Journalists reporting on Mahsa Amini’s death accused of spying for CIA, says Iranian regime

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A woman walks past a kiosk displaying copies of the Hammihan newspaper featuring Niloufar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, who helped publicize the case of Masha Amini, Tehran, Oct. 30, 2022. (AFP)
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Iranian journalists have called for the release of jailed colleagues covering Mahsa Amini’s death. (AFP)
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Updated 30 October 2022

Journalists reporting on Mahsa Amini’s death accused of spying for CIA, says Iranian regime

  • Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi have been accused of being “primary sources of news for foreign media”
  • Hamedi and Mohammadi are reportedly currently being held in the notorious Evin prison that saw fires break out earlier this month

LONDON: Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, the two female journalists who first broke and reported the news of Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of Iran’s morality police, have been labeled CIA agents in a statement released by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and the intelligence organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The statement accused both women of being “primary sources of news for foreign media” and claimed the nationwide protests were launched by the CIA and Israeli intelligence organization Mossad as a pre-planned operation.

Hamedi and Mohammadi are reportedly currently being held in the notorious Evin prison that saw fires break out earlier this month, leaving four dead and several injured.

The former, who was the first journalist to report on Amini’s killing, was accused of posing as a reporter and pushing the 22-year-old’s family into revealing information regarding her death.

Mohammadi was cited as having received training as a foreign agent abroad following her reporting on Amini’s funeral.

What began as outrage over Mahsa Amini’s death on Sept. 16 has evolved into a popular revolt by people from all layers of society. (AFP)

Journalists across the country were shocked at the statement as the regime attempts to clamp down on the uprisings by suffocating the media.

“They’re closely monitoring us and I have been advised to cut all ties with foreign correspondents. I have received calls from abroad on my cellphone and if they monitor my phone records and find that someone from the west was calling, even if it’s a friend, that’ll be a huge risk,” one Iranian journalist told The Guardian.

Another said that the regime will “waste no time punishing the journalists. They know that there are people inside Iran, like myself, who are in touch with friends or media abroad. They’ll use this statement and conclusion to make more arrests, or worse, execute their own citizens for espionage.”

The popular protests, which kicked off over 40 days ago, have seen scores of protesters killed at the hands of the IRGC. Despite that, the movement has shown no signs of abating.

Saudi Press Agency launches first news training academy

Updated 45 sec ago

Saudi Press Agency launches first news training academy

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s state news agency announced on Thursday the launch of its first news training academy.

The Saudi Press Agency’s initiative came as part of the Human Capacity Development Initiative conference, held in Riyadh under the patronage of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The first phase of the academy’s work has seen the signing of partnerships with local and international organizations, SPA said in a press statement.

Local partnerships include the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, the Prince Mohammad bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship, the Institute of Public Administration, the Human Resources Development Fund, the Sky News Arabia Academy, and the Austrian International Center for Qualification and Quality.

SPA’s new academy will benefit from the agency’s partnership with more than 30 international news corporations.

The agency said it will work towards localizing knowledge, transferring best practices, and becoming a regional hub that produces and distributes news content.

The academy aims to develop advanced news skills, meet market requirements, and promote the transfer of knowledge, technology, and modern tools for journalistic and news work, in addition to enhancing a deep understanding of news issues and global challenges.

It will also offer training programs in five domains: journalism and news, technology and artificial intelligence, leadership and journalism ethics, media partners, and news awareness.

The newly established academy’s programs are directed at journalists, photographers, professionals, and technicians in the fields of media, media students, and media affairs officials in various entities.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman College, Saudi Press Agency sign training agreement

Updated 48 min 56 sec ago

Prince Mohammed bin Salman College, Saudi Press Agency sign training agreement

  • MBSC will train journalists in ‘interpersonal effectiveness skills,’ such as negotiation and presentation

RIYADH: The Prince Mohammed bin Salman College for Management and Entrepreneurship announced on Thursday a new partnership with the Saudi Press Agency to provide specialized training and development programs for the Kingdom’s news industry.

The partnership was co-signed by Zieger DeGreef, dean of MBSC, and Fahad bin Hassan Al-Aqran, president of SPA, during the “Human Capabilities Initiative” conference held in Riyadh on Feb. 28-29.

“We are proud to partner with the Saudi Press Agency,” DeGreef said. “We are proud to partner with a number of very prominent ministries and organizations in the Kingdom to develop business acumen in Saudi Arabia.”

He told Arab News that the partnership will train journalists in a variety of “interpersonal effectiveness skills,” such as teamwork, negotiation, presentation, influencing, decision-making, and communication — all of which “are very relevant for journalists (and) for professionals in the media.”

DeGreef added that although “there is already good education in the Kingdom,” it has “a long way to go in excellence in business education.”

He added: “The college tries to fill that void.”  

In addition to joining media-focused training programs under the agreement, Saudi journalists will also be able to obtain graduate degrees in business administration and finance.

“We will welcome journalists in those degree programs in business, but we are also developing an exciting portfolio of executive education programs again for the media,” DeGreef said. “So, most of our partnerships are already in those two areas, but the third area is research.”

He highlighted that MBSC’s faculty “will work with journalists from SPA on particular research projects, mostly linked to data, data analysis, data presentations, (and) data communication.”

SPA announced on Thursday the launch of its first news training academy in partnership with several organizations, including the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, the Prince Mohammad Bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship, the Institute of Public Administration, the Human Resources Development Fund, Sky News Arabia Academy, and the Austrian International Center for Qualification and Quality.

Former MSNBC show host launches new media company

Updated 29 February 2024

Former MSNBC show host launches new media company

  • Subscription-based news organization aims to produce “unfiltered journalism”

LONDON: Former MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan is to launch a new digital media company called Zeteo.

In a CNN interview with Jake Tapper, aired on Wednesday, the British-American writer and broadcaster said: “The reason I’m starting this company is that I want to be able to speak in a blunter fashion than some in the media speak right now, especially about issues like racism, fascism, genocide.”

The move came after his MSNBC “The Mehdi Hasan Show” was abruptly canceled by the network in October.

It coincided with his criticism of Israel’s actions during its war against Hamas in Gaza.

Zeteo, Hasan noted, was an ancient Greek word that meant “to seek out, to inquire, to get to the truth.”

The subscription-based news organization aims to produce “unfiltered journalism” with hard-hitting interviews, podcasts, newsletters, op-eds, and essays.

In a promotional video for the site, Hasan pointed out that he had been busy assembling an “Avengers-style team of contributors,” which included award-winning journalists, New York Times best-selling authors, and Hollywood celebrities.

Before joining MSNBC in 2021, Hasan worked for Al Jazeera English and hosted a podcast at The Intercept.

Step boss says AI regulation is critical but cautions against over-regulation

Updated 29 February 2024

Step boss says AI regulation is critical but cautions against over-regulation

  • Ray Dargham, the CEO of the tech-focused new media company, tells Arab News Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading the way in AI advances and regulation
  • Annual Step Conference in Dubai last week added an AI track reflecting the growth of the technology globally and regionally

DUBAI: Tech-focused new media company Step held its 12th annual conference and exhibition in Dubai last week, which attracted about 350 startups, 150 venture capital firms and more than 8,000 delegates.

Ray Dargham, the co-founder and CEO of Step, said during the opening ceremony that the business, which has already expanded to include a conference in Saudi Arabia, now plans to go global through a partner-hosting model.

The event in Dubai featured six tracks: Start, covering startups, growth and venture capital; Fintech, covering ecommerce; Digital, devoted to media, adtech and creators; Wellness, covering health, lifestyle and femtech; Earth, for greentech and sustainability; and Artificial Intelligence, covering machine learning, data and automation.

The newly added AI track covered topics such as large-language models, advanced neural nets, and co-pilot systems, which were discussed by industry experts such as Brittany McDonough of the Abu Dhabi Investment Office; Maitha Alsuwaidi, chief operating officer of Microsoft UAE; Google Cloud’s Ahmad El-Sayed; and Google Deepmind’s head of product, Mehdi-Ghissassi.

Although AI has been around for a while, “it hadn’t actually reached a critical mass until about a year ago,” Dargham told Arab News. “For a long time, AGI or artificial general intelligence, was mostly limited to labs.”

More recently, ChatGPT has played a critical role in helping AI reach a mass audience, allowing everyone to “experience the power behind the technology,” he added.

The AI sessions at the Step Conference, which covered several topics, including regulatory frameworks and deep learning, were “designed to provide startups with invaluable insights into the ethical, regulatory and technological advancement of AI, equipping them to navigate and capitalize on the dynamic and fast-moving landscape of AI-driven innovation.”

The company is adapting to become an “AI conference” because, Dargham said, “most of what we consider ‘tech’ today will become AI-powered or have an AI component to it over the next few years.”

All of the other tracks during Step events will be affected by the development and utilization of AI to such a significant degree that Dargham believes the technology “will become bigger than software and the internet itself. Hence, theoretically speaking, our conference will become an AI conference instead of being a tech conference.”

Much of the innovation and development in AI has been global but Dargham said that in particular, Step was “noticing a significant shift in the Middle East region toward a growing interest and adoption of generative AI technologies.”

As evidence of this he cited the UAE’s strategy on AI, which aims to ensure the country is at the forefront of innovation in the technology by 2031, and Saudi Arabia’s national agenda for data and AI, which aims to position the Kingdom as a global leader in data-driven economies, allowing it to leverage the power of AI for economic and social development.

The region is already receiving greater international attention and investment related to AI. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, for example, is reportedly in talks with investors, including in the UAE, to raise funding — said to be as much as between $5 trillion and $7 trillion — for a tech initiative to boost international chip-building capacity and expand its ability to power AI, among other things.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE “are leading a groundbreaking wave of AI investment, spearheaded by entities like (AI development company) G42,” said Dargham.

“The adoption rates are skyrocketing across sectors, from healthcare to finance, highlighting a strategic shift towards AI-driven innovation” but it isn’t “just about numbers,” he added.

“It’s about crafting a narrative of ambition and progress that’s reshaping the region’s technological landscape.”

The national strategies of the countries and their investments are encouraging interest from private entities that “are increasingly investing in AI research and development, with a particular focus on generative AI,” which includes “endeavors to pioneer advanced algorithms, models, and applications customized to address regional needs and challenges,” said Dargham.

AI innovation is particularly evident in the startup landscape, with businesses “exploring diverse applications of generative AI in areas such as natural language processing, computer vision and creative AI.”

The advancement of AI is not without its challenges as global concerns grow about data privacy and security.

“Ensuring the protection of sensitive information and compliance with data-protection regulations are imperative for instilling trust and confidence in GenAI technologies among stakeholders,” said Dargham.

He added that “a significant hurdle” is the shortage of skilled AI professionals.

“Without an adequate talent pool equipped with the necessary expertise, organizations struggle to effectively implement GenAI solutions” resulting in a “pressing need to invest in AI education and training programs,” he said.

The rapid development of AI also brings with it ethical considerations.

“From deepfakes to misinformation, the ethical implications of GenAI demand robust guidelines and frameworks for responsible use,” Dargham said.

Step is committed to playing its part in this space, he added, through sessions designed to address the ethics, safety and societal impacts of AI. It is also exploring collaborations between governments and international organizations “to develop policies that foster innovation while addressing concerns related to data privacy, bias, transparency and responsibility.”

While regulation is critical, Dargham cautioned against over-regulation.

“Collaboration with policymakers, industry leaders, and ethical experts is essential in establishing clear guidelines that promote the ethical deployment of GenAI technologies, fostering trust and accountability within the ecosystem,” he said.

Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have “made significant progress in crafting frameworks for AI governance and ethics,” accompanied by national strategies and programs “aimed at advancing AI technologies while addressing pertinent regulatory concerns,” Dargham added.

“I think regulation for AI is crucial, but I’m also concerned about over-regulation globally; the EU tends to overregulate.”

NATO appoints Farah Dakhlallah as new spokesperson

Updated 29 February 2024

NATO appoints Farah Dakhlallah as new spokesperson

  • Dakhlallah, a Lebanese-British citizen, has wide-ranging experience in both the public and private sectors

LONDON: NATO has appointed Farah Dakhlallah as its new spokesperson.

In a statement announcing the news, the organization’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said: “In a more dangerous world, clear and timely communication, and engagement with the media, are more important than ever.” 

Dakhlallah, a Lebanese-British citizen, has wide-ranging experience in both the public and private sectors, including with the UN, the UK government and AstraZeneca, as well as several media organizations.

Posting on her LinkedIn account, she wrote: “It is an honor and a privilege to be appointed NATO spokesperson, leading press and media for the alliance during this critical time.”

She added the alliance currently protected more than one billion people, “safeguarding their freedom and democracy, and contributing to a more peaceful world.” 

Dakhlallah previously served as media relations director for the Middle East and Africa at AstraZeneca, communications manager at the World Health Organization, and Arabic spokeswoman for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

She has a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Cambridge and another in media and communications from the London School of Economics. She also studied audiovisual arts at Beirut’s Universite Saint Joseph.