Hamas issues, then rescinds, sweeping rules on Gaza coverage

Video journalists and photographers work as Mufid Hassayneh, Palestinian minister of public works, center, speaks during a cornerstone ceremony for rebuilding Zafer 4 Tower in Gaza, in the northern Gaza Strip, on Feb. 18, 2015. (AP)
Video journalists and photographers work as Mufid Hassayneh, Palestinian minister of public works, center, speaks during a cornerstone ceremony for rebuilding Zafer 4 Tower in Gaza, in the northern Gaza Strip, on Feb. 18, 2015. (AP)
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Updated 10 August 2022

Hamas issues, then rescinds, sweeping rules on Gaza coverage

Hamas issues, then rescinds, sweeping rules on Gaza coverage
  • The Foreign Press Association, which represents international media, including The Associated Press, said the guidelines were rescinded after discussions with authorities in Gaza

TEL AVIV, Israel: Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers issued sweeping new restrictions on journalists after the recent conflict there, but then rescinded them, a group representing foreign media in Israel and the Palestinian territories said Tuesday.
Palestinians who work with foreign journalists were first informed of the new rules earlier this week in messages sent by the Hamas-run Interior Ministry. They were ordered not to report on Gazans killed by misfired Palestinian rockets or the military capabilities of Palestinian armed groups, and were told to blame Israel for the recent escalation.
The Foreign Press Association, which represents international media, including The Associated Press, said the guidelines were rescinded after discussions with authorities in Gaza.
The FPA said in a statement that “such a move would have constituted a severe, unacceptable and unjustifiable restriction on the freedom of the press, as well as the safety of our colleagues in Gaza,“
Salama Marouf, director of the government media office in Gaza, confirmed the reversal. “There are no restrictions,” he said. “We welcome all foreign journalists and media into Gaza and we call on them to come.”
The rules would have gone much further than existing Hamas restrictions. They appeared aimed at imposing the Islamic militant group’s narrative on media coverage of the conflict by implicitly threatening Palestinian reporters and translators who live under its heavy-handed rule.
Even if the rules are officially withdrawn, Hamas has still signaled its expectations, which could have a chilling effect on critical coverage.
In the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both sides have attempted to impose their narratives and limit negative coverage. Israel, which portrays itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, has a military censor who sometimes imposes gag orders. Israeli authorities also restrict media access to military activities and the country’s nuclear program.
Hamas’ attempt this week to muzzle the foreign media came after it sat out the latest conflict with Israel. The decision to stay on the sidelines likely reflects Hamas’ desire to preserve economic understandings with Israel that have somewhat eased a 15-year blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Hamas takeover.
After a Gaza cease-fire took hold Monday, following three days of fighting between Israel and Hamas’ smaller sister group Islamic Jihad, the Interior Ministry distributed a written copy of the rules to Palestinians applying for entry permits on behalf of foreign media outlets, with instructions to communicate them to the foreign journalists in their “own local way.”
Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in 2007 from rival Palestinian forces, requires all visiting reporters to have a local sponsor — usually a Palestinian journalist or translator hired by the news outlet.
Under the now rescinded restrictions, sponsors were told they must accompany the journalists during their reporting and will be held responsible for what they produce. The sponsors were warned that they must “demonstrate national spirit, defend the Palestinian narrative and reject the foreigner’s bias to the Israeli narrative.”
They would have also been required to inform Hamas of “any suspicious behavior or illogical questions” outside the scope of journalistic work, and to submit a full report to Hamas of what the journalists did in Gaza, in addition to links to all published works.
The guidelines appeared to suggest that writing about forbidden topics like the rocket misfires — or about the media guidelines themselves — could have led to the revocation of local sponsorship. For a Palestinian journalist in Gaza, that would have meant the loss of vital income in a blockaded territory where unemployment hovers around 50 percent.
In many respects, Gaza became a much safer place for reporters after the Hamas takeover, when the group imposed order and put an end to kidnappings and factional violence. But as Hamas consolidated control — and went on to fight four wars and countless smaller battles with Israel — it steadily imposed more and more restrictions on media.
In recent years, Hamas has required journalists to apply for advance approval to film in certain locations, such as the Gaza fishing port, the beach and the gold market.
Hamas has also barred Palestinians from working for Israeli media or providing services to them. Palestinians are also barred from giving interviews to Israeli outlets.


Apple: Most iCloud data can now be end-to-end encrypted

Apple: Most iCloud data can now be end-to-end encrypted
Updated 11 sec ago

Apple: Most iCloud data can now be end-to-end encrypted

Apple: Most iCloud data can now be end-to-end encrypted
  • The world’s most valuable company has long placed customer security and privacy at a premium

BOSTON: As part of an ongoing privacy push, Apple said Wednesday it will now offer full end-to-encryption for nearly all the data its users store in its global cloud-based storage system. That will make it more difficult for hackers, spies and law enforcement agencies to access sensitive user information.
The world’s most valuable company has long placed customer security and privacy at a premium. Its iMessage and Facetime communications services are fully encrypted end-to-end and it has sometimes locked horns with law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, over its refusal to unlock devices.
But nearly everything that customers backed up remotely using Apple’s iCloud service — including photos, videos and chats — has not been protected by encryption. That made it far easier for crooks, spies — and criminal investigators with court orders — to get at it.
No longer. The loophole that law enforcement had for getting at iPhone data will now be considerably narrowed.
Apple, which is based in Cupertino, California, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the timing of the announcement and other issues. Nor did the FBI immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Cybersecurity experts have long argued that attempts by law enforcement to weaken encryption with backdoors are ill-advised because they would inherently make the Internet less reliable and more dangerous.
Last year, Apple announced, then withdrew after a flood of objections, a plan to scan iPhones for photos of child sexual abuse.
“Where Apple was hesitant about deploying encryption features last year ... it now feels like they’ve decided to put the gas pedal down,” noted Johns Hopkins cryptography professor Matthew Green on Twitter.
Apple’s encryption announcement offers what the company calls Advanced Data Protection, to which users of its devices must opt in. It adds iCloud Backup, Notes and Photos to data categories that are already protected by end-to-end encryption in the cloud, including health data and passwords. Not included in the iCloud encryption scheme are email, contacts and calendar items because they must interoperate with products from other vendors, Apple said.
It said Advanced Data Protection for iCloud would be available to US users by the end of the year and start rolling out to the rest of the world in early 2023.
In a blog post, Apple said “enhanced security for users’ data in the cloud is more urgently needed than ever,” citing research that says data breaches have more than tripled over the past eight years.
Other tech products that already offer end-to-end encryption include the world’s most popular messaging app, WhatsApp, and Signal, a communications app prized by journalists, dissidents, human rights activists and other dealers in sensitive data.
Apple announced a few other advanced security features on Wednesday, including one geared toward journalists, human rights activists and government officials who “face extraordinary digital threats” — such as from no-click spyware. Called iMessage Contact Key Verification, it will automatically alert users to eavesdroppers who succeed in inserting a new device into their iCloud via a breach.
In July, Apple announced a new optional feature called Lockdown Mode that is designed to protect iPhones and its other products against intrusions from state-backed hackers and commercial spyware.
Apple said at the time that it believed the extra layer of protection would be valuable to targets of hacking attacks launched by well-funded groups.
Users are able to activate and deactivate lockdown mode at will.


New York Times braces for 24-hour newsroom strike

New York Times braces for 24-hour newsroom strike
Updated 5 min 1 sec ago

New York Times braces for 24-hour newsroom strike

New York Times braces for 24-hour newsroom strike
  • The NewsGuild said management has been “dragging its feet” bargaining for nearly two years

NEW YORK: The New York Times is bracing for a 24-hour walkout Thursday by hundreds of journalists and other employees, in what would be the first strike of its kind at the newspaper in more than 40 years.
Newsroom employees and other members of The NewsGuild of New York say they are fed up with bargaining that has dragged on since their last contract expired in March 2021. The union announced last week that more than 1,100 employees would stage a 24-hour work stoppage starting at 12:01 a.m. Thursday unless the two sides reach a contract deal.
Negotiations lasted for more than 12 hours into late Tuesday and continued Wednesday, but the sides remained far apart on issues including wage increases and remote-work policies.
“It’s looking very likely that we are walking on Thursday,” said Stacy Cowley, a finance reporter and union representative. “There is still a pretty wide gulf between us on both economic and a number of issues.”
It was unclear how the day’s coverage would be affected, but the strike’s supporters include members of the fast-paced live-news desk, which covers breaking news for the digital paper. Employees are planning a rally for Thursday afternoon outside the newspaper’s offices near Times Square.
New York Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha told The Associated Press that the company has “solid plans in place” to continue producing content, that include relying on international reporters and other journalists who are not union members.
“While we are disappointed that the NewsGuild is threatening to strike, we are prepared to ensure The Times continues to serve our readers without disruption,” Rhoades Ha said in separate statement.
In a note sent to Guild-represented staff Tuesday night, Deputy Managing Editor Cliff Levy called the planned strike “puzzling” and “an unsettling moment in negotiations over a new contract.” He said it would be the first strike by the bargaining unit since 1981 and “comes despite intensifying efforts by the company to make progress.”
But in a letter signed by more than 1,000 employees, the NewsGuild said management has been “dragging its feet” bargaining for nearly two years and “time is running out to reach a fair contract” by the end of the year.
The NewsGuild also said the company told employees planning to strike they would not get paid for the duration of the walkout. Members were also asked to work extra hours get work done ahead of the strike, according to the union.
The New York Times has seen other, shorter walkouts in recent years, including a half-day protest in August by a new union representing technology workers who claimed unfair labor practices.
In one breakthrough that both sides called significant, the company backed off its proposal to replace the existing adjustable pension plan with an enhanced 401 (k) retirement plan. The Times offered instead to let the union choose between the two. The company also agreed to expand fertility treatment benefits.
Levy said the company has also offered to raise wages by 5.5 percent upon ratification of the contract, followed by 3 percent increases in 2023 and 2024. That would be an increase from the 2.2 percent annual increases in the expired contract.
Cowley said the union is seeking 10 percent pay raises at ratification, which she said would make up for the pay raises not received over the past two years.
She also said the union wants the contract to guarantee employees the option to work remotely some of the time, if their roles allow for it, but the company wants the right to recall workers to the office full time. Cowley said the Times has required its staff to be in office three days a week but many have been showing up fewer days in an informal protest.


Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit
Updated 37 min 30 sec ago

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit
  • Wen Zongduo expresses gratitude for hospitality shown by “impressive” Saudi capital Riyadh 
  • Veteran Chinese journalist is in Saudi Arabia to cover President Xi’s landmark visit to the Kingdom

RIYADH: A veteran Chinese journalist, who is in the Kingdom to cover President Xi Jinping’s landmark visit, says he is overwhelmed by the warmth of Saudi hospitality and the rapid pace of development of the Saudi capital.

“This is my first visit. I had been eager to come over for years now,” Wen Zongduo, managing editor of China’s leading English-language newspaper China Daily, told Arab News.

“I am very grateful to Saudi officials and diplomats. They provided all help to me and my team to come over to Saudi Arabia, working extra hours on their weekend. Their devotion to work and the assistance they extended to us touched me and my team members.

Wen Zongduo, managing editor of China Daily, with Noor Nugali, assistant editor in chief of Arab News, and other Arab News staff. (AN Photo)

“I must say that Riyadh city is impressive. I can see many high-rise buildings here, with more coming up. It seems the city is going through a period of massive new construction. To me, it seems Riyadh is getting an altogether new life. The Boulevard World, a premier entertainment zone that has many elements from other countries, has just been finished.

“It seems to me that Riyadh is an inclusive city. It is introducing different elements from all over the world in order to make residents’ lives better and exciting and make Riyadh more attractive. These developments I find very impressive.”

Praising the local people for showing great hospitality, Wen told Arab News: “The residents of Riyadh have been kind, generous and helpful…Wherever I have been, everyone has been very helpful.”

Commenting on President Xi’s visit, Wen described it as very important from the standpoint of Chinese news media.

“The summits are significant, especially when our world needs the efforts of all countries, including China, Saudi Arabia and other countries that are facing the same challenges. We are going through a difficult period, which means every country has a responsibility to humanity,” he told Arab News.

According to Wen, instead of arms sales and launching wars, the world needs more efforts to achieve sustainable development, especially when billions of people in the developing world are already experiencing difficulties related to climate change.

There will be three summits in the Kingdom during the visit. (AFP)

“The decision of China and the Arab states to come together in this difficult time is very good news for the entire world,” Wen told Arab News.

“This is also because China and Arab states have been good partners and friends for a very long time…We have every reason to continue and do more for the world in this difficult time.”

President Xi arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday for a three-day visit during which he will meet Saudi, Gulf and Arab leaders.

Three summits will take place while he is in the Kingdom: the Saudi-Chinese summit, the Riyadh Gulf-China Summit for Cooperation and Development, and the Riyadh Arab-China Summit for Cooperation and Development.

The Chinese president’s visit reflects the desire of Saudi Arabia and China to strengthen their bilateral ties, enhance their strategic partnership, and realize the relationship’s full political and economic potential in order to advance their common interests.

More than 20 initial agreements between the two countries, worth over SR110 billion ($29.3 billion), will be signed during the presidential visit. Also on the agenda are a strategic partnership deal and a plan to harmonize the implementation of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development and diversification project with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.


Podcasts: The future of media in the Arab world?

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 07 December 2022

Podcasts: The future of media in the Arab world?

Photo/Shutterstock
  • As the sector evolves and grows, the introduction of video to podcasting might just be just the push the audio industry needs to propel it to ever-greater heights
  • It is not a question of ‘leaving audio behind,’ said one expert; video is ‘unlocking further potential for the content to reach new realms, creatively, and for more people to access the content’

Arabs are among the biggest consumers of media around the world, with many spending hours each day watching and listening to their various devices, from TVs to smartphones.

In the region, Saudis spend the most time watching TV, averaging 5.2 hours a day, followed by Emiratis on 4.2 hours, according to a report by the consultancy Strategy&.

Moreover, it found that Saudis on average spend 14.2 hours a day engaging with various types of media channels. However, long periods spent staring at devices can result in screen fatigue, which is perhaps a reason for growth of alternative media formats, such as podcasts.

“(A podcast) is an easily consumable content (format) and, most importantly, it offers a screen-less alternative to social media and doom scrolling,” Ramsey Tesdell, the CEO of Jordan-based podcast network Sowt Media, told Arab News.

There are estimated to be more than 10 million podcast listeners in the Middle East and North Africa region, who listen to an average of between five and seven hours of podcasts a week, according to Bella Ibrahim, marketing director of regional podcasting company the Kerning Cultures Network. The biggest markets are in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, she added, but other countries in the region are following suit. 

The rise of new creators and development of improved technologies have helped to create a burgeoning podcast ecosystem, with special events such as “Ignite the Sound” in Saudi Arabia, and “Sada” and “Podfest” in the UAE, bringing creators together.

Statistics reveal the growth in popularity of the medium in the region and internationally. According to Strategy&, 18.4 percent of Saudis listen to podcasts more than once a week. Globally, Spotify said that podcast engagement on its platform has grown from less than seven percent in 2018 to 30 percent this year.

Although podcasting is still a relatively new medium, the ideas and traditions it emerged from are not.

“Audio has always been part of our lives,” Rhea Chedid, a senior podcast manager at Spotify MENA, told Arab News. “The Arab world has a long history of oral storytelling, and podcasts are a continuation of that.”

Still, podcast listenership remains relatively low compared with the popularity of social media and video streaming. And so despite the clear benefits offered by audio content, including hands-free, screenless entertainment, video is, perhaps inevitably, increasingly becoming a pervasive part of the podcast scene.

“Video is an important aspect of entertainment and podcasts will adapt to that as well,” Tesdell said.

Spotify, for example, first flirted with the idea of adding video to podcasts in 2020 during limited tests, after which it rolled out video-podcast options to selected creators through Anchor, a podcast creation and distribution platform it acquired in 2019. Last month, it expanded it video-podcasting capabilities to most global markets in which Anchor is available, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Does that mean the days of the audio-only podcast might be numbered already? Experts say that this is not the way to look at it.

“It’s not a question about audio or video, or leaving audio behind,” said Chedid. Instead, video is “unlocking further potential for the content to reach new realms, creatively, and for more people to access the content they want, in the way they want.”

Moreover, people consume a variety of content types throughout the day, which means that they are not necessarily choosing video over audio.

“The more people there are consuming audio, no matter the format, is a good thing,” Tesdell said.

Videos have been around as a source of online entertainment much longer than audio podcasts — from the early days of YouTube to the new breed of short and snappy footage on sites such as TikTok and Instagram. As a result, distribution and monetization tools are well-developed across video platforms and creators are more familiar with the format, Tesdell added.

In fact, though it might appear counterintuitive, some experts suggest that video might very well be the factor that propels the podcast industry to greater heights.

Spotify, for example, said it has already seen strong adoption of video by podcast creators in markets where it is available, said Chedid.

Video can also serve as a marketing and promotional tool for podcasters, Ibrahim said, but she cautioned: “With all the buzz around video, it’s worth noting that not all podcasts should be forced into being video podcasts. It’s a great format for talk shows but less so for narrative or fiction shows.”

So, do podcasts represent the future of media in the Arab world? Ibrahim certainly believes so.

“Absolutely; the medium of audio storytelling creates a very intimate listening experience,” she said.

Tesdell and Chedid are also optimistic about the future of podcasting but view it more as an increasingly significant part of the wider media ecosystem rather than its future.

“Podcasts will play an important and significant role in the development of Arab media,” Tesdell said.

Chedid added: “Podcasts will be part of the future of media in the Arab world, just like they have become globally.”

 

 


‘Refs for Change’ makes first female referees at men’s World Cup messengers for empowerment

Photo/Supplied
Photo/Supplied
Updated 07 December 2022

‘Refs for Change’ makes first female referees at men’s World Cup messengers for empowerment

Photo/Supplied
  • As part of the campaign, every time a female World Cup ref blows the whistle, Moroccan nonprofit organization MALI tweets about achievements of women pioneers in male-dominated fields
  • The first women to officiate at a men’s World Cup have a ‘unique opportunity to draw attention to the patriarchal system, to male domination and male violence against women’ the organization said

DUBAI: In a groundbreaking move at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, three female referees were, for the first time in the 92-year history of the men’s competition, selected to officiate matches: Stephanie Frappart, Yamashita Yoshimi and Salima Mukansang.

Mouvement Alternatif pour les Libertes Individuelles, a Morocco-based nonprofit organization, decided to use this historic occasion to raise awareness and spark conversations about women’s issues through its “Refs for Change” campaign.

MALI launched its initiative on Nov. 25, coinciding with the start of UN Women’s campaign “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence,” which calls for an end to violence against women and girls.

As part of “Refs for Change,” every time a female referee blows the whistle during a World Cup match, MALI tweets in real time to highlight the achievements of women who are or were pioneers in other male-dominated fields.

“Every day, women across the world make great strides and pioneer in different fields that for a long time were reserved only for men,” said MALI spokesperson and activist Ibtissame Lachgar.

“At the same time, women across the world are subjected to different types of violence. The press often turns a blind eye, causing both groups to remain largely unknown.

“Being pioneers themselves, the first-ever female referees in a men’s World Cup have the unique opportunity to draw attention to the patriarchal system, to male domination and male violence against women through the power of their whistle.”

MALI’s tweets aim to do more than simply raise awareness. They also invite Twitter users to engage in conversation and debate about topics such as women’s rights and gender-based violence, and serve as call for donations to help empower women across the Middle East and North Africa region.

By tweeting in real time during World Cup matches, MALI said it aims to shift the spotlight from men to women who would otherwise never get global attention.

“Transforming female referees and their whistles into messengers of change is a powerful way to hijack the conversation during the World Cup and shine a spotlight on striking statistics that would otherwise remain in the shadows,” said Walid Kanaan, the chief creative officer at TBWA\RAAD, the creative agency that worked on the campaign. It marks the third consecutive year in which the agency has partnered with MALI.