LONDON: From the opening of cinemas in Saudi Arabia to the arrival of #MeToo in Egypt, 2018 was a transformative year for media throughout the Arab world. Here Arab News reporters reflect on the memorable moments that shaped the year in media.
Saudi Arabia starts first film screenings ahead of commercial cinema opening
The Kingdom began screening feature-length animated children’s films after a 35-year-old ban on cinemas was lifted. Before the opening of commercial cinemas, authorities started to sponsor temporary venues, including one in the Red Sea city of Jeddah with a simple projector, a red carpet and of course, a popcorn machine.
Netflix produces first Arabic-language original
The streaming giant revealed it was producing its first Arabic-language show, focusing part of its massive $7-8 billion global production budget on its Middle Eastern audience.
The American entertainment service said it would produce “Jinn,” a six-episode drama series, with the award-winning Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, known for the film “Very Big Shot,” released in 2015.
The supernatural teenage drama is about young Arab characters whose lives are disrupted when a Jinn appears to them in the ancient city of Petra.
BBC leads UN appeal to stop Iran harassing journalists
The BBC took the unprecedented step of appealing to the UN to stop Iran harassing its Persian-service journalists in London and their families based in Iran. The move reflected the rising level of intimidation reporters based outside of the country were facing, according to human rights lawyers and media organizations.
“This is not just about the BBC — we are not the only media organization to have been harassed or forced to compromise when dealing with Iran. In truth, this story is much wider: It is a story about fundamental human rights,” said Tony Hall, the corporation’s director-general.
Arab News relaunches: #WhatChanged?
This newspaper made the headlines in April with a high- profile relaunch that would go on to win a number of design plaudits. The month saw the newspaper and website get a new identity that was bolstered by increased coverage of both the Arab region and the wider world.
Royal wedding mania grips Arab world
The royal wedding was not only just a big story for UK tabloids in May — it also captured the imagination of audiences across the Middle East.
“It was a nice romantic story and a break from the misery in the Middle East,” Rima Maktabi, Al Arabiya’s London bureau chief, told Arab News.
The wedding ceremony between Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle — which took place in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle — was broadcast live on Al Arabiya. The network’s coverage attracted a surprisingly high number of viewers, despite Ramadan starting the week before.
Women get behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia
The front pages of newspapers around the world were festooned with images of women driving in Saudi Arabia. As the de facto ban on women driving ended after more than 60 years, women across the Kingdom flooded social media with videos of their first car trips, while some police officers out on the streets distributed roses to the first-time drivers.
In a tribute to Saudi female drivers, the Lebanese soprano Hiba Tawaji released a special video of a song she performed live in Riyadh at a concert the previous year. “Today women in Saudi Arabia can legally drive their cars,” she said. “Congratulations on this achievement, this one’s for you.”
Warner Bros makes a splash in Abu Dhabi
The hugely anticipated Warner Bros theme park officially opened in July at a cost of $1 billion. With 29 rides and daily shows, it represented the emirate’s push to offer the kind of big-budget attractions more associated with neighboring Dubai. The park is a key plank in Yas Island’s target of attracting 48 million annual visits by 2022.
Egyptian woman’s ‘harassment’ post triggers social media storm
It was seen by many as a #MeToo moment for Egypt. An Egyptian woman claimed that a man stalked her at a bus stop, made inappropriate advances, and only backed off when she began filming him with her cellphone. But when she posted the video on Facebook, it ignited an online storm in which many Egyptians, including women, took the man’s side. Some said he was politely flirting and the woman overreacted, while others speculated about what she was wearing, suggesting she was at fault. Sexual harassment, mostly ranging from catcalls to occasional pinching or grabbing, is rampant in Egypt. Polls have found that a majority of both men and women in the country believe it is justified if women dress “provocatively” in public.
SRMG strikes deal with Bloomberg
The publisher of Arab News, Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG) struck a long-term agreement to launch Bloomberg Al Arabiya, a new multi-platform Arabic-language business and financial news service. It paved the way for a 24/7 television and radio network, and a dedicated digital platform among other joint initiatives. The planned Bloomberg Al-Arabiya platforms would provide Arabic-speaking audiences around the world with news and analysis on
the companies, markets, economies and politics shaping the Middle East.
Dubai newspaper editor murder case back in court
Former Gulf News editor Francis Matthew had his jail sentence increased to 15 years in October after the Dubai Court of Appeal convicted him of premeditated murder. The 62-year-old was in March found guilty of “physical assault leading to death” by Dubai Criminal Court, for killing his wife by hitting her with a hammer. But there would be another twist to the case before the year ended as the Dubai Court of Cassation later overturned the sentence and had his case reviewed by another panel of judges.
OSN looks for a buyer in era of Netflix and Amazon Prime
Bloomberg revealed in November that Goldman Sachs Group had been given the task of finding a buyer for OSN, the Middle East’s biggest pay-TV service.
Competition from the likes of Netflix Inc., Amazon Prime Video and other services had hit the regional broadcasting veteran hard.
OSN’s controlling shareholder, Kuwait Projects Co. had hired Rothschild in 2013 to evaluate a possible share sale. However, the investment bank’s mandate ended in 2014 after the IPO didn’t take place.
Turkey named worst offender against press freedom
Turkey was named the world’s worst offender against press freedom by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), with at least 68 journalists imprisoned for anti-state charges. Turkey had previously said its crackdown was justified because of an attempted coup to overthrow the government in 2016. CPJ said that a near-record number of journalists around the world are behind bars for their work, including two Reuters reporters whose imprisonment in Myanmar has drawn international criticism. There were 251 journalists jailed for doing their jobs as of Dec. 1, the CPJ said in an annual study. For the third consecutive year, more than half are in Turkey, China and Egypt.