Latvia revokes license of independent Russian TV channel

Dozhd’s (TV Rain) director Natalya Sindeyeva waits for a question during a press conference at the channel’s headquarters in Moscow, Russia, in 2014. (AP/File)
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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  • The license was revoked on the grounds of a threat to national security and public order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the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council was based on number of recent violations by TV Rain and the license was revoked on the grounds of a threat to national security and public order.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.”


ChatGPT maker fields tool for spotting AI-written text

Updated 01 February 2023

ChatGPT maker fields tool for spotting AI-written text

  • But the company said the detection tool is still "imperfect"

SAN FRANCISCO: Creators of a ChatGPT bot causing a stir for its ability to mimic human writing on Tuesday released a tool designed to detect when written works are authored by artificial intelligence.
The announcement came amid intense debate at schools and universities in the United States and around the world over concerns that the software can be used to assist students with assignments and help them cheat during exams.
US-based OpenAI said in a blog post Tuesday that its detection tool has been trained “to distinguish between text written by a human and text written by AIs from a variety of providers.”
The bot from OpenAI, which recently received a massive cash injection from Microsoft, responds to simple prompts with reams of text inspired by data gathered on the Internet.
OpenAI cautioned that its tool can make mistakes, particularly with texts containing fewer than 1,000 characters.
“While it is impossible to reliably detect all AI-written text, we believe good classifiers can inform mitigations for false claims that AI-generated text was written by a human,” OpenAI said in the post.
“For example, running automated misinformation campaigns, using AI tools for academic dishonesty, and positioning an AI chatbot as a human.”
A top French university last week forbade students from using ChatGPT to complete assignments, in the first such ban at a college in the country.
The decision came shortly after word that ChatGPT had passed exams at a US law school after writing essays on topics ranging from constitutional law to taxation.
ChatGPT still makes factual mistakes, but education facilities have rushed to ban the AI tool.
“We recognize that identifying AI-written text has been an important point of discussion among educators, and equally important is recognizing the limits and impacts of AI generated text classifiers in the classroom,” OpenAI said in the post.
“We are engaging with educators in the US to learn what they are seeing in their classrooms and to discuss ChatGPT’s capabilities and limitations.”
Officials in New York and other jurisdictions have forbidden its use in schools.
A group of Australian universities have said they would change exam formats to banish AI tools and regard them as cheating.
OpenAI said it recommends using the classifier only with English text as it performs worse in other languages.

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Russian court fines Amazon’s Twitch $57,000 over Ukraine content

Updated 31 January 2023

Russian court fines Amazon’s Twitch $57,000 over Ukraine content

  • Court said Twitch failed to remove “fakes” from its platform

LONDON: A Russian court on Tuesday fined streaming service Twitch 4 million roubles ($57,000) for failing to remove what it said were “fakes” about Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, the Interfax news agency reported.
Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Moscow has long objected to foreign tech platforms’ distribution of content that falls foul of its restrictions, with Russian courts regularly imposing penalties.


Facebook seeks to block $3.7 bln UK mass action over market dominance

Updated 30 January 2023

Facebook seeks to block $3.7 bln UK mass action over market dominance

  • Tech giant claims lawsuit is “entirely without merit,” ignore added “economic value”

LONDON: Facebook on Monday asked a London tribunal to block a collective lawsuit valued at up to 3 billion pounds ($3.7 billion) over allegations the social media giant abused its dominant position to monetise users’ personal data.
Meta Platforms Inc, the parent company of the Facebook group, is facing a mass action brought on behalf of around 45 million Facebook users in Britain.
Legal academic Liza Lovdahl Gormsen, who is bringing the case, said Facebook users were not properly compensated for the value of personal data that they had to provide to use the platform.
Her lawyers said users should get compensation for the economic value they would have received if Facebook was not in a dominant position in the market for social networks.
But Meta said the lawsuit was “entirely without merit” and should not be allowed to proceed. Its lawyers said the claimed losses ignore the “economic value” Facebook provides.
Lovdahl Gormsen’s lawyers on Monday asked the Competition Appeal Tribunal to certify the case under the UK’s collective proceedings regime – which is roughly equivalent to the class action regime in the United States.
A decision to certify collective proceedings will depend on whether the tribunal decides that the individual cases can appropriately be dealt with together, rather than on their merits.
Ronit Kreisberger, representing Lovdahl Gormsen, told the tribunal that “Meta’s data practices violate the prohibition on abusive conduct by dominant firms”.
“There is unquestionably a case for Meta to answer at trial,” Kreisberger argued.
But lawyers representing Meta said the lawsuit wrongly assumes that any “excess profits” it might make equates to a financial loss suffered by individual Facebook users.
This approach “takes no account whatsoever of the significant economic value of the service provided by Facebook”, Marie Demetriou said in court documents.
She said Lovdahl Gormsen’s estimate of potential claimants’ total losses – 3 billion pounds, including interest – is “at the very least wildly inflated”.


Indian students defy ban on Modi documentary despite arrests

Updated 28 January 2023

Indian students defy ban on Modi documentary despite arrests

  • Documentary investigates Narendra Modi’s role in the deadly Gujarat riots in 2002
  • Government sees the British broadcaster’s program as ‘manipulation by foreign power’

NEW DELHI: Indian students are defying a ban on a BBC program examining Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s past, despite arrests and attempts by authorities to prevent them from organizing screenings.

The two-part program, “India: The Modi Question,” examines claims about Modi’s role in the 2002 riots in Gujarat that left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Muslims.

Modi was serving as chief minister of the western state when the violence broke out.

The government banned the documentary over the weekend using emergency powers under information technology laws, but students continued to organize screenings across the country.

At least 13 students of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi were detained for 24 hours on Wednesday, after they tried to show the documentary at their campus. 

“We were handed over to the police by the proctor of Jamia Islamia University. On Friday, the Jamia authorities shut down all the facilities for students,” one of the arrested, Azeez Shareef from the Students Federation of India, told Arab News.

“We grew up with a certain idea of India, with secular values and democratic principles, but this government has attacked everything.”

Earlier this week, authorities cut off electricity at Jawaharlal Nehru University when students gathered to screen the documentary.

“We wanted to screen the documentary so that youth can form their own opinion,” said Aishe Ghosh, president of Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union.

“The new generation does not remember what happened in Gujarat in 2002 because they were too young. But when we see today’s reality, it’s important for the young generation to make the link that the same political party that is in power in Delhi was responsible in some form or another in manufacturing a pogrom in the state of Gujarat.”

She added that universities are where students should have “space to debate and discuss and differ.”

As the government ban means the film cannot be streamed or shared on social media — and Twitter and YouTube have complied with a government request to take down links to the documentary — students argue there is no explicit ban on screenings.

“Where is the order to ban the documentary?” said Abhisek Nandan, president of the Student Union of the University of Hyderabad, which has organized a screening and discussion on the first episode of the program.

“The documentary carries the truth about Gujarati riots that journalists and civil society groups have been telling for the last 20 years.”

Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party sees the British broadcaster’s film as manipulation and an assault on India’s judicial system.

“A foreign power undermining the judicial system of India is not the right thing to do. The entire episode of the Gujarat riot has minutely been scrutinized by all, including the judiciary,” BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Mittal told Arab News.

In 2013, a court in Gujarat found Modi not directly responsible for the riots. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2022.

“The documentary is an assault on the judicial system of this country. That’s why it is not permitted,” Mittal said.

“The country is right in not allowing manipulation by a foreign power.”

The film could undermine Modi’s reputation at a time when India is chairing the Group of 20 largest economies and will host the G20 summit this year.

“It’s obvious that PM Modi realized that the documentary had the potential to hurt his reputation at a time when he could least afford it,” political analyst Sanjay Kapoor told Arab News.  

“For him, the G20 platform provided him an opportunity to showcase himself as a world leader, and he didn’t want his image to be sullied as someone who was complicit in the Gujarat genocide.”


End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years

Updated 28 January 2023

End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years

  • The station launched in early 1938 as the BBC Empire Service’s first foreign language radio broadcast
  • Many journalists and public figures express grief and share fond memories of BBC’s Arabic radio station

LONDON: “Tears in my eyes as I listen to the last broadcast by BBC Arabic, closing down after 85 years. It meant so much to so many people here over the decades,” tweeted British journalist Jim Muir, Middle East correspondent for the BBC News, “Now the airwaves are dead. End of an era.”

BBC’s Arabic radio service officially ended its decades-long broadcast on Friday, leaving behind a legacy that many believe to be everlasting. 

The station launched in early 1938 as the BBC Empire Service’s first foreign language radio broadcast.

Many journalists and public figures took to Twitter to express grief and share fond memories of BBC’s Arabic radio station. Some believed the event marked a decline in the United Kingdom’s soft power while others recalled their days at the studios. 

“It's far beyond sad and painful to see BBC Arabic radio shutting down today,” wrote Egypt-based BBC Arabic correspondent Sally Nabil on Twitter. 

“It's incredibly difficult to describe how we feel!” She added. 

Amal Mudallali, former permanent representative of Lebanon to the UN, said: “As someone who worked for the BBC Arabic, I do not understand the decision.

“It is the only thing people know and remember about Britania, as we call it, in the region for generations.”

The final words and signature statement of BBC Arabic radio presenter Mahmoud Almossallami, “Huna London” (This is London), seems to have brought tears to many eyes. 

Almousallami’s daughter, Osha, wrote: “I grew up listening to my dad presenting on BBC Arabic, and now here he is, presenting the final hour of BBC Arabic before it's closed and taken off the air.

“It really is the end of an era.”

The head of David Nott Foundation, Elly Nott, wrote: “Huna London no more,” hailing BBC Arabic radio for helping her to learn its language. 

BBC News Lead Technical Operator Jack Mooney shared a footage showing the last moments as the Arabic news network went off the air, while sound producer Tome Roles wrote: “I’ll always treasure the magic of sitting in a tiny studio at 3 am in London, picturing the sun rising thousands of miles away, and wondering about the lives of those tuning in.”

“It’s a painful moment,” wrote photographer Ali Al-Baroodi. 

“BBC Arabic was one of few windows to the world in the time of the economic blockade (in the) 1990s (and) ISIS occupation,” he added, “Iraq was under (a) huge blackout. My father used to stock batteries for his radio in prep for the tough times.”

BBC correspondent Emir Nader shared the last two minutes of the Arabic radio’s final broadcast and wrote: “Today is a tragic day for Arab media… One of many huge losses following cuts in BBC World Service's budget.”