Iranian-Briton arrested for media work over Amini protests

Iranian protesters march and chant slogans in Piranshahr, in western Iran. (Hengaw/AFP)
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Updated 24 November 2022

Iranian-Briton arrested for media work over Amini protests

  • Iran has accused Britain of fanning the two months of protests since Mahsa Amini’s death
  • Iran has arrested 40 foreign nationals during the wave of ‘riots’

PARIS: A British-Iranian dual national has been arrested for tipping off foreign media, including the BBC, about protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, Iran’s Fars news agency reported late Wednesday.
The BBC, which broadcasts in Persian as part of its World Service, has repeatedly complained of threats and intimidation against its journalists and their families at home and abroad which it has blamed on Iran.
Iran, which does not accept joint citizenship, has accused Britain of fanning the two months of protests since Amini’s death in morality police custody, by hosting hostile Persian-language media.
The Fars report gave no name, gender or date of arrest, saying only that the arrest was made by the intelligence services and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran’s third city Isfahan.
Fars described the detainee as “a source for hostile television channels, namely the BBC and Iran International,” a Persian language TV channel operating out of London.
The detainee had a “direct link and family ties with some of the channels’ journalists,” the news agency added.
“Beyond working with these television channels, this individual communicated and cooperated with certain counter-revolutionary elements abroad and incited civil disobedience, rioting, security breaches, vandalism and the destruction of public property during the recent riots.”
Iran has called in the British ambassador in Tehran four times since the protests started.
Earlier this month, Britain hauled in a senior Iranian diplomat in London after what it described as death threats against journalists living in the UK.
Two British-Iranian journalists working in Britain for Iran International had received “credible” death threats from Iran’s security forces, the channel said.
Volant Media, the channel’s London-based broadcaster, said the pair had received “death threats from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
Iran International has provided extensive coverage of the protests sparked by Amini’s death on September 16 after she was arrested for allegedly breaching Iran’s strict dress code for women.
Iran has arrested 40 foreign nationals during the wave of “riots,” judiciary spokesman Masoud Setayeshi said in comments carried by its Mizan Online news website on Tuesday.

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Apple: Most iCloud data can now be end-to-end encrypted

Updated 08 December 2022

Apple: Most iCloud data can now be end-to-end encrypted

  • The world’s most valuable company has long placed customer security and privacy at a premium

BOSTON: As part of an ongoing privacy push, Apple said Wednesday it will now offer full end-to-encryption for nearly all the data its users store in its global cloud-based storage system. That will make it more difficult for hackers, spies and law enforcement agencies to access sensitive user information.
The world’s most valuable company has long placed customer security and privacy at a premium. Its iMessage and Facetime communications services are fully encrypted end-to-end and it has sometimes locked horns with law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, over its refusal to unlock devices.
But nearly everything that customers backed up remotely using Apple’s iCloud service — including photos, videos and chats — has not been protected by encryption. That made it far easier for crooks, spies — and criminal investigators with court orders — to get at it.
No longer. The loophole that law enforcement had for getting at iPhone data will now be considerably narrowed.
Apple, which is based in Cupertino, California, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the timing of the announcement and other issues. Nor did the FBI immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Cybersecurity experts have long argued that attempts by law enforcement to weaken encryption with backdoors are ill-advised because they would inherently make the Internet less reliable and more dangerous.
Last year, Apple announced, then withdrew after a flood of objections, a plan to scan iPhones for photos of child sexual abuse.
“Where Apple was hesitant about deploying encryption features last year ... it now feels like they’ve decided to put the gas pedal down,” noted Johns Hopkins cryptography professor Matthew Green on Twitter.
Apple’s encryption announcement offers what the company calls Advanced Data Protection, to which users of its devices must opt in. It adds iCloud Backup, Notes and Photos to data categories that are already protected by end-to-end encryption in the cloud, including health data and passwords. Not included in the iCloud encryption scheme are email, contacts and calendar items because they must interoperate with products from other vendors, Apple said.
It said Advanced Data Protection for iCloud would be available to US users by the end of the year and start rolling out to the rest of the world in early 2023.
In a blog post, Apple said “enhanced security for users’ data in the cloud is more urgently needed than ever,” citing research that says data breaches have more than tripled over the past eight years.
Other tech products that already offer end-to-end encryption include the world’s most popular messaging app, WhatsApp, and Signal, a communications app prized by journalists, dissidents, human rights activists and other dealers in sensitive data.
Apple announced a few other advanced security features on Wednesday, including one geared toward journalists, human rights activists and government officials who “face extraordinary digital threats” — such as from no-click spyware. Called iMessage Contact Key Verification, it will automatically alert users to eavesdroppers who succeed in inserting a new device into their iCloud via a breach.
In July, Apple announced a new optional feature called Lockdown Mode that is designed to protect iPhones and its other products against intrusions from state-backed hackers and commercial spyware.
Apple said at the time that it believed the extra layer of protection would be valuable to targets of hacking attacks launched by well-funded groups.
Users are able to activate and deactivate lockdown mode at will.


New York Times braces for 24-hour newsroom strike

Updated 08 December 2022

New York Times braces for 24-hour newsroom strike

  • The NewsGuild said management has been “dragging its feet” bargaining for nearly two years

NEW YORK: The New York Times is bracing for a 24-hour walkout Thursday by hundreds of journalists and other employees, in what would be the first strike of its kind at the newspaper in more than 40 years.
Newsroom employees and other members of The NewsGuild of New York say they are fed up with bargaining that has dragged on since their last contract expired in March 2021. The union announced last week that more than 1,100 employees would stage a 24-hour work stoppage starting at 12:01 a.m. Thursday unless the two sides reach a contract deal.
Negotiations lasted for more than 12 hours into late Tuesday and continued Wednesday, but the sides remained far apart on issues including wage increases and remote-work policies.
“It’s looking very likely that we are walking on Thursday,” said Stacy Cowley, a finance reporter and union representative. “There is still a pretty wide gulf between us on both economic and a number of issues.”
It was unclear how the day’s coverage would be affected, but the strike’s supporters include members of the fast-paced live-news desk, which covers breaking news for the digital paper. Employees are planning a rally for Thursday afternoon outside the newspaper’s offices near Times Square.
New York Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha told The Associated Press that the company has “solid plans in place” to continue producing content, that include relying on international reporters and other journalists who are not union members.
“While we are disappointed that the NewsGuild is threatening to strike, we are prepared to ensure The Times continues to serve our readers without disruption,” Rhoades Ha said in separate statement.
In a note sent to Guild-represented staff Tuesday night, Deputy Managing Editor Cliff Levy called the planned strike “puzzling” and “an unsettling moment in negotiations over a new contract.” He said it would be the first strike by the bargaining unit since 1981 and “comes despite intensifying efforts by the company to make progress.”
But in a letter signed by more than 1,000 employees, the NewsGuild said management has been “dragging its feet” bargaining for nearly two years and “time is running out to reach a fair contract” by the end of the year.
The NewsGuild also said the company told employees planning to strike they would not get paid for the duration of the walkout. Members were also asked to work extra hours get work done ahead of the strike, according to the union.
The New York Times has seen other, shorter walkouts in recent years, including a half-day protest in August by a new union representing technology workers who claimed unfair labor practices.
In one breakthrough that both sides called significant, the company backed off its proposal to replace the existing adjustable pension plan with an enhanced 401 (k) retirement plan. The Times offered instead to let the union choose between the two. The company also agreed to expand fertility treatment benefits.
Levy said the company has also offered to raise wages by 5.5 percent upon ratification of the contract, followed by 3 percent increases in 2023 and 2024. That would be an increase from the 2.2 percent annual increases in the expired contract.
Cowley said the union is seeking 10 percent pay raises at ratification, which she said would make up for the pay raises not received over the past two years.
She also said the union wants the contract to guarantee employees the option to work remotely some of the time, if their roles allow for it, but the company wants the right to recall workers to the office full time. Cowley said the Times has required its staff to be in office three days a week but many have been showing up fewer days in an informal protest.


Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit

Updated 08 December 2022

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit

  • Wen Zongduo expresses gratitude for hospitality shown by “impressive” Saudi capital Riyadh 
  • Veteran Chinese journalist is in Saudi Arabia to cover President Xi’s landmark visit to the Kingdom

RIYADH: A veteran Chinese journalist, who is in the Kingdom to cover President Xi Jinping’s landmark visit, says he is overwhelmed by the warmth of Saudi hospitality and the rapid pace of development of the Saudi capital.

“This is my first visit. I had been eager to come over for years now,” Wen Zongduo, managing editor of China’s leading English-language newspaper China Daily, told Arab News.

“I am very grateful to Saudi officials and diplomats. They provided all help to me and my team to come over to Saudi Arabia, working extra hours on their weekend. Their devotion to work and the assistance they extended to us touched me and my team members.

Wen Zongduo, managing editor of China Daily, with Noor Nugali, assistant editor in chief of Arab News, and other Arab News staff. (AN Photo)

“I must say that Riyadh city is impressive. I can see many high-rise buildings here, with more coming up. It seems the city is going through a period of massive new construction. To me, it seems Riyadh is getting an altogether new life. The Boulevard World, a premier entertainment zone that has many elements from other countries, has just been finished.

“It seems to me that Riyadh is an inclusive city. It is introducing different elements from all over the world in order to make residents’ lives better and exciting and make Riyadh more attractive. These developments I find very impressive.”

Praising the local people for showing great hospitality, Wen told Arab News: “The residents of Riyadh have been kind, generous and helpful…Wherever I have been, everyone has been very helpful.”

Commenting on President Xi’s visit, Wen described it as very important from the standpoint of Chinese news media.

“The summits are significant, especially when our world needs the efforts of all countries, including China, Saudi Arabia and other countries that are facing the same challenges. We are going through a difficult period, which means every country has a responsibility to humanity,” he told Arab News.

According to Wen, instead of arms sales and launching wars, the world needs more efforts to achieve sustainable development, especially when billions of people in the developing world are already experiencing difficulties related to climate change.

There will be three summits in the Kingdom during the visit. (AFP)

“The decision of China and the Arab states to come together in this difficult time is very good news for the entire world,” Wen told Arab News.

“This is also because China and Arab states have been good partners and friends for a very long time…We have every reason to continue and do more for the world in this difficult time.”

President Xi arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday for a three-day visit during which he will meet Saudi, Gulf and Arab leaders.

Three summits will take place while he is in the Kingdom: the Saudi-Chinese summit, the Riyadh Gulf-China Summit for Cooperation and Development, and the Riyadh Arab-China Summit for Cooperation and Development.

The Chinese president’s visit reflects the desire of Saudi Arabia and China to strengthen their bilateral ties, enhance their strategic partnership, and realize the relationship’s full political and economic potential in order to advance their common interests.

More than 20 initial agreements between the two countries, worth over SR110 billion ($29.3 billion), will be signed during the presidential visit. Also on the agenda are a strategic partnership deal and a plan to harmonize the implementation of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development and diversification project with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.


Latvia revokes license of independent Russian TV channel

Updated 06 December 2022

Latvia revokes license of independent Russian TV channel

  • The decision by the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council was based on number of recent violations by TV Rain
  • The license was revoked on the grounds of a threat to national security and public order

TALLINN, Estonia: Latvia has revoked the license of an independent Russian TV channel exiled in the Baltic country for, among other things, voicing support for the Russian military and including Crimea in its map of Russia, media authorities said on Tuesday.
The decision by the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council was based on number of recent violations by TV Rain and the license was revoked on the grounds of a threat to national security and public order.
The region’s main news agency, Baltic News Service, said the decision will take effect on Thursday when not only TV Rain’s broadcasts but also its programs on YouTube will be blocked in Latvia.aTV Rain was earlier fined by the Latvian media watchdog for failing to ensure proper translation of its broadcasts into Latvian, the Baltic country’s only official language.
On Friday, Latvia’s state security service started a probe into statements made by TV Rain on suspicion that it was supporting Russia and its military currently waging a war in Ukraine.
Latvia’s decision was triggered by a TV Rain program in which the anchor invited Russian soldiers and their families watching it to share their stories with the channel and promised to offer help. The host offered an apology, saying he wasn’t promising material assistance to Russian troops on the front line in Ukraine, but the channel quickly fired him and apologized.
The incident came on top of earlier tensions with the Latvian authorities, who issued a reprimand over the channel depicting the Moscow-annexed Crimea as part of Russia on maps and referring to the Russian military as “our army.”
TV Rain owner Natalya Sindeyeva said in an interview that she hasn’t decided on the next steps yet. “I wasn’t prepared for that, I was sure they wouldn’t do that,” Sindeyeva told Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet also based in Latvia.
Since its creation in 2010, TV Rain has been the most visible independent TV station in Russia, criticizing the Kremlin’s policies, offering airtime to government critics and extensively covering opposition protests.
It has faced continuous official intimidation and pressure from the Russian authorities in the past. In August 2021, it was branded a “foreign agent,” a label that implied closer government scrutiny and carried a strong pejorative connotation that could discourage potential viewers.
TV Rain suspended operations in Russia earlier this year after authorities blocked its broadcasts allegedly due to the channel’s critical coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The channel restarted broadcasting in the summer from Latvia’s capital, Riga, where several other independent Russian media outlets are based.
The Latvian media watchdog’s ruling can be appealed. Its chairman, Ivars Abolins, said that all media outlets working in Latvia should follow and respect Latvia’s legislation but TV Rain — known in Russia as “Dozhd” — has refused to do it.
“I believe that this decision demonstrates that Latvia is open also for the Russian media because all Russian media who respect the law are welcome and may work in Latvia,” said Abolins as quoted by the Baltic News Service. “Those who are not ready to follow the rules, cross the red lines, may not work here. The rules are fair.”


Facebook owner Meta may remove news from platform if US Congress passes media bill

Updated 06 December 2022

Facebook owner Meta may remove news from platform if US Congress passes media bill

WASHINGTON: Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. on Monday threatened to remove news from its platform if the US Congress passes a proposal aimed at making it easier for news organizations to negotiate collectively with companies like Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook.
Sources briefed on the matter said lawmakers are considering adding the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to a must-pass annual defense bill as way to help the struggling local news industry.
Meta spokesperson Andy Stone in a tweet said the company would be forced to consider removing news if the law was passed “rather than submit to government-mandated negotiations that unfairly disregard any value we provide to news outlets through increased traffic and subscriptions.”
He added the proposal fails to recognize that publishers and broadcasters put content on the platform because “it benefits their bottom line — not the other way around.”
The News Media Alliance, a trade group representing newspaper publishers, is urging Congress to add the bill to the defense bill, arguing that “local papers cannot afford to endure several more years of Big Tech’s use and abuse, and time to take action is dwindling. If Congress does not act soon, we risk allowing social media to become America’s de facto local newspaper.”
More than two dozen groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Knowledge and the Computer & Communications Industry Association on Monday urged Congress not to approve the local news bill saying it would “create an ill-advised antitrust exemption for publishers and broadcasters” and argued the bill does not require “funds gained through negotiation or arbitration will even be paid to journalists.”
A similar Australian law, which took effect in March 2021 after talks with the big tech firms led to a brief shutdown of Facebook news feeds in the country, has largely worked, a government report said.
Since the News Media Bargaining Code took effect, various tech firms including Meta and Alphabet have signed more than 30 deals with media outlets, compensating them for content that generated clicks and advertising dollars, the report added.

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