Edinburgh Fringe CEO defends Baillie Gifford sponsorship amid criticism over Israel links

Edinburgh Fringe CEO defends Baillie Gifford sponsorship amid criticism over Israel links
Shona McCarthy, CEO of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society that organizes the annual arts festival in the Scottish capital. (AP)
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Updated 12 June 2024
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Edinburgh Fringe CEO defends Baillie Gifford sponsorship amid criticism over Israel links

Edinburgh Fringe CEO defends Baillie Gifford sponsorship amid criticism over Israel links
  • ‘Everybody has to make their own decisions,’ Shona McCarthy says
  • Firm has been dropped as sponsor by other cultural events in UK

LONDON: The head of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society has defended its sponsorship deal with Baillie Gifford despite growing criticism of the investment management firm’s funding links to Israel.

Speaking ahead of the program launch on Wednesday morning, Shona McCarthy, CEO of the charity that organizes the annual arts festival in the Scottish capital, said the board had had “a serious and detailed discussion about all of this” before reaching its decision.

Arts festivals were operating in a “fevered environment” in which “everybody has to make their own decisions with the information that they have at hand,” she said.

“We’re expected to be all things to all people, be the most values-driven organizations on the planet, alert to everything that’s going on in our geopolitical environment and to keep our teams in jobs, keep solvent and deal with deficits and loans from COVID that we’re all still carrying.”

McCarthy’s comments came after Baillie Gifford was dropped as a sponsor by other cultural events in the UK.

A campaign led by the Fossil Free Books group has called for divestment from the fossil fuel industry and an end to the funding of companies associated with Israel.

“Solidarity with Palestine and climate justice are inextricably linked,” it said.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival and Hay Festival are among those to have severed ties with Baillie Gifford, though others have said the company’s investment links to fossil fuels and Israel are limited and conducted primarily through third-party entities.

Speaking about the decision by literary festivals to sever ties with Baillie Gifford, Fossil Free Books organizer Omar Robert Hamilton said: “I wouldn’t call it a victory.

“It was that relationship that we were trying to get them to leverage in order to talk to them about divesting.”

The cultural boycott related to the Gaza conflict has gained momentum in Europe and the US, sparking heated debates due to the financial vulnerabilities of cultural organizations.

In a related development, several bands have withdrawn from the Download music festival over Barclaycard’s sponsorship of the event. Barclays provides financial services to defense companies that supply Israel.


Advertising group Dentsu committed to growth in Saudi Arabia, says new regional CEO

Advertising group Dentsu committed to growth in Saudi Arabia, says new regional CEO
Updated 19 July 2024
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Advertising group Dentsu committed to growth in Saudi Arabia, says new regional CEO

Advertising group Dentsu committed to growth in Saudi Arabia, says new regional CEO
  • Tarek Daouk tells Arab News about company’s plans, including its new sports agency and initiatives for talent-building, empowerment of women, gender diversity and youth development
  • Dentsu has had a presence in the Kingdom for 17 years, with an established office in Jeddah, and this year opened a regional headquarters in Riyadh

DUBAI: International advertising group Dentsu this week named Tarek Daouk as CEO of its newly created Middle East, North Africa and Turkey operation.

Daouk, who previously served as CEO of Dentsu MENA, will now also lead growth strategy and business execution for Turkey, where the group has “reorganized its operations,” the company said.

He has also been appointed president of Southern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey for its technology and data-driven customer experience management company, Merkle.

Dentsu has had a presence in the Kingdom for 17 years, with an established office in Jeddah. This year it opened a regional headquarters in Riyadh. The aim was to “provide a locational and cultural hub connecting East and West, with both the opportunity for local clients to expand globally, and international clients to engage with the growth opportunities within the Kingdom and beyond,” Daouk told Arab News.

“The opening of our regional headquarters in Saudi Arabia marks a significant milestone for Dentsu MENA and underscores our commitment to driving growth and innovation in the Kingdom and beyond.”

Brands and agencies must offer “tailored solutions” to clients in response to the “rapid shifts in culture and society” in Saudi Arabia, Daouk said.

“Saudi is in a unique position and the speed of transformation here means you need a unique response. A one-size-fits-all approach for MENA is no longer fit for purpose.”

One of the ways in which Dentsu tailors its approach, he added, is through its global data, identity, and insights platform, Merkury, which combines proprietary and partner data with more than 10,000 consumer-data attributes.

“Saudi was among Dentsu’s leading markets, globally, to launch this technology, so it was a significant milestone for us in leveraging the power of data to reach audiences in a much more targeted way in the Kingdom,” Daouk said.

In May, the company announced the launch of a dedicated sporting agency, Dentsu Sports International, for the Middle East and North Africa region, with its headquarters in Riyadh and offices in the UAE. The decision to have the head office in Riyadh was a strategic one that “demonstrates our belief and commitment in the sports agenda of Vision 2030,” said Daouk.

One of the pillars of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan for national development and diversification is the goal of creating a vibrant society that offers “world-class entertainment, a thriving sports agenda and investment into gaming and esports,” and Daouk believes this presents significant opportunities to “create value with sports, film and music content.”

The demand for sports marketing in the Kingdom is at an all-time high and engagement from sports fans is strong, he added. A study conducted by Dentsu Sports International found residents of the Kingdom spend more time and money on live events than their international counterparts; for example, Saudis attend an average of six events a year compared with the UK average of two.

The company’s commitment to the Kingdom is also reflected in its investment in talent-building initiatives, Daouk said. It is “committed to accelerating Saudi talent recruitment, learning and development of knowledge and skills” through the implementation of its global programs in the country, he added.

The group is also investing in gender-diversity and youth-development initiatives in the Kingdom and has introduced its global “Path of Tabei” program to recruit Saudi women to leadership roles and develop their leadership skills, he added.

Named after Junko Tabei — who in 1975 was the first woman to climb Mount Everest, and in 1992 became the first woman to complete the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on every continent — Dentsu’s “Path of Tabei” is a yearlong program that provides training for selected high-potential women to support their advancement within the company at the senior leadership level.

It has also formed partnerships with Prince Sultan University and other higher-learning institutions, and takes part in local employment fairs and university career days “to find and train the best talents of tomorrow,” said Daouk.

As part of its investment in the Kingdom, Dentsu organized its first “Now to Next” event in Riyadh last year, which brought together global and local experts to discuss industry challenges and plan for future opportunities in the Kingdom and wider region.

This year, worldwide advertising expenditure is expected to increase by $35.8 billion to $754.5 billion, according to Dentsu’s latest Global Ad Spend Forecasts.

“This is not only a 5 percent increase, year-on-year, but is also outpacing global economic growth, (and) MENA, particularly Saudi, is one of the fastest-growing markets,” Daouk said.

This projected growth, combined with “the ongoing digital transformation, significant changes in the ad landscape presenting new routes to market, and the continued investment in gigaprojects building a thriving sports agenda and a cultural hub for gaming and e-sports,” means the “potential and opportunities in Saudi are endless,” he added.

“Our aspiration is to leverage Dentsu’s global expertise and local insights to support Saudi Arabia’s economic-diversification efforts, foster entrepreneurship and innovation, and empower local talent.”


EU court rejects TikTok challenge against new EU digital rules

EU court rejects TikTok challenge against new EU digital rules
Updated 17 July 2024
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EU court rejects TikTok challenge against new EU digital rules

EU court rejects TikTok challenge against new EU digital rules
  • TikTok owner ByteDance is one of the six “gatekeepers” under Digital Markets Act facing the curbs
  • TikTok claimed to be acting as the “most capable challenger” to digital monopolies

LUXEMBOURG: TikTok lost an appeal Wednesday to escape new digital rules that seek to rein in the power of big tech after an EU court rejected its challenge.
A landmark European Union law known as the Digital Markets Act (DMA) entered into force in March, and regulators believe it will create a fairer market.
The European Commission designated six “gatekeepers” under the DMA facing the curbs: Google parent Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft — and TikTok owner ByteDance, the only non-US company.
The EU said in May that Booking would also have to apply the law and gave the online travel agent six months to prepare for compliance.
The decision by the Luxembourg-based General Court is the first judgment on a DMA challenge by big tech, with cases lodged by Apple and Meta still pending.
“The Court dismisses ByteDance’s action,” it said. TikTok can appeal against the ruling within two months and 10 days of the decision.
TikTok had insisted it was the “most capable challenger” to entrenched players in the digital sphere, but the court dismissed that argument.
“TikTok had succeeded in increasing its number of users very rapidly and exponentially, reaching, in a short time, half the size of Facebook and of Instagram, and a particularly high engagement rate, with young users in particular, who spent more time on TikTok than on other social networks,” the court said in a statement.
The judges acknowledged that in 2018, video sharing app TikTok was indeed a challenger but it had since then “rapidly consolidated its position and even strengthened that position over the following years” despite the launch of similar rival services.


“We are disappointed with this decision. TikTok is a challenger platform that provides important competition to incumbent players,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“While we will now evaluate next steps, we already took measures to comply with the relevant obligations of the DMA ahead of last March’s deadline.”
But the court determined “ByteDance met the quantitative thresholds laid down in the DMA.”
For Brussels to name a company as a gatekeeper, they must fulfil certain conditions.
The criteria include having more than 45 million monthly active users in the EU and more than 10,000 yearly active business users established in the bloc.
Digital companies with an annual turnover in the EU of at least 7.5 billion euros ($8.2 billion) or a market value of above 75 billion euros also face the new curbs.
If a company violates the law, the EU can impose fines of up to 10 percent of a company’s total global turnover. This can rise to 20 percent for repeat offenders and in the most severe circumstances, the EU can order the break-up of companies.
It is the second defeat in the courts for TikTok over the DMA. It lost a bid in February to suspend the strict new rules pending the judgment handed down Wednesday.
Big tech is not happy about the new law. Apple, contesting the DMA in the courts, has been vocal in its criticism, saying it puts users’ security at risk.


Trump shooting conspiracy theories flourish on X, researchers say

Trump shooting conspiracy theories flourish on X, researchers say
Updated 17 July 2024
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Trump shooting conspiracy theories flourish on X, researchers say

Trump shooting conspiracy theories flourish on X, researchers say
  • The conspiracy theories were viewed over 215 million times on X, the watchdog Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) said

WASHINGTON: Conspiracy theories about the assassination attempt on Donald Trump received tens of millions of views on X, researchers said Tuesday, highlighting the potential for extreme falsehoods to go viral on the Elon Musk-owned platform.

The social media site, formerly named Twitter, was flooded with unsubstantiated claims soon after the shooting Saturday at a campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, which left one spectator dead and a bloodied Trump injured in the ear.

Those included unfounded assertions that the assassination attempt had been “staged” or an “inside job,” while fingers were pointed at imaginary culprits such as Jews and the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

The conspiracy theories were viewed over 215 million times on X, the watchdog Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) said after analyzing a sample of 100 popular posts.

A majority of the posts did not carry a “Community Note,” a crowd-sourced moderation tool that Musk has promoted as the way for users to add context to the tweets, CCDH added.

In the first 24 hours alone, unsubstantiated narratives around the incident amassed more than 100 million views on X, according to the nonprofit research group Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

X did not respond to a request for comment.

Internet hoaxers also falsely identified several people as the shooter — including Italian sports journalist Marco Violi, anti-Trump protester Maxwell Yearick and comedian Sam Hyde, AFP’s fact-checkers reported.

Federal investigators have identified the shooter, who was killed on the scene, as Thomas Matthew Crooks of Pennsylvania.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, several social media users voiced confusion as they scrambled to obtain accurate information in what appeared to be a sea of false or misleading posts, which rapidly gained traction.

The trend illustrates the ability of falsehoods to mutate into viral political discourse on tech platforms including X, which now offer fewer guardrails as they scale back content moderation.

Researchers say some clout-chasing accounts on the platform have a financial motive to post sensational falsehoods, as X’s ad revenue-sharing program incentivizes extreme content designed to boost engagement.

“In the marketplace of disinformation — which is effectively what a lot of social media platforms have now been reduced to, a marketplace for lies — extreme content is your currency,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive and founder of CCDH.

“The algorithms take the most outlandish content and amplify it exponentially until the entire digital world is flooded with conspiracism, disinformation and hate.”

Researchers have warned about a possible firehose of disinformation in the run up to the November election, which will take place in a deeply polarized political climate in the United States.

“Already, at an early stage in the US electoral cycle, we can see flashing warning signs that social media in the weeks and months ahead will be increasingly chaotic and rife with disinformation,” Ahmed said.


Algeria publisher closes over book controversy

Readers visit a book stall on a street  in the Algerian capital Algiers. (AFP file photo)
Readers visit a book stall on a street in the Algerian capital Algiers. (AFP file photo)
Updated 17 July 2024
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Algeria publisher closes over book controversy

Readers visit a book stall on a street  in the Algerian capital Algiers. (AFP file photo)
  • The announcement comes a week after “Houaria” won the prestigious Assia Djebar Grand Prize, an award in honor of the Algerian literary giant who died in 2015

ALGIERS: An Algerian publishing house said on Tuesday it was ceasing operations after an award-winning novel sparked uproar on social media because of its controversial themes.
“We announce that MIM Edition has closed its doors effective immediately in the face of the storm and fire,” the publisher posted on Facebook.
“Houaria,” by Inaam Bayoud, has sparked furor on social media, with many accusing it of being replete with sexual innuendo and using “coarse terms in Darija,” the Algerian dialect of Arabic.
The announcement comes a week after “Houaria” won the prestigious Assia Djebar Grand Prize, an award in honor of the Algerian literary giant who died in 2015.
“While reading the novel, we were no less concerned about values than those who claim to defend them without having read it,” said Amina Belaala, a member of the Assia Djebar Grand Prize jury that selected the book.
“We did not see in those few words any affront to morality, religion or modesty,” she added.
For literary critic Faycal Metaoui, the uproar caused by the novel is evidence of a double-standard for female writers in Algerian society.
“The author and the publisher are women. If it were written by a man, we would not have seen all this,” he told AFP.
 

 


Stabbed Iran International journalist flees to Israel over safety concerns

Stabbed Iran International journalist flees to Israel over safety concerns
Updated 16 July 2024
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Stabbed Iran International journalist flees to Israel over safety concerns

Stabbed Iran International journalist flees to Israel over safety concerns
  • Pouria Zeraati said move was a “reluctant” but necessary decision

LONDON: Iran International journalist Pouria Zeraati has fled to Israel citing safety concerns after an assassination attempt in London in March.

In an interview with The Guardian, Zeraati revealed that his move from London to an undisclosed location in Israel was a “reluctant” but necessary decision.

“The place I live right now is a little safer,” he said in an interview published Tuesday.

“There have been communications between the UK police and the police here. They know about my situation and have taken extra measures to make sure I’m safe in Israel.”

Zeraati was attacked outside his home in Wimbledon, southwest London, by three unidentified men who reportedly fled the country immediately after the attack.

Police believe the attackers were part of a criminal gang from Eastern Europe acting on behalf of the Iranian government.

Suspicion increased following a series of foiled plots aimed at kidnapping or killing employees of Iran International, a London-based network that Tehran has classified as a terrorist organization.

Zeraati, who was hospitalized with a leg injury, criticized the UK’s approach to the threat posed by Iran on British soil, saying it could not guarantee his safety.

He called for the British government to impose more stringent sanctions against Iran.

The attack on Zeraati comes amid an “unprecedented” harassment campaign against Iranian journalists living abroad.

According to a report by Reporters Without Borders, almost 90 percent of Iranian journalists said they had experienced online threats or harassment in the past five years.

In December, ITV revealed that a double agent exposed a plot orchestrated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to assassinate two network anchors during the 2022 anti-government protests.

Similarly, journalists at the BBC’s Persian language news outlet reported being targeted with offensive messages and threats of sexual assault, with reports of family members in Iran being arbitrarily detained.

Zeraati’s move to a country at war, and at risk of further conflict, has also raised fresh questions over how safe the UK is for dissidents targeted by foreign states.