Film training for young Arab women garners praise, but parity remains ‘a challenge’

Netflix collaborated with AFAC to support aspiring female directors aged 21 to 27 as part of its broader commitment to promoting gender equality in the Arab cinema industry through its Because She Created initiatives. (Supplied)
Netflix collaborated with AFAC to support aspiring female directors aged 21 to 27 as part of its broader commitment to promoting gender equality in the Arab cinema industry through its Because She Created initiatives. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 February 2024
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Film training for young Arab women garners praise, but parity remains ‘a challenge’

Film training for young Arab women garners praise, but parity remains ‘a challenge’
  • Netflix and Arab Fund for Arts and Culture organized program that concluded with visit to production facility in Madrid
  • 37 women participated in project that began November last year

DUBAI: The inaugural film industry training program launched by Netflix for young Arab women has garnered praise from its participants, but organizers said gender parity remains a major challenge.

In collaboration with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, the “Women in Film: Introduction to the Creative Process” initiative concluded with a visit earlier this month to Netflix’s production hub in Tres Cantos, Madrid, following a series of workshops across the Middle East.

“I never thought I would ever be able to see something like this or stand in the same place as some of my most favorite TV shows on Netflix,” said Lama Al-Sharhan, a participant from Saudi Arabia, who was among 37 women who participated.

“It was surreal, and the structure was carefully planned to the smallest detail to make it easy to produce multiple shows as efficiently as possible,” she told Arab News.

While filmmakers from around the world share the same passion for the industry, Arab filmmakers “lack knowledge on how to produce and create series that capture worldwide audiences’ attention” the way Netflix does, she added.

“We require these small tips and tricks that we might not be aware of since this is still a growing industry in the Arab world while in Europe, it’s more established,” said Al-Sharhan.

Rima Mismar, AFAC’s executive director, spoke to Arab News about the challenges facing female filmmakers and crew in the Arab world.

She said there was a scarcity of funding for arts and culture in general across the Arab region, in addition to the lack of proper infrastructure for production, distribution, and dissemination of film works. This was “a challenge that women filmmakers face even more than their male counterparts.”

Moreover, there are “inequities in terms of salaries, exposure, and capacity-building opportunities” for women, she added.

Although the last decade saw the emergence of more women directors and producers in the Arab world as well as female-centric efforts by global platforms, Mismar warned: “One should not confuse progress and improvement with equity and justice.”

“The path is still very long and women across the Arab region still face social and familial pressures regarding their choices of artistic careers,” she added.

Mismar highlighted that women-centric initiatives should “not be solely based on the fact that they are women, but rather to value women filmmakers for their unique perspectives, emotional depth, worldview, and their capability to push the boundaries of our imagination through stories and experiences that are not focused only on women characters.”

She said AFAC was working toward “shifting the paradigm through equally including women voices in our processes, thinking, brainstorming, and selection of film projects to receive support.

She added that the organization was “keen on intergenerational transmission of knowledge, cross-sectoral learning, and the development of more critical discourses around the dynamics of production in film and other art forms in the region.”

Mismar said the initiative with Netflix “was very much about creating a safe environment for young women filmmakers to learn, share and discuss and to be inspired by other women in the field as well as learn from other fields like feminist writings.”

The program began in November with three-day workshops held in Dubai, Jeddah and Cairo, offering participants mentorship from established female directors in various aspects of filmmaking, including scriptwriting.

“As we place representation and diversity at the heart of what we do, partnering with like-minded organizations like AFAC strengthens our shared aim to amplify the voices of Arab creators,” said Netflix’s content director for Turkiye, the Middle East and Africa, Nuha El-Tayeb.

“We want to serve as a meaningful part of the creative communities in the Arab world, and partnerships, like the one with AFAC, help provide creators with the tools they need to tell the best version of their stories,” she told Arab News.
 

Participants visited Netflix’s content hub during the final leg of the trip, expanding their network through engagements with industry professionals and talks with prominent organizations and government bodies.

The participants also had the opportunity to have mentoring sessions with producer Emma Lustres (“Cell 211,” “Retribution”), and showrunner Gema R. Neira (“Nacho,” “High Seas,” “Farina”).

This is not Netflix’s first collaboration with AFAC.

In 2021, the two organizations supported 240 freelancers in the film and television sector across 12 countries in the Arab region under the AFAC-Netflix Hardship Fund.

In 2022, Netflix partnered with AFAC to provide a one-time grant of $250,000 to women producers and directors in the Arab world through the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity, as part of its broader commitment to promoting gender equality in the Arab cinema industry through its Because She Created initiatives.

The Women in Film program is part of Netflix’s “ongoing effort to upskill more women behind the camera and give new voices the opportunity to break through in the industry,” said El-Tayeb.

“The goal of this program is to introduce the creative filmmaking process and the different roles women can play behind the camera to emerging women filmmakers in the region,” she added.

Netflix will continue to invest in amplifying and celebrating more women’s voices through our content, funding and upskilling initiatives as part of our work in the region, said El-Tayeb.


Lebanese newspaper introduces ‘AI President’ in effort to break political deadlock

Lebanese newspaper introduces ‘AI President’ in effort to break political deadlock
Updated 13 April 2024
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Lebanese newspaper introduces ‘AI President’ in effort to break political deadlock

Lebanese newspaper introduces ‘AI President’ in effort to break political deadlock
  • Artificial intelligence tool’s ‘deep understanding’ of country equips it to address issues effectively, AnNahar newspaper says
  • Lebanon has been without a president for more than two years

LONDON: A Lebanese newspaper has launched what it claims is the world’s first artificial intelligence tool designed to assume presidential duties for a nation, in an attempt to break the long-standing deadlock over who should assume the country’s presidency.

Arabic-language daily AnNahar said the program, which it has called “AI President,” has been trained on an archive of 90 years of “impartial journalism” from its pages. The program analyzes historical data and current events to provide answers to political, legal, and governmental questions.

With its “deep understanding” of Lebanon’s history, “AI President” aims to provide an “unbiased perspective” on the country’s current challenges.

The launch was announced in a live broadcast by Nayla Tueni, AnNahar’s editor-in-chief, who conducted an interview with the software regarding Lebanon’s current issues and potential solutions to them.

Lebanon is facing a number of long-running socio-economic crises, with over 80 percent of the population now reported to be living in poverty.

The country has been without a president for more than two years, despite 13 unsuccessful attempts by the Lebanese parliament to elect one.

Tueni hopes “AI President” will help break the political stalemate and restore confidence in the system.

“We refuse to sit back and allow things to go on as they have. To not have a president for this long is unacceptable and has impacted the country negatively,” Tueni said. “If the parliament will not do its job to elect a president, then the people will bring Lebanon a president.” 

“AI President” will be accessible through the website OurPresident.ai to answer questions on Lebanese politics.


Republican hardliners blame Biden administration after Huawei unveils laptop with new Intel AI chip

Republican hardliners blame Biden administration after Huawei unveils laptop with new Intel AI chip
Updated 13 April 2024
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Republican hardliners blame Biden administration after Huawei unveils laptop with new Intel AI chip

Republican hardliners blame Biden administration after Huawei unveils laptop with new Intel AI chip
  • A special license issued by the Trump administration has allowed Intel to ship central processors to Huawei for use in laptops since 2020
  • In August, Huawei unveiled a new phone powered by a sophisticated chip manufactured by sanctioned Chinese chipmaker SMIC

WASHINGTON: Republican US lawmakers on Friday criticized the Biden administration after sanctioned Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei unveiled a laptop this week powered by an Intel AI chip.

The United States placed Huawei on a trade restriction list in 2019 for violating Iran sanctions, part of a broader effort to hobble Beijing’s technological advances. Placement on the list means the company’s suppliers have to seek a special, difficult-to-obtain license before shipping to it.
One such license, issued by the Trump administration, has allowed Intel to ship central processors to Huawei for use in laptops since 2020. China hard-liners had urged the Biden administration to revoke that license, but many grudgingly accepted that it would expire later this year and not be renewed.
Huawei’s unveiling Thursday of its first AI-enabled laptop, the MateBook X Pro powered by Intel’s new Core Ultra 9 processor, shocked and angered them, because it suggested to them that the Commerce Department had approved shipments of the new chip to Huawei.
“One of the greatest mysteries in Washington, DC is why the Department of Commerce continues to allow US technology to be shipped to Huawei” Republican Congressman Michael Gallagher, who chairs the House of Representatives select committee on China, said in a statement to Reuters.
A source familiar with the matter said the chips were shipped under a preexisting license. They are not covered by recent broad-cased restrictions on AI chip shipments to China, the source and another person said.
The Commerce Department and Intel declined to comment. Huawei did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The reaction is a sign of growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to thwart Huawei’s rise, nearly five years after it was added to a trade restriction list.
In August, it shocked the world with a new phone powered by a sophisticated chip manufactured by sanctioned Chinese chipmaker SMIC, becoming a symbol of China’s technological resurgence despite Washington’s ongoing efforts to cripple its capacity to produce advanced semiconductors.
At a Senate subcommittee hearing this week, Kevin Kurland, an export enforcement official, said Washington’s restrictions on Huawei have had a “significant impact” on it access to US technology. He also stressed that the goal was not necessarily to stop Huawei from growing but to keep it from misusing US technology for “malign activities.”
But the remarks did little to stem frustration among Republican China hawks following the news about Huawei’s new laptop.
“These approvals must stop,” Republican congressman Michael McCaul said in a statement to Reuters. “Two years ago, I was told licenses to Huawei would stop. Today, it doesn’t seem as though the policy has changed.”


Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp

Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp
Updated 13 April 2024
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Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp

Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp
  • The 3 reporters were taken to Shohada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah
  • Journalist Sami Shehada lost his leg in the attack

GAZA: Three Palestinian journalists were injured in an Israeli airstrike on the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza on Friday.

Sami Shehada and Sami Barhoum were covering the events for the TRT Arabic TV channel, while Ahmad Harb was on duty for Al Arabiya News Channel at the time of the incident.

All three journalists were first taken to Al-Awda Hospital, a small facility in the north of the enclave, but later transferred to Shohada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

Shehada lost a leg in the attack, which reportedly directly targeted the media team.

“(We) were in a (relatively) safe spot, wearing our press armor and helmets,” Shehada told Arab News. “Even the car I arrived in was labeled ‘TV,’ and I’m a civilian and a journalist — they targeted us.”

Since Oct. 7, at least 122 journalists have been killed by Israeli strikes, according to UN figures, and many more have been injured.

UN experts said in February that they were “alarmed at the extraordinarily high numbers of journalists and media workers who have been killed, attacked, injured and detained in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in Gaza, in recent months, blatantly disregarding international law. We condemn all killings, threats and attacks on journalists and call on all parties to the conflict to protect them.”


Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists
Updated 12 April 2024
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Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists
  • ‘Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,’ says NGO official

LONDON: Media watchdogs have called for an independent investigation into an Israeli attack on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza that injured eight journalists.

The strike on March 31 also killed four people and injured nine others.

“Israel’s March 31 attack on a hospital compound where journalists were sheltering and working must be independently investigated,” said Committee to Protect Journalists Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York City.

With media offices facing widespread destruction in Gaza, journalists in the enclave have increasingly sought refuge in hospitals.

However, attacks on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital and the March 18 assault on Al-Shifa Hospital, where journalists were arrested and faced violence, have rendered even hospitals unsafe for press personnel.

“Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,” added de la Serna.

Reports show that on March 31, an Israeli drone strike hit a tent encampment outside Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, central Gaza, near a tent provided by the Turkish Anadolu news agency, where journalists had sought refuge.

The attack targeted a command center belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, resulting in the deaths of four militants and injuries to 17 other people, including eight journalists, according to multiple media outlets and the Palestinian press freedom group MADA.

Items including cameras, laptops and mobile phones belonging to journalists were also destroyed in the strike.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate in central Gaza has warned of deteriorating conditions for journalists in the enclave, leading many to seek refuge and access to electricity in hospitals in order to file stories.

But recent attacks have eroded confidence in the safety of hospitals across Gaza.

During the Israeli operation in Al-Shifa Hospital on March 18, Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Ismail Al-Ghoul was detained for almost 12 hours alongside several other journalists.

Witnesses reported that soldiers assaulted the group of journalists, destroyed their tent, and damaged equipment and press vehicles.

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Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown
Updated 12 April 2024
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Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown
  • Maison de le Press, an umbrella organization of journalists in Mali, said it rejects the order and called on media to continue with their work
  • Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, has failed in his promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024

BAMAKO, Mali: In a deepening crackdown, Mali’s ruling junta on Thursday banned the media from reporting on activities of political parties and associations, a day after suspending all political activities in the country until further notice.

The order, issued by Mali’s high authority for communication, was distributed on social media. The notice said it applied to all forms of the media, including television, radio, online and print newspapers.
Mali has experienced two coups since 2020, leading a wave of political instability that has swept across West and Central Africa in recent years. Along with its political troubles, the country is also in the grip of a worsening insurgency by militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group.
The scope of the ban — or how it would be applied in practice — was not immediately clear. It was also not known if journalists would still be allowed to report on issues such as the economy, which are closely tied to politics and who would monitor their work.
The umbrella organization that represents journalists in Mali responded with an unusually stern rebuttal.
The group, known as Maison de le Press, or Press House, said it rejects the order and called on journalists to continue to report on politics in Mali. It also urged them to “stand tall, remain unified and to mobilize to defend the right of citizens to have access to information.”
Mali’s national commission for human rights also expressed regret and profound concern over the decision in a statement published late Thursday. It warned the junta the decision could prove harmful.
“Instead of calming the social climate, these restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms could potentially stir up trouble and tension, which the country does not need,” it said.
The clampdown on the media followed a similar action on Wednesday, when the junta ordered the suspension of all activities by political parties until further notice, citing a a need to preserve public order. The news was broadcast on state television as the population was celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan during which observant Muslims fast from dawn till dusk.
Analysts said the move was likely a backlash against political figures, civil society and students who have expressed frustration with the junta’s failure to return the country to democratic rule as promised.
“Recent weeks saw mounting pressure by political parties and figures,” Rida Lyammouri of the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, told The Associated Press. “For the first time, the public and politicians have publicly criticized junta leaders and accused them of a lack of seriousness.”
Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024. But in September, the junta canceled elections scheduled for February 2024 indefinitely, citing the need for further technical preparations.
The junta has vowed to end the insurgency that emerged in 2012 after deposing the elected government. It cut military ties with France amid growing frustration with the lack of progress after a decade of assistance, and turned to Russian contractors, mercenaries from the Wagner group, for security support instead. But analysts say the violence has only grown worse.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the ban on political activities. “Freedom of expression and freedom of association are critical to an open society,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.