Advocacy groups make fresh appeal to ICJ to allow international media access to Gaza

Advocacy groups make fresh appeal to ICJ to allow international media access to Gaza
Members of the media are pictured in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP/File)
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Updated 23 May 2024
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Advocacy groups make fresh appeal to ICJ to allow international media access to Gaza

Advocacy groups make fresh appeal to ICJ to allow international media access to Gaza
  • Foreign journalists have been prevented from entering Gaza since beginning of the conflict, except under Israeli army supervision
  • Group of nine signatories issued statement in support of South Africa’s request arguing ban could hamper future accountability

LONDON: Media advocacy groups have made a fresh appeal to the International Court of Justice to allow unimpeded media access to Gaza.

The request, signed by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, ARTICLE 19, the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, and five other media advocacy groups, was made following South Africa’s demand for the court to order Israel to facilitate access for international journalists to the Gaza Strip.

“Despite the valiant efforts of Palestinian journalists who continue reporting despite a daily struggle to survive, Israel’s censorious actions make it nearly impossible to comprehensively, continuously and independently document what is happening on the ground in Gaza and risk significantly hampering future accountability efforts,” the signatories said in a statement issued in support of South Africa’s demand.

The statement noted that journalists, independent human rights investigators, fact-finding missions, and the International Criminal Court still do not have access to Gaza, prohibiting the effective preservation and retention of evidence of potential war crimes. 

The signatories highlighted recent media suppression by Israeli authorities towards Al Jazeera in May and the Associated Press this week, coupled with the conditions under which local journalists operate, making unrestricted media access to the Gaza Strip ever more “urgent and vital.”

CPJ Director of Advocacy and Communications Gypsy Guillen Kaiser said in a statement: “Any censorship of developments in Gaza creates an information void ripe for propaganda and mis- and disinformation that has consequences for public accountability and people’s lives.”

Since the beginning of the conflict, Israeli authorities have implemented a near-total ban on foreign media entering Gaza.

Despite repeated appeals, only a few exceptions have been made for certain networks and journalists, and even then, only under the direct supervision of the Israeli military.

Experts argue that this approach has forced international media to rely heavily on overburdened Palestinian journalists and risk significantly hampering future accountability efforts.

“Journalists have historically played a critical role in contemporaneously investigating and preserving the evidence of war crimes in genocides and other atrocities,” read the letter, adding that in January, the ICJ issued an order to Israel requesting authorities to “take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence related to allegations of acts.

“Israel’s continuing assault on journalists, freedom of expression and people’s right to access information violates international human rights and humanitarian law,” added ARTICLE 19 Senior Director for Law and Policy Barbora Bukovska.

“It defies the ICJ’s January order for evidence to be preserved as the conflict continues and will hinder accountability efforts. It is therefore vital that the ICJ is crystal clear this time around that Israel’s actions must stop.”


Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism

Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism
Updated 19 June 2024
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Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism

Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism
  • Anti-Defamation League cannot be trusted as neutral source of information, Wikipedia editors conclude
  • Organization under scrutiny for its methods of tracking antisemitism and its rigid definition of the term

LONDON: Wikipedia has labelled the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Israeli civil rights organization, as “generally unreliable” for its work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, effectively declassifying it as a top source on its pages.

Editors of the world’s largest online encyclopedia concluded that the ADL, known as the premier Jewish civil rights organization in the US, cannot be trusted as a neutral source of information about antisemitism and the Israel-Palestine crisis.

“ADL no longer appears to adhere to a serious, mainstream and intellectually cogent definition of antisemitism, but has instead given in to the shameless politicization of the very subject that it was originally esteemed for being reliable on,” an editor known as Iskandar323, who initiated the discussion about the ADL, wrote in a debate thread.

Editors highlighted the definition of Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement advocating for the creation of an Israeli state, as a key reason for the declassification.

The decision, which equates the ADL with tabloids, is a significant blow to the organization’s historical status as a key source of information regarding the tracking of antisemitism in the US.

The ADL has faced scrutiny for its methodologies and its rigid definition of antisemitism.

Experts repeatedly expressed skepticism about the organization’s decision to classify demonstrations featuring “anti-Zionist chants and slogans” as antisemitic.

Critics argue that this classification does not represent the full spectrum of antisemitism, because it excludes Jewish progressives and others critical of Israel.

The Forward, a US-Jewish newspaper, found at least 3,000 cases that raised concerns about the ADL’s logging system.

This decision appears to reflect ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s position that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism, full stop,” as he stated in a 2022 speech.

Greenblatt has often been criticized for his strong stance on the issue and has been accused of a partisan approach toward Israel.

In November, he endorsed Elon Musk, who had posted an antisemitic conspiracy theory on his X account, while more recently he described US student protests as Iranian “proxies” and compared the Palestinian keffiyeh scarf to a swastika.

In a statement, the ADL said the Wikipedia decision was part of a “campaign to delegitimize the ADL.”

“This is a sad development for research and education, but ADL will not be daunted in our age-old fight against antisemitism and all forms of hate,” the statement said.


US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law

US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law
Updated 19 June 2024
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US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law

US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law

NEW YORK: The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Tuesday that it had referred a complaint against TikTok to the Justice Department, saying the popular video sharing app may be violating child privacy laws.
The complaint, which also names TikTok’s Chinese parent company Bytedance, stems from an investigation launched following a 2019 settlement, the FTC said in a statement.
At the time, the US regulator accused TikTok’s predecessor, Musical.ly, of having improperly collected child users’ personal data.
TikTok agreed to pay $5.7 million under the settlement and to take actions to come into compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a 1998 law.
FTC chair Lina Khan said Tuesday on X that the follow-up investigation had “found reason to believe that TikTok is violating or about to violate” COPPA and other federal laws.
A separate FTC statement said that the public announcement of the referral was atypical, but “we have determined that doing so here is in the public interest.”
Neither Khan nor the FTC statement further specified the violations TikTok and Bytedance were believed to have committed.
TikTok said Tuesday on X that it had worked for more than a year with the FTC “to address its concerns,” and was “disappointed” the agency was “pursuing litigation instead of continuing to work with us on a reasonable solution.”
“We strongly disagree with the FTC’s allegations, many of which relate to past events and practices that are factually inaccurate or have been addressed,” it said.
“We’re proud of and remain deeply committed to the work we’ve done to protect children and we will continue to update and improve our product.”
The complaint comes a day after US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called for new restrictions on social media to combat a sweeping mental health crisis among young people.
Among the steps proposed by Murthy in his New York Times op-ed was notably a tobacco-style warning label “stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents.”
TikTok, with roughly 170 million US users, is facing a possible ban across the United States within months, as part of legislation signed by President Joe Biden in late April.
The company has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban, which is working its way through US courts.
Meanwhile TikTok has been targeted by several civil suits alleging the company insufficiently protected minors who use the platform.


Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality

Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality
Updated 18 June 2024
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Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality

Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality
  • Snap hopes special lenses will attract new users and advertisers
  • AI-led Lens Studio reduces filter creation time and enhances realism

LONDON: Snapchat owner Snap on Tuesday launched its latest iteration of generative AI technology that will allow users to see more realistic special effects when using phone cameras to film themselves, as it seeks to stay ahead of social media rivals.
Snap has been a pioneer in the field of augmented reality (AR), which overlays computerized effects onto photos or videos of the real world. While the company remains much smaller than rival platforms like Meta, it is betting that making more advanced and whimsical special effects, called lenses, will attract new users and advertisers to Snapchat.
AR developers are now able to create AI-powered lenses, and Snapchat users will be able to use them in their content, the company said.
Santa Monica, California-based Snap also announced an upgraded version of its developer program called Lens Studio, which artists and developers can use to create AR features for Snapchat or other websites and apps.
Bobby Murphy, Snap’s chief technology officer, said the enhanced Lens Studio would reduce the time it takes to create AR effects from weeks to hours and produce more complex work.
“What’s fun for us is that these tools both stretch the creative space in which people can work, but they’re also easy to use, so newcomers can build something unique very quickly,” Murphy said in an interview.
Lens Studio now includes a new suite of generative AI tools, such as an AI assistant that can answer questions if a developer needs help. Another tool will allow artists to type a prompt and automatically generate a three-dimensional image that they can use for their AR lens, removing the need to develop a 3D model from scratch.
Earlier versions of AR technology have been capable only of simple effects, like placing a hat on a person’s head in a video. Snap’s advancements will now allow AR developers to create more realistic lenses, such as having the hat move seamlessly along with a person’s head and match the lighting in the video, Murphy said.
Snap also has plans to create full body, rather than just facial, AR experiences such as generating a new outfit, which is currently very difficult to create, Murphy added.


YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos

YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos
Updated 18 June 2024
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YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos

YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos
  • Notes will allow users to provide additional context on videos

LONDON: Alphabet’s YouTube will soon allow users to add ‘notes’ that will provide context on some of its videos as part of a new feature that will be initially rolled out in the United States, it said on Monday.
YouTube will invite certain users and creators, as part of the initial test phase, to write notes that are meant to provide “relevant, timely, and easy-to-understand context” on videos.
The notes, for instance could clarify when a song is meant to be a parody, point out when a new version of a product being reviewed is available, or let viewers know when older footage is mistakenly portrayed as a current event.
Social media platform X has a similar feature called Community Notes through which it allows select contributors to add context to posts including tags such as “misleading” and “out of context.”
The notes feature on YouTube will be available initially on mobile to users in the US and in English. In this phase, third-party evaluators will rate the helpfulness of notes, which will help train the systems, before a potential broader rollout, YouTube said.
Viewers in the US will start to see notes on videos in the coming weeks and months.


Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard
Updated 18 June 2024
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Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard
  • BBC investigation alleges that the Greek coastguard caused dozens of migrant deaths between 2020 and 2023
  • Survivors have filed a criminal complaint against the Greek coast guard, accusing it of a slow response despite multiple warnings

ATHENS: Greece rejected Monday a BBC investigation that alleged its coast guard caused the deaths of dozens of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, denying accusations it had broken international law.
In an investigation published on its website on Monday, the BBC counted 43 migrants it said had died in the Aegean Sea after being turned back by Greek coast guards between May 2020 and May 2023.
Nine of the dead were deliberately thrown overboard, the publicly funded British broadcaster added.
Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis denied the claims.
“We monitor every publication, every investigation, but I repeat: what has been reported is in no way proven,” he said, adding the coast guard “saves dozens of human lives each day.”
Greece has long been accused of carrying out illegal operations to force back migrants braving the perilous crossing from Turkiye’s western coast in the hope of reaching the European Union.
Though Athens has always denied the practice, numerous investigations by international media and rights groups have documented its existence, often with video evidence.
The BBC said its investigation examined 15 such pushback operations over a three-year period.
As well as basing its reporting on local media, NGOs and the Turkish coast guard, the BBC was able to interview eyewitnesses.
They include a Cameroonian national who said he and two other migrants were arrested after landing on the island of Samos in September 2021.
He said the police forced them onto a Greek coast guard boat, beating them as they went, before throwing them out into the water.
He was the only one to survive, with the bodies of his two companions — an Ivorian and another Cameroonian — washing up on the Turkish coast.
The eyewitness’s lawyers are calling for the Greek authorities to open a double murder case into the incident.
The EU said it was aware of the “terrible allegations.”
“Greek authorities, as in all EU member states, must fully respect obligations under the asylum and international law,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told journalists in Brussels.
Tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, have entered Greece in recent years from the sea and land borders with Turkiye.
The International Organization for Migration has declared the Mediterranean passage the world’s most perilous migration route.
In 2023, a migrant trawler with hundreds of people on board sank off the Greek coast, killing more than 600 people in one of Europe’s deadliest shipwrecks.
The survivors have filed a criminal complaint against the Greek coast guard.
They allege that the coast guard took hours to mount a response to the sinking ship, despite warnings from EU border agency Frontex and the NGO Alarm Phone.