This comes in the wake of the BBC filing an urgent appeal to the UN in February about Iran’s alleged ongoing harassment of the journalists working for the UK channel’s Farsi service.

The BBC claims that the harassment includes online violence, threats of rape and murder, attacks on their credibility, hacking and phishing of their emails and telephones, and false and defamatory stories about their personal lives.

The UN communication, originally sent to Iranian authorities in late May, was officially published on Tuesday alongside a response from Iran, according to reports.

The BBC has filed multiple complaints with the UN since 2017, the latest of which was in February 2022. The channel claims that its staff and their families have faced relentless harassment and intimidation since BBC Persian TV was launched in 2009.

In the communication, UN experts expressed “grave concern over the continuation of reported harassment and intimidation of the BBC News Persian staff and their family members, which appears to be aimed at preventing them from continuing their journalistic activities with the language service.

The UN experts also raised concerns about the reported surveillance of journalists and the harassment of their sources in Iran, the interrogation of their family members, and the pressure placed on them “to leave their jobs.”

Additionally, the UN experts warned Iran that they intend to raise public concern regarding the alleged treatment, stating that “the wider public should be alerted” about the matter.

In its written response, Iran’s government claimed the journalists were supporting “the overthrow of the Islamic Republic,” with “hostile” coverage that “tarnishes” the regime, and which “incited riots.”

Director of BBC World Service Liliane Landor slammed Iran’s response: “We are grateful to the United Nations for raising our grave concerns about the treatment of our BBC News Persian journalists. We reject Iran’s attempt to justify its behaviour — the sanctions and harassment against our colleagues and their families must stop.”

International counsel for the BBC World Service, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson, said: “Iran’s aggressive, defensive response to the UN experts provides a revealing insight into how it considers independent journalism: a threat to its power, which must be silenced.”

They urged the international community to hold Iran accountable for these actions.


Spotify’s new report delves into how UAE’s Gen Zs are driving culture

Spotify’s new report delves into how UAE’s Gen Zs are driving culture
Updated 30 September 2022

Spotify’s new report delves into how UAE’s Gen Zs are driving culture

Spotify’s new report delves into how UAE’s Gen Zs are driving culture
  • Annual Culture Next report reveals the behaviors, attitudes and mindsets of GenZs in the UAE

DUBAI: Spotify has released the UAE edition of its annual global culture and trends report, Culture Next.

In the fourth edition of the report, the second to feature the UAE, Spotify delves deeper into the behaviors, attitudes and mindsets of their largest audience segment, Generation Z (aged 15 to 25), and how they differ from Generation Y, known as millennials (26 to 40).

In 2021, Gen Zs globally streamed music more often than they used any other media (including videos, games, and TV), and shared more Spotify playlists and engaged in more group listening sessions than any other generation, according to the report.

In the first quarter of 2022 alone, 18 to 24-year-olds have played more than 578 billion minutes of music on Spotify — more than any other segment, and roughly 16 billion more minutes than millennials, or 25 to 34-year-olds, around the world.

“Audio has always been part of our lives,” Mark Abou Jaoude, Spotify’s head of music in the Middle East and North Africa, told Arab News.

“Streaming is being seen more and more as a key driver for discovery and the formation of a global community that identifies with one another through audio. It’s a way of self-expression and it's screenless,” he added.

Video, as a format, has grown in popularity in recent times, spurred by short-form video such as that on TikTok and Instagram’s Reels.

Jaoude, however, stresses the importance of audio, particularly for Gen Zs. “A video with no audio is hard to comprehend, for example, but a pure audio piece is not. Audio enriches storytelling,” he said.

The report highlights key differences between Gen Zs and millennials, with the former having gone from an “emerging” generation to the “center stage of culture.”

Firstly, while both generations are stressed, Gen Zs are more so. “Millennials were raised in a boom, Zs in a bust,” said Jaoude. They have experienced significant downturns associated with the crash of 2008 and later COVID-19, which they experienced mostly as adults, he explained.

In this environment, they are turning to audio as a safe space. Fifty-nine percent of 18 to 24-year-olds in the UAE said they turn to podcasts to get answers to hard or personal questions before talking to their families about it, and 66 percent said they listen to podcasts to inform the conversations they have with their friends.

Moreover, according to 68 percent of Gen Zs in the UAE, audio helps them understand themselves better, and 80 percent said it allows them to explore different sides of their personality.

All of this means that for Gen Zs, audio has always been a part of their lives, and they use it for everything from creativity and self-expression, to discovering aspects of their own personality.

The second factor setting Gen Zs apart is that they are “the most racially and culturally diverse generation and therefore they demand this diversity be reflected through their lifestyle, the brands they engage with, social media and the audio they consume,” according to Jaoude.

Self-expression and creativity are core to this generation and so, “they lean into music, artists, podcasts, and playlists to shape the stories they tell about themselves,” he added.

FASTFACTS

66 percent listen to podcasts to inform the conversations they have with their friends.

82 percent said they had learned something about themselves by looking back on their listening habits.

74 percent believe that their listening habits tell a story about who they are.

78 percent listen to music from movies or shows because they like to feel like they are a character in the story.

71 percent like listening to and watching media from earlier decades because it reminds them of when things were simpler.

75 percent like it when brands bring back old aesthetic styles.

72 percent love it when brands produce retro products or content.

For instance, 82 percent in the UAE said they had learned something about themselves by looking back on their listening habits, and 74 percent believe that their listening habits tell a story about who they are.

It might appear that they are self-involved, but according to the report, they are driving the “main-character energy” trend, in which people use social media or digital audio to make themselves feel like the center of attention. This is evident in the popularity of playlists like “My Life is a Movie” and ones containing “POV” in the title.

Seventy-eight percent of Gen Zs in the UAE listen to music from movies or shows because “they like to feel like they are a character in the story,” according to Jaoude, and 79 percent of all Spotify playlists globally with “POV” in the title were created by Gen Zs.

Jaoude said: “They are experts in structuring and communicating their individual stories through playlists. They create their own playlists on Spotify and even use collaborative playlist features to ask their friends and community to exchange songs.”

While millennials are known for being nostalgic, Gen Zs go even further down memory lane, he added. They are “reinventing nostalgia” by filtering pop culture “through a contemporary perspective to access and inspire something new and unique to them,” he said.

Millennials are nostalgic for the times they have lived through; Gen Zs, on the other hand, are nostalgic for eras that offer some form of reprieve from current times, which they find stressful and anxiety-inducing.

“Among Zs, the past is all fuel for the future — and that is true for more than music,” Jaoude said.

It is why 71 percent of Gen Zs in UAE said they like listening to and watching media from earlier decades — because it reminds them of when things were simpler, and 75 percent like it when brands bring back old aesthetic styles, while 72 percent love it when brands produce retro products or content.

“You will see that movement in today’s fashion and the sound of music; there’s a lot of borrowing from previous eras and artists add their personal flair or vision to that sound,” said Jaoude.

Gen Zs’ unique problems, and habits, provide an untapped opportunity for marketers. As Jaoude said: “They are seeking new opportunities to share themselves through audio — and looking to brands to help make it happen.”

Forty-nine percent in the UAE said they like being able to select the ad they listen to on a digital audio streaming service, and more than a third said they like it when they can interact with ads.

For example, Spotify worked with Adidas on the “Nite Jogger” campaign where they created a custom digital experience that gleaned the “sonic traits” of listeners’ nighttime streaming activity to create a custom playlist unique to each individual. The campaign racked up 32.4 million impressions and over 9 million unique visitors.

“While brands of the past may have prioritized keeping an iron grip over their messaging, there’s a huge opportunity to connect with the next generation by handing the reins over to them and allowing them to customize their experience — especially in the space of audio,” said Jaoude.
 


CPJ calls on Iran to investigate if journalists are being targeted by Iranian forces

CPJ calls on Iran to investigate if journalists are being targeted by Iranian forces
Updated 30 September 2022

CPJ calls on Iran to investigate if journalists are being targeted by Iranian forces

CPJ calls on Iran to investigate if journalists are being targeted by Iranian forces
  • The call comes after a journalist in Iraqi Kurdistan was injured during Iranian strikes on the region

DUBAI: Kurdistan 24’s media team came under attack while covering Iranian drone and missile attacks on Iranian-Kurdish opposition parties based in the Kurdistan Region on Sept. 28, according to the broadcaster.

In a statement, the Erbil-based media company said that its correspondent Soran Kamaran was seriously injured, adding: “We reiterate that Kurdistan 24 is continuing its professional coverage of the events. And we hope all sides in the conflict avoid targeting journalists and media workers.”

The cameraman with Kamaran was not hurt, Kurdistan 24’s newsroom manager and anchor, Kovan Izzat, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). But, Kamaran was taken to a hospital in Erbil, where he underwent two surgeries, Izzat said.

The media watchdog has called on Iran to investigate if journalists are being targeted by Iranian forces.

“Iran’s drone strikes inevitably cause civilian casualties, including those of journalists documenting the attacks,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s MENA program coordinator. “Iranian and Kurdish authorities must take serious measures to avoid harming civilians and to hold anyone violating international law accountable.”

The Kurdistan Regional Government also strongly condemned the “repetitive (Iranian) violations of the sovereignty of the Kurdistan Region,” reported Kurdistan 24.

At least seven people have been killed and 24 injured as a result of Iran’s attacks, according to Dr. Saman Barzinji, the minister of health for the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.

On Sept. 28, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq said that “rocket diplomacy is a reckless act with devastating consequences,” adding that “these attacks need to cease immediately.”

CPJ could not find a contact for Kamaran’s family immediately. The organization reached out to the Iranian UN mission for comment but has not received a response.

 


TikTok launches Creator Hub program in UAE and Egypt

TikTok launches Creator Hub program in UAE and Egypt
Updated 29 September 2022

TikTok launches Creator Hub program in UAE and Egypt

TikTok launches Creator Hub program in UAE and Egypt
  • The new initiative aims to identify talented creators and connect them with the right mentors and skill-building experts
  • The annual competition requires creators to produce a creative content idea around a specific theme

DUBAI: TikTok has announced the launch of the inaugural TikTok Creator Hub program in the UAE and Egypt.

The new initiative aims to identify talented creators and connect them with the right mentors and skill-building experts to support and nurture their skills.

The annual competition requires creators to produce a creative content idea around a specific theme.

A group of judges, including top TikTok content creators from across the MENA region, will assess the skills of the creators and provide them with the required learning to help elevate their content, as well as advise them on their career as a creator.

Inspired by the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference of Parties — COP27 — held in Egypt in November, this year’s theme is climate change.

“With the launch of the inaugural edition of TikTok Creator Hub, we aim to generate awareness and advocacy around causes and pressing issues that touch the community, securing a dedicated destination for content creation and conversations focused on the most important societal issues of our time, such as climate change,” said Tarek Abdalla, regional general manager at TikTok Middle East, Africa, Turkiye, Pakistan and South Asia.

The theme also aligns with TikTok’s launch of the #ClimateAction program in support of COP27 in the MENA region, which is a campaign encouraging TikTok users to join the climate conversation.

The TikTok Creator Hub program is divided into three phases, which include online learning modules, a live training session and the judging process to name the winner of the competition.

Once the creators have been shortlisted, TikTok will host a welcome workshop in collaboration with celebrity creators to introduce them to the TikTok Creator Hub concept.

TikTok will also host a live training day, enabling creators to spend one live session with a creator mentor, ahead of their creation of a TikTok focused on climate change, which will be submitted for the judging process.

Lastly, the judges will choose the winning entries, which will be announced in November.

Creators living in the UAE and Egypt who would like to participate can visit the TikTok MENA Creator Hub website MENATikTokCreatorHub.com to register and share a 30-60 second video on why they want to be part of the program for a chance to be selected.

Registration closes on Oct. 10.


Brands blast Twitter for ads next to child pornography accounts

Brands blast Twitter for ads next to child pornography accounts
REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration/File Photo
Updated 29 September 2022

Brands blast Twitter for ads next to child pornography accounts

Brands blast Twitter for ads next to child pornography accounts
  • Mazda, Forbes and Dyson are among the brands to suspend their marketing campaigns on the platform

 

Some major advertisers including Dyson, Mazda, Forbes and PBS Kids have suspended their marketing campaigns or removed their ads from parts of Twitter because their promotions appeared alongside tweets soliciting child pornography, the companies told Reuters.

DIRECTV and Thoughtworks also told Reuters late on Wednesday they have paused their advertising on Twitter.

Brands ranging from Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), NBCUniversal (CMCSA.O) and Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) to a children's hospital were among more than 30 advertisers that appeared on the profile pages of Twitter accounts peddling links to the exploitative material, according to a Reuters review of accounts identified in new research about child sex abuse online from cybersecurity group Ghost Data.

Some of tweets include key words related to “rape” and “teens,” and appeared alongside promoted tweets from corporate advertisers, the Reuters review found. In one example, a promoted tweet for shoe and accessories brand Cole Haan appeared next to a tweet in which a user said they were “trading teen/child” content.

“We’re horrified,” David Maddocks, brand president at Cole Haan, told Reuters after being notified that the company’s ads appeared alongside such tweets. “Either Twitter is going to fix this, or we’ll fix it by any means we can, which includes not buying Twitter ads.”

In another example, a user tweeted searching for content of “Yung girls ONLY, NO Boys,” which was immediately followed by a promoted tweet for Texas-based Scottish Rite Children's Hospital. Scottish Rite did not return multiple requests for comment.

In a statement, Twitter spokesperson Celeste Carswell said the company “has zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation” and is investing more resources dedicated to child safety, including hiring for new positions to write policy and implement solutions.

She added that Twitter is working closely with its advertising clients and partners to investigate and take steps to prevent the situation from happening again.

Twitter’s challenges in identifying child abuse content were first reported in an investigation by tech news site The Verge in late August. The emerging pushback from advertisers that are critical to Twitter’s revenue stream is reported here by Reuters for the first time.

Like all social media platforms, Twitter bans depictions of child sexual exploitation, which are illegal in most countries. But it permits adult content generally and is home to a thriving exchange of pornographic imagery, which comprises about 13 percent of all content on Twitter, according to an internal company document seen by Reuters.

Twitter declined to comment on the volume of adult content on the platform.

Ghost Data identified the more than 500 accounts that openly shared or requested child sexual abuse material over a 20-day period this month. Twitter failed to remove more than 70 percent of the accounts during the study period, according to the group, which shared the findings exclusively with Reuters.

Reuters could not independently confirm the accuracy of Ghost Data’s finding in full, but reviewed dozens of accounts that remained online and were soliciting materials for "13+" and “young looking nudes.”

After Reuters shared a sample of 20 accounts with Twitter last Thursday, the company removed about 300 additional accounts from the network, but more than 100 others still remained on the site the following day, according to Ghost Data and a Reuters review.

Reuters then on Monday shared the full list of more than 500 accounts after it was furnished by Ghost Data, which Twitter reviewed and permanently suspended for violating its rules, said Twitter’s Carswell on Tuesday.

In an email to advertisers on Wednesday morning, ahead of the publication of this story, Twitter said it “discovered that ads were running within Profiles that were involved with publicly selling or soliciting child sexual abuse material.”

Andrea Stroppa, the founder of Ghost Data, said the study was an attempt to assess Twitter’s ability to remove the material. He said he personally funded the research after receiving a tip about the topic.

Twitter’s transparency reports on its website show it suspended more than 1 million accounts last year for child sexual exploitation.

It made about 87,000 reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a government-funded non-profit that facilitates information sharing with law enforcement, according to that organization's annual report.

“Twitter needs to fix this problem ASAP, and until they do, we are going to cease any further paid activity on Twitter,” said a spokesperson for Forbes.

“There is no place for this type of content online,” a spokesperson for carmaker Mazda USA said in a statement to Reuters, adding that in response, the company is now prohibiting its ads from appearing on Twitter profile pages.

A Disney spokesperson called the content “reprehensible” and said they are “doubling-down on our efforts to ensure that the digital platforms on which we advertise, and the media buyers we use, strengthen their efforts to prevent such errors from recurring.”

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola, which had a promoted tweet appear on an account tracked by the researchers, said it did not condone the material being associated with its brand and said “any breach of these standards is unacceptable and taken very seriously.”

NBCUniversal said it has asked Twitter to remove the ads associated with the inappropriate content.

CODE WORDS

Twitter is hardly alone in grappling with moderation failures related to child safety online. Child welfare advocates say the number of known child sexual abuse images has soared from thousands to tens of millions in recent years, as predators have used social networks including Meta’s Facebook and Instagram to groom victims and exchange explicit images.

For the accounts identified by Ghost Data, nearly all the traders of child sexual abuse material marketed the materials on Twitter, then instructed buyers to reach them on messaging services such as Discord and Telegram in order to complete payment and receive the files, which were stored on cloud storage services like New Zealand-based Mega and US-based Dropbox, according to the group’s report.

A Discord spokesperson said the company had banned one server and one user for violating its rules against sharing links or content that sexualize children.

Mega said a link referenced in the Ghost Data report was created in early August and soon after deleted by the user, which it declined to identify. Mega said it permanently closed the user's account two days later.

Dropbox and Telegram said they use a variety of tools to moderate content but did not provide additional detail on how they would respond to the report.

Still the reaction from advertisers poses a risk to Twitter’s business, which earns more than 90 percent of its revenue by selling digital advertising placements to brands seeking to market products to the service's 237 million daily active users.

Twitter is also battling in court Tesla CEO and billionaire Elon Musk, who is attempting to back out of a $44 billion deal to buy the social media company over complaints about the prevalence of spam accounts and its impact on the business.

A team of Twitter employees concluded in a report dated February 2021 that the company needed more investment to identify and remove child exploitation material at scale, noting the company had a backlog of cases to review for possible reporting to law enforcement.

“While the amount of (child sexual exploitation content) has grown exponentially, Twitter’s investment in technologies to detect and manage the growth has not,” according to the report, which was prepared by an internal team to provide an overview about the state of child exploitation material on Twitter and receive legal advice on the proposed strategies.

“Recent reports about Twitter provide an outdated, moment in time glance at just one aspect of our work in this space, and is not an accurate reflection of where we are today,” Carswell said.

The traffickers often use code words such as “cp” for child pornography and are “intentionally as vague as possible,” to avoid detection, according to the internal documents.

The more that Twitter cracks down on certain keywords, the more that users are nudged to use obfuscated text, which “tend to be harder for (Twitter) to automate against,” the documents said.

Ghost Data’s Stroppa said that such tricks would complicate efforts to hunt down the materials, but noted that his small team of five researchers and no access to Twitter’s internal resources was able to find hundreds of accounts within 20 days.

Twitter did not respond to a request for further comment.


BBC announces job losses at World Service

BBC announces job losses at World Service
Updated 29 September 2022

BBC announces job losses at World Service

BBC announces job losses at World Service
  • The BBC said its international services needed to make savings of £28.5 million as part of wider reductions of £500 million
  • Radio services in Arabic, Persian, Kyrgyz, Hindi, Bengali, Chinese, Indonesian, Tamil and Urdu will stop, if the proposals are approved by staff and unions

LONDON: Nearly 400 staff at BBC World Service will lose their jobs as part of a cost-cutting program and move to digital platforms, the broadcaster announced on Thursday.
The BBC said its international services needed to make savings of £28.5 million ($31 million) as part of wider reductions of £500 million.
In July it detailed plans to merge BBC World News television and its domestic UK equivalent into a single channel to launch in April next year.
BBC World Service currently operates in 40 languages around the world with a weekly audience of some 364 million people.
But the corporation said audience habits were changing and more people were accessing news online, which along with a freeze on BBC funding and increased operating costs meant a move to “digital-first” made financial sense.
“Today’s proposals entail a net total of around 382 post closures,” it said in an online statement.
Eleven language services — Azerbaijani, Brasil, Marathi, Mundo, Punjabi, Russian, Serbian, Sinhala, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese — are already digital only.
Under the restructuring plans they will be joined by seven more: Chinese, Gujarati, Igbo, Indonesian, Pidgin, Urdu and Yoruba.
Radio services in Arabic, Persian, Kyrgyz, Hindi, Bengali, Chinese, Indonesian, Tamil and Urdu will stop, if the proposals are approved by staff and unions.
No language services will close, the broadcaster insisted, although some production will move out of London.
The Thai service will move to Bangkok, the Korean service to Seoul and the Bangla service to Dhaka.
The “Focus on Africa” television bulletin will be broadcast from Nairobi, it added.
BBC World Service director Liliane Landor said there was a “compelling case” for expanding digital services, as audiences had more than doubled since 2018.
“The way audiences are accessing news and content is changing and the challenge of reaching and engaging people around the world with quality, trusted journalism is growing,” she added.
BBC World Service is funded out of the UK license fee — currently £159 for a color TV and payable by every household with a television set.
The BBC has faced increasing claims from right-wingers since the UK’s divisive Brexit referendum in 2016 of political bias, and pushing a “woke,” London-centric liberal agenda.
But it has faced similar accusations of political bias in favor of the right from the left.
The government announced a freeze on the license fee earlier this year, in what was seen as a brazen attack on a cherished British institution.
But ministers claimed the funding model needed to be revised because of technological changes, including the uptake of streaming services.
Rival commercial broadcasters have long complained that the guaranteed funding is unfair.