Thai government foe ordered to erase vaccine supply criticism

A Thai national flags flutters in the wind in front of the Srijulsup building, housing the offices of Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine producer Siam BioScience, in Bangkok on January 25, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 31 January 2021
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Thai government foe ordered to erase vaccine supply criticism

  • Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Progressive Movement denied the videos were illegal and urged YouTube and Facebook to preserve freedom of expression
  • Thailand’s Digital Ministry said the Criminal Court ruled that Thanathorn’s posts on social media and his movement’s website could breach national security

BANGKOK: A Thai court has ordered a leading government foe to remove allegations on social media that the state’s coronavirus vaccine policy is opaque and unfairly favors a company owned by the king, the government said on Sunday.
However, opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Progressive Movement denied the videos were illegal and urged YouTube and Facebook to preserve freedom of expression.
The clips could still be viewed late on Sunday.
Thailand’s Digital Ministry said the Criminal Court ruled that Thanathorn’s posts on social media and his movement’s website could breach national security.
The videos accuse Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government of lack of transparency in allowing Siam Bioscience, which is owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, to supply most doses despite a lack of vaccine experience.
Critics say former junta leader Prayuth rigged a vote last year to retain power — a charge he denies — and have broken a national taboo by increasingly criticizing the monarchy.
Subsidy
Siam Bioscience received a 600 million baht ($20 million) subsidy to develop capacity to manufacture AstraZeneca vaccines domestically and across Southeast Asia.
The court did not comment when contacted by Reuters.
Thanathorn’s movement said it had not received the ruling. “We continue to stress that the content is not false or a threat to national security,” tweeted Pannika Wanich, a prominent Progressive Movement member.
“We hope YouTube and Facebook will stand by the rights and freedom of expression.”
Thanathorn was banned from politics for 10 years after a court dissolved his previous Future Forward Party last year over loans deemed illegal. He denied the charges.
Now the government has lodged a case against him over the video, accusing him of insulting royalty, a charge punishable by up to 15 years’ prison.
The government says Siam Bioscience manufacturing is on track to deliver a first batch of 61 million doses to the public by June.
There was no immediate comment from Thanathorn or Siam Bioscience on the court ruling. The palace traditionally does not comment on political disputes.
Relatively unscathed by COVID-19, Thailand on Sunday reported 829 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 18,782 cases and 77 fatalities since the outbreak started last January.


Photojournalist Mohammed Salem discusses award-winning shot  ’A Palestinian Woman Embraces the Body of Her Niece’

Updated 13 June 2024
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Photojournalist Mohammed Salem discusses award-winning shot  ’A Palestinian Woman Embraces the Body of Her Niece’

DUBAI: The photojournalist discusses the photograph that won him the 2024 World Press Photo of the Year Award.

I was born in Gaza and have been working in journalism for 20 years. Like my three brothers, I’ve loved photography ever since I was little, and it was my dream to become a photographer. At times like this, photography allows us to share our message with the world. It allows people to see us and what is happening to us. 

I regard this ongoing war on Gaza as something we have never seen before. I cannot imagine anything more difficult happening to us. It has left nothing untouched — not a rock, not a tree, not a human, not a child. The difficulties that we have endured are unimaginable.  

I was working when I was informed that my brother — my support system — had been martyred. Most of my cousins were martyred too, and my siblings’ homes were destroyed. Death was so close to us.  

This photograph was taken at the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. I was actually living in the hospital, because I had been displaced. Wrapped in white cloth, the killed child that you see is being embraced by her aunt. She came to the hospital to see who was alive from her family. There was a lot of blood on the floor and she was running around in a maddened way. When she found the child, she carried her to the corner of a room and embraced her tightly. I have never such as a strong embrace before. It felt like true love — just the two of them.  

Many violent pictures have come out of Gaza, but a picture like this enters people’s hearts. You look at it and your heart aches. The award came at a moment of sadness: I was not happy, because there was no time for happiness given the environment I am in. But my biggest joy is that this image reached people around the world.  


Pope Francis to weigh in on ‘ethical’ AI at G7 summit

Updated 13 June 2024
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Pope Francis to weigh in on ‘ethical’ AI at G7 summit

  • While welcoming AI's potential to boost everything from medical research to economic and social wellbeing, Francis also warned of risks including disinformation and interference in elections, and that unequal access could increase social and economic ineq

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will address G7 leaders on Friday on artificial intelligence, an unprecedented appearance that reflects the Vatican’s growing interest in the new technology, its risks and rewards.

The 87-year-old will become the first head of the Catholic Church to address a G7 summit when he speaks on the second day of the Puglia meeting, to an audience including US President Joe Biden and France’s Emmanuel Macron.
The aging head of a 2,000-year-old institution is not perhaps the most obvious candidate to make a presentation on cutting-edge technology, but the pontiff sees AI as a key challenge for humanity.
“The Church always looks to humans as the center of its mission,” said Paolo Benanti, a Franciscan university professor and member of the UN’s AI advisory body, who directly advises the pope.
“From this perspective it is clear that the AI that interests the Church is not the technical tool, but how the tool can impact on the life of man,” he told AFP.
AI was the theme of the Church’s World Day of Peace on January 1, for which the pontiff published a six-page document.
In it, he welcomed advances in science and technology that have reduced human suffering — and Benanti said AI could act as a “multiplier,” boosting everything from medical research to economic and social wellbeing.
But the pope also warned of risks including disinformation and interference in elections, and that unequal access could increase social and economic inequalities.
Francis — who has himself been the subject of several AI-generated images, including a viral imagine showing him wearing a huge white puffer coat and a large crucifix — called for a binding international treaty to regulate the development and use of AI.
The goal would be to prevent harm and share good practice.

Pope Francis has cautioned that AI offers new freedoms but also the risk of a “technological dictatorship.” (AP/File)

Since the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot, whose capabilities range from digesting complex text to writing poems and computer code, governments have been scrambling to respond to the rapid growth of AI.
The European Union — which attends G7 summits as an unofficial eighth member — earlier this year approved the world’s first comprehensive rules to govern AI.
At a global level, G7 leaders in Japan last year announced a working group on AI’s “responsible” use, tackling issues from copyright to disinformation.
Hosts Italy have made AI a key issue of this year’s summit, which will focus on a “human-centered approach,” particularly its potential impact on jobs, according to a government source.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in April that the pope’s presence would “make a decisive contribution to defining a regulatory, ethical and cultural framework.”
The Vatican has brought in a range of experts to help its understanding, including Demis Hassabis, head of Google DeepMind, whom it named to its scientific academy in March.
In 2020, it also initiated the Call for AI Ethics, backed by tech firms Microsoft and IBM and later Cisco as well as numerous universities and the UN, designed to promote an ethical approach.

The pope’s address on Friday is likely to call for “attention to be paid to the most vulnerable,” said Eric Salobir, a French priest and head of the executive committee of the Human Technology Foundation.
It would be a call to G7 leaders to take “into account the risks and (draw up) regulation without being alarmist,” he told AFP.

Francis, who has championed the poorest and most marginalized people in society since taking office in 2013, has cautioned that AI offers new freedoms but also the risk of a “technological dictatorship.”
He warned about the dangers of using AI to make important decisions — from social security payments to where to aim autonomous weapons — for which responsibility becomes blurred.
“The pope seems to have a sort of antenna that allows him to perceive where humanity experiences the situations of greatest challenge to itself,” Benanti said.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

But will the G7 leaders listen to the pope?
Salobir, author of a book “God and Silicon Valley,” says that besides his influence as a spiritual leader, the pope has power as a neutral observer.
“The fact that there is no ‘Vatican Tech’ is an asset in terms of neutrality — the Church has no hidden agenda, no digital economy, no ‘start-up nation’ to launch, or investments to attract,” he said.
As a result, when the Vatican talks about AI, “it is for the technology itself, what it can do for humans,” he said.
“It may be one of the only states in this situation.”
 


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

Updated 12 June 2024
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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.


Radio France fires comedian Guillaume Meurice over Netanyahu jokes

Updated 12 June 2024
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Radio France fires comedian Guillaume Meurice over Netanyahu jokes

  • Presenter had faced allegations of antisemitism; bosses accuse him of ‘repeated disloyalty’ and ‘serious misconduct’
  • Other employees say the decision to terminate his contract sets dangerous precedent that restricts freedom of expression

LONDON: French broadcaster Radio France has fired presenter Guillaume Meurice for “serious misconduct” after he made jokes about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The decision to terminate the 42-year-old comedian’s contract followed his suspension in early May over remarks he made made on Radio Inter, an affiliate of Radio France.

In an email to staff, Sibyle Veil, the president of Radio France, blamed a “repeated disloyalty towards the company” as the reason for the dismissal, and said “neither freedom of expression nor humor have ever been threatened.”

A joke Meurice made about Netanyahu during a live show in October sparked complaints from a European Jewish organization that accused him of inciting violence and spreading antisemitic sentiments. Arcom, the French media regulator, issued a warning over the incident.

The suspension of Meurice last month was criticized by union representatives and editorial staff at Radio Inter, who called a strike and demanded the decision be reversed because it could “create a serious precedent” that restricts “freedom of expression.”

In a message on social media, Meurice described his dismissal as the “end of a false suspense” and a “victory” for a campaign he largely attributed to the far right.


MBC’s English-language radio station aims to get even LOUDer as it celebrates a year on air

Updated 12 June 2024
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MBC’s English-language radio station aims to get even LOUDer as it celebrates a year on air

  • The station marked its 1st anniversary with an event featuring fans and the hosts of programs such as ‘The Byron Cooke Show,’ ‘Non-Stop Hits with Harry’ and ‘The Drive’
  • It has already enjoyed several successes; it was official radio station of the Joy Awards this year and is the official station of the Saudi Pro League

RIYADH: A year ago, MBC launched its first English-speaking radio station, LOUD FM, which brought new voices to the airwaves in Saudi Arabia.

On Monday, the station celebrated its first anniversary with an event at MBC’s headquarters in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter featuring the hosts of programs such as “The Byron Cooke Show,” “Non-Stop Hits with Harry” and “The Drive,” as well as diplomats, influencers and fans.

The celebrations included a performance by Saudi musician TamTam, who debuted her latest single on the station last Thursday, and MBC presented two lucky listeners with a one-night stay at the Mandarin Oriental Al-Faisaliah.

“We are the first non-Arabic asset in the group,” presenter Cooke told Arab News. “The demographics are such that 40 percent of Saudi Arabia is now non-Arabic and that continues to grow.”

Cooke said that he and co-host Sana Kothari “are very excited to be part of the story” as more expats arrive in Saudi Arabia, which means more “young locals who are curious and can speak English as well as Arabic,” resulting in “an exciting time in terms of the growth of our potential audience.”

In its short existence, the station has already enjoyed a number of milestones and successes; it was the official radio station of MBC’s Joy Awards this year, which featured stars such as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Martin Lawrence and Bebe Rexha, and is the official station of the Saudi Pro League, featuring the weekly football show “Match of the Week.”

It was also the first station in the Kingdom to play the new single from Saudi artist Mishaal Tamer, and is the Saudi home of the popular syndicated show “On Air with Ryan Seacrest.”

Kothari told Arab News that there is a “big boom” happening in Kingdom as a result of the Vision 2030 national development and diversification plan and LOUD FM is helping to bridge the “gap between the rest of the world and Saudi Arabia.”

The rise of video streaming has prompted some industry experts to suggest that traditional radio is a dying medium. However, the station’s hosts seemed unconcerned by this view and said radio remains popular and relevant.

“What we’ve managed to achieve so far in one year has been pre-streaming,” Cooke said. Currently, the station is only available on an FM terrestrial signal in Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah. But MBC plans to launch a dedicated website for the station this summer, which will include live streaming to increase accessibility.

In the meantime, radio remains popular entertainment during car journeys in particular and, as Kothari pointed out: “There’s enough traffic in this country that we’re live for a very long time.”

Cooke added: “If you’re stuck in traffic in Riyadh or Jeddah or Dammam, you have friends there (on the radio) that hopefully you feel like you know, and I don’t think you will ever replace that with technology. Or certainly, we can work with technology to bring that local content and that sense of community.”

Andrew Harrison, the host of “Non-Stop Hits with Harry” said he has spent many years in the Middle East and has always been fascinated by the culture, language, people and hospitality in the region. He said he is grateful that his show means “I still get to do what I love in English, and hopefully entertain people and make them happy.”

Danah Alshammari, the Saudi host of morning show “The Daily Wake Up” and co-host of “The Drive,” told Arab News she has been working in the radio industry since the age of 14 and so “to have the opportunity to represent my country and let it be heard by different people from different nationalities is a dream.

“Radio is always about having fun. It’s the one thing where you just get on and be yourself.”