Diversity and Netflix dominate Golden Globes

In this video grab issued Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, by NBC, Anya Taylor-Joy accepts the award for best actress in a television motion picture for "The Queen's Gambit" at the Golden Globe Awards. (NBC via AP)
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Updated 01 March 2021

Diversity and Netflix dominate Golden Globes

  • ‘Nomadland’ wins best drama movie at mainly virtual Hollywood ceremony

LOS ANGELES: Drama “Nomadland” and satire “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” won movie honors at the Golden Globes on Sunday in a mostly virtual bicoastal ceremony that was marked by impassioned calls for more diversity and the dominance of Netflix.

“Nomadland,” a moving drama about van dwellers in recession-hit America from Searchlight Pictures, also took the best director prize for Chinese-born Chloe Zhao. It made Zhao only the second woman to win at the Globes in that category, and the first woman director of Asian descent to win.

“For everyone who has gone through this difficult and beautiful journey at some point in their lives, this is for you,” said Zhao.

“We don’t say goodbye, we say see you down the road,” she said, quoting a line from the movie.

The two wins for “Nomadland” increased the profile of the film ahead of nominations in March for the Oscars.

Sacha Baron Cohen, the creator of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” from Amazon Studios was named best comedy movie actor, while singer Andra Day was a surprise winner for her lead role in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.”

“Donald Trump is contesting the result!” Baron Cohen joked about the win for the “Borat” sequel, which was a satire on the America of the former US president.

Netflix’s period drama “Mank,” about “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, had gone into Sunday’s show with a leading six nods but ended the night empty-handed.

Nevertheless, the streaming service was the biggest winner on Sunday, with four wins in the movie field and six for television, including best TV drama series “The Crown” and limited series chess saga “The Queen’s Gambit.”

The usual chummy gathering of A-listers at a gala dinner in Beverly Hills, California, was replaced by webcams in the homes of celebrities that were either dressed up or, like “Ted Lasso” star Jason Sudeikis, in casual garb.

Hosted by Tina Fey in New York and Amy Poehler in Beverly Hills, the small physical audiences were made up of masked frontline workers.

Peter Morgan, creator of “The Crown” said he missed being together. “I’m just sorry I am sitting here in my tragic little office and not surrounded by the people who make this show such a pleasure,” Morgan said, appearing by video.

However, Jodie Foster, a best supporting actress winner for the Guantanamo prison legal drama “The Mauritanian,” told reporters backstage that she felt it was one of the best Golden Globe shows ever. “It didn’t feel like it was filled with so much artifice,” said Foster.

Emotional high points included a posthumous best actor award for Chadwick Boseman, who died at age 43 last August from an undisclosed battle with cancer. “He would say something beautiful,” said his widow Simone Ledward Boseman, as she fought back tears. “I don’t have his words.”

British actors Daniel Kaluuya and John Boyega were among other Black winners chosen by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which has been lambasted in recent days for having no Black people among its 87 members.

“Soul,” the first Pixar movie to have a Black character in the lead, was named best animated movie and won best score.

The HFPA was the target of jokes and comments throughout the night. “We all know awards shows are stupid,” said Fey. “Even in stupid things, inclusivity is important and there are no Black members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA).”

Members of the HFPA appeared briefly on Sunday’s show and pledged to do better.

Jane Fonda, 83, used her lifetime achievement acceptance speech to make the case for elevating all voices in Hollywood, saying that stories “really can change people.”

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Interview: CNN exec talks journalism in a digital world

Updated 09 May 2021

Interview: CNN exec 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.


Facebook board upholds Trump suspension

Facebook's independent oversight board was set for a momentous decision on the platform's ban of former US president Donald Trump. (File/AFP)
Updated 05 May 2021

Facebook board upholds Trump suspension

  • The social network’s quasi-independent Oversight Board voted to uphold Trump’s ban from the platform

SAN FRANCISCO: Former President Donald Trump won’t return to Facebook — for now.
The social network’s quasi-independent Oversight Board voted to uphold his ban from the platform after his account was suspended four months ago for inciting violence that led to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
While upholding the suspension, the board faulted Facebook for the way it made the decision.
The board said the ongoing risk of serious violence justified Facebook’s suspension at the time, but said it “was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an ‘indefinite’ suspension.”
The board said Facebook was seeking to avoid its responsibilities by applying “a vague, standardless penalty” and then referring the case to the board to resolve.
The board agreed with Facebook that that two of Trump’s Jan. 6 posts “severely violated” the content standards of both Facebook and Instagram.
“We love you. You’re very special,” he said in the first post, and “great patriots” and “remember this day forever” in the second. Those violated Facebook’s rules against praising or supporting people engaged in violence, the board said.
The board says Facebook has six months to reexamine the “arbitrary penalty” it imposed on Jan. 7 and decide on another penalty that reflects the “gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm.”
The board says the new penalty must be “clear, necessary and proportionate” and consistent with Facebook’s rules for severe violations.
The board says if Facebook decides to restore Trump’s accounts, the company must be able to promptly address further violations.
Trump has also been permanently banned from Twitter.
Controversial decision
Trump’s suspension was the first time Facebook had blocked a current president, prime minister or head of state. Facebook’s oversight board said it received more than 9,000 comments from the public on the Trump ban, the most it has had for a case so far.
Several academics and civil rights groups have publicly shared their letters urging the board to block Trump permanently, while Republican lawmakers and some free expression advocates have criticized the decision.
Since taking action on Trump, social media companies have faced calls from some rights groups and activists to be more consistent in their approach to other world leaders who have pushed or broken their rules, such as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Leader Ali Khamenei, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and lawmakers linked to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“I would hope that they’re also thinking about the precedent-setting of this,” said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook public policy director and a fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center. “What does that look like internationally, what does that look like in the long term?” she added.
The Oversight Board, an idea that Zuckerberg first publicly floated in 2018, currently has 20 members, including former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and several law experts and rights advocates. Decisions need only majority approval.
The board, which some have dubbed Facebook’s “Supreme Court,” has been hailed as a novel experiment by some researchers but blasted by other critics who have been skeptical over its independence or view it as a PR stunt to deflect attention from the company’s more systemic problems.
It is funded through a $130 million trust created by Facebook and has so far made rulings on a small number of cases from hate speech to nudity.
Facebook’s head of global affairs Nick Clegg told Reuters in January that he was “very confident” of the company’s case on Trump’s ban and said “any reasonable person” looking at Facebook’s policies and the circumstances would agree.


Russia seeks extra fines against Twitter over ‘banned content’: TASS

Twitter denies allowing its platform to be used to promote illegal behavior. (File/AFP)
Updated 05 May 2021

Russia seeks extra fines against Twitter over ‘banned content’: TASS

  • State communications regulator Roskomnadzor said last week that Twitter was complying with a demand to remove banned content, but taking too long to do so
  • TASS said six reports concerning Twitter, each carrying a possible fine of up to 4 million roubles over a failure to remove content

MOSCOW: Russia is seeking an additional 24 million roubles ($321,586) in fines from US tech giant Twitter for failing to remove content banned in Russia, the TASS news agency cited a court as saying on Wednesday.
State communications regulator Roskomnadzor said last week that Twitter was complying with a demand to remove banned content, but taking too long to do so. A punitive slowdown on the service has been extended until May 15.
TASS said six reports concerning Twitter, each carrying a possible fine of up to 4 million roubles over a failure to remove content, had been lodged with a Moscow court under Russia’s Administrative Offences Code.
No date for the hearing has been set, TASS said. Roskomnadzor, Twitter and the court did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In April, a court issued three separate fines against Twitter, totalling 8.9 million roubles, over accusations it had failed to delete banned content.
Roskomnadzor has said it wants Twitter to delete content that contains child pornography, drug abuse information or calls for minors to commit suicide.
Twitter denies allowing its platform to be used to promote illegal behavior, says it has a zero-tolerance policy for child sexual exploitation, and prohibits the promotion of suicide or self-harm.
Russia has in recent months taken steps to exert more control over the operations of foreign social media platforms and tech companies. Russian authorities are suing Google, Facebook and others for allegedly failing to delete posts urging children to take part in illegal protests.
The cases were opened after protests nationwide over the jailing in February of Alexei Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin.
Separately, Apple was last week fined $12 million for alleged abuse of its dominance in the mobile applications market.

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