Hong Kong police raid pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, arrest five

Hong Kong's its press freedom ranking has slipped dramatically in recent years. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 17 June 2021

Hong Kong police raid pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, arrest five

  • Editor-In-Chief of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was arrested in Hong Kong alongside four executives on charges of collusion with a foreign country
  • Authorities also seized HK$18 million ($2.3 million) in Apple Daily assets.

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police arrested the chief editor and four executives of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily on Thursday, raiding its newsroom for a second time in the latest blow to the outspoken tabloid.

The paper and its jailed owner Jimmy Lai have long been a thorn in Beijing’s side with unapologetic support for the financial hub’s pro-democracy movement and scathing criticism of China’s authoritarian leaders.

More than 500 officers conducted a dawn operation which authorities said was sparked by articles Apple Daily had published “appealing for sanctions” against Hong Kong and China’s leaders.

It is the first time the content of media reporting has sparked arrests under the city’s new national security law.

In a message to readers, Apple Daily warned that Hong Kong’s press freedoms were “hanging by a thread” but the paper vowed to “stand tall.”

Its union described the operation as a “wanton violation of press freedom” that “displayed how much police power has inflated under the national security law.”

Police said the five executives were arrested for collusion with a foreign country or external elements “to endanger national security.”

“They have overall responsibility for the content, style and principles of news reporting,” senior superintendent Steve Li told reporters.

Authorities also seized HK$18 million ($2.3 million) in Apple Daily assets, the first time a national security law seizure order has been made directly against a Hong Kong media company, rather than an individual.

Hong Kong is historically a major international media hub but its press freedom ranking has slipped dramatically in recent years.

Secretary for Security John Lee declined to say which articles breached the security law or whether those who shared the articles online, bought Apple Daily or its shares, might be at risk.

“Everyone must decide for themselves,” he told reporters.

“Our actions are not targeting press freedom or journalistic work,” he added.

“We target conspiracies that threaten national security. We target perpetrators who would use journalistic work as a tool to engage in acts that endanger national security.”

Sharron Fast, a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s journalism school, described Lee’s comments as “ominous and incorrect.”

“It is precisely the role of a journalist in a free society to report on political views, even those that might be unwelcome,” she told AFP.

Apple Daily broadcast live footage of the raid showing officers searching the newsroom and looking through journalists’ computers.

The paper said computer terminals, hard drives and reporter notepads were among items carted away.

Among the arrested executives were chief editor Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung who were both led into the building in handcuffs.

Hong Kong’s stock exchange said trading in shares of Next Digital — the publisher of the newspaper — had been halted.

The security law is the speartip of a sweeping crackdown on Beijing’s critics in Hong Kong since 2019’s huge democracy protests.

It has criminalized much dissent, given China jurisdiction over some cases and awarded authorities a suite of powerful new investigation powers.

Those convicted face up to life in prison and the majority are denied bail after arrest.

Thursday’s raid was the second on Apple Daily in less than a year.

The tabloid’s billionaire owner Lai, 73, was charged with collusion after hundreds of officers searched the paper’s newsroom last August.

He is currently serving multiple jail sentences for attending various protests.

Beijing has made no secret of its desire to see the paper’s voice tamed, with state media routinely describing Lai as a “traitor” and a “black hand.”

Last month, police used the national security law to freeze Lai’s bank accounts and his majority shares in Next Digital.

Until Thursday’s raid, authorities had left the company’s assets alone. It is unclear whether Apple Daily will now be able to pay its staff.

“We will try all our best to publish newspapers for tomorrow,” executive chief editor Lam Man-chung, who was not among those arrested, told AFP.

China says the security law was needed to return stability to the international financial hub.

Critics, including many Western nations, say it has been the final nail in the coffin for the “One Country, Two Systems” promise that Hong Kong could maintain certain liberties after its 1997 handover to China by the British.

More than 100 people have been arrested under the law, many of them the city’s best-known democracy activists. Others have fled overseas.

Speaking with AFP last month, chief editor Law admitted the paper was in “crisis” since Lai’s jailing but said his reporters were determined to press on with publishing.

Asked by staff what they should do if the police came to arrest him, he replied: “Broadcast it live.”

EU gives Google 2 months to improve hotel, flight search results

Updated 23 min 24 sec ago

EU gives Google 2 months to improve hotel, flight search results

  • EU provides Google with two months to improve the way the platform shows internet search results in relation to hotels and flights
  • Google has long faced scrutiny from antitrust enforcers and consumer groups around the world over its business practices
BRUSSELS: Alphabet unit Google has two months to improve the way it presents Internet search results for flights and hotels and explain how it ranks these or face possible sanctions, the European Commission and EU consumer authorities said on Monday.
The world’s most popular Internet search engine has long faced scrutiny from antitrust enforcers and consumer groups around the world over its business practices, which in some cases have landed it with hefty fines.
The latest grievance centers on the prices on its services Google Flights and Google Hotels.
The final prices for these should include fees or taxes that can be calculated in advance, while reference prices used to calculate promoted discounts should be clearly identifiable, the EU executive and national consumer watchdogs, led by the Dutch agency and the Belgian Directorate General for Economic Inspection, said in a joint statement.
“EU consumers cannot be misled when using search engines to plan their holidays. We need to empower consumers to make their choices based on transparent and unbiased information,” EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said.
The agencies also told Google to revise the standard terms of its Google Store because some cases showed that traders have more rights than consumers.
If Google’s proposals are not sufficient, the agencies will discuss the issue further with the company and may impose sanctions.
Google said in a statement: “We welcome this dialogue and are working closely with consumer protection agencies and the European Commission to see how we can make improvements that will be good for our users and provide even more transparency.”

Police shut Al Jazeera TV’s Tunis office

Al Jazeera television said on Monday that Tunisian police had stormed its bureau in the capital Tunis. (File/AFP)
Updated 40 min ago

Police shut Al Jazeera TV’s Tunis office

  • “Around 15 policemen, some in uniform others in civilian clothes, entered our offices and asked us to leave,” Al Jazeera director in Tunis Lotfi Hajji said
  • The move came a day after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended parliament

TUNIS: Tunisian police on Monday closed the office of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera television in the capital Tunis, its bureau chief said, amid political turmoil in the North African country.
“Around 15 policemen, some in uniform others in civilian clothes, entered our offices and asked us to leave,” Al Jazeera director in Tunis Lotfi Hajji told AFP.
He said the law enforcement officers gave no reason for the actions, but confiscated the keys to the premises and forced all staff to leave.
The move came a day after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended parliament, following a day of street protests against the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic.
Hajji said the police told Al Jazeera staff “we are following orders.”
“What is happening is very dangerous, it is proof that freedom of the press is threatened. Today it is Al Jazeera, another day another media,” Hajji said.
AFP contacted the interior minister for further details but no immediate explanations were given for the closure of the outlet’s office.

Concern mounts about possible Turkish law on media funding

Updated 23 July 2021

Concern mounts about possible Turkish law on media funding

  • Top aide to Turkey’s president said this week the country needs a regulation on media outlets that receive foreign funds
  • Negative social media campaign targeted independent press outlet Medyascope and its founder, veteran journalist Rusen Cakir

ISTANBUL: Press freedom groups expressed concern Friday about comments by Turkish officials about possible legislation to regulate foreign funding for media and the dissemination of fake news, saying it could further curtail independent journalism in Turkey.
A top aide to Turkey’s president said this week that the country needs a regulation on media outlets that receive foreign funds. Director of Communications Fahrettin Altun said foreign media funding merits scrutiny when it comes from countries that “openly express their intentions and efforts to design Turkish politics.”
“We will not allow fifth column activities under new guises,” Altun said.
Turkish journalists flying back from a state visit to northern Cyprus this week reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party planned to review later this year whether the country needs a law against disseminating fake news. They quoted Erdogan as saying Turkey would have to fight the “terror of lies.”
The comments came as a negative social media campaign targeted independent press outlet Medyascope and its founder, veteran journalist Rusen Cakir, for receiving funds from the US-based Chrest Foundation. The private philanthropy group has also funded non-profit organizations and foundations working in arts, culture and diversity.
Media Freedom Rapid Response and 23 allied groups said in a statement Friday that foreign funding was a critical source of income for independent news outlets in Turkey as they face government pressure. Mainstream Turkish media is mostly run by businesses close to the government.
“Taken together, these statements create the impression that the Turkish government is preparing to introduce new legal measures that will further undermine media freedom and pluralism in the country,” the statement said.
But Altun said similar regulations apply in the United States, where media outlets funded by foreign countries must provide information on activities to US authorities. Turkey’s state-funded English-language broadcaster TRT World was required to register as a foreign agent last year under the Foreign Agent Registration Act for lobbyists and public relations firms working for foreign governments. TRT then said its performed new slathering and reporting like any other international media.
Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index ranked Turkey at 153 out of 180 countries in 2021. The Journalists’ Union of Turkey says 38 media workers remain behind bars.

Inside OSN Streaming’s digital transformation

Updated 25 July 2021

Inside OSN Streaming’s digital transformation

  • How OSN delivered a digital-first product in six months

DUBAI: A year after OSN rebranded its streaming platform WAVO to OSN Streaming, it has unveiled a brand new digital-first platform, putting technology and content at its core.
In October 2020, OSN Streaming changed its look and feel, but the technology remained the same. It was around the same time that the company decided to digitally overhaul the platform, delivering an entirely new user experience. 
“My early estimation was that we need to have 12-18 months,” Peter Riz, chief technology officer at OSN, told Arab News.
However, six months was a “very aggressive timeline” for a development such as this, he added. Riz and his team had to devise a hybrid approach using six different modules to achieve this vision. The next step was to find a way to bring together the modules in a seamless manner, because running them separately was not sustainable or cost-effective.
The two key areas of the rebrand were multiple user profiles — including dedicated children’s profiles — and content presentation focusing on enhanced search and discovery.
Content presentation and discovery were critical to the user experience, said Riz. The first layer was presenting content to each user based on the general interests of that audience segment determined by factors such as age and location. 
The second and more challenging layer was navigating personal user preferences. For example, Western expats generally watch movies and shows from the West, but also like watching certain Arabic dramas, explained Riz. The platform was also designed to learn from user behavior and tailor recommendations over time.
Riz said: “We wanted to show users the content we believe is relevant, so the question became: How do we do this quickly, and how do we give all this control to the editorial and marketing team?”

The answer came in the form of a custom technological component called the Customer Experience Builder (CXB). “The CXB is a new type of innovation from a technical point of view,” added Riz, because it enables the company to add new features and updates to various touchpoints — such as the mobile app, web browser, and TV apps — through one common system.
Digital disruption has been driven, in part, by a rapid change in user behavior, making it more important than ever before for companies to be able to adapt and improve their digital services quickly.
“OSN was not only able to deliver this new platform very quickly using the CXB, but we can continuously improve the experience,” said Riz. From building the CXB from scratch to writing new code, the new platform is a technological innovation for OSN.
“We changed the entire environment,” said Riz. “There is no legacy code in the new environment so every line of code that the engineers created to deliver the service is new.”
Since the launch of the new platform, OSN has been making tweaks through the CXB suite every two weeks. “Most of the logic, or ‘magic’ as we sometimes call it, happens on the backend,” he added.
Although these changes are almost imperceptible to users, they have a profound impact on how people discover and watch content on the platform, said Riz, resulting in OSN doubling content consumption on the platform.
Streaming companies reached their peak during the coronavirus disease pandemic, as more people spent time indoors and cinemas shut down. The surge in new users has forced these platforms to innovate in order to sustain their growth.
So, what is next for these companies?
“The real differentiator is still the content and how we present this content,” said Riz. “We are continuously working to find new content sources and secure current partnerships.”
Streaming platforms, including OSN, are also looking for new kinds of partnerships that will see them diversifying into gaming and audio. OSN, for instance, partnered with multi-player video game “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” (PUBG) to provide PUBG Mobile players an exclusive opportunity to access the OSN Streaming app.
On the technology side, OSN continues to measure multiple factors such as streaming quality, load time, lags, or delays, to constantly improve the user experience. When there is a new update on any operating system, the company immediately runs tests to see if it affects the performance of the OSN Streaming platform. It is also working on adding alternative payment methods, in addition to credit cards, to the platform.
But, behind it all, “you need to continue that invisible, seamless and perfect technology,” said Riz.
It is all about “continuous improvement and continuous innovation to bring the content to the audience, increase the partnerships and support the entire digital economy to grow and unlock all the potential in the region,” he concluded.


Can Facebook’s $1 bn gamble help it regain lost cool?

Facebook has yet to outline detailed plans for the $1 billion, but a large chunk will reportedly be distributed via Instagram, which still enjoys a “cool” factor. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 July 2021

Can Facebook’s $1 bn gamble help it regain lost cool?

  • Facebook announced last week that it will pay $1 billion to content creators of popular posts, including fashionistas to comedians and video gamers
  • This attempt, however, is being seen partly as an attempt to regain cultural relevance and stem the youth exodus

PARIS: Like Internet personalities the world over, Kenyan TikTok comedian Mark Mwas was intrigued when Facebook announced a $1 billion plan to pay content creators like him.
But the 25-year-old, whose following surged past 160,000 as entertainment-starved Kenyans flocked to the app during the pandemic, is skeptical that fans would follow him to the older social network.
“In our market, Facebook is kinda old-fashioned,” said Mwas, who posts skits about campus life in a mixture of Swahili, English, and Sheng slang.
“Like, Mom is on Facebook and doesn’t know what TikTok is,” he told AFP in an email. “My content is suited for the millennials, who prefer other platforms.”
Announced last week, Facebook’s $1 billion will pay the creators of popular posts, from fashionistas to comedians and video gamers, through 2022.
It is the strongest signal yet that the US social media giant now recognizes the strategic importance of the “creator economy.”
YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat have waged an increasingly fierce battle to attract figures with big followings that can in turn attract serious advertising revenues.
Last November, photo and video app Snapchat began paying $1 million a day to top creators, although the payments have since tapered off. Popular YouTubers have been receiving a slice of the site’s billions in ad revenues since 2007.
Facebook has been comparatively slow on the uptake. While the site began paying popular video-makers in 2017, most vloggers have found YouTube to be far more lucrative.
Facebook-owned Instagram has meanwhile launched the careers of many a food blogger and fashion influencer, but the app only began sharing its advertising income directly with them last year.
Traditionally, the bulk of Insta-celebrities’ earnings has come through product endorsement deals negotiated directly with brands.

Joe Gagliese, co-founder of international influencer agency Viral Nation, said it was not surprising that Facebook’s efforts had lagged behind competitors’.
Founded in 2004, Facebook had already built a hugely lucrative advertising business by the time the phenomenon of full-time Internet celebrities emerged at the end of the decade. Courting influencers wasn’t crucial to its “primary business,” Gagliese said.
But as creators have headed elsewhere, their predominantly young followings have followed — contributing to a sense that Facebook, in the eyes of Gen Z, has become an irredeemably uncool website where their parents hang out.
Facebook’s user base is indeed aging. The proportion of over-65s has shot up roughly a quarter over the past year — almost double the average, according to the Digital 2021 report from media companies We Are Social and Hootsuite.
In the meantime, Chinese-owned TikTok was the world’s most downloaded app in the first half of 2021.
It has largely replaced Facebook as the driver of international social media crazes — not least during the pandemic, as bored millions have turned to its dance videos and cooking trends for light relief.
In this context, Facebook’s $1 billion gambit is being seen partly as an attempt to regain cultural relevance and stem the youth exodus.
“The only way for these platforms to keep their relevance with younger generations is to understand what resonates with them and keep up with the pace of innovation,” said Claudia Cameron, head of marketing and insights at Amsterdam-based influencer agency IMA.
“Creators are a very important part of this equation, as they set the tone for what’s cool.”

While young users from Iran to Brazil have been flocking elsewhere, industry insiders say it is far too early to regard Facebook as doomed.
“You can’t underestimate them, because they are so powerful when it comes to the tech,” said Gagliese.
Facebook’s vast income — it raked in $84.2 billion in advertising revenues last year, more than the GDP of some countries — gives it huge funds with which to innovate.
It is also, despite its relative loss of street cred, still growing, with 2.8 billion monthly users worldwide.
Gagliese suggested Facebook should be spending far more on its efforts to lure Internet stars from other platforms.
“Unless Facebook leans in really hard — I’m talking, ‘way more than a billion dollars’ hard — it’s going to be very hard for them to attract all these new creators,” he said.
Facebook has yet to outline detailed plans for the $1 billion, but Cameron pointed out that a large chunk will likely be distributed via Instagram, which still enjoys a “cool” factor.
That would be good news for TikTok comedian Mwas, who also has a sizeable following there.
“I’m taking a wait-and-see approach,” he said.