Anti-mafia reporter on trial for ‘defaming’ Italy’s far-right PM

Saviano, best known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah,” faces up to three years in prison, if convicted. (AFP/File)
Saviano, best known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah,” faces up to three years in prison, if convicted. (AFP/File)
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Updated 15 November 2022

Anti-mafia reporter on trial for ‘defaming’ Italy’s far-right PM

Anti-mafia reporter on trial for ‘defaming’ Italy’s far-right PM
  • Author accused Meloni of "inhuman" stance on migrants and called PM "bastard"
  • Trial is a “chilling message” to journalists, press freedom groups warned

ROME: A trial pitting Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni against investigative journalist Roberto Saviano opened Tuesday, with the anti-mafia author accused of defamation for an outburst over her stance on migrants.
Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but took office last month after triumphing at the polls on a nationalist campaign that promised to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.
Saviano, best known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah,” faces up to three years in prison, if convicted.
In a short speech outside the Rome court, he said Meloni’s attack on those who save lives at sea was “inhuman.”
The case dates back to December 2020 when he was asked on a political TV chat show for a comment on the death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea in a shipwreck.
The baby, Joseph, had been one of 111 migrants rescued by the Open Arms charity ship, but died before he could receive medical attention.
In footage shot by rescuers and shown to Saviano on the chat show, the baby’s mother — who has just been pulled from the sea without Joseph — can be heard weeping “Where’s my baby? Help, I lose my baby!“

A visibly emotional Saviano then blasted Meloni and Matteo Salvini — the leader of the anti-immigrant League party, which is now part of her coalition government — who have both long used anti-migrant rhetoric.
“I just want to say to Meloni, and Salvini, you bastards! How could you?” Saviano said on the show.
Meloni said in 2019 that charity vessels which rescue migrants “should be sunk,” while Salvini, as interior minister that same year, blocked such vessels from docking.
Salvini joined the criminal proceedings on Tuesday as a civil party seeking damages.
In a speech read out to journalists outside the court after the hearing, Saviano said that he had used the term bastards to highlight the damage done by Meloni and Salvini’s “lies” about charity rescuers.
“How could you be so thoughtless as to isolate, to smear, to transform sea ambulances into pirate ships?” he said.
“Letting people drown isn’t a political opinion. It’s not a political opinion to discredit rescue ambulances, it is infamy, and above all it’s inhuman.”
The judge set the next hearing for December 12.
PEN International, an organization that defends free speech, sent an open letter to Meloni last week urging her to drop the case.

Ahead of the trial Saviano, 43, told AFP it was an “unequal confrontation, decidedly grotesque,” while press freedom groups warned it sent a “chilling message” to journalists.
The author, who has been under police protection since publishing “Gomorrah” due to threats from the Naples “Camorra” mafia, said the tactic was to “intimidate one in order to intimidate 100.”
Watchdogs say such trials are symbolic of a culture in Italy in which public figures — often politicians — intimidate reporters with repeated lawsuits.
Meloni’s lawyer Luca Libra said Tuesday there was no intention of “intimidating” anyone.
His client was “just a woman who was insulted... on television in front of millions of people,” he said.
Meloni would consider whether or not to withdraw the complaint, Libra added.
Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, the lowest level in western Europe.
Tuesday’s trial is not the only one Saviano faces for defamation. He was sued in 2018 by Salvini after calling him “Il Ministro della Malavita,” or minister of the criminal underworld.
That trial is set to open in February.


Saudi Arabia’s KAICIID launches journalism program for Arabs

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 24 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s KAICIID launches journalism program for Arabs

Photo/Shutterstock
  • KAICIID’s secretary-general, Dr. Zuhair Alharthi, said that the second edition of the fellowship program was launched following the success achieved in the first edition, which helped journalists combat hate speech and promote a culture of dialogue

RIYADH: The King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, KAICIID, announced on Thursday the launch of the second edition of its Journalism Fellowship Program for Dialogue in the Arab region.

The program targets a new group of male and female journalists from the Arab region who will receive training on dialogue journalism, conduct professional reports that focus on matters related to interfaith and intercultural dialogue, religious relations, identity, and conflicts.

The aim is to enhance pluralism, diversity, peaceful coexistence, set ethical standards of journalism, and to combat hate speech.

KAICIID’s secretary-general, Dr. Zuhair Alharthi, said that the second edition of the fellowship program was launched following the success achieved in the first edition, which helped journalists combat hate speech and promote a culture of dialogue.

According to the approved schedule for the program, selected candidates will be invited for interviews by late February, with the program to begin online in March followed by on-the-ground training in April.

As per the admission rules to the program, a relevant committee should select between 20 to 25 journalists between the ages of 28 and 40.

They must be working in print, audio, or digital media, and have at least five years of experience in journalism or in other related fields; they must have a professional record in sensitive conflict environments, and they need to be citizens of an Arab country.

Wasim Haddad, the director of programs in the Arab region, said: “This program is one of the main axes within the center’s work strategy in the Arab region, which primarily aims at building social cohesion and promoting the values of dialogue and common citizenship through intensified work and building partnerships with religious leaders, policy makers, the youth, and women as main pillars of change in the region, as it is clear to everyone the leading roles the media can play in this regard.”

 

 


BBC Arabic stops broadcasting after 85 years

BBC Arabic stops broadcasting after 85 years
Updated 27 January 2023

BBC Arabic stops broadcasting after 85 years

BBC Arabic stops broadcasting after 85 years
  • The move comes as part of the World Service's cost cuts

LONDON: BBC Arabic went off-air on Friday, bringing an end to its 85 years of radio broadcasts.

However, the BBC online service will continue.

BBC Arabic, the BBC Empire Service’s first foreign language radio broadcast, aired for the first time on Jan. 3, 1938.

The Arabic-speaking network announced earlier this month that it would gradually reduce its service before finally closing.

The network covered the Second World War, the Suez crisis of 1956, Arab-Israeli wars, Palestinian uprisings and the invasion of Iraq among other major events in the Arab world.

“The broadcast will end at 1 p.m. London time,” BBC Arabic radio’s editor, Adel Soliman, told Middle East Eye.

“But we have prepared special content since Monday, with key interviews and contributions from our audience about how the BBC played a role in their lives, and talks with ex-BBC staff, highlighting their career,” he added.

In September 2022, the World Service announced the suspension of several of its foreign language stations, including Arabic and Persian, as part of a plan to cut costs, saying it was obliged to take this action by the UK government’s license fee freeze.

Under the cost-cutting plan, 382 people across all BBC offices will lose their jobs, saving the broadcaster £28.5 million (about $35.3 million) annually.


Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
Updated 27 January 2023

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
  • The ruling prohibits anyone from sharing links to Meduza's website

LONDON: Russia on Thursday declared Meduza, its most prominent independent news website, an “undesirable organization,” banning the outlet’s operation on Russian territory under the threat of felony prosecution.

Russia’s prosecutor-general said in an official statement that Meduza, which was founded by Russian journalists in Latvia, “threatens the foundations of constitutional order and the security of the Russian Federation.”

The ruling prohibits the outlet’s activities in Russia as well as any reference to it, even by posting a hyperlink on social media. Anyone who fails to cooperate may face a prison sentence of up to six years, according to The Guardian.

Russian officials previously labeled Meduza a “foreign agent,” hindering the news website’s ability to raise funds through advertising and forcing it to shift to a crowdfunding model.

“We believe in what we do. We believe in freedom of speech. We believe in a democratic Russia. The bigger the pressure, the harder we will stand up to it,” Meduza said in a statement.

With the onset of the Ukraine war in February 2022, the Russian government banned several outlets, including Echo of Moscow and TV Rain, the country’s only independent news channel.

Russian lawmakers introduced a bill in May 2022 outlawing “discrediting the armed forces,” with a prison sentence of up to 15 years for criticizing the Russian military.

Russia has been cracking down on “undesirable organizations” since 2015, according to Meduza, granting the prosecutor-general the power to label as such any organization that purportedly imperils the country’s “constitutional-order foundations” or national security.


Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’
Updated 27 January 2023

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’
  • TV series described as modern-day retelling of Arab folklore is set to stream in February

LONDON: Video-streaming platform Starzplay announced on Thursday the launch of its first Arabic-language original series created in collaboration with Academy Award-winning Emirati production company Image Nation Abu Dhabi.

The new show, “Kaboos,” features five standalone episodes and has been described as a modern-day retelling of Arab folklore.

Nadim Dada, VP of programming and content acquisition at Starzplay, said the show is “our biggest content asset this year, our very first Arabic language original, and we are very excited to roll out the production across the Middle East.”

Filmed across Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and the UAE, the series takes viewers on a journey through urban legends of the region, with spine-chilling modern takes on stories inspired by local mythology.

The series, which spans a variety of genres from classic horror stories to noir psychological thrillers, features leading directors from across the region.

Emirati filmmakers Hana Kazim and Majid Al-Ansari, Iraqi director Yasir Al-Yasiri, Egyptian filmmaker and visual artist Ahmed Khaled, and Los Angeles-based Bahraini director Hala Matar each directed an episode.

“Image Nation Abu Dhabi constantly looks for challenging new projects that enable regional filmmakers to share the region’s contemporary heritage and culture with the world through Arabic-language content,” Ben Ross, chief content officer, said.

“Kaboos” balances terrifying horror scenes with storylines that explore human nature, offering nostalgic tales to Arab audiences, while introducing global viewers to the eerie world of Arab folklore, he added.

The series, which has been produced by Al-Yasiri’s and Mansoor Al Feeli’s media company, Abu Dhabi-based Starship Entertainment, is set to stream on Starzplay from Feb. 9.
 


Saudi Ministry of Economy launches ‘The Story’ short film on WEF 2023 closing day

Saudi Ministry of Economy launches ‘The Story’ short film on WEF 2023 closing day
Updated 26 January 2023

Saudi Ministry of Economy launches ‘The Story’ short film on WEF 2023 closing day

Saudi Ministry of Economy launches ‘The Story’ short film on WEF 2023 closing day
  • The film's director, Owen Harris, was hired by MBC Studios

LONDON: The Saudi Ministry of Economy and Planning launched on Jan. 20 the short film “The Story,” which was featured at Expo 2020 Dubai, showcasing the Kingdom's transformation and growth.

The film’s debut to a global audience, supported by the Ministry of Culture, came on the closing day of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023, following the film’s positive reception at Expo 2020.

The production company, MBC Studios, hired world-renowned director Owen Harris to bring “The Story” to life, showcasing Saudi Arabia’s transformation to global audiences.

“With one year to go until the launch of Expo 2020 Dubai, the working team from the Ministry of Economy and Planning were tasked in delivering a short film for the Saudi Pavilion cinema,” said Saud Altobaishi, general manager of the ministry’s strategic communications.

He added: “Back then, the Executive Committee leading the design, operations, and delivery of the Saudi Pavilion was led by the Minister of Economy and Planning, Faisal F. Alibrahim, when he was the vice minister of economy and planning, and he assigned me to lead and manage the delivery of the short film stream.

“With the clock ticking toward the Saudi Pavilion’s opening day and budgets uncertain, we had to improvise.”

The ministry’s team sought to highlight the Kingdom’s transformation, particularly social and economic growth, and diversity.

“We wanted to show the impact that our evolving economy is having on the quality of life in Saudi Arabia, not by using numbers, but by using raw and real emotions,” Altobaishi said.

The script for “The Story” was developed by Alibrahim and Altobaishi over a single weekend, a few weeks after the creation of the Saudi Pavilion “Cloud Walker” campaign.

“Our partners at the Ministry of Culture and the vice minister of culture, Hamed M. Fayez, provided invaluable technical support at this stage,” Altobaishi added.

Partners in the film creation include the Saudi Tourism Authority and Princess Noura Bint Abdulmohsen of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, both of whom facilitated the filming and production process.

Altobaishi said: “When this film was done, I was an adviser to the Minister of Economy and Planning and Head of Marketing and Communications as well as Head of the film stream for the Saudi Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai from early 2020 to October 2021, just before the opening of Expo Dubai.”

“It was no surprise that ‘The Story’ was a hit among Expo 2020 visitors, an immersive journey that captured the essence of our rich cultural heritage and the cutting-edge, innovation-driven future our leadership is shaping through Saudi Vision 2030,” he said.

“Visitors were so captivated by the film that they requested a public version to share with their friends and family, which further solidified its success and resonance among audiences.”