Hong Kong plummets toward bottom of press freedom ranking

An Apple Daily journalist holding freshly-printed copies of the newspaper’s last edition to be distributed to supporters gathered outside their office in Hong Kong on June 24, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 03 May 2022

Hong Kong plummets toward bottom of press freedom ranking

  • China has imposed increasingly authoritarian strictures on Hong Kong following large-scale and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests three years ago

HONG KONG: Hong Kong has plummeted down an international press freedom chart as authorities have wielded a draconian new security law to silence critical news outlets and jail journalists, a new report said on Tuesday.
For two decades, media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has ranked countries and territories around the world by how free their press is.
Hong Kong, a regional media hub for both international and local media, has been steadily slipping down the table under Chinese rule.
In the last year alone it has plunged 68 places to 148th, sandwiching the international business hub between the Philippines and Turkey.
“It is the biggest downfall of the year, but it is fully deserved due to the consistent attacks on freedom of the press and the slow disappearance of the rule of law in Hong Kong,” Cedric Alviani, head of RSF’s Taiwan-based East Asia bureau, said.
“In the past year we have seen a drastic, drastic move against journalists,” he added.
China has imposed increasingly authoritarian strictures on Hong Kong following large-scale and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests three years ago.
It implemented a sweeping national security law in 2020 that has since crushed dissent and seen dozens of democracy activists jailed as well as journalists.
Alviani said authorities initially used the law to pursue political opponents and democracy activists, but throughout 2021 it began to increasingly be deployed against local media.
Last year, Apple Daily and Stand News, two popular outlets that were critical of the government, collapsed after newsroom leaders were arrested and company assets were frozen by the security law.
Alviani said RSF’s database now lists 13 Hong Kong media workers as being in jail, a number he said was “enormous” and equivalent to almost ten percent of all known journalist detentions in China.
China has consistently been ranked by RSF as one of the world’s most hostile countries for journalists, and currently sits at 175th out of 180.
But until recently Hong Kong was a comparative oasis of free speech thanks to a “One Country, Two Systems” formula, in which Beijing promised the city could keep key freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after the 1997 handover by Britain.
When RSF published its first report in 2002, Hong Kong had some of the freest media in Asia and ranked 18th worldwide.
For now, the security law has been directed against local media but questions have swirled over the future of the international press based in the territory.
Last week, the city’s foreign press club scrapped Asia’s most prestigious human rights awards, citing the threat posed by the security law.
Multiple major news outlets — including AFP, Bloomberg, CNN, the Economist and the Financial Times — have longstanding Asia headquarters in the city.
“No media can do without correspondents in Hong Kong. But do the media need to have their regional headquarters in Hong Kong?” asked Alviani.
“Is it safe to leave your computer archive, to leave your server, to leave your management team in Hong Kong? In the current situation maybe not.”

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

Updated 10 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.


Algerian influencers jailed over student scam: media

Updated 09 August 2022

Algerian influencers jailed over student scam: media

  • The charges were criminal association, forgery, theft, fraud and money laundering
  • All three are well-known in the North African country

ALGIERS: Two Algerian social media influencers were sentenced on appeal Tuesday to a year each in prison, with six months suspended, over a scam targeting students seeking education abroad, local media reported.
Among the charges faced by Farouk Boudjemline, known as Rifka, and Mohamed Aberkane, alias Stanley, were criminal association, forgery, theft, fraud and money laundering.
Their co-accused Numidia Lezoul faced the same charges but was acquitted.
All three are well-known in the North African country, and were originally sentenced to one year each and fined the equivalent of 650 euros for promoting the “Future Gate” agency.
This had defrauded many Algerians wishing to study abroad, particularly in Russia, Ukraine and Turkey.
It charged students large sums to arrange their university registration and provide accommodation, but left them to their fate once there.
Oussama Rezagui, the head of the agency, was given a six-year jail sentence, reduced on appeal from seven years, and a heavy fine.

Former Saudi footballer Yasser Al-Qahtani signed by beIN Sports as analyst

Updated 08 August 2022

Former Saudi footballer Yasser Al-Qahtani signed by beIN Sports as analyst

  • He joins the broadcaster in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and will work with its media team in the Middle East and North Africa on flagship channel beIN Sports

LONDON: Former Saudi footballer Yasser Al-Qahtani is joining global sports, media and entertainment group beIN’s line-up of talent, the broadcaster announced on Monday.

A former captain of the Saudi national team, he played for several Arab clubs including Al-Qadisiyah and Al-Hilal in the Kingdom, and Al-Ain in the UAE.

Al-Qahtani said he is happy to be joining the beIN team, especially in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, which kicks off Nov. 21. Saudi Arabia will be one of the 32 teams competing as the finals of the competition are held for the first time in the region.

“I hope this step will be a good addition for viewers, especially with beIN’s existing line-up of top sports analysts,” he said.

He will work with the broadcaster’s media team in the Middle East and North Africa as a football analyst on flagship sports channel beIN Sports.

“Al-Qahtani joins our line-up of best-in-class analysts, with many more noteworthy talent announcements, across the board, to be revealed shortly,” said Tareq Zainal, beIN’s chief financial and human resources officer.

“The new appointment comes at a truly exceptional time in our company’s history, as we’re working around the clock to exclusively broadcast the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, the world’s greatest and biggest show, across the region later this year.”

The Asian Football Confederation’s Asian Footballer of the Year in 2007, Al-Qahtani scored 172 goals in 354 professional appearances during an 18-year career, the highlights of which included playing at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, during which he scored a goal against Tunisia. He was also the top scorer during the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, and played for the Saudi national team for more than 11 years.