Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation

Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation
Representatives of various Turkish journalists’ associations, wearing black face masks, gathered outside parliament in Ankara and in Istanbul to protest the bill. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 October 2022

Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation

Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation
  • Turkey is debating a controversial draft law the government says is aimed at combating fake news and disinformation
  • Critics believe that the law is yet another attempt to stifle freedom of expression

ANKARA: Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday began debating a highly controversial draft law the government says is aimed at combating fake news and disinformation, but which critics denounce as yet another attempt to stifle freedom of expression.
The 40-article piece of legislation amends multiple laws governing press, advertising and social media. The most controversial change is an amendment to the press law that would criminalize the spreading of “fake news” with a sentence of up to three years in prison.
Critics, including opposition lawmakers and non-governmental organizations, say the law is too vague and could potentially be abused by the government to further crack down on independent journalism, especially media that has developed on the Internet. The government already controls most major news outlets and has been named among the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.
Representatives of various Turkish journalists’ associations, wearing black face masks, gathered outside parliament in Ankara, urging legislators not to approve the law, which was submitted to parliament in May.
“As journalists, in line with our responsibility to society, we once again warn both legislators and the public: If this law is implemented in this form, there will be no freedom of press, expression and communication in our country,” said Kemal Aktas, head of the Parliamentary Correspondents’ Association.
Main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu claimed in a speech on Tuesday that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which faces elections in June, introduced the changes to prevent the dissemination of allegations of corruption against the government.
In the assembly, some opposition legislators held up posters that read: “No to the censorship law!”
“With the government’s proposal, press freedoms and freedom of speech are being eradicated,” said Musavat Dervisoglu, a legislator from the opposition center-right Good Party. “Our citizens are being deprived of their right to information.”
“I am curious, for what reason is our country being dragged into George Orwell’s ‘1984’ dystopia,” he said, in reference to the 1949 novel in which the government controls information.
International media freedom organizations have also called for the dismissal of the bill, saying it puts millions of Internet users at risk of criminal action for online posts the government disagrees with, could become a tool “for harassing journalists and activists” and could lead to self-censorship.
“Disinformation is an important issue and needs to be combated but not at the price of restricting journalists’ rights and the public’s rights of freedom of expression,” the groups, including PEN and the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in June.
Article 29 of the bill is an amendment to the Turkish penal code mandating one to three years in prison for spreading information that is “contrary to the truth” about Turkey’s domestic and international security, public order and health for the alleged purpose of causing “public worry, fear and panic.” The sentence can be increased by a half if that crime is committed by an anonymous user or as part of an illegal organization.
Erdogan has argued for a law to combat disinformation, saying fake news and rising “digital fascism” is a national and global security issue.
The proposal, put forth by his ruling Justice and Development Party and its nationalist ally, says fake news and its dissemination, or disinformation, pose a “serious threat” by preventing people from accessing the truth, while also undermining freedom of expression and information by “abusing certain freedoms.”
The proposal also says the Internet allows ill-intentioned users to hide their identities for illegal acts and posts such as slander, hate speech and discrimination, therefore requiring regulation. It says the state has the obligation to protect rights and freedoms, especially for people whose rights were violated online.
Ahmet Ozdemir, a legislator from Erdogan’s party who helped draft the legislation, rejected accusations that the proposed changes amount to censorship.
“No freedom can be without limits,” Ozdemir told parliament. “We tried to protect freedoms as much as possible by taking precautions to prevent these freedoms from harming other people’s freedoms.”


Israeli extremists harass France24 reporter during live coverage

Israeli extremists harass France24 reporter during live coverage
Updated 26 November 2022

Israeli extremists harass France24 reporter during live coverage

Israeli extremists harass France24 reporter during live coverage
  • Video shows Palestinian Laila Odeh surrounded by people chanting anti-Arab slogans

LONDON: France24 correspondent Laila Odeh was harassed and verbally attacked by Israeli extremists as she spoke Arabic during live coverage from West Jerusalem on Wednesday.
A video of the incident shows the Palestinian journalist being heckled while covering the recent bomb attacks that took place in West Jerusalem.
The reporter was broadcasting live from Givat Shaul, one of the blast sites, when about 30 people tried to interrupt the live coverage.
In the video, Odeh is seen exchanging some words with a group of young people before they start surrounding the crew, stepping in front of the camera to block the broadcast.
“Excuse me, we’re live,” she said, to which one of the people replied: “I don’t care.” Odeh added: “You’re annoying me. Move away from here.”

 

 

Then the video shows her engaging in a verbal exchange before people around her started chanting anti-Arab slogans, forcing Odeh to cut the broadcast.
Some people in the group shouted “Death to Arabs”, “Arabs go to Russia” and “This is an Arab explosion.”
According to reports published by France24 following the incident, after the live broadcast people shouted to Odeh to “go to Gaza,” continued their insults and increased their aggressive behavior. France24 also reported that some people punched its cameraman and broke the camera tripod.
This is not the first time Odeh has been targeted by Israeli extremists. She was hit on the head and verbally abused while covering the Israeli nationalist Flag March in Jerusalem in May.
On Wednesday, Israeli police said bombs were detonated at two bus stops in West Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul and Ramot junctions, killing one Israeli and injuring 14 people, three of them seriously.
While no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, Israeli authorities imposed a broadcast ban on the investigation.

 


Elon Musk says Twitter’s ban on Trump after Capitol attack was ‘grave mistake’

This file combination photo shows Elon Musk (L) listening to US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington. (AFP)
This file combination photo shows Elon Musk (L) listening to US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington. (AFP)
Updated 26 November 2022

Elon Musk says Twitter’s ban on Trump after Capitol attack was ‘grave mistake’

This file combination photo shows Elon Musk (L) listening to US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington. (AFP)
  • Twitter said it permanently suspended him because of the risk of further incitement of violence following the storming of the Capitol

WASHINGTON: Twitter’s ban on then President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by his supporters was a “grave mistake” that had to be corrected, Chief Executive Elon Musk said on Friday, although he also stated that incitement to violence would continue to be prohibited on Twitter.
“I’m fine with Trump not tweeting. The important thing is that Twitter correct a grave mistake in banning his account, despite no violation of the law or terms of service,” Musk said in a tweet. “Deplatforming a sitting President undermined public trust in Twitter for half of America.”
Last week, Musk announced the reactivation of Trump’s account after a slim majority voted in a Twitter poll in favor of reinstating Trump, who said, however, that he had no interest in returning to Twitter. He added he would stick with his own social media site Truth Social, the app developed by Trump Media & Technology Group.
Republican Trump, who 10 days ago announced he was running for election again in 2024, was banned on Jan. 8, 2021, from Twitter under its previous owners.
At the time, Twitter said it permanently suspended him because of the risk of further incitement of violence following the storming of the Capitol. The results of the November 2020 presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden were being certified by lawmakers when the Capitol was attacked after weeks of false claims by Trump that he had won.
Trump repeatedly used Twitter and other sites to falsely claim there had been widespread voter fraud, and had urged supporters to march on the Capitol in Washington to protest.
The attack is being investigated by US prosecutors and a congressional committee.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday on Musk’s statement that Trump did not violate any Twitter terms of service when his account was suspended.
Earlier on Friday, Musk tweeted that calling for violence or incitement to violence on Twitter would result in suspension, after saying on Thursday that Twitter would provide a “general amnesty” to suspended accounts that had not broken the law or engaged in spam.
Replying to a tweet, Musk said it was “very concerning” that Twitter had taken no action earlier to remove some accounts related to the far-left Antifa movement. In response to another tweet asking if Musk considered the statement “trans people deserve to die” as worthy of suspension from the platform, the billionaire said: “Absolutely.”
Change and chaos have marked Musk’s first few weeks as Twitter’s owner. He has fired top managers and it was announced that senior officials in charge of security and privacy had quit.

 


More security for UK-based Iran International after threats

More security for UK-based Iran International after threats
Updated 25 November 2022

More security for UK-based Iran International after threats

More security for UK-based Iran International after threats
  • Concrete barriers have been erected
  • Last week, London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed that armed police vehicles had been deployed outside the TV studios

LONDON: The Iran International TV channel on Friday said that further security measures have been put in place around its London offices after threats from the regime in Tehran.
Concrete barriers have been erected similar to those at key government buildings and tourist spots in the British capital, to prevent vehicle attacks.
The barriers were “guaranteed to stop a 7.5 ton truck at 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour,” a spokesman for the Persian-language channel said.
Vehicle access in and around the site would also be controlled and checks carried out, he added.
The threats were an escalation of years of intimidation because of its broadcasting of protests in Iran, the spokesman told AFP.
“We’re the only channel running 24/7 coverage of the protests,” he said.
But he added: “We’re not the voice of the protests. We’re the only means that people in Iran can see them.”
The spokesman, who asked not to be identified, stressed that Iran International was not an opposition channel and its staff were not activists.
“We were set up as a service for people in Iran and the diaspora,” he said.
Last week, London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed that armed police vehicles had been deployed outside the TV studios.
That followed “severe and credible” death threats against two of its UK-based journalists from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The UK government promptly hauled in Iran’s highest-ranking diplomat to the country for a dressing-down.
MI5, the UK domestic intelligence agency, has uncovered at least 10 plots by Iran to kill UK-based individuals deemed to be “enemies of the regime” so far this year, its boss said last week.
The channel employs about 100 staff in London, whose coverage of the protests largely involves sifting through and verifying social media content of the demonstrations.
Iranian staff were “more anxious” than panicked about the threats and more worried about the safety of their families back home, as well as the wider impact of the protests, said the spokesman for the channel.
“We all don’t know what the hell is going to happen. That’s stressful,” he said.


Musk announces gold, gray and blue badges for Twitter accounts

Musk announces gold, gray and blue badges for Twitter accounts
Updated 25 November 2022

Musk announces gold, gray and blue badges for Twitter accounts

Musk announces gold, gray and blue badges for Twitter accounts
  • CEO apologized for the delay and said users verification coming back next week

SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter’s billionaire owner Elon Musk announced Friday that the platform would be launching differently colored badges to distinguish between accounts.
“Sorry for the delay, we’re tentatively launching Verified on Friday next week,” he tweeted.
“Gold check for companies, grey check for government, blue for individuals (celebrity or not) and all verified accounts will be manually authenticated before check activates.”
In another tweet, Musk said that all verified individual accounts would have the same blue check, but some would eventually be able to display a “secondary tiny logo showing they belong to an org(anization) if verified as such by that org(anization).”
The Tesla and SpaceX boss’ proposal for users to be able to pay to be “verified” and obtain a blue badge on their profiles has caused confusion since he acquired the social media giant last month.
Musk proposed a subscription fee of $8 a month to allow users to obtain the blue check — which was previously free but reserved for organizations and public figures in an attempt to avoid impersonation and misinformation.
The first rollout of Musk’s subscription plan in early November quickly went south, with many accounts paying for the blue check and then impersonating world leaders, celebrities or companies.
Responding to the backlash, Musk initially postponed the launch date to November 29, before delaying it once more. It now appears the feature will launch on December 2.
Musk has said that he wants to charge users for subscriptions to the social media platform to diversify its income stream. Twitter currently depends on advertising for 90 percent of its revenue.
Several major brands have withdrawn from advertising on the platform since Musk bought it, fearing that his promised relaxation of content moderation could open their companies up to being associated with objectionable content.
According to the NGO Media Matters, half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers have announced that they are suspending or “have apparently suspended” their spending on the social network.


Arab food network Fatafeat expands with new series, online presence

Arab food network Fatafeat expands with new series, online presence
Updated 25 November 2022

Arab food network Fatafeat expands with new series, online presence

Arab food network Fatafeat expands with new series, online presence
  • Innovative content is key focus, says head Grigory Lavrov
  • ‘Escape Kitchen’ game with top chefs is latest offering

DUBAI: This month, Warner Bros. Discovery Channel’s Arabic food network, Fatafeat, gamified its culinary format for the first time with the launch of its latest series, “Escape Kitchen.”

Each episode features chefs — Manal Al-Alem, Tarek Ibrahim and Sumaya Obaid, among others — trapped in an escape room, with 45 minutes on the clock to win the game.

The network has been seeking to adapt and innovate its content offerings to retain loyal fans and attract new audiences.

In 2021, Fatafeat had to close its production studio in Dubai due to COVID-19 lockdown protocols just a month before Ramadan — a peak period for premium content — and switched to working remotely.

Although the pandemic and lockdown “increased pressure,” it also created new opportunities, particularly for entertainment and streaming providers, as “entertainment played a more prominent role in providing escape and comfort as the world navigated an unprecedented and challenging time,” Grigory Lavrov, head of Fatafeat and vice-president of marketing, local brands and franchise management in CEE & MENAT at Warner Bros. Discovery, told Arab News.

Grigory Lavrov, head of Fatafeat and vice-president of marketing, local brands and franchise management in CEE & MENAT at Warner Bros. Discovery. (Supplied)

“We encouraged more viewership time from our loyal viewers with the nostalgia and familiarity we provide and attracted a new generation of consumers by expanding our presence on social media through creative, short-form content, and, as a result, our audience reach and engagement increased by 50 percent,” Lavrov said.

In Ramadan 2021 alone, Fatafeat saw an 88 percent month-on-month increase in engagement on Facebook, garnering over 29.7 million video views. Its Instagram content enjoyed a 63 percent increase in reach during the same period, and YouTube content received 2.49 million views.

“Since its launch in 2006, Fatafeat has become a staple in every Arab household,” said Lavrov. “To sustain the brand’s strong resonance with the regional audience, Fatafeat has been creating a robust pipeline of fresh and unique content, which has been instrumental for us in attracting the new generation of consumers while continuing to entice our loyal fans,” he added.

The network is also “proactive and agile” in diversifying its platforms and expanding its reach through channels such as its mobile app, social media, over-the-top platforms, and even Alexa, becoming the first skill to be launched on the Arabic version. From next year, Fatafeat will also be present on the free-to-air channel Asharq Discovery.

The brand ventured beyond video by launching its first-ever podcast series in an exclusive collaboration with global audio streaming service Deezer last December. Since then, it has released over 100 podcasts and plans to roll out more in the future.

The network’s expansion from TV to social media and other platforms was “definitely strategic and corroborative with our aim to follow our audience and adjust to their evolving content consumption habits,” Lavrov said. “Therefore, we remain committed to continually innovating our content and maintaining omnipresence,” he added.

The network regularly conducts customer research to better understand the needs and demands of its audience to make informed decisions regarding innovating and growing the Fatafeat brand.

That said, Fatafeat is always on the “lookout for the next big thing” and is “motivated by what brews the interest of the regional audiences, which is highly dynamic and ever-changing,” Lavrov said.

Gen Zs have captured the attention of media owners, publishers and advertisers around the world and Fatafeat is no exception. A total of 72 percent of Saudi Arabia’s Gen Zs use TV on-demand and catch-up services regularly, according to a 2021 YouGov report.

They have “high expectations for creative yet easily consumable content with an attention span as short as eight seconds,” said Lavrov.

Podcasts, TikTok and Instagram Reels are popular among Gen Zs resulting in Fatafeat gravitating toward these platforms through initiatives such as its partnership with Deezer, and increased focus on TikTok and Instagram during Ramadan 2022.

“Whether it’s a never-before-seen format like our new culinary game show ‘Escape Kitchen’ or producing the first Arabic music playlist with food recipes as lyrics, Fatafeat likes to reinvent the wheel of Arab entertainment,” Lavrov said.

In line with this vision, the network is launching a digital educational series “Fatafeat and the CDA: Cooking in the Family,” which will promote awareness of the dietary needs for children of determination.

It is also launching two shows — “Chef on A Bike” on Dec. 22 and “Food Musical Show” in January 2023. The former follows the journey of a female Saudi chef with a group of motorbike riders from Jeddah to Dubai. She will meet with locals, view prominent landmarks, and experience the gastronomic culture of the Kingdom. “This show differs from our classic studio productions as it merges travel and food genres,” Lavrov said.

The latter, “The Food Musical Show,” is the first cooking musical offering on Fatafeat spotlighting an Arab family. “The show highlights the differences between generations, and viewers can expect a lot of challenges, frolic, singing, dancing, and of course, food,” he added.

Moving forward, the network seeks to diversify and expand. “We have a lot planned for 2023, but I can say for now that what’s next for Fatafeat will always be aligned with what’s next for our audiences,” said Lavrov.