Reporters Without Borders, French media urge release of imprisoned Afghan journalist

Reporters Without Borders, French media urge release of imprisoned Afghan journalist
Behboudi arrived in Paris as a refugee aged 21. (Ouest-France/Sourced)
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Updated 08 February 2023

Reporters Without Borders, French media urge release of imprisoned Afghan journalist

Reporters Without Borders, French media urge release of imprisoned Afghan journalist
  • Mortaza Behboudi, 28, detained by Taliban in Kabul over espionage claims

LONDON: The Taliban leadership in Afghanistan must release imprisoned journalist Mortaza Behboudi, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), alongside 14 French news outlets and production companies, said on Monday.

Behboudi, who has been imprisoned in Kabul for a month, has dual French and Afghan citizenship. He was arrested and accused of espionage on Jan. 7 in the Afghan capital, two days after arriving in the country as part of a reporting assignment, RSF and French media said in a joint statement.

After month-long private attempts to secure his release, RSF and French media outlets made Behboudi’s case public, calling on Taliban authorities “to end this senseless situation.”

Behboudi, 28, began his career as a photojournalist aged 16 in Afghanistan, where he was born, according to the statement.

After facing threats in his home country, he arrived in Paris as a refugee aged 21, later working as a freelance journalist for numerous French media outlets.

Behboudi was awarded the Bayeux Prize for war correspondents in 2022 for a series of reports about life in Afghanistan under the Taliban.


Tweeters, and celebs, await ‘blue tick’ ultimatum

Tweeters, and celebs, await ‘blue tick’ ultimatum
Updated 58 min 44 sec ago

Tweeters, and celebs, await ‘blue tick’ ultimatum

Tweeters, and celebs, await ‘blue tick’ ultimatum
  • Opening the blue tick to paying subscribers -- in a program called Twitter Blue -- was among decisions made by Musk when he took ownership of Twitter last year
  • It remains to be seen how many Twitter users will pay for a stamp of authenticity that had long been free

SAN FRANCISCO, USA: All eyes are on whether Elon Musk will go through with stripping blue checkmarks from celebrities and other high-profile Twitter users starting April 1 unless they pay for the privilege.
Musk vowed to act, despite a previous attempt triggering a swarm of trolls and imposters.
The prized verification mark became a signature element of Twitter’s success after it was introduced in 2009, helping the platform become a trusted forum for stars, politicians, companies and campaigners.
But tycoon Musk and his fans decried the blue check as a symbol of an online class system, separating what he called Twitter’s “plebeians” from a privileged elite.
Opening the blue tick to paying subscribers — in a program called Twitter Blue — was among decisions made by Musk when he took ownership of Twitter last year, but his overhaul backfired terribly.
Within hours, Twitter was flooded by fake yet verified accounts impersonating celebrities and major companies, with the share price of drug-maker Eli Lilly see-sawing wildly because of a fake tweet.
Musk swiftly backtracked, and instituted a more thorough verification policy for subscribers, but many advertisers fled the site, denying Twitter a major source of income that the CEO is struggling to replace.
Since taking control, Musk has sharply cut the group’s ranks of employees and the site has seen a string of technical breakdowns.
Twitter also reopened the gates to tens of thousands suspended accounts, bringing a resurgence of hate speech and other negative content, according to organizations that track social media.
It remains to be seen how many Twitter users will pay for a stamp of authenticity that had long been free.
“The question is, do you want to answer ‘yes’ to blackmail,” said independent tech analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.
If a celebrity or brand does not pay for a blue Twitter checkmark, an imposter might buy the illusion of authenticity, the analyst said.
Accounts getting blue checkmarks as part of Twitter Blue subscriptions will not undergo the same review to confirm they meet the “notable and authentic criteria” applied before Musk bought the platform, the company said in a post.
“Twitter Blue is basically a receipt — it proves that someone or something paid them,” Techsponential analyst Avi Greengart told AFP.
As matters currently stand, blue checks of celebrities — including Justine Bieber and his 113 million followers or footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and his 108 million — are tagged on the site as “legacy” accounts.
“It’s more about treating everyone equally,” Musk tweeted last week in a reply to William Shatner, the Star Trek star, who doesn’t want to pay.
“There shouldn’t be a different standard for celebrities.”
According to Travis Brown, a Berlin-based software developer who tracks social-media platforms, a total of 13,200 accounts had made the switch from legacy to the new system.
“At this rate Musk might hit 1 in 20 by the April 1 deadline,” Brown tweeted on Thursday.
The verified account conundrum also involves news media companies that have been tagged as business accounts that cost a hefty fee of $1,500 a month.
A spokesman for the New York Times told AFP it will not pay for a verified status on Twitter and that it would only pay for a blue tick for its journalists “in rare instances where verified status would be essential for reporting purposes.”
The Washington Post said it would be reviewing the changes while AFP, in an internal email to staff, said it “will adapt as necessary.”
Advocates have criticized plans to impose the paid-for verification model, an idea that is also being tested by Twitter rival Facebook in Australia and New Zealand.
Reporters Without Borders called paying for verification “a dangerous tool that introduces two-tier access to information on social media and should be withdrawn.”
“There is no question that this erodes trust...for a boost of income that may not even come,” said analyst Greengart.
Twitter’s press email responded to a request for comment with an auto reply of a poop emoji.
Ella Irwin, the company executive in charge of Trust and Safety, did not respond for comment.


Snapchat’s virtual Ramadan Mall returns for second year

Snapchat’s virtual Ramadan Mall returns for second year
Updated 59 min 53 sec ago

Snapchat’s virtual Ramadan Mall returns for second year

Snapchat’s virtual Ramadan Mall returns for second year
  • This year will feature brands such as Ounass, Bath & Body Work and American Eagle

DUBAI: Snapchat is bringing its augmented reality Ramadan Mall back this year with brands including Faces, Max Fashion, Toyota, Nestle Ounass, Bath & Body Work, and American Eagle.

The social media platform said it will be a bigger and better experience than last year’s promotion, which was seen by more than nine million people, many of whom bought goods.

“Brands can now bring their shopping experiences to audiences while they are at the comfort of their own homes, allowing them to browse, explore and share products with family and friends,” said Mohammed Bouarib, senior creative strategist at Snap Inc. MENA.

He said that 80 percent of shoppers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia describe AR as a practical “tool”.

This year, Saudis are expected to spend 44 percent more during Ramadan, according to a report by Toluna. 

The study also found a significant shift to online shopping with all respondents saying they plan to shop more online for fashion, toys and games during the holy month.

Snapchat users can access the Ramadan Mall through the carousel as well as on the organic lens explorer, which will feature a personalized tile alongside a collection of nine lenses. 


CNN preaches patience as ratings tank during turnaround

CNN preaches patience as ratings tank during turnaround
Updated 30 March 2023

CNN preaches patience as ratings tank during turnaround

CNN preaches patience as ratings tank during turnaround
  • CNN's dip is most dramatic — 61% in prime time in March, with Fox News Channel down 27% and MSNBC off by 12%
  • CNN is a year into new corporate management with Warner Bros

NEW YORK: CNN’s leadership is preaching patience even though thousands of viewers are abandoning the network during its attempted turnaround, with no indication yet whether it will be rewarded.
Cable news ratings are down across the board compared to 2022, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was fresh in the news. CNN’s dip is most dramatic — 61 percent in prime time in March, with Fox News Channel down 27 percent and MSNBC off by 12 percent, according to the Nielsen company.
Fox averaged 2.09 million viewers in prime time in March, with MSNBC at 1.14 million and CNN at 473,000, Nielsen said. In the key 25-54 age demographic for advertisers, CNN is seeing some of its lowest numbers in decades.
CNN is a year into new corporate management with Warner Bros. Discovery, which hired ex-CBS producer Chris Licht to run the network. The chief goal has been to rebuild trust as a non-partisan news brand after years of criticism by former President Donald Trump and his followers, at a time Fox and MSNBC have profited handsomely by appealing to specific points of view.
Licht’s biggest programming move to date, a revamp of “CNN This Morning,” hasn’t borne fruit in the ratings and has been beset by bad publicity, including co-host Don Lemon’s ham-fisted reference to a woman’s prime years.
Changes to CNN’s daytime look are imminent. Licht’s vision for prime time is months away, though, and only beginning to take shape.
His plans are to couple news coverage with hosts from different worlds, including entertainment, who can talk about the news without a specific partisan take. Licht is exploring several possibilities, and CNN is reportedly close to deals with CBS’ Gayle King and former NBA star turned sportscaster Charles Barkley for shows that will air once a week, although the network wouldn’t confirm that.
If Licht’s bet pays off, CNN will strengthen its reputation as a news brand while also attracting viewers who are now watching Netflix or HGTV — not just competing news networks.
As those plans develop, CNN’s prime-time lineup has largely been in flux after Anderson Cooper’s hour at 8 p.m. Eastern. The network has experimented with some interviews, events and subject-focused hours at 9 p.m. Eastern. They include talks with first lady Jill Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and town halls with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and one focused on the Ohio train derailment.
The news hours that follow, at least for now, are led by Alisyn Camerota and Laura Coates.
“Viewers are a bit confused with all of the changes, particularly in the prime-time lineup,” said Jennifer Thomas, a former CNN producer who now teaches journalism at Howard University. She said CNN needs more news that impacts viewers and less analysis.
CNN expresses pride in some of the efforts, while admitting some are duds. Last Friday, for example, only 295,000 people watched Jake Tapper’s interview with “Ted Lasso” star Jason Sudeikis. It was less than a quarter of the people who saw Alex Wagner’s MSNBC show at the same 9 p.m. Eastern time slot, Nielsen said.
David Zaslav, president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, delivered a pep talk to hundreds of CNN managers earlier this month to reinforce the message that he wanted to see a network focused on the news that didn’t lean any way politically.
CNN saw strong ratings under the leadership of Licht’s predecessor, Jeff Zucker, and Zaslav said he recognized that a more partisan approach could bring more viewers and money, but that “it’s not what I came here to do,” according to a transcript of Zaslav’s speech.
He said he hoped the network would be able to figure out what is working and what isn’t. He urged the managers to not worry about outside noise.
“Ratings be damned,” he said. “Let’s focus on who we are. This is our mission. This is our legacy. And this is our journey together.”
The question for Licht and his team, as it is often in similar situations, is “how much time do they really have?” said Mark Whitaker, a former executive at CNN and NBC News.
Strong ratings mean more revenue, and more money to spend on programming, Whitaker said.
Cable news viewership is often very habit-driven, with viewers drawn to personalities they know and trust, he said. For the first three days this week, CNN’s 9 p.m. Eastern hour had three different hosts — Erin Burnett, Pamela Brown and Kaitlan Collins.
CNN must wonder whether viewers will lose the habit of tuning in while waiting for the network’s true personality to emerge under Licht. A new prime-time schedule is not likely until the fall.
It doesn’t help that many CNN viewers have long considered the network a utility to be used primarily when there are big stories, and it’s a relatively quiet period now. An important test will be how many viewers will reflexively turn to CNN during big news events, where it has often dominated the ratings.
MSNBC, in touting its biggest audience advantage over CNN in nearly four years, said that its viewers watched the network an average of 381 minutes per week during the first three months of 2023, compared to 183 minutes for CNN.
“They’re fighting against the toughest foe they can fight,” said Rick Kaplan, a former CNN president. “They’re fighting against short attention spans. They’re fighting against the fact that we’re such a divided people, so angry at each other, that if you don’t reflect that anger, the people don’t have time for you.”
Continued poor ratings “eats away at the fabric of the network, if you’re doing great shows and nobody is watching,” he said.
Kaplan said he believes CNN has the right executive in Licht, who has a strong track record as a successful programmer.
“If there’s a right way, he’ll find it,” he said.


Newly gathered Ramadan data promises to ‘revolutionize’ ad strategies

Newly gathered Ramadan data promises to ‘revolutionize’ ad strategies
Updated 30 March 2023

Newly gathered Ramadan data promises to ‘revolutionize’ ad strategies

Newly gathered Ramadan data promises to ‘revolutionize’ ad strategies
  • Offers insights into viewer stats for all TV programs and drama series
  • The data-collection project installed digital meters in 2,360 Saudi homes

LONDON: The Media Rating Company announced the release of “cutting-edge data” for the month of Ramadan, a significant period for broadcast channels and advertisers.

This data is particularly crucial during the first five days of the holy month, as it offers insights into viewer percentages for all TV programs and drama series, said MRC in a press release on Thursday.

The information should allow advertisers to craft better-targeted campaigns focused on the most-watched programs.

“We are proud to issue accurate and real-time data from within the Kingdom, which supports and contributes to the development of the advertising sector,” said MRC chief Bandar Anwar Al-Mashhadi.

“We are proud of our role in transferring knowledge from a global company such as Nelson to national cadres,” he added.

The Television Audience Measurement project was announced in December 2021 and officially set in motion in February with the aim of revolutionizing television broadcasting service providers, digital publishers, media agencies, and various advertising entities by delivering invaluable public consumption data for the media.

Overseen by MRC, the TAM project has installed digital meters in 2,360 homes across 24 Saudi cities, encompassing a diverse array of population groups, including Saudis, Arab residents, and non-Arab residents.

A staggering 1,979 of these households met TAM’s quality control and validation standards within the Kingdom.

The results indicate that the 2,360 participating households serve as a representative sample of 4.5 million households, or 8,296 individuals, which translates to 20.3 million people in the Kingdom.

In its first year, the study cast a wide net, measuring 150 channels while simultaneously monitoring and tracking 50 channels. Data on live TV consumption was meticulously collected daily, over seven days.

“The Saudi TAM system has already proven to be a game-changer in achieving the media infrastructure goals outlined in the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030,” said Abdullatif Mohammed Al-Abdullatif, CEO of the Audiovisual Media Commission.

He continued: “Viewing data in Saudi Arabia has reached new heights of credibility and accuracy thanks to cutting-edge technologies.

“The system acts as a catalyst for investors both within and outside the Kingdom by offering a treasure trove of media consumption data across a myriad of formats. This paves the way for a meteoric rise in national digital entertainment and media production.”

This public-private partnership seeks to attract diverse global digital content companies.


Russia arrests Wall Street Journal reporter for espionage

Russia arrests Wall Street Journal reporter for espionage
Updated 30 March 2023

Russia arrests Wall Street Journal reporter for espionage

Russia arrests Wall Street Journal reporter for espionage
  • Evan Gershkovich was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg while allegedly trying to obtain classified information

MOSCOW: Russia’s top security agency says a reporter for the Wall Street Journal has been arrested on espionage charges.
The Federal Security Service (FSB), the top domestic security and counterintelligence agency that is the top successor agency to the Soviet era KGB, said Thursday that Evan Gershkovich was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg while allegedly trying to obtain classified information.
Gershkovich is the first reporter for an American news outlet to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since the Cold War. His arrest comes amid the bitter tensions between Moscow and Washington over the fighting in Ukraine.
The security service alleged that Gershkovich “was acting on the US orders to collect information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military industrial complex that constitutes a state secret.”
The FSB didn’t say when the arrest took place. Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage.
Gershkovich covers Russia and Ukraine as a correspondent in the Wall Street Journal’s Moscow bureau. The FSB noted that he had accreditation from the Russian Foreign Ministry to work as a journalist.
His last report from Moscow, published earlier this week, focused on the Russian economy’s slowdown amid Western sanctions imposed when Russian troops entered Ukraine last year.