Tunisian journalists clash with police in protest over new head of state news agency

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Policemen argue with journalists demonstrating against the newly-appointed chief executive of the Tunisian news agency Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP), in front of the agency's headquarters in Tunis. (AFP)
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Journalists in Tunisia's state news agency carry flags as they protest against the appointment of a new CEO in Tunis. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 April 2021

Tunisian journalists clash with police in protest over new head of state news agency

  • Protesting journalists say Kamel Ben Younes is too close to the moderate Islamist Ennahda

LONDON: Journalists in Tunisia clashed with police during a protest against the appointment of Kamal Ben Younes as head of state news agency Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP).

The flashpoint came when demonstrators attempted to block Ben Younes from entering TAP’s headquarters, but police later forced a way in.

The writers fear that Ben Younes’ known leanings toward the Ennahda party – a movement with historical and ideological ties to the terrorist-designated Muslim Brotherhood – could undermine the agency’s editorial independence.

Hani Nasira, a media expert and researcher into extremist groups in the Middle East, including the Muslim Brotherhood, told Arab News: “Ben Younes was a prominent figure during the days of (former Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine) Ben Ali, as well as during the days of the revolution.

“He embodies a model of journalists who change their loyalty as the system changes. They supported (former Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak in Egypt, then the Muslim Brotherhood and so on.

“They do not believe in journalism as a space for freedom, objectivity, and neutrality but aim to transform it into a private institution that works for certain entities. This same state news agency is seeking to monopolize the management of an important affair like the press,” he said.

Tunisian journalists accuse Ben Younes of backing moves to control the press before the 2011 revolution brought democracy to the North African nation, and while he has denied the charges, protesters are demanding he steps down.

Co-founded in 1981 by Rachid Ghannouchi, Ennahda was inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The Journalists’ Syndicate and Tunisia’s labor unions movement called for TAP reporters to hold their first-ever strike on April 22 and invited Tunisian journalists to continue the open sit-in at TAP’s headquarters.

TAP journalist, Ayman Zamal, told Al Arabiya news channel: “(We must) continue the open sit-in in TAP’s headquarters at all costs so as to maintain the agency’s independent line and national line which cannot become a servant of a certain political group and to prevent the published media from becoming partisan or authoritarian media.”

Before the revolution, TAP was an arm of state propaganda based entirely on official sources. But it has become a rare Arab news agency with editorial independence, often covering stories that criticize the government.

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Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight

Updated 11 August 2022

Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight

  • The two men were escorted off an aircraft in Seattle after a fellow passenger told flight attendants they had been talking and sending text messages in Arabic

LONDON: Two Muslims have filed a lawsuit accusing Alaska Airlines of discrimination for allegedly removing them from a flight prior to takeoff because they were “talking and texting in Arabic.”

According to Abobakkr Dirar and Mohamed Elamin, the incident occurred after they boarded a flight from Seattle to San Francisco in February 2020. They said the airline’s staff humiliated them “before their fellow passengers by unnecessarily deplaning (them) and allowing (other passengers) to observe plaintiffs surrounded by uniformed law enforcement personnel.”

The men said that they had been talking and texting in Arabic in the first-class cabin when a fellow traveler informed flight attendants about the text messages. They allege that an Alaska Airlines employee subsequently removed them from the flight due to a “ticket issue.”

This is not the first time that Arab passengers have complained about the way they were treated by airline staff in the US. In 2019, for example, Issam Abdallah said he was “humiliated” when an American Airlines flight to Texas he boarded in Alabama was canceled because crew members felt “uncomfortable” with him on the flight.

In 2016, Khairuldeen Makhzoom, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Oakland after another passenger heard him speaking Arabic and saying the phrase “inshallah” (which means God willing) during a telephone conversation.


Disney+ subscribers surge as Netflix stumbles

Updated 11 August 2022

Disney+ subscribers surge as Netflix stumbles

SAN FRANCISCO: The Disney+ streaming service saw its number of paying subscribers leap beyond expectations in the last quarter, as rival Netflix’s client count ebbed, results showed Wednesday.
The number of people subscribing to Disney+ topped 152 million, up some 31 percent from the same period a year earlier, the entertainment giant said in an earnings report.
Disney’s bottom line was also boosted by rising revenue from its theme parks, which showed signs of recovering from stifled attendance during the pandemic.
Better-that-expected earnings reported by Disney came as many of the tech titans that flourished during the pandemic curb costs in the face of inflation and people get back to living life in the real world instead of online.
Disney shares were up more than 6 percent in after-market trades that followed release of the earnings figures.
“We had an excellent quarter, with our world-class creative and business teams powering outstanding performance at our domestic theme parks, big increases in live-sports viewership, and significant subscriber growth at our streaming services,” said Disney chief executive Bob Chapek.
The 14.4 million Disney+ subscribers added in the recently ended quarter raised the overall number of subscriptions to its streaming services, which include Hulu and ESPN+, to 221 million, Chapek added.
The overall number of subscribers to Disney streaming services topped those of Netflix for the first time.
“Investors will breathe a sigh of relief from Disney’s robust fiscal (quarterly) earnings,” said Insider Intelligence principal analyst Paul Verna.
“The streaming figures will be seen as an indicator of the health of the market, especially after lackluster subscriber figures from Netflix and Comcast.”
Disney also announced that an ad-subsidized version of its streaming television subscription service will be offered in the United States starting December 8 at a monthly price $3 less than the ad-free offering.
Taking a page from Netflix’s playbook, Disney has been investing in shows created in places outside the United States.
The company plans to “step up” investments in such local original content, Chapek said, pointing out a film concert and docu-series focused on South Korean music sensation BTS.
He expressed confidence in Disney theater films in the works, including an eagerly anticipated “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” addition to its Marvel superhero line-up.
A trailer for the Black Panther film logged more than 170 million views in the 24 hours after its release, Chapek said.
“Disney still faces economic uncertainty and intense competition, but performance should at least temporarily put to rest some of Wall Street’s gloomier perceptions about the company, and more broadly about the entertainment industry,” said Paul Verna, an analyst at Insider Intelligence.
Rival Netflix has reported losing subscribers for two quarters in a row, as the streaming giant battles fierce competition and viewer belt tightening, though the firm assured investors of better days ahead.
The loss of 970,000 paying customers in the most recent quarter was less than expected, leaving Netflix with just shy of 221 million subscribers.
“Our challenge and opportunity is to accelerate our revenue and membership growth... and to better monetize our big audience,” the firm said in its earnings report.
After years of amassing subscribers, Netflix lost 200,000 customers worldwide in the first quarter compared to the end of 2021.
Netflix said in its earnings report that it had expected to gain a million paid subscribers in the current quarter.
Netflix executives have made it clear the company will get tougher on sharing logins and passwords, which allow many to access the platform’s content without paying.
In an effort to draw new subscribers, Netflix said it will work with Microsoft to launch a cheaper subscription plan that includes advertisements.
The ad-supported offering will be in addition to the three account options already available, with the cheapest plan coming in at $10 per month in the United States.


Kerning Cultures’ new podcast tells ‘forgotten tales’ from around the region

Updated 11 August 2022

Kerning Cultures’ new podcast tells ‘forgotten tales’ from around the region

  • Arabic-language show ‘Masafat’ aims to bridge ‘gap in media coverage,’ host says

DUBAI: Kerning Cultures Network has released a new show “Masafat” that aims to tell overlooked and forgotten stories spanning the Middle East region — from Jerusalem and Palestine to Egypt and Morocco.

Inspired by the network’s first English show “Kerning Cultures,” “Masafat” was launched because “we believe it’s important to have the same narrative style podcast in Arabic, telling stories in our native language — especially stories that are often overlooked or even forgotten,” Heba Afify, managing editor for Arabic content, told Arab News.

The show’s 13 episodes explore various topics, such as women in mahraganat (a popular form of street music in Egypt), Al-Quds Radio and how it contributed to the cultural and art scene in Palestine, block painting in Syria and reclaiming public spaces in Lebanon.

Afify, who also hosts the show, said: “There’s a gap in the media coverage when it comes to representation of what life looks like in our region, away from the politics and the sensational takes that often constitute the majority of media attention the region receives.”

She said the company was keen on “producing every episode with the perspective and knowledge of a local producer who knows the place and topic inside and out. So besides our diverse team, we collaborated with freelance producers from the countries that we cover in each episode.”

Although podcasts are a relatively new medium, they have grown in popularity with 67 percent of listeners in Saudi Arabia tuning in at least once a week, according to a 2021 report by Rising Giants Network.

“‘Masafat’ is built on the understanding that podcasts as a medium offer a safe space for stories that often don’t get featured or picked up by mainstream media,” said the network’s marketing director, Bella Ibrahim.

“Podcasts especially resonate with younger listeners that don’t feel seen or represented in mainstream media,” she added, with more than half of podcast listeners aged under 22, according to Mohtwize’s latest report.

The goal of “Masafat” is not only to tell overlooked stories but also to shine a light on the true nature of the region by exploring the “lost pieces of our history, the complex realities behind flashy headlines, inspirational journeys and the multifaceted unique realities of living in each corner of this region,” Afify said.

“Such nuanced coverage of our region grounded in deep knowledge and experience and an authentic and sympathetic approach is very much lacking and is crucial in correcting misrepresentation and giving our stories a place to be told.”


Twitter says loading issues fixed after user complaints

Updated 09 August 2022

Twitter says loading issues fixed after user complaints

  • More than 27,000 users had reported outage of the service, according to Downdetector.com
  • The outage started at 1.50 p.m. ET and had as many as 35,000 reports at its peak

LONDON: Twitter Inc. said on Tuesday it had fixed issues after thousands of users reported that they were having trouble accessing the micro-blogging platform.
More than 27,000 users had reported outage of the service, according to Downdetector.com, a website which tracks outages by collating status reports from a number of sources including user-submitted errors on its platform.
The outage started at 1.50 p.m. ET and had as many as 35,000 reports at its peak.
“We fixed it! We made an internal systems change that didn’t go as planned and have rolled it back. Twitter should now be loading as expected. Sorry about that!,” Twitter said in a tweet.
This was the second outage in as many months.
The social media company is in a legal tussle with Tesla boss Elon Musk over his $44 billion takeover deal.
Last month, Twitter users faced a nearly three-hour outage in July, with the San Francisco-based company saying it had some trouble with its internal systems that impacted many globally.
Notorious for outages in its early years, Twitter was known for using its popular “Fail Whale” illustration, which showed a beluga whale being lifted by birds, during such incidents.
Twitter users took to Reddit to complain about the outage, with many users saying all they could see was the Twitter logo when they tried to log in.
“There is no Twitter to find out why Twitter isn’t working” one user joked on a Reddit channel dedicated to Twitter.
Twitter had suffered another widespread outage in February that it blamed on a software glitch.
Other big technology companies have also been hit by outages in the past year, with a near six-hour disruption at Meta Platforms keeping WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger out of reach for billions of users in October.


Snap to open office in Doha

Updated 09 August 2022

Snap to open office in Doha

  • Social media giant signs deal with Qatar’s Government Communications Office to open new office

DUBAI: Snap Inc. is expanding its presence in the Middle East by signing a memorandum of understanding with Qatar’s Government Communications Office to open a new office in Doha.

This comes as part of the company’s efforts to support and create opportunities for Snapchat users in Qatar, as well as work closely with local partners and businesses, the company said.

“Snapchat has a highly engaged community in Qatar, and we are delighted to announce our expanding presence in MENA with the opening of a new office in Doha, which reflects our support to Qatar’s growing and vibrant digital landscape,” said Hussein Freijeh, general manager of Snap Inc. in the Middle East.

“We are pleased to welcome Snap Inc to Qatar and look forward to seeing the Snap community grow,” said Sheikh Jassim bin Mansour bin Jabor Al-Thani, director of the Government Communications Office.

“The new office and strategic partnership will help them reach one of the most vibrant and digitally enabled knowledge economies in the region and will allow our citizens to continue to engage with dynamic technology for creative and commercial uses,” he added.

The company is in the process of hiring a local team to run the day-to-day operations of the Doha office.

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