Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh shot dead in West Bank, channel blames Israeli troops

An Al-Jazeera journalist was shot and killed while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin. (Twitter)
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Updated 11 May 2022

Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh shot dead in West Bank, channel blames Israeli troops

  • An Al-Jazeera journalist was shot and killed while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin

An Al-Jazeera journalist was shot and killed while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin early Wednesday, the Palestinian health ministry said.

It said Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known Palestinian reporter for the broadcaster’s Arabic language channel, was shot and died soon afterward. Another Palestinian journalist working for the Jerusalem-based Al-Quds newspaper was wounded but in stable condition.

The health ministry said the reporters were hit by Israeli fire. In video footage of the incident, Abu Akleh can be seen wearing a blue flak jacket clearly marked with the word “PRESS.”

The Israeli military said its forces came under attack with heavy gunfire and explosives while operating in Jenin, and that they fired back. The military said it is “investigating the event and looking into the possibility that the journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen.”

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and the Palestinians want the territory to form the main part of their future state. Nearly 3 million Palestinians live in the territory under Israeli military rule. Israel has built more than 130 settlements across the West Bank that are home to nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers, who have full Israeli citizenship.

Israelis have long been critical of Al-Jazeera’s coverage, but authorities generally allow its journalists to operate freely. Another Al-Jazeera reporter, Givara Budeiri, was briefly detained last year during a protest in Jerusalem and treated for a broken hand, which her employer blamed on rough treatment by police.


Google opposes Facebook-backed proposal for self-regulatory body in India - sources

Updated 11 August 2022

Google opposes Facebook-backed proposal for self-regulatory body in India - sources

  • India wants a panel to review complaints about content decisions
  • Google says self-regulatory system sets bad precedent - sources

NEW DELHI: Google has grave reservations about developing a self-regulatory body for the social media sector in India to hear user complaints, though the proposal has support from Facebook and Twitter, sources with knowledge of the discussions told Reuters.
India in June proposed appointing a government panel to hear complaints from users about content moderation decisions, but has also said it is open to the idea of a self-regulatory body if the industry is willing.
The lack of consensus among the tech giants, however, increases the likelihood of a government panel being formed — a prospect that Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Twitter are keen to avoid as they fear government and regulatory overreach in India, the sources said.
At a closed-door meeting this week, an executive from Alphabet Inc’s Google told other attendees the company was unconvinced about the merits of a self-regulatory body. The body would mean external reviews of decisions that could force Google to reinstate content, even if it violated Google’s internal policies, the executive was quoted as saying.
Such directives from a self-regulatory body could set a dangerous precedent, the sources also quoted the Google executive as saying.
The sources declined to be identified as the discussions were private.
In addition to Facebook, Twitter and Google, representatives from Snap Inc. and popular Indian social media platform ShareChat also attended the meeting. Together, the companies have hundreds of millions of users in India.
Snap and ShareChat also voiced concern about a self-regulatory system, saying the matter requires much more consultation including with civil society, the sources said.
Google said in a statement it had attended a preliminary meeting and is engaging with the industry and the government, adding that it was “exploring all options” for a “best possible solution.”
ShareChat and Facebook declined to comment. The other companies did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

THORNY ISSUE
Self-regulatory bodies to police content in the social media sector are rare, though there have been instances of cooperation. In New Zealand, big tech companies have signed a code of practice aimed at reducing harmful content online.
Tension over social media content decisions has been a particularly thorny issue in India. Social media companies often receive takedown requests from the government or remove content proactively. Google’s YouTube, for example, removed 1.2 million videos in the first quarter of this year that were in violation of its guidelines, the highest in any country in the world.
India’s government is concerned that users upset with decisions to have their content taken down do not have a proper system to appeal those decisions and that their only legal recourse is to go to court.
Twitter has faced backlash after it blocked accounts of influential Indians, including politicians, citing violation of its policies. Twitter also locked horns with the Indian government last year when it declined to comply fully with orders to take down accounts the government said spread misinformation.
An initial draft of the proposal for the self-regulatory body said the panel would have a retired judge or an experienced person from the field of technology as chairperson, as well as six other individuals, including some senior executives at social media companies.
The panel’s decisions would be “binding in nature,” stated the draft, which was seen by Reuters.
Western tech giants have for years been at odds with the Indian government, arguing that strict regulations are hurting their business and investment plans. The disagreements have also strained trade ties between New Delhi and Washington.
US industry lobby groups representing the tech giants believe a government-appointed review panel raises concern about how it could act independently if New Delhi controls who sits on it.
The proposal for a government panel was open to public consultation until early July. No fixed date for implementation has been set.


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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