Titans of tech Facebook, Google ‘crushing Middle East media’

Google’s New York city office. Global tech players have been accused of selling advertising in the Middle East at the cheapest possible price as they have already covered their infrastructure costs in their home countries. (AFP)
Updated 24 January 2019

Titans of tech Facebook, Google ‘crushing Middle East media’

  • No restrictions and no taxation give advantage to Facebook and Google, fintech CEO says
  • While regional media outlets have to sell advertising simply to survive, mega-companies can afford to charge only rock-bottom rates

LONDON: The GCC must tackle the issue of global tech giants such as Facebook and Google making it impossible for media publishers in the Middle East to compete, according to an industry veteran.
While regional media outlets have to sell advertising simply to survive, mega-companies can afford to charge only rock-bottom rates, said analyst and publisher Julien Hawari, formerly joint CEO of Mediaquest and now CEO of Infak First Islamic FinTech Ecosystem.
The problem was not the rates charged for advertising but rather “dumping” in the region, he added.
“Global tech players have already covered their infrastructure costs in their home countries. At that point, any extra revenue becomes profit. Therefore they sell (advertising) in the region at the cheapest possible price (which) local players cannot compete with as they have to cover their own infrastructure costs.”
On a scale of one to 10, the costs to global firms would be “close to zero” and for local firms “closer to 10.”
Unlike publishers based in the Middle East, global companies were not constrained by local regulations or taxation and faced “no red lines or consequences,” Hawari told Arab News. “That policy by itself is pushing readers to global brands instead of staying with local media.”
The unfair advantage enjoyed by global tech companies “is adding insult to injury.”
Hawari first spoke out against the disparity between global and local media at the Top CEO conference in Jeddah last April, when he called for more government regulation and taxation on social media giants. This week he told Arab News “not much” had happened since then.

 

But the problem was ever more pressing.” “The GCC should address the issues and allow its local media to prosper instead of putting (in place) all those hurdles that will ultimately devastate the industry,” said Hawari.
Google said that it returns an average of 70 percent of income from digital advertising to its “publisher partners” worldwide and claims this helps to keep smaller publishers in business. In 2017, that “shared” advertising income amounted to $12.6 billion. However, the company offered no region-by-region breakdown.
Internet giants are invariably blamed for causing the slow demise of “traditional” news by taking content from publishers without paying for it and re-publishing it online. They also stand accused of disseminating inaccurate or “fake” news because they do not check facts and sources, and of giving prominence to more trivial, “clickbait” stories at the expense of serious news.
“Media organizations choose to post their own content themselves,” said Fares Akkad, Facebook’s head of media partnerships in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey. “It’s up to them how to place their content on Facebook and how they boost it.”
Both Google and Facebook have initiated training programs for journalists in Middle Eastern countries aimed at teaching them how to improve news gathering and production through the use of technology.
Facebook is investing $300 million over three years in grants to local news programs and content — “more on local than we ever spent before,” according to Akkad. However, data shared with Arab News shows that none of the money is going to the Middle East.
Google announced its training program for Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia last May in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and recruited trainers from both journalism and tech. The courses in data journalism, immersive storytelling, safety and security and verification began in December with the aim of training 4,000 journalists by the summer.
The Google Digital News Initiative was set up to “support quality journalism” and “empower” news organizations to use new technology such as artificial intelligence (AI).
A spokesperson for Google said: “Google has long been committed to helping local news publishers and media companies to grow, from driving traffic to publishers’ websites for free and paying the majority revenue share back to them, to committing to training journalists on digital tools.”
Facebook has also teamed up with the ICFJ to train 2,500 journalists from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia in how to verify facts and online content, how to protect online information, how to use social media and “how to build a rapport with audiences and establish a loyal following.”
The first webinar is today.

FASTFACTS

Google said that it returns an average of 70 percent of income from digital advertising to its “publisher partners” worldwide.


Lebanon’s journalists suffer abuse, threats covering unrest

Updated 07 December 2019

Lebanon’s journalists suffer abuse, threats covering unrest

  • The deteriorating situation for journalists in Lebanon comes despite its decades-old reputation for being an island of free press in the Arab world

BEIRUT: Lebanese journalists are facing threats and wide-ranging harassment in their work — including verbal insults and physical attacks, even death threats — while reporting on nearly 50 days of anti-government protests, despite Lebanon’s reputation as a haven for free speech in a troubled region.
Nationwide demonstrations erupted on Oct. 17 over a plunging economy. They quickly grew into calls for sweeping aside Lebanon’s entire ruling elite. Local media outlets — some of which represent the sectarian interests protesters are looking to overthrow — are now largely seen as pro- or anti-protests, with some journalists feeling pressured to leave their workplaces over disagreements about media coverage.
The deteriorating situation for journalists in Lebanon comes despite its decades-old reputation for being an island of free press in the Arab world. Amid Lebanon’s divided politics, media staff have usually had wide range to freely express their opinions, unlike in other countries in the region where the state stifles the media.
The acts of harassment began early in the protests. MTV television reporter Nawal Berry was attacked in central Beirut in the first days of the demonstrations by supporters of the militant group Hezbollah and its allies. They smashed the camera, robbed the microphone she was holding, spat on her and kicked her in the leg.
“How is it possible that a journalist today goes to report and gets subjected to beating and humiliation? Where are we? Lebanon is the country of freedoms and democracy,” Berry said.
Outlets like MTV are widely seen as backing protesters’ demands that Lebanon’s sectarian political system be completely overturned to end decades of corruption and mismanagement.
Rival TV stations and newspapers portray the unrest — which led to the Cabinet’s resignation over a month ago — as playing into the hands of alleged plots to undermine Hezbollah and its allies. Many of those outlets are run by Hezbollah, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. These media regularly blast protesters for closing roads and using other civil disobedience tactics, describing them as “bandits.”
For Berry, the media environment worsened as the unrest continued. On the night of Nov. 24, while she was covering clashes between protesters and Hezbollah and Amal supporters on a central road in Beirut, supporters of the Shiite groups chased her into a building. She hid there until police came and escorted her out.
“I was doing my job and will continue to do so. I have passed through worse periods and was able to overcome them,” said Berry, who added she is taking a short break from working because of what she passed through recently.
Hezbollah supporters also targeted Dima Sadek, who resigned last month as an anchorwoman at LBC TV. She blamed Hezbollah supporters for robbing her smartphone while she was filming protests, and said the harassment was followed by insulting and threatening phone calls to her mother, who suffered a stroke as a result of the stress.
“I have taken a decision (to be part of the protests) and I am following it. I have been waiting for this moment all my life and I have always been against the political, sectarian and corrupt system in Lebanon,” said Sadek, a harsh critic of Hezbollah, adding that she has been subjected to cyberbullying for the past four years.
“I know very well that this will have repercussions on my personal and professional life. I will go to the end no matter what the price is,” Sadek said shortly after taking part in a demonstration in central Beirut.
Protesters have also targeted journalists reporting with what are seen as pro-government outlets. OTV station workers briefly removed their logos from equipment while covering on the demonstrations to avoid verbal and physical abuse. The station is run by supporters of Aoun’s FPM.
“The protest movement has turned our lives upside down,” said OTV journalist Rima Hamdan, who during one of her reports slapped a man on his hand after he pointed his middle finger at her. She said the station’s logo “is our identity even though sometimes we had to remove it for our own safety.”
Television reporters with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar and Amal’s NBN channels were also attacked in a town near Beirut, when they were covering the closure of the highway linking the capital city with southern Lebanon by protesters. In a video, an NBN correspondent is seen being attacked, while troops and policemen stand nearby without intervening.
“This happens a lot in Lebanon because some media organizations are politicized. No one sees media organizations as they are but sees them as representing the political group that owns them,” said Ayman Mhanna, director of the Beirut-based media watchdog group SKeyes.
“The biggest problem regarding these violations is that there is no punishment,” Mhanna said. Authorities usually fail to act even when they identify those behind attacks on journalists, he added.
Coverage of the protests also led to several journalists resigning from one of Lebanon’s most prominent newspapers, Al-Akhbar, which is seen as close to Hezbollah, and the pan-Arab TV station Al-Mayadeen, which aligns closely with the policies of Iran, Syria and Venezuela.
Joy Slim, who quit as culture writer at Al-Akhbar after more than five years, said she did so after being “disappointed” with the daily’s coverage of the demonstrations. She released a video widely circulated on social media that ridiculed those who accuse the protesters of being American agents.
Sami Kleib, a prominent Lebanese journalist with a wide following around the Middle East, resigned from Al-Mayadeen last month. He said the reason behind his move was that he was “closer to the people than the authorities.”
“The Lebanese media is similar to politics in Lebanon where there is division between two axes: One that supports the idea of conspiracy theory, and another that fully backs the protest movement with its advantages and disadvantages,” Kleib said.