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)
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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.”


Are some Saudi social media influencers crossing the line?

Updated 17 September 2021

Are some Saudi social media influencers crossing the line?

  • Saudi social media stars are learning they must play by the rules — or pay the price

RIYADH: Saudi social media influencers have become a key element in the Kingdom’s advertising market in recent years, but many are increasingly aware they risk a backlash if their growing power is not used wisely.
While many observers argue that influencers serve a positive purpose, others say they are simply filling the airwaves with nonsense — but there can be no disputing the effect they have, especially when using the right tone to sell a product, brand or idea.
However, marketers warn that this can be a double-edged sword, with influencers naively thinking they can get away with simple advertising techniques or using a convincing sales pitch, while others break established rules and even laws in a bid to gain followers.
Either approach can land influencers in trouble and, thanks to the internet’s long memory, the damage can linger for years.

Some influencers do not think except to rush behind their interests and gain from advertisements or the number of followers  — Dr. Abdulrahman Alazmi, Associate professor of psychology at Naif University

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Commerce has strict and clearly defined rules for online advertisements, and regularly updates “red-flagged” establishments and shady businesses. The ministry also issues warnings against spreading rumors or promoting products that fail to comply with the relevant authorities’ standards. Firms or individuals who breach regulations are subject to legal action, including hefty fines.
Some marketing and advertising outfits told Arab News that they face difficulty at times over influencers’ failure to comply with the rules, “interacting with the spirit of the law rather than its text.”
Nafel Al-Nabhan, a Snapchat influencer, said that he does his best to comply with legal and ethical standards. “I do not target a specific category in my posts; they’re just moments that I share and consider as a daily diary with both good and bad,” he said. “I made many mistakes because I did not study the media, but I learned from my mistakes, and that was fun.”
Al-Nabhan said that his views on social media platforms have changed over time. “After Twitter deleted former US President Donald Trump’s account, social media became more powerful than bombs and bullets,” he said.
Deena Alardi, an Instagram and Snapchat influencer, said that “being present in the largest media source today is a great responsibility, so I must act within the laws, regulations and conditions (outlined) by official and private bodies in this field.”
Asked about the challenges she faces, Alardi admits that communicating her message to the public can be difficult, but said she is determined to maintain her standards.
“I have not and will not allow myself to resort to methods that are an embarrassment in front of the community.” The influencer said that content must be studied and planned professionally. “My high regard for people has put me in some bad situations that I do not want to repeat. You should not trust easily,” she said.
“It is normal for thinking to change over time,” Alardi said, adding that some influencers lower society’s view of their lives, interests and priorities because they present unrealistic, exaggerated and sometimes false claims.
“The audience believes everything it sees, and this is one mistake that can backfire.”
Nourah Al-Salem, another Snapchat influencer, said: “There is no doubt that the influencer is a byproduct of their environment and culture, and they have moral standards and responsibilities to highlight the positive aspects of society.”

There are standards that we adhere to with influencers, and the most important are ethical behavior and good reputation. We are also interested in adhering to the customs, traditions and culture of society — Moustafa Reda, Managing director at the First Exhibitor marketing agency

She added: “As for delivering messages to my audience, the challenges are simple since they have a high level of awareness and deep understanding. I do not need to pretend or resort to devious methods that leave me embarrassed in front of my followers or society.”
Dr. Abdulrahman Alazmi, an associate professor of psychology at Naif University, told Arab News that some influencers resort to dishonest behavior to gain followers, especially those in adolescence and childhood.
“The influencer at this age is looking for enjoyment because it is compatible with his audience in their age group. Bad behavior can be comedic, prompting followers to publish, spread and follow an influencer, and giving the influencer negative support to make them interact more and behave in a way that attracts the attention of children and teenagers,” he said.
“Some influencers do not think except to rush behind their interests and gain from advertisements or the number of followers.”
Alazmi, who specializes in family counseling, said that an influencer’s mistakes in the short term are usually limited to fame, advertisements and interests. “However, in the long run, the impact is very painful, because this person documents himself through videos that do not correspond to his stage after the age of 40, for example, and his sons will not accept them in the future. He reveals to himself and his family that he is superficial, and he has a behavioral deviation that is not appropriate for him when he grows older.”
Nasser Alodah, general manager at advertising and digital marketing specialists the NOB Agency, told Arab News that the firm insists influencers agree with the conditions requested by a client, such as advertising the work, obtaining approval and adhering to the number of views.
At least 95 percent of influencers agree to these conditions, he said.
“In the past we had difficulty dealing with influencers when signing the terms. Some did not want to sign, perhaps because they see that signing with others is a big responsibility and it is frightening for them. The professionalism and knowledge of most distinguished influencers today has made signing contracts an easy matter,” Alodah said. As for influencers with bad reputations, Alodah said that the agency steers away from them and advises clients to do the same.
“When an influencer violates one or more conditions, it is discretionary. For example, if the mistake is out of the influencer’s control, we move past it, and sometimes we see that we are partners in the mistake, like having to postpone shooting or something, and so we resort to discussions with the influencer and the matter is often settled amicably.”

If the mistake is out of the influencer’s control, we get past it, and sometimes we see that we are partners in the mistake — Nasser Alodah, NOB Agency general manager

He added: “As for whoever makes a mistake intentionally, we cancel the deal with them and inform the party with which we are contracted that we are canceling the contract with this person. I think this is one of the strongest punishments an influencer can receive.”
Moustafa Reda, managing director at the First Exhibitor marketing agency, said: “There are standards that we adhere to with influencers, and the most important are ethical behavior and good reputation. We are also interested in adhering to the customs, traditions and culture of society.”
The agency is also keen to main influencers’ “credibility” on social media. Reda said that influencers could be divided into two groups: “Some understand the nature of the work, and the culture and environment in which they are located, while others violate these agreed conditions.”
Only a small number fell into the second category, he said.
He agreed that some influencers’ love of image and fame leaves them vulnerable to unintentional mistakes. “Still, as professionals, we remind them to follow guidelines and go by the book.”
According to Ahmed Nazzal, CEO of Wajahah Marketing, working with influencers demands high standards. “The most important is reputation, society’s view of this person, his view of society, and respecting the culture, and respecting customs and traditions.” He said that influencers, like everyone, are prone to error and many receive insufficient training for their role.


French court lowers Bloomberg fine over hoax Vinci statement -media reports

Updated 16 September 2021

French court lowers Bloomberg fine over hoax Vinci statement -media reports

  • Bloomberg News was originally fined $5.9 million in December 2019 for publishing a hoax press release
  • AMF said at the time that Bloomberg should have known the information in the hoax press release was false

PARIS: A French appeal court on Thursday upheld a ruling by France’s markets watchdog AMF against US news agency Bloomberg for publishing a hoax press release, French media reported, but lowered its fine to three million euros.
Bloomberg News was originally fined five million euros ($5.9 million) in December 2019 for publishing a hoax press release in November 2016 relating to construction group Vinci, which had filed a legal complaint to the AMF.
The AMF said at the time that Bloomberg should have known the information in the hoax press release was false.
“Our journalists, among others, simply reported on what appeared to be newsworthy information and were the victims of a sophisticated hoax, the perpetrator of which has not yet been found,” a Bloomberg spokesperson said after Thursday’s ruling.
“We hoped that the court would recognize the issues of press freedom at stake. We are disappointed the court has not overturned the original decision and will consider our options on appeal,” they added.
Vinci shares fell as much as 18 percent on Nov. 22, 2016 after the hoax statement, which said that the French group would revise its 2015 and 2016 accounts and fire its chief financial officer.
The AMF had said it had taken action against Bloomberg because it had published the statement without verifying it.
Vinci’s share price recovered after the company denied the Bloomberg report and said that the statement was a hoax.
The appeal court’s ruling was not immediately available on its website or on the AMF’s own site.


‘No journalist should die’: EU calls for better media safety

“No journalist should die or be harmed because of their job,” said Vera Jourova, the commission vice president for values and transparency. (AFP)
Updated 16 September 2021

‘No journalist should die’: EU calls for better media safety

  • The EU asks member countries to better protect journalists amid rise in physical attacks and online threats against media professionals
  • 908 journalists and media workers were attacked across the 27-nation bloc in 2020

BRUSSELS: The European Union’s executive arm asked its member countries Thursday to better protect journalists amid a rise of physical attacks and online threats against media professionals.
According to the European Commission, 908 journalists and media workers were attacked across the 27-nation bloc in 2020. A total of 23 journalists have been killed in the EU since 1992, with the majority of the killings taking place over the past six years.
“No journalist should die or be harmed because of their job. We need to support and protect journalists; they are essential for democracy,” said Vera Jourova, the commission vice president for values and transparency. “The pandemic has showed more than ever the key role of journalists to inform us. And the urgent need for public authorities to do more to protect them.”
Murders of reporters remain rare in Europe, but the killings of journalists in Slovakia and Malta in recent years have raised concerns about reporters’ safety in developed, democratic societies.
Earlier this year, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen expressed support to investigative journalism after the killing of Peter R. de Vries, a renowned Dutch journalist who reported on the violent underworld of the Netherlands.
The commission’s non-binding proposals include recommendations for EU countries to ensure fair and effective investigations and prosecutions, and to provide protection to those under threat, with a strong focus on female journalists.
According to the EU, 73 percent of female journalists have experienced online violence and the commission said EU countries should “support initiatives aimed at empowering women journalists and professionals belonging to minority groups and those reporting on equality issues.”
The bloc’s executive arm also proposed the creation of support services, including helplines, legal advice, and psychological support. It insisted on the need to ensure reporters’ safety during demonstrations, where most of the attacks take place.
“Member states should provide regular training for law enforcement authorities to ensure that journalists and other media professionals are able to work safely and without restrictions during such events,” the commission said.
Noting that digital and online safety has become a “major concern” because of online attacks but also the risks of illegal surveillance, the executive branch also encouraged EU countries to improve cooperation between media and cybersecurity bodies.
“Relevant national cybersecurity bodies should, upon request, assist journalists who seek to determine whether their devices or online accounts have been compromised, in obtaining the services of cybersecurity forensic investigators,” the commission said.
The proposals were unveiled just months after the commission’s annual report on adherence to the rule of law concluded that democratic standards were eroding in several member countries. That report notably singled out Slovenia, which currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council, for attacks against the Balkan nation’s media.
“This is not only Slovenia, we see the very aggressive rhetoric in some other member states,” Jourova said, adding that the EU will keep putting pressure on member countries where continuous issues are spotted.


Twitter ban in Nigeria to end ‘very soon’, information minister says

The Twitter ban would be removed before the end of this year. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 September 2021

Twitter ban in Nigeria to end ‘very soon’, information minister says

  • Nigeria to end its ban on Twitter in a “few more days,” according to information minister
  • The government suspended Twitter after it removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists

ABUJA: Nigeria said on Wednesday it expects to end its ban on Twitter in a “few more days,” raising hopes among users eager to return to the social media platform three months after the suspension took effect.
The ban, announced in June, has hurt Nigerian businesses and drawn widespread condemnation for its damaging effect on freedom of expression and the ease of doing business in Africa’s most populous nation.
But Information Minister Lai Mohammed told a post cabinet media briefing the government was aware of the anxiety the ban had created among Nigerians.
“If the operation has been suspended for about 100 days now, I can tell you that we’re just actually talking about a few, just a few more days now,” Mohammed said without giving a time frame.
When pressed further, Mohammed said authorities and Twitter officials had to “dot the I’s and cross the T’s” before reaching a final agreement.
“It’s just going to be very, very soon, just take my word for that,” he said.
The government suspended Twitter after it removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists.
It was a culmination of months of tension. Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey’s posts encouraging donations to anti-police brutality protests last October and Twitter posts from Nnamdi Kanu, a Biafran separatist leader currently on trial in Abuja, infuriated authorities.
Last month, Mohammed told Reuters the Twitter ban would be removed before the end of this year, adding that the government was awaiting a response on three final requests made of the social media platform.
The ban is just one area of concern for free speech advocates. Nigeria dropped five spots, to 120, in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, which described Nigeria as one of the most dangerous and difficult West Africa countries for journalists.


WhatsApp launches test of in-app business directory

In recent years, WhatsApp also has also launched shopping tools like product catalogs and shopping carts. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 September 2021

WhatsApp launches test of in-app business directory

  • WhatsApp launches a new feature to make it possible to search for businesses within its app for the first time
  • The feature will be tested in São Paulo, Brazil, and will allow users to find shops and services through a directory in the app

LONDON: Facebook’s messaging service WhatsApp on Wednesday launched a new feature to make it possible to search for businesses within its app for the first time, the company told Reuters.
The test in São Paulo, Brazil, which allows WhatsApp users to find shops and services through a directory in the app, is the latest feature in Facebook’s drive to bolster ecommerce on its services.
“This could be ... the primary way that people start a commerce process in WhatsApp,” Matt Idema, Facebook’s vice president of business messaging, said in an interview this week.
WhatsApp, unlike Facebook and Instagram, does not run ads in its app. Idema said previously businesses were promoting their WhatsApp numbers on packaging or websites or using Facebook ads to bring users into chats on WhatsApp.
The messaging service has increasingly courted business users, with a specialized app for small firms and an API, or type of software interface, for larger businesses to connect their systems, which generates revenue.
As online retail has continued to boom during the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook has pushed in-app shopping features across its apps. In June, Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s Shops feature would expand to WhatsApp in several countries. In recent years, WhatsApp also has also launched shopping tools like product catalogs and shopping carts.
WhatsApp said the new test would include thousands of businesses in categories like food, retail and local services across certain São Paulo neighborhoods. Idema said India and Indonesia were good next candidates to expand the feature.
The company, which has faced user backlash amid confusion over privacy updates and was fined by the Irish data protection regulator over privacy breaches, said it will not know or store the location of people’s search or results through the new directory feature.
Idema did not rule out the possibility that WhatsApp could introduce in-app ads in the future.
“There’s definitely a route on ads, which is Facebook’s core business model, that over the long term I think in some form or another will be part of the business model for WhatsApp,” he said. WhatsApp says about one million advertisers currently use Facebook and Instagram’s ‘click to WhatsApp’ ads to send users to the messaging app.
Idema said WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in a landmark 2014 deal but which has been slow to monetize its features, was also excited about non-ad models like building software to help businesses to manage their services across Facebook’s apps.