Netflix, TikTok block services in Russia to avoid crackdown

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TikTok on March 6, 2022, suspended most of its services in Russia as Moscow intensified a crackdown on media outlets and individuals who fail to hew to the Kremlin line on the war. (AP File Photo)
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Streaming giant Netflix has suspended its service in Russia on March 6, 2022, in protest of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 07 March 2022

Netflix, TikTok block services in Russia to avoid crackdown

  • TikTok said its app in Russia now appears in “view-only” mode and won’t let people post or see new videos or livestreams
  • Moscow earlier blocked Facebook and Twitter after passing a law that criminalizes the intentional spreading of what it considers to be “fake” reports

Netflix and TikTok suspended most of their services in Russia on Sunday as the government cracks down on what people and media outlets can say about Russia’s war in Ukraine.
TikTok said Russian users of the popular social media app would no longer be able to post new videos or livestreams and they also wouldn’t be able to see videos shared from elsewhere in the world.
Netflix said it was suspending its service in Russia but didn’t provide additional details.
The actions are likely to further isolate the country and its people after a growing number of multinational businesses have cut off Russia from vital financial services and technology products in response to Western economic sanctions and global outrage over the invasion of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday intensified a crackdown on media outlets and individuals who fail to hew to the Kremlin line on the war, blocking Facebook and Twitter and signing into law a bill that criminalizes the intentional spreading of what Moscow deems to be “fake” reports.
“In light of Russia’s new ‘fake news’ law, we have no choice but to suspend livestreaming and new content to our video service while we review the safety implications of this law,” TikTok said Sunday in a statement on Twitter. “Our in-app messaging service will not be affected.”
TikTok spokesperson Hilary McQuaide said the TikTok app in Russia now appears in “view-only” mode and won’t let people post or see new videos or livestreams. They can still see older videos, but not if they came from outside the country, she said.
“The safety of employees is our top priority,” she said, adding that the company — part of China-based tech company ByteDance — didn’t want to put either its Russian employees or users at risk of severe criminal penalties.
The new legislation, quickly rubber-stamped by both houses of the Kremlin-controlled parliament and signed by Putin, imposes prison sentences of up to 15 years for those spreading information that goes against the Russian government’s narrative on the war.
Multiple news outlets have also said they would pause their work inside Russia to evaluate the situation. Russian authorities have repeatedly and falsely decried reports of Russian military setbacks or civilian deaths in Ukraine as “fake” news. State media outlets refer to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” rather than a war or an invasion.
The law envisages sentences of up to three years or fines for spreading what authorities deem to be false news about the military, but the maximum punishment rises to 15 years for cases deemed to have led to “severe consequences.”
 


Prior restraint: Elon Musk claims government-imposed muzzle unlawful

Updated 28 September 2022

Prior restraint: Elon Musk claims government-imposed muzzle unlawful

  • Court brief: Musk’s speech is chilled by the threat of SEC investigations and prosecution for contempt of court

DETROIT: US Securities regulators are unlawfully muzzling Tesla CEO Elon Musk, violating his free speech rights by continually trying to enforce a 2018 securities fraud settlement, Musk’s lawyer contends in a court brief.
The document, filed late Tuesday with the federal appeals court in Manhattan, was written to support Musk’s appeal of a lower court’s April decision to uphold the settlement with Securities and Exchange Commission.
The brief says that a provision in the settlement requiring Musk to get prior approval before tweeting about the electric car company is an illegal “government-imposed muzzle on Mr. Musk’s speech before it is made.”
The settlement required that his tweets be approved by a Tesla attorney before being published. The SEC is investigating whether Musk violated the settlement with tweets last November asking Twitter followers if he should sell 10 percent of his Tesla stock.
But in the brief, Musk attorney Alex Spiro contends that the SEC is continually investigating Musk for topics not covered by the settlement. It asks the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to strike or modify the prior approval provision.
“The pre-approval provision in the consent decree qualifies as a prior restraint on speech that runs afoul of the First Amendment,” Spiro wrote. “It forbids future lawful speech on a range of topics absent approval.”
Further, Musk’s speech is chilled by the threat of SEC investigations and prosecution for contempt of court, the brief said.
The whole dispute stems from an October 2018 agreement with the SEC that Musk signed. He and Tesla each agreed to pay $20 million in civil fines over Musk’s tweets about having the “funding secured” to take Tesla private at $420 per share.
The funding was far from locked up, and the electric vehicle company remains public, but Tesla’s stock price jumped. The settlement specified governance changes, including Musk’s ouster as board chairman, as well as pre-approval of his tweets.
In April, US District Judge Lewis Liman in New York rejected Musk’s bid to throw out the settlement that he signed with the SEC. He also denied a motion to nullify a subpoena of Musk seeking information about possible violations of the settlement.
Liman’s ruling said that Musk made the tweets without getting pre-approval, but the judge later wrote that he didn’t mean to pass judgment on that issue.
A message was left early Wednesday seeking comment from the SEC.
Spiro writes that Mr. Musk’s waiver of his First Amendment rights in the settlement was not voluntary because there was no way for Musk to know how far reaching it was. “The provision applies to future speech about circumstances no one could anticipate in advance,” he wrote.
Musk, he said, is under constant threat that the SEC will disagree with his interpretation of what he can say. Musk also agreed to the deal when Tesla was a smaller company and the SEC action could have jeopardized its financing.
“The SEC has maintained constant investigations into Mr. Musk’s speech, employing nebulous interpretations of the consent decree seemingly designed to curb and chill his future speech, all regarding speech entirely unrelated to the 2018 tweet for which the SEC initiated this action,” Spiro wrote.
Tesla is now the most valuable automaker in the world, and Musk is the world’s wealthiest person.
Liman ruled that Musk’s claim that economic duress caused him to sign the settlement is “wholly unpersuasive.”
Even if Musk was worried that litigation with the SEC would ruin Tesla financially, “that does not establish a basis for him to get out of the judgment he voluntarily signed,” Liman wrote.
The judge also said Musk’s argument that the SEC had used the settlement order to harass Musk and launch investigations was “meritless.”

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Google launches new tools to help travel industry in Middle East

Updated 27 September 2022

Google launches new tools to help travel industry in Middle East

  • The free tools, available in Arabic and English, provide insights that can help destinations and hotels quickly identify travel trends and plan accordingly

DUBAI: Google unveiled two new tools on Tuesday, World Tourism Day, designed to help travel-related businesses in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Destination Insights and Hotel Insights, which were launched on the Travel Insights With Google website, aim to help businesses quickly identify travel trends and plan accordingly. They are free to use and available in English and Arabic.

For example, in the past eight months internet users in Saudi Arabia searched for information about many countries, including Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Thailand, the UAE and the UK, according to Google Trends. In addition, searches for “booking tickets” increased by 153 percent in the Kingdom compared with the previous year.

Over the same period in the UAE, people searched for local entertainment destinations including the Dubai Fountain and Dubai Butterfly Garden, along with hotels in the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The number of searches for “ticket prices” in the UAE increased by 122 percent compared with the previous year.

“From our continuous conversations with travel partners around the region, we heard that timely insights are very much necessary for the travel industry at this period, especially with many local and regional events coming up,” said Anthony Nakache, managing director of Google MENA.

“This is why we’re very excited to bring a new insights portal for the region’s travel and tourism sector, to help businesses reach regular and new travelers.”

Google said its Destination Insights tool provides travel businesses, governments and tourism boards with a clearer picture of the leading sources of demand for a destination, and the places and attractions within their countries that travelers are most interested in visiting.

It also allows businesses and authorities to explore the ways in which tourism demand is changing compared with previous months or years, and adjust their marketing campaigns accordingly.

According to Google, the Hotel Insights tool provides businesses with in-depth information about interest in their accommodations, aiding understanding about the sources of that interest and how best to attract new guests by creating a stronger digital presence.

The launch of the tools comes as the travel industry begins to bounce back following a challenging few years as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. The value of the travel and tourism sector in the Middle East alone is expected to reach $246 billion this year, based on a recent study, Nakache said.

Google said it will continue to develop tech-driven tools that can help businesses in the travel and tourism sector better engage with customers.

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MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum

Updated 24 September 2022

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum

  • Two companies have signed a strategic partnership to coordinate their efforts to further women’s careers

DUBAI: The Dubai Business Women Council organized the “Women in Media” forum in collaboration with MBC Group, to discuss the role that media organizations can play in increasing the representation and accountability of women in media.

The event is part of the council’s #DBWCFORUMS initiative, which includes a series of talks that aim to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities for women in different industries. 

During the event, MBC Group and DBWC signed a memorandum of understanding, which aims to coordinate and align both companies’ efforts in providing their female employees and members with access to mentorship programs, workshops and speaker sessions.

“This collaboration is of special importance as it unites two partners who value women and recognize their critical contribution to the economy,” said Nadine Halabi, business development manager of the Dubai Business Women Council.

“The council will continue to be committed to harnessing all available resources to serve its members and the business community, by organizing specialized events and seminars that add value to their personal and professional lives,” she said.

The forum focused on the importance of maximizing women’s strengths and potential to advance media work, develop strong female media role models, increase gender diversity, and foster a culture of success in the media industry.

Participants discussed the mechanisms needed to ensure balanced female representation in media, the best practices adopted by media leaders and officials, and the value of diversity in the workplace.

Samar Akrouk, group director of production at MBC Group, who held a fireside chat at the event, said: “MBC Group is proud to be a progressive trailblazer — on and off screen — in promoting gender equality. Throughout our organization and across most departments we have women in top leadership positions, as well as women that are identified and set on leadership tracks.”

“However, we are progressive enough to look at ourselves and say we can do more — and we will do more,” she said.

Akrouk highlighted self-limiting beliefs and how they can affect women in the workplace. She also offered advice on how to overcome these beliefs and offered guidance to those seeking a career in media.

The forum also featured three panel discussions.

The first panel brought together Rana Alamuddin, founder of BAYNEH W BAYNEK; Sally Moussa Hajjar, managing partner, Humanagement and Mohammed Abdulhaq, executive producer at MBC Group, to discuss the role and responsibility of media outlets in creating positive role models for regional audiences.

The second panel saw Bedriya Al-Saeed, employee engagement manager at MBC Group; Tala Obeidat, client partner, Leading Retail & Restaurants, Meta and Sara Eltarzi, communications director at OSN, discuss the steps and policies that led to better inclusivity and gender parity in media organizations.

The third and final panel brought together Rola Ghotmeh, founder and chief creative officer, The Creative 9; Natasha Romariz Maasri, executive creative director, Leo Burnett MEA and Andrej Arsenijevic, executive creative director and sustainability lead at Commonwealth McCann Dubai, to talk about responsible and impactful advertising and how to push boundaries through strategic messaging in society.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with MBC Group and look forward to coordinating our future efforts to develop the abilities of women and female business owners while also assisting them in acquiring media and marketing skills that can advance their careers,” Halabi said.
 


WhatsApp says it is working to keep Iranians connected

Updated 25 September 2022

WhatsApp says it is working to keep Iranians connected

  • WhatsApp said it “will do anything” within its technical capacity to keep the service accessible

LONDON: Meta Platforms Inc’s WhatsApp said on Thursday that it was working to keep users in Iran connected after the country restricted access to the app and social media platform Instagram.
WhatsApp “will do anything” within its technical capacity to keep the service accessible and that it was not blocking Iranian phone numbers, the messaging service said in a tweet.
Iran on Wednesday restricted access to Instagram and WhatsApp, two of the last remaining social networks in the country, amid protests over the death of a woman in police custody, according to residents and Internet watchdog NetBlocks.
Last week’s death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by morality police in Tehran for “unsuitable attire,” has unleashed anger over issues including freedom in the Islamic Republic and an economy reeling from sanctions.
Protesters in Tehran and other Iranian cities torched police stations and vehicles earlier on Thursday as public outrage over the death showed no signs of abating, with reports of security forces coming under attack.


Amanpour says Iran president interview scrapped over headscarf demand

Updated 22 September 2022

Amanpour says Iran president interview scrapped over headscarf demand

  • The chief international anchor of CNN was ready for the interview Wednesday on the sidelines of the UNGA when an aide insisted she cover her hair
  • "I politely declined," Amanpour wrote on Twitter

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Veteran journalist Christiane Amanpour said Thursday that an interview with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was scrapped after he insisted she wear a headscarf, the focus of major protests in the cleric-run state.
Amanpour, the chief international anchor of CNN who also has a show on US public broadcaster PBS, said she was ready for the interview Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly when an aide insisted she cover her hair.
“I politely declined. We are in New York, where there is no law or tradition regarding headscarves,” Amanpour, who was born in Britain to an Iranian father, wrote on Twitter.
“I pointed out that no previous Iranian president has required this when I have interviewed them outside Iran,” she said.
“I said that I couldn’t agree to this unprecedented and unexpected condition.”

She posted a picture of herself — without a headscarf — sitting in front of an empty chair where Raisi would have been explaining that "the interview didn’t happen. As protests continue in Iran and people are being killed, it would have been an important moment to speak with President Raisi."

An aide to Raisi, a hard-line cleric, told Amanpour that he was insisting on a headscarf because of “the situation in Iran,” she said.
Iran has been swept by nearly a week of protests since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after being arrested by morality police that enforce the clerics’ rules on how women dress.
A non-governmental group said that at least 31 Iranian civilians have been killed in the crackdown on the protests, in which women have been seen burning headscarves.

With agencies.