Google bans app that features introduction from Muslim Brotherhood’s Al-Qaradawi

Yusuf Al-Qaradawi regarded as the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood. (AFP)
Updated 14 May 2019

Google bans app that features introduction from Muslim Brotherhood’s Al-Qaradawi

  • The Euro Fatwa app was developed by the European Council for Fatwa and Research
  • The app was launched last month ahead of Ramadan

DUBAI: Google has banned from its online store a free-to-download app that featured an introduction written by Qatar-based Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, regarded as the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Euro Fatwa App, developed by the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), offers users a simple and concise guide “to enable the European Muslims to adhere to the regulations and manners of Islam and to fulfill their duties as Muslim citizens, while taking care of the legal, customary and cultural specificities of European societies.”

The ECFR, based in Dublin, launched the app last month ahead of Ramadan. The app is, however, still available on Apple’s App Store when Arab News accessed the site.

In the introduction to the app, the Egyptian-born cleric makes anti-Semitic references while discussing previous fatwas, or rulings regarding Islamic law. Al-Qaradawi, who has been residing in Qatar since 1961, was banned from the UK and France for extolling extremist views.

“While we can’t comment on individual apps, we’ll take swift action against any apps that break our policies once we’ve been made aware of them, including those that contain hate speech,” a Google spokesperson told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have placed Al-Qaradawi in the terror list for his support of the Muslim Brotherhood and espousal of violence across the Middle East. The US is considering the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, a move that would impose economic and travel sanctions against the Islamist political group.

Al-Qaradawi has justified suicide bombings, especially in Palestine – even describing martyrdom as a higher form of jihad in his website; was openly hostile against Jews as a community and has issued religious edicts that demean women.

In one of his declarations against the Jews, Al-Qaradawi said on Al-Jazeera Arabic in January 2009: “Oh God, take Your enemies, the enemies of Islam … Oh God, take the treacherous Jewish aggressors … Oh God, count their numbers, slay them one by one and spare none.”


Iraqi reporter seriously wounded day after activist’s killing sparks protests

People chant slogans as they march with the body of renowned Iraqi anti-government activist Ihab al-Wazni (Ehab al-Ouazni) during a funerary procession in the central holy shrine city of Karbala on May 9, 2021 following his assassination. (AFP)
Updated 10 May 2021

Iraqi reporter seriously wounded day after activist’s killing sparks protests

  • Anti-corruption campaigner Ihab Al-Wazni was shot dead early Sunday in Karbala, sending protest movement supporters onto the streets
  • Hours after his death, reporter Ahmed Hassan was in intensive care after receiving “two bullets in the head and one in the shoulder”

KARBALA, Iraq: An Iraqi journalist was in intensive care after being shot in the head early Monday, doctors said, only 24 hours after a leading anti-government activist was killed.
Anti-corruption campaigner Ihab Al-Wazni was shot dead early Sunday in Karbala, sending protest movement supporters onto the streets to demand an end to such bloodshed and official impunity.
Wazni had led protests in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, where pro-Tehran armed groups hold major sway.
He was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes using a gun equipped with a silencer, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras. His death was confirmed by security forces and activists.
Hours after his death, reporter Ahmed Hassan was in intensive care after receiving “two bullets in the head and one in the shoulder,” a doctor told AFP.
“He was targeted as he got out of his car to go home,” in Diwaniya in the south of the country, according to a witness.
Wazni had narrowly escaped death in December 2019, when men on motorbikes used silenced weapons to kill fellow activist Fahem Al-Tai as he was dropping him home in Karbala.
Both were key figures in a national protest movement that erupted against Iraqi government corruption and incompetence in October 2019.
Around 600 activists from the movement have been killed, whether on the streets during rallies or targeted on their doorsteps.
Protests broke out in Karbala, Nassiriya and Diwaniya in southern Iraq in reaction to Wazni’s killing, as people called for an end to the bloodshed and to rampant corruption.
The Iraqi Communist Party and the Al-Beit Al-Watani (National Bloc) party born out of the anti-government protests also said they would boycott Iraq’s October parliamentary elections in protest.
In a video recording in the morgue where Wazni’s body was initially held, a fellow activist blamed pro-Tehran groups for the killing.
“It is the Iranian militias who killed Ihab,” said the activist, who was not named.
“Iran out!” and “The people want the fall the regime!” chanted hundreds of mourners Sunday as they carried Wazni’s body to the Shiite shrines in Karbala, under a sea of Iraqi flags.
Police said they would “spare no effort” to find “the terrorists” behind Wazni’s killing.
Politicians, including Shiite leader Ammar Al-Haki, deplored the death and called for justice.
Around 30 activists have died in targeted killings and dozens of others have been abducted since October 2019.
Such killings are normally carried out in the dead of night by men on motorbikes, and nobody claims responsibility.
Activists and the UN repeatedly blame “militias.”
Authorities have consistently failed to publicly identify or charge the perpetrators of these killings.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi took office a year ago, vowing to rein in rogue factions, fight corruption and roll out long-awaited reforms after years of war and insurgency.
He pledged again Sunday to catch “all the killers,” but the latest victim’s family said it would not accept the traditional visits of condolences until the assailants were unmasked.
Pro-Iran groups view Kadhemi as being too close to Washington while protesters believe he has failed to deliver on his promises.
Wazni had himself had challenged the premier in a Facebook post in February, asking: “Do you know what is going on? You know that they kidnap and kill — or you live in another country?“
Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, tweeted Sunday that crimes against activists in Iraq “raise again the question about the real steps of the government regarding accountability.”


Clubhouse launches Android app as downloads plummet

The long anticipated Android launch is expected to reach more new users globally. (File/AFP)
Updated 10 May 2021

Clubhouse launches Android app as downloads plummet

  • The app spiked in popularity early this year after celebrity billionaire Elon Musk and others appeared in audio chats
  • After peaking in February with 9.6 million downloads, that number fell to 2.7 million in March and then 900,000 downloads in April

SAN FRANCISCO: Live audio app Clubhouse will begin introducing a test version of its app to Google’s Android users in the United States on Sunday, the company said, in a potentially big expansion of its market.
The app, which spiked in popularity early this year after celebrity billionaire Elon Musk and others appeared in audio chats, has sparked copy cats from startups and larger rivals including Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.
It has been available only to users of Apple devices and by invitation. In some markets such as China, invitations were so sought after some were auctioned on online marketplaces.
But downloads of the app, one measure of popularity, have significantly fallen.
After peaking in February with 9.6 million downloads, that number fell to 2.7 million in March and then 900,000 downloads in April, according to Sensor Tower.
The drop has sparked questions about its long term viability and whether its success was owed in part to people spending more time at home during the pandemic.
The long anticipated Android launch is expected to reach more new users globally. The Android version will reach other English-speaking markets and then the rest of the globe days and weeks after the US market beta launch.
Clubhouse, which created the category, now faces the likes of Facebook, whose CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in April a slew of audio products, including Clubhouse-style live audio rooms and a way for users to find and play podcasts.
In January, Twitter Inc. said that it will introduce a new feature to let users charge admission to their live audio chat rooms in its “Spaces” feature, as the company seeks to court more content creators. It has been available to Android users since March.

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Interview: CNN’s Caroline Faraj talks journalism in a digital world

Updated 10 May 2021

Interview: CNN’s Caroline Faraj talks journalism in a digital world

  • Caroline Faraj, Vice President for Arabic Services at CNN, shares the news channel’s growth and strategy

DUBAI: With more and more people consuming news online, it has become increasingly important for news outlets — print or TV — to digitize their offerings.

CNN, one of the biggest news outlets in the world, broke all records last year with CNN Digital reaching its largest and most engaged global audience. In the region, CNN Arabic registered its highest year on record for average monthly unique visitors, which was up 34 percent from 2019 largely driven by record-high levels of mobile consumption which grew by 24 percent from 2019.

Arab News spoke to Caroline Faraj, vice president for Arabic Services at CNN, to learn more about the growth story and future strategy of CNN Arabic.

Can you share how much of the traffic is organic, versus from other sources such as social media?

It is a significant strength and differentiator that the vast majority of CNN Digital and CNN Arabic’s traffic comes to us directly. CNN is one of the few remaining destinations on the Internet where people seek out our home page or coverage of a particular story as they associate us with trusted news and information. While it is important for us to have a social presence, we are much less reliant on traffic referral from those platforms than other media due to the strength of our brand, both globally and with CNN Arabic.

What is the strategy to drive growth?

CNN Arabic is the Middle East’s leading independent news platform. What makes us stand out is that independence and our credible, authentic, factful reporting and the huge trust in the CNN brand which has tremendous value for our audience. We offer a global perspective, both on international news and on stories that are more regionally relevant or focused.

Being part of the world’s largest news network, with journalists working on stories from every continent, is an enormous asset in terms of the renowned quality of our journalism, the resources and wealth of talent in our teams and the recognition and confidence that the audience has in us. As we’ve seen with the record audience numbers, CNN is more essential than ever before in providing trusted news.

Our audience is powerful; the caliber of our audience differentiates us from other news media. Political leaders, CEOs, celebrities and people at the top of their industry, actively share, reference and act upon our reporting. We reach these audiences at scale including opinion-formers, change-makers, high-spenders, travelers and business decision-makers.

Having an impact, creating change and being an essential trusted news source is key to maintaining and driving growth among our influential audience and reaching new and younger audiences.

Analysis from a recent brand study that we conducted showed that with the news events of 2020 and the outlook for 2021, 91 percent of consumers from the Middle East and Africa region feel the role of international news media is now more important than ever.

Our strategy is based on constant innovation and responding to the audience and their consumption habits, the formats and the stories that they’re engaging with. The closer we are to our audience the better we are in offering and curating the content they are interested in.

Underpinning everything is a data-led approach that analyzes audience trends and behavior to give insight on where we can grow and serve our audience even better in the future. For example, our analysis shows that our Arabic audience expands well beyond the region and there are growth opportunities with Arabic speakers in the US. Along with breaking news, we know that business, technology, travel, sports and entertainment are key areas of interest for our audiences.

Another area for growth is in our products such as audio and newsletters. Globally downloads of CNN audio content increased by over 75 percent in 2020 compared to 2019 and there’s been a huge demand for CNN newsletters as subscriptions grew by 90 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. We’re currently developing concepts for Arabic audiences.

How did CNN Arabic adapt to digital and mobile?

CNN Arabic has been a digital destination from the outset when we launched almost 20 years ago. As a digital-first brand, we have been well ahead of many of the competitors. Mobile has been at the core of our offering ever since the introduction of the smartphone. It will remain a focus, in line with the Middle Eastern audience’s preference, as we’re currently seeing the majority of traffic on mobile, which is at almost 90 percent in some cases.

What are your plans for the future?

We are listening to our audience’s needs and making changes as part of our commitment to them. Plans include expanding into audio and newsletters, which as I mentioned we’re seeing huge growth in globally. The product portfolio will grow, content formats will evolve and become more immersive and we’re exploring a move into events.

An area that I am very passionate about is training the next generation of journalists. For many years we’ve offered internships at CNN Arabic; we’ve had more than 120 interns from around the world and have provided training courses in the region. This has been formalized this year through the CNN Academy Abu Dhabi, which I was proud to be part of. As we look to the future, I am keen for CNN Arabic to bring this level of training for Arabic speakers that want to learn about the skills of our trade.

From a commercial perspective, we are also looking forward to working with more brands. CNN Arabic is the ideal platform if an advertiser wants to reach Arabic audiences at scale in a premium environment. We work closely with our commercial partners to develop innovative solutions and ensure that their messages cut through in sponsorships, digital advertising and audience targeting.

How has news media changed in the past few years – especially during the pandemic – both from a user consumption perspective as well as from a media owner perspective?

People can get news in numerous different ways and are surrounded by so many of sources of information. The pandemic has certainly prompted behavioral changes and accelerated the need and appreciation for factual, trustworthy and accurate reporting. With the growing prevalence of information sources, people are turning to brands they trust for news and information. We’ve seen that with our record-breaking traffic. Even though there are more sources than ever, and more platforms than ever, we had our best year on record.

We’ve also seen changes in consumption habits with round the clock engagement as audiences are regularly checking in on the latest news on their phone and we’re seeing high demand for video content.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between news media and companies such as Facebook and Google and the consequent idea of these companies compensating publishers?

We work with all the major platforms, and last year we partnered with Facebook on a campaign about maintaining community and connection during Ramadan.

When working with any of the platforms, publishers need to have a path to revenue. It’s important for us to have a presence on various platforms, but our focus is on our owned and operated platforms, such as with the move of the Go There show from Facebook onto our own website and mobile apps.


Turkey’s media regulator warns Spotify over critical content

Updated 09 May 2021

Turkey’s media regulator warns Spotify over critical content

  • The digital platform has gained a wide audience recently as one of the last remaining outlets for free speech in Turkey
  • Spotify was granted an operating license by Turkey for 10 years after applying on Oct. 15 

ANKARA: Turkey’s media watchdog has warned online audio streaming giant Spotify to “regulate its content” in line with Turkish legislation or risk critical items being removed or cut. 

In a surprise move late on Friday, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) said that it will consider removing or cutting all content found “inappropriate” — a term that is open to interpretation when applied to high-profile critical podcasts that attract large audiences. 

Spotify was granted an operating license by Turkey for 10 years after applying on Oct. 15. But its digital content is open to monitoring by the country’s media regulator. 

The digital platform has gained a wide audience recently as one of the last remaining outlets for free speech in Turkey, especially with its podcasts providing critical reporting and commentary on Turkish domestic politics. 

Spotify offers a relative free space in a media environment in which almost 90 percent of companies are related to pro-government conglomerates. 

“The RTUK’s move to regulate the content of streaming companies is another example of the Turkish government’s efforts to tighten its grip on online content,” Cathryn Grothe, research associate at Freedom House, told Arab News. 

Grothe said that the move is part of a long decline in internet freedom, characterized by restrictive regulations such as the social media law, blocked websites, and heavy-handed crackdowns on independent media and journalists. 

“Streaming services such as Spotify create a unique space where people can express themselves, relate to loved ones and friends over shared music or podcasts, and engage on a range of important issues, including human rights and politics,” she said. 

Grothe believes the threat from the Turkish government could encourage Spotify to restrict essential information for people in Turkey, effectively shrinking the remaining opportunities for free expression, journalism and artistic freedom.

Utku Cakirozer, a journalist and MP from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said that restrictions over digital media had been discussed since 2019. 

“Such legislative constraints will only boost the global perception about the extent of censorship in Turkey. If you tend to ban a digital platform just after it is granted a license, it will go away sooner or later. You cannot expect them to accept such restrictions forever,” he told Arab News. 

Experts believe the RTUK’s latest statement signals growing censorship of the podcast sector in Turkey. 

Orhan Sener, a journalist who has been preparing a podcast for a year about technological developments in the country, said that content developers and journalists at Spotify have been self-censoring to avoid drawing government ire. 

“This trend will grow after the media regulator’s move. I don’t expect an absolute and omnipresent censorship on Spotify podcasts in the short run because the company attaches high importance to Turkey’s vast market, but Turkish journalists will have to revise their content to a certain extent to preserve their place in this sector,” he told Arab News. 

Sener said that a potential restriction on podcast content shows that the government is unwilling to tolerate any dissident voice, even if comes from the digital sphere. 

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Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists

Updated 07 May 2021

Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists

ANKARA: A new report from the Coalition for Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) states that Turkey is “the leading country for attacks and threats against women journalists” this year.

Between January and April, 114 female journalists were attacked or threatened in Turkey the New York-based media organization revealed — more than in any other country in the world.

The CFWIJ’s First Quarterly Report for 2021 coincidentally coincided with Izzet Ulvi Yonter, deputy leader of the Turkish government’s coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), targeting female anchor Ebru Baki for her coverage of the MHP’s draft constitution proposal.

Yonter referred to the broadcaster as a “so-called journalist who distorts the facts and shows her intolerance against the MHP,” and said her attempts to “discredit” their draft proposal were “offensive and crude.”

Yonter’s criticism was followed on May 5 by the resignation of Bulent Aydemir, Haberturk TV’s chief editor and Baki’s co-anchor on the morning program.

The program was taken off air on Thursday, triggering a nationwide social media campaign using “I don’t watch Haberturk TV” as hashtag.

CFWIJ’s report said that, in Turkey, “Almost 50 women journalists appeared before the court to fight baseless charges; 20 suffered heavy workplace bullying at the newsrooms; 15 female journalists were subjected to police violence while covering the news, 14 were detained; three women journalists were sentenced to prison, and three were expelled. While one journalist was threatened with intimidation, another became the target of racist rhetoric” during the period covered.

Scott Griffen, deputy director at the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of journalists and editors defending media freedom, told Arab News: “Women journalists face a double threat: They are attacked for their work and they are attacked for their gender — a reflection of … sexism in society. IPI’s own research has shown that online attacks on female journalists tend to be more vicious and the insults and threats are often of a sexual nature.”

According to Griffen, attacks on women journalists are part of a broader trend, which is an effort by those in power to smear and undermine critical journalism and diverse voices.

Referring to Yonter’s attack on Baki, he said: “This incident shows that a political party, in this case the MHP, is unable to accept criticism and simply does not — or does not want to — understand the role of journalism in society. Politicians are required to accept criticism, even harsh criticism. Ebru Baki was doing her job, and the attacks on her are unacceptable.”

Griffen thinks that one consequence of these attacks is the risk of a rise in self-censorship.

“Journalists who are faced with such vicious attacks may decide to reconsider their reporting to avoid such abuse in the future, or they may even decide to leave the profession. And this is a huge loss for the public,” he said. “It means that stories are not being told, and diverse voices are not being heard. And, of course, that is what the attackers want. They wish to push critical voices out of the public sphere.”

Male journalists in Turkey have also been the targets of verbal and physical attacks. Recently, dissident journalist Levent Gultekin was beaten by a mob in the middle of a street in Istanbul, shortly after he criticized the MHP and its former leader. Gultekin was verbally attacked by the MHP deputy leader just before the assault.

“The crackdown against critical and independent media in Turkey is worsening every single day with new attacks from political figures. And female journalists who are reporting on critical issues that are sensitive to the government or its political allies are not immune from the attacks,” Renan Akyavas, Turkey program coordinator of IPI, told Arab News.

IPI’s own recent research also confirms that female journalists are more likely targets of online harassment for their critical reporting and views, she added.

The trend of public figures targeting journalists to silence dissident voices has been on the rise, Akyavas said. “We especially see an increasing trend of attacks by the ultra-nationalist MHP’s leaders and representatives to intimidate journalists, even in response to mild criticism.

“The targeting of Ebru Baki and Haberturk TV is only the latest example of this attitude, which is simply unacceptable coming from a governing alliance party. The MHP leadership must … protect fundamental rights and the safety of journalists, instead of threatening them,” she continued.

Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention — and the protection it provided against domestic violence — in March triggered further threats and violence against women reporters, the CFWIJ report underlined.

Akyavas agrees. “The withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention had been a huge disappointment for women in Turkey fighting for their rights and gender equality. Impunity for crimes and violence against women has become a new norm for the country,” she said, adding that this trend will cease only if Turkish authorities show a genuine will to protect and implement women’s rights.

“Women journalists in Turkey must continue their courageous reporting, as their fundamental rights and freedom of expression were guaranteed and fully protected by the Turkish constitution. At IPI, we will continue our solidarity with them and our support for critical and independent journalism to provide the public with factual, objective news,” Akyavas continued.

The Turkish Journalists’ Association, TGC, released a statement on Thursday criticizing the way women journalists have been targeted by the MHP just because they smiled on air. “Such an attitude targets our colleagues’ safety and security. We call on the government and its partners to respect the law,” it noted.