How pro-Palestine digital activists in Latin America are offering an uncensored view on Gaza

Special How pro-Palestine digital activists in Latin America are offering an uncensored view on Gaza
Pro-Palestine activists use Spanish and Portuguese-language social media accounts like Palestina Hoy, Sou Palestina and Fepal to access news about Gaza. (AFP)
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Updated 09 February 2024

How pro-Palestine digital activists in Latin America are offering an uncensored view on Gaza

How pro-Palestine digital activists in Latin America are offering an uncensored view on Gaza
  • The Spanish-language social media account Palestina Hoy curates and verifies news and multimedia from Gaza
  • In Brazil, Sou Palestina and Fepal have become influential Portuguese-language platforms for pro-Palestine content

SAO PAULO: Many pro-Palestinian activists in Latin America have been relying on social media to disseminate information about the war in Gaza that is generally left out by the region’s dominant press conglomerates.

Some activists have managed to attain audiences large enough to force the traditional means of communication to replicate or at least mention their content. 

The most important of such channels is Palestina Hoy (Palestine Today, @HoyPalestina on X), a Spanish-language account with over 566,000 followers. 

Created only four years ago, the profile has become one of the most visited in the world, ranking 32 on the list of top X accounts at one point since the war broke out on Oct. 7. 

It is now among the 140 most visited X profiles, according to one of Palestina Hoy’s administrators. 

“Before the attacks we had 200,000 followers, and it has grown exponentially since then. It could be even larger if it wasn’t for the censorship we suffer on the internet,” the administrator told Arab News on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns.

The administrator said the channel began with a website in 2020, conceived to provide information about Gaza and the West Bank. 

A team was established and the project began to grow. “We’ve been covering events in Palestine on a daily basis from the start,” the administrator said.

Members of the Palestinian community in Venezuela take part in a protest against Israel's military operations in Gaza and in support of the Palestinian people at Bolivar Square in Caracas on October 12, 2023. (AFP)

All content is taken from official accounts of Palestinian organizations, news agencies, and independent journalists whose work has been verified by the team. 

They take extra care to avoid publishing fake news, the administrator said, adding: “Those are sources that are available to anyone. We don’t have people in the field sending information to us.” 

Part of their effort is to translate Arabic-language content into Spanish. The group is not connected to any Palestinian organization, does “not receive even $1 from anybody to do that work” and is totally independent, the administrator said.

On Instagram and Facebook, Palestina Hoy has to deal with several restrictions. Videos showing Palestinians injured or killed are constantly blurred. Its content is not visible on users’ feeds, appearing only for followers. Live feeds are frequently interrupted. On Facebook, restrictions are even bigger, the administrator said.

People take part in a protest in support of Palestinians in Valencia, Carabobo state, Venezuela, on October 13, 2023 amid Israeli air strikes on Gaza in reprisal for a surprise Hamas attack on October 7, 2023. (AFP)

On Instagram, Palestina Hoy has two accounts and has more than 140,000 followers. On Facebook, it has 57,000 followers.

“X doesn’t eliminate our videos. Many times we post on it things we can’t publish on Instagram or Facebook,” the administrator said.

The account’s most viewed publication is a clip of a Palestinian toddler receiving medical attention at a hospital after being rescued from the rubble of her family’s house in Shati refugee camp, which was bombed by the Israelis. It has more than 16 million views.

Palestina Hoy has attained more than 200 million monthly views on X, and has become the most important Spanish-language profile on that platform. “No individual Zionist account is bigger than us. That’s why they’re so bothered about us,” the administrator said.

Palestina Hoy’s content has been mentioned by major newspapers and TV stations in the region on different occasions and is followed by several presidents and political leaders.

In Portuguese, the largest X account is Sou Palestina (I Am Palestine, @soupalestina on X), with more than 59,000 followers. 

Its administrator is historian Sayid Tenorio, a long-time activist of the Palestinian cause in Brazil and vice president of the Brazil Palestine Institute, known as Ibraspal in Portuguese.

The account started as Tenorio’s profile on Twitter. When the Gaza war broke out, he had about 30,000 followers. 

He realized that it was time to separate his individual account from the one in which he could publish exclusive content about Palestine and reach broader audiences.

“With the depersonalization of the account and the war going on, it has experienced great growth,” Tenorio told Arab News.

The author of a book about the Palestinian issue, he has contacts in the West Bank and Gaza. Members of Palestinian movements send him exclusive videos and pictures daily. 

Protesters rally in support of Palestinians at Camoes square in Lisbon on October 9, 2023 after the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an attack on Israel. (AFP/File)

He also redistributes material produced by news agencies and journalists from the Middle East.

“I have very little technical expertise on video production, but I have access to sources that most people don’t have,” he said.

Sou Palestina’s most viewed post over the past few weeks was about a petition signed by Brazilian celebrities and businesspeople against their government’s support for South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

The Jan. 19 publication displayed part of the list of signatories, which included Fabio Coelho, CEO of Google Brazil, and Fabio Barbosa, CEO of Brazilian cosmetics giant Natura. It was viewed by 231,000 people.

Posts containing footage of Palestinian children hit by Israeli bombs also used to draw many views, but Tenorio decided to cease publishing that kind of content.

“Many people would tell me that the disturbing images of the daily tragedy in Gaza were affecting them psychologically,” he said.

Palestinian children wait to collect food at a donation point in a refugee camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP/File)

Tenorio added that many Latin Americans from other countries get in touch with him, suggest content and share his publications despite the linguistic differences.

“Many messages come from Chile, the country with the largest Palestinian community in the region,” he said.

Politicians and famous artists in Brazil frequently share his posts. That has been helping the Palestinian cause to be discussed in wider circles, Tenorio said.

“The Western media as a whole censors pro-Palestinian ideas. In Brazil, the mainstream press is clearly pro-Zionist. Social media can help us bypass that blockade,” he added.

Another Portuguese-language account that has been extremely active since Oct. 7 and has seen enormous growth in the number of followers is administered by the Arab Palestinian Federation of Brazil, known as Fepal on X (@FepalB).

With only 1,500 followers on X on Oct. 7, it now has 38,000. On Instagram, Fepal’s profile had 12,000 followers and is now followed by 58,000 people.

“As soon as Hamas launched its operation in Israel, we began posting information on human rights violations in Palestine and the apartheid. That helped us become a reference for many,” Marcos Feres, who is in charge of Fepal’s communications, told Arab News.

He said Fepal has never boosted any publication on social media, and all growth has been natural. 

With more visibility, more people began to get in touch with Fepal, including mainstream journalists.

“Our spokespeople have given interviews to many websites, newspapers and TV stations, despite the pro-Zionist stance of the Brazilian media,” Feres said.

Fepal has also been able to express its criticism of the biased coverage of the war in Brazil, including publishing an article about that in a major newspaper.

Footage and information posted on its social media accounts come from public sources, including news agencies, Palestinian organizations and independent journalists.

“The Palestinian cause has entered the digital era, with a new generation being introduced to it right now through social media,” Feres said.

“The Palestinian cause has a unifying power in the Global South. In Latin America, we’re used to the domination imposed by other nations, so it’s easier for us to identify with the plight of the Palestinians.”


Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit
Updated 23 February 2024

Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

MIAMI: The Future Investment Initiative Priority Summit in Miami brought together experts from various facets of the media industry on Friday for a panel discussion titled “Captivated by Content: How Brands are Adapting to Trends in Media Consumption.”

The key for any media owner is knowing their audience, but that audience is constantly evolving.

Sam Englebardt, founding general partner of Galaxy Interactive who has been a key investor in the gaming industry, said: “It used to be that we were catering to younger males … and now it’s pretty much the whole world.”

One of the problems with understanding audiences is doing so through data, said Bob Pittman, chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia.

“We’re entering this era of tyranny of the data,” he said, adding that the idea that if you cannot measure something it does not exist is a delusion.

As technology has become more pervasive, said Englebardt, “it’s now more possible than ever to really be everywhere they (audiences) are on whichever platform they have, so what are you going to make that people are going to care about, and how do you build a world that they want to spend conceivably all of their time in?”

However, it can be detrimental if people spend more time in virtual worlds than in the real one.

John Hanke, founder and CEO of mobile apps firm Niantic, is focused on building immersive experiences powered by augmented reality.

As a parent of three, he has struggled with determining how much screen time is acceptable for them, he said.

“It was the thing that motivated me to start thinking about video games that can take place out in the world,” he added.

“It’s up to us to think about how we evolve that technology to help us be better humans and be out in the world interacting with one another, and thankfully, technology is headed in that direction with augmented reality wearable devices.”

The worlds of media and entertainment are starting to exist outside screens, and brands, of course, want a spot.

Before streaming services launched, brands would have 30-second spots between shows and movies, but now they want to be part of the “content conversation where they want to subsidize and really have an engagement that goes beyond what a 30-second spot would be,” said Brent Montgomery, founder and CEO of Wheelhouse.

However, technology does not necessarily have to reinvent or create new business models, said Englebardt. “It’s just (about) how technology can enable what we know works to be applied,” he added.

The emergence of these technologies has also transformed news media, where non-traditional platforms such as user-generated content on Instagram and X have become news sources.

The fundamental change, Pittman said, is consumer convenience. “What people want today is have the information find me. I don’t want to go find the information,” he added.

While that can be both good and bad, media companies have to think about “chasing the consumer, as opposed to expecting them to come to you,” Pittman said.

It is becoming harder to distinguish between real and fake content, leading to a point where audiences will have to presume that everything they watch and hear is fake, said Englebardt.

That, however, is the advantage of news brands, because they are well-trusted and audiences can rely on them to vet the information and present genuine news, said Pittman.

In order to maintain that trust, news brands “will have to forego the clickbait business model and opportunity to monetize fake news,” said Englebardt. 

Pittman said: “Clickbait is directly related to lack of trust. The more clickbait, the less trusted.” As such, businesses have to choose whether they want to get more clicks and be less trusted, or have fewer clicks and be more trusted, he concluded.


Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website

Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website
Updated 23 February 2024

Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website

Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website
  • Company is ‘no longer cost-effective and will transition to studio model’: CEO 
  • Unclear how decision will impact group’s presence in Riyadh

LONDON: Vice Media is set to lay off hundreds of staff and discontinue publication on its website.

An internal memo leaked to the media and later confirmed by Vice CEO Bruce Dixon said that the layoffs would begin early next week.

Dixon announced on Friday that the company is transitioning to a “studio model,” in a decision that was “not made lightly.” Affected employees will be “notified about next steps early next week.”

The decision is a result of Vice Media’s digital content distribution no longer being cost-effective, Dixon said.

The outlet will “look to partner with established media companies to distribute our digital content, including news, on their global platforms, as we fully transition to a studio model,” he added.

Dixon said that Refinery29, a Vice-owned women’s lifestyle-focused site, will continue to operate independently.

“Our financial partners are supportive and have agreed to invest in this operating model going forward. We will emerge stronger and more resilient as we embark on this new phase of our journey,” he added.

Reports of the layoffs come less than a year after Vice Media, whose assets include Vice News, Motherboard, Refinery29, i-D and Vice TV, was rescued from bankruptcy by a consortium of buyers from Fortress Investment Group.

Dixon said that the group is in “advance discussions” to sell its business and expects to “announce more on that in the coming weeks.”

Valued at $5.7 billion in 2017, Vice, once a prominent media company geared toward a younger audience, operated digital, television and film outlets.

In January last year, the media group announced the opening of a new regional office in Riyadh in an effort to expand its presence in the Middle East.

It remains unclear how the layoffs will impact the group’s presence in the Middle East. Experts say that the company employs about 900 people across all divisions.

Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics

Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics
Updated 24 February 2024

Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics

Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics
  • European Broadcasting Union assessing whether ‘October Rain’ breaches guidelines on political neutrality
  • There have been protests over Israel’s participation in various European countries

LONDON: Israel has threatened to pull out of the Eurovision Song Contest after organizers said they were assessing the lyrics of its entry for political messages.

The song, “October Rain,” is set to be performed by singer Eden Golan at the event in Sweden in May.

It features references to the victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, including the lyrics “they were all good children, each one of them,” according to Israel Hayom newspaper.

The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the event, said in a statement: “The EBU is currently in the process of scrutinizing the lyrics, a process which is confidential between the EBU and the broadcaster until a final decision has been taken.

“If a song is deemed unacceptable for any reason, broadcasters are then given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics.”

In response, Israel’s national broadcaster KAN, which oversaw the process of selecting the entry and will show the contest in Israel, said: “It should be noted that as far as the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation is concerned there is no intention to replace the song.

“This means that if it is not approved by the European Broadcasting Union, Israel will not be able to participate in the competition, which will take place in Sweden next May.”

KAN confirmed that the lyrics published by Israel Hayom are correct, calling the song a “moving and powerful ballad.”

It also published other lyrics, including the lines “Who told you boys don’t cry / Hours and hours / And flowers / Life is not a game for the cowards,” which Israel Hayom said is a reference to Israeli soldiers. 

KAN said Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar had written to the EBU to insist the song’s lyrics be approved, adding that “Israel is in one of its most complex periods, and that this fact cannot be ignored when choosing a song to represent it.”

On X, Zohar said: “The song of Israel, which will be performed by Eden Golan, is a moving song, which expresses the feelings of the people and the country these days, and is not political."

He said any decision to disqualify “October Rain” would be “scandalous.”

“We all hope that Eurovision will remain a musical and cultural event and not a political arena — where the participating countries can bring their uniqueness and nationalism to the stage through music.

“I call on the European Broadcasting Union to continue to act professionally and neutrally, and not to let politics affect art.”

Several protests about Israel’s participation, including in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, have been raised, while Iceland’s Association of Composers and Lyricists said the war in Gaza made Israel’s entry “incompatible” with the spirit of the contest.

The annual Eurovision contest has been won four times by Israel, where it is popular and often viewed as a barometer of the country’s standing internationally.

In the past, the EBU has forced the altering of lyrics over politics. In 2009, Georgia withdrew from the contest over its song’s overt references to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia was itself excluded from the contest in 2022 following its invasion of Ukraine, which went on to win Eurovision that year.

Noel Curran, director general of the EBU, said: “Comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult and, as a non-political media organization, not ours to make.”

He added: “The EBU is aligned with other international organizations, including sports unions and federations and other international bodies, that have similarly maintained their inclusive stance towards Israeli participants in major competitions at this time.”

(With Reuters)


Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy

Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy
Updated 22 February 2024

Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy

Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy
  • New committee for press freedoms established
  • 100-day plan endorsed, several proposals to start immediately

RIYADH: The Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board approved on Wednesday an executive strategy which will see several new committees established and a number of proposals fast tracked over the next 100 days.

The move came during the board’s second meeting, led by Adhwan Al-Ahmari, the association’s chairman, which took place on the sidelines of the Saudi Media Forum, held at the Riyadh Hilton Hotel.

Newly established dedicated committees will oversee the implementation of the association’s approved plan. These include an Executive Committee, responsible for setting interim targets and addressing urgent issues, and the Review and Performance Committee, tasked with monitoring performance, assessing committee effectiveness, and ensuring target fulfillment.

The Press Freedoms Committee will establish frameworks, implement plans, and collaborate with international media organizations to safeguard press freedoms.

In order to provide the association with a more robust foundation for its operations, the board has also decided to form a Committee for Developing Financial Resources, which will explore methods to generate income and ensure sustainability.

The Members and Relations Committee will manage the members’ affairs, while the Training Committee is tasked with crafting short-term and long-term training programs, as well as fostering partnerships with local and international universities and training centers.

The Events Committee will create executive plans for the association’s events and will develop a standardized criteria for internal and external activities, while the Content Committee is responsible for establishing a comprehensive editorial policy for all postings, as well as overseeing and improving the association’s website.

The board of directors endorsed a 100-day plan for the implementation of all proposals. The plan will be revised during the board’s next meeting.

The meeting of the board also discussed forming a club for journalists, which will be headquartered in Riyadh and operated by the association.

The board examined legal protection for media workers who are members of the association, in line with its regulations.

The board members emphasized the significance of expanding membership to include media students and trainees, providing them with a special membership to learn from professional journalists.

The meeting also discussed securing funding sources and establishing governance for the association’s fund for supporting journalists.

Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC

Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC
Updated 22 February 2024

Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC

Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC
  • Hasan will be regular commentator with first column Wednesday urging US president to end Gaza ‘genocide’
  • MSNBC cancelled ‘The Mehdi Hasan Show’ in January amid widespread criticisms

LONDON: Former MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan is moving to The Guardian US following his sudden exit from the network last month.

The British-American writer and broadcaster, known for his award-winning work, will be a regular columnist for the American online presence of the British newspaper.

Its US editor, Betsy Reed, said Hasan’s addition would enhance the publication’s political commentary, advocacy for human rights and free speech, and accountability for those in power.

Hasan’s debut column, published on Wednesday, urged American President Joe Biden to pressure the Israeli government to end what he described as the “genocide” of Palestinians in Gaza.

Hasan said: “I have been poring over columns in The Guardian since I was a teenager. Now I get to write some of my own, in what is perhaps one of the busiest and biggest news years of my lifetime. It’s a huge honor and a privilege.”

The move came after Hasan’s MSNBC “The Mehdi Hasan Show” was abruptly cancelled by the network. While his programs did not always draw large audiences on MSNBC, his passionate monologues and incisive interviews earned him a significant online following, often leading to viral clips.

The timing of the show’s cancellation raised eyebrows, coinciding with Hasan’s criticism of Israel’s actions during its conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Media analysts and fellow journalists have raised concerns that ending Hasan’s show had left American audiences without a crucial voice in the corporate news landscape during times of ongoing conflict.

The Guardian US has been expanding its team, adding prominent columnists and an investigative unit, reflecting the growing interest in British media among American audiences.