WhatsApp says it is working to keep Iranians connected

Iran on Wednesday restricted access to Instagram and WhatsApp amid protests over the death of a woman in police custody. (Shutterstock/File)
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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.


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.
 


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.

 


A ‘key trend’ in latest Arab Youth Survey is ‘decline in news consumption’

Updated 22 September 2022

A ‘key trend’ in latest Arab Youth Survey is ‘decline in news consumption’

  • 14th annual survey reveals a number of trends and insights across six themes: identity, livelihood, politics, global citizenship, lifestyle and aspirations

DUBAI: Dubai-based PR agency ASDA’A BCW has published the results of its 14th annual Arab Youth Survey, described as the largest independent survey of its kind.

This year’s findings are grouped under six themes: identity, livelihood, politics, global citizenship, lifestyle and aspirations.

Having grown up in the internet age, it is perhaps no surprise that Arab youths are avid users of social media and other online services. In terms of the most popular social media platforms across the region, WhatsApp came out on top, with 82 percent of those surveyed saying they use it daily, followed by Facebook (72 percent), Instagram (61 percent), YouTube (53 percent), TikTok (50 percent), Snapchat (46 percent), Twitter (33 percent) and LinkedIn (12 percent).

WhatsApp is even more popular in Saudi Arabia that it is in the wider region, with 98 percent of people surveyed in the country using it daily. Snapchat was the second-most popular platform in the Kingdom, with 84 percent of people using it daily, followed by YouTube (83 percent), Twitter (73 percent), TikTok (60 percent) and Facebook (55 percent).

Commenting on the potentially controversial inclusion on the survey of WhatsApp, traditionally thought of as an instant messaging service, as a social media platform, Sunil John, founder of ASDA’A BCW and BCW’s president for the Middle East and North Africa, told Arab News: “WhatsApp has evolved as a strong social-networking platform — for families and businesses — and is often the first source of news for many. It plays an important role in the lives of people as a social-networking tool, too.”

Although TikTok ranked relatively low in terms of daily use across the Middle East, usage has more than doubled in the past two years, from 21 percent in 2020 to 50 percent this year. In Saudi Arabia, TikTok use almost tripled over the same period, from 24 percent in 2020 to 60 percent.

Meanwhile Facebook and Twitter have experienced the greatest declines in regional use during that time: Facebook went from 85 percent to 72 percent, and Twitter from 42 percent to 33 percent.

In the Kingdom, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter grew in popularity over the past two years, but daily use of Facebook declined, from 82 percent to 55 percent.

“One of the key trends we’ve noticed is the decline in news consumption, which peaked during the pandemic when people were largely confined to their homes,” said John.

The trend was evident across all channels, although social media continues to be the leading source of news, for 65 percent of those surveyed. This is a small increase from last year’s 61 percent but much lower than the figures for 2019 and 2020, when 79 and 80 percent respectively.

The next most popular source of news was television, on 45 percent, followed by online news portals (32 percent) and printed media (9 percent).

Social media was also the most popular news source in Saudi Arabia, with 43 percent of people relying on it, followed by TV (27 percent) and news websites (23 percent).

Young people do indeed seem to be consuming less news compared with two years ago, when they were confined to their homes during pandemic lockdowns, said John, and the decline is not exclusive to social media.

“The decline appears to be part of an overall downward trend in news consumption, irrespective of the channel or platform,” he added.

“2020 was arguably an outlier in terms of news-consumption habits. A drop-off as people returned to normal life was to be expected.

“It’s also true that young people are consuming media for different things these days, such as entertainment and shopping. We’re also seeing the emergence of new types of content, such as podcasts, which are often hybrid in nature and harder to classify.”

It is also possible that “young people are ‘tuning out’ from the sheer volume of news they are receiving these days, much of it negative,” John added.

Despite the popularity of social media as a news source, social media influencers and the platforms themselves are among the least trusted sources of news, at just 54 percent and 66 percent respectively. TV news has the highest trust rating, with 84 percent of people confident about it, followed by print and online news portals, both on 71 percent.

In Saudi Arabia, however, social media, TV and online news portals all attracted similar levels of trust.

There could be various reasons for the high levels of trust in TV news across the Arab world, according to John, “such as the depth and variety of commentary that TV offers, and the larger budgets for news production that TV stations normally command.”

Moreover, “the growth of TV is also, of course, technological, with the increasing penetration of the internet around the region allowing more people to access streaming services on their mobile phones.”

Although online news portals and print media are among the least-used sources of news, the survey found high levels of trust in both.

“Traditional newspapers are read much less than before in their printed form but they are nevertheless respected for their journalistic pedigree and as news brands,” John said.

“This may explain why online news sites, at least the online versions of what were printed newspapers, enjoy high levels of trust.”

The emergence of “successful news brands specifically designed for the web and social media, and catering to a younger audience, such as NowThis, Vice and Gawker,” could be another reason for the trust placed in online news sites he added.

On the other hand “social media platforms aren’t news platforms by nature,” John said.

“First and foremost, they have been designed to share content and to network. So, they are good at delivering the news but not necessarily coming up with news that people trust. The rise of trusted social media influencers, however, may change this.”

The decline in news consumption might also be a result of young Arabs using the internet primarily for other reasons.

“Arab youth are increasingly consuming media for different things: Entertainment, for example, and shopping,” said John.

In this year’s survey, 89 percent of respondents said they shop online a few times each month compared with only 50 percent in 2018.

Similarly, the number of young adults in Saudi Arabia who shop online has nearly doubled in the past five years. In 2018, 58 percent of people said they bought products and services via websites and social media apps at least once a month; this year virtually all the respondents said they shop digitally.

“This year’s research found a marked increase in the number of young adults saying they use websites and social media apps to shop for goods and services at least a few times a month,” said John. “And this trend is not only confined to the wealthier Gulf Cooperation Council countries.”

The 14th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey is based on face-to-face interviews and surveys conducted with men and women between the ages of 18 and 24 in 50 cities across 17 Arab states. Visit arabyouthsurvey.com for the full results.