9 human rights groups call on UK PM to take urgent action to help protect journalists in Gaza

Fellow journalists mourn over the body of Mustafa Thuria, a video stringer for AFP news agency, who was killed in a reported Israeli air strike during his funeral in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on Jan. 7. (AFP)
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Updated 08 February 2024

9 human rights groups call on UK PM to take urgent action to help protect journalists in Gaza

  • In a letter to Rishi Sunak, they say the UK as a key partner of Israel, Britain ‘will be judged’ on how it uses its influence to ensure all involved the conflict abide by international law
  • There is growing evidence that the Israeli military might be deliberately targeting journalists working in the Middle East, the groups warned

DUBAI: Nine organizations that campaign for human rights and freedom of expression, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, have written to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calling on his government to take urgent action to protect journalists reporting on the war in Gaza.

They also urged him to lobby for the conditions required for safe and unrestricted news coverage of the conflict, and to take action to prevent the UK potentially becoming associated with any war crimes committed in the territory.

There is growing evidence that the Israeli military could be deliberately targeting journalists working in the Middle East, the groups warned in the letter.

They said strikes carried out by the Israel Defense Forces in southern Lebanon on Oct. 13 that killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and injured six reporters from Reuters, Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse “were unlawful and apparently deliberate.”

They noted that the “IDF has also acknowledged deliberately targeting a car in which journalists were traveling” on Jan. 7, and “in at least two other cases, journalists reported receiving threats from Israeli officials and IDF officers before their family members were killed in Gaza.”

The groups added that “journalists reporting on the war contend with challenges beyond the ever-present risk of death,” and warned that “the targeted or indiscriminate killing of journalists, if committed deliberately or recklessly, is a war crime.”

The groups said they believe “the British government can and must do more to effectively pursue accountability for journalists killed in the hostilities,” and to protect and support local and international journalists.

They said the UK’s “long record of strong support for Israel” means it is “one of Israel’s most influential partners” and, as such, “the United Kingdom will be judged on how it has used that influence to ensure that all parties to the conflict abide by international law.”

The organizations urged Sunak “to act immediately and decisively” by calling publicly for all involved in the conflict to respect the rights of journalists; demanding that Israel and Egypt provide international journalists with access to Gaza and allow the delivery of personal protective equipment; and supporting investigations into all incidents in which journalists were killed.

At least 85 journalists and other media workers have been killed since Oct. 7, according to the latest figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists, issued on Feb. 8. More journalists were killed in Palestine during the first 10 weeks of the conflict in Gaza than had been killed in any single country over the course of an entire year since the organization began tracking such incidents in 1992.

Edinburgh Fringe CEO defends Baillie Gifford sponsorship amid criticism over Israel links

Updated 12 June 2024

Edinburgh Fringe CEO defends Baillie Gifford sponsorship amid criticism over Israel links

  • ‘Everybody has to make their own decisions,’ Shona McCarthy says
  • Firm has been dropped as sponsor by other cultural events in UK

LONDON: The head of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society has defended its sponsorship deal with Baillie Gifford despite growing criticism of the investment management firm’s funding links to Israel.

Speaking ahead of the program launch on Wednesday morning, Shona McCarthy, CEO of the charity that organizes the annual arts festival in the Scottish capital, said the board had had “a serious and detailed discussion about all of this” before reaching its decision.

Arts festivals were operating in a “fevered environment” in which “everybody has to make their own decisions with the information that they have at hand,” she said.

“We’re expected to be all things to all people, be the most values-driven organizations on the planet, alert to everything that’s going on in our geopolitical environment and to keep our teams in jobs, keep solvent and deal with deficits and loans from COVID that we’re all still carrying.”

McCarthy’s comments came after Baillie Gifford was dropped as a sponsor by other cultural events in the UK.

A campaign led by the Fossil Free Books group has called for divestment from the fossil fuel industry and an end to the funding of companies associated with Israel.

“Solidarity with Palestine and climate justice are inextricably linked,” it said.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival and Hay Festival are among those to have severed ties with Baillie Gifford, though others have said the company’s investment links to fossil fuels and Israel are limited and conducted primarily through third-party entities.

Speaking about the decision by literary festivals to sever ties with Baillie Gifford, Fossil Free Books organizer Omar Robert Hamilton said: “I wouldn’t call it a victory.

“It was that relationship that we were trying to get them to leverage in order to talk to them about divesting.”

The cultural boycott related to the Gaza conflict has gained momentum in Europe and the US, sparking heated debates due to the financial vulnerabilities of cultural organizations.

In a related development, several bands have withdrawn from the Download music festival over Barclaycard’s sponsorship of the event. Barclays provides financial services to defense companies that supply Israel.

Radio France fires comedian Guillaume Meurice over Netanyahu jokes

Updated 12 June 2024

Radio France fires comedian Guillaume Meurice over Netanyahu jokes

  • Presenter had faced allegations of antisemitism; bosses accuse him of ‘repeated disloyalty’ and ‘serious misconduct’
  • Other employees say the decision to terminate his contract sets dangerous precedent that restricts freedom of expression

LONDON: French broadcaster Radio France has fired presenter Guillaume Meurice for “serious misconduct” after he made jokes about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The decision to terminate the 42-year-old comedian’s contract followed his suspension in early May over remarks he made made on Radio Inter, an affiliate of Radio France.

In an email to staff, Sibyle Veil, the president of Radio France, blamed a “repeated disloyalty towards the company” as the reason for the dismissal, and said “neither freedom of expression nor humor have ever been threatened.”

A joke Meurice made about Netanyahu during a live show in October sparked complaints from a European Jewish organization that accused him of inciting violence and spreading antisemitic sentiments. Arcom, the French media regulator, issued a warning over the incident.

The suspension of Meurice last month was criticized by union representatives and editorial staff at Radio Inter, who called a strike and demanded the decision be reversed because it could “create a serious precedent” that restricts “freedom of expression.”

In a message on social media, Meurice described his dismissal as the “end of a false suspense” and a “victory” for a campaign he largely attributed to the far right.

MBC’s English-language radio station aims to get even LOUDer as it celebrates a year on air

Updated 12 June 2024

MBC’s English-language radio station aims to get even LOUDer as it celebrates a year on air

  • The station marked its 1st anniversary with an event featuring fans and the hosts of programs such as ‘The Byron Cooke Show,’ ‘Non-Stop Hits with Harry’ and ‘The Drive’
  • It has already enjoyed several successes; it was official radio station of the Joy Awards this year and is the official station of the Saudi Pro League

RIYADH: A year ago, MBC launched its first English-speaking radio station, LOUD FM, which brought new voices to the airwaves in Saudi Arabia.

On Monday, the station celebrated its first anniversary with an event at MBC’s headquarters in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter featuring the hosts of programs such as “The Byron Cooke Show,” “Non-Stop Hits with Harry” and “The Drive,” as well as diplomats, influencers and fans.

The celebrations included a performance by Saudi musician TamTam, who debuted her latest single on the station last Thursday, and MBC presented two lucky listeners with a one-night stay at the Mandarin Oriental Al-Faisaliah.

“We are the first non-Arabic asset in the group,” presenter Cooke told Arab News. “The demographics are such that 40 percent of Saudi Arabia is now non-Arabic and that continues to grow.”

Cooke said that he and co-host Sana Kothari “are very excited to be part of the story” as more expats arrive in Saudi Arabia, which means more “young locals who are curious and can speak English as well as Arabic,” resulting in “an exciting time in terms of the growth of our potential audience.”

In its short existence, the station has already enjoyed a number of milestones and successes; it was the official radio station of MBC’s Joy Awards this year, which featured stars such as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Martin Lawrence and Bebe Rexha, and is the official station of the Saudi Pro League, featuring the weekly football show “Match of the Week.”

It was also the first station in the Kingdom to play the new single from Saudi artist Mishaal Tamer, and is the Saudi home of the popular syndicated show “On Air with Ryan Seacrest.”

Kothari told Arab News that there is a “big boom” happening in Kingdom as a result of the Vision 2030 national development and diversification plan and LOUD FM is helping to bridge the “gap between the rest of the world and Saudi Arabia.”

The rise of video streaming has prompted some industry experts to suggest that traditional radio is a dying medium. However, the station’s hosts seemed unconcerned by this view and said radio remains popular and relevant.

“What we’ve managed to achieve so far in one year has been pre-streaming,” Cooke said. Currently, the station is only available on an FM terrestrial signal in Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah. But MBC plans to launch a dedicated website for the station this summer, which will include live streaming to increase accessibility.

In the meantime, radio remains popular entertainment during car journeys in particular and, as Kothari pointed out: “There’s enough traffic in this country that we’re live for a very long time.”

Cooke added: “If you’re stuck in traffic in Riyadh or Jeddah or Dammam, you have friends there (on the radio) that hopefully you feel like you know, and I don’t think you will ever replace that with technology. Or certainly, we can work with technology to bring that local content and that sense of community.”

Andrew Harrison, the host of “Non-Stop Hits with Harry” said he has spent many years in the Middle East and has always been fascinated by the culture, language, people and hospitality in the region. He said he is grateful that his show means “I still get to do what I love in English, and hopefully entertain people and make them happy.”

Danah Alshammari, the Saudi host of morning show “The Daily Wake Up” and co-host of “The Drive,” told Arab News she has been working in the radio industry since the age of 14 and so “to have the opportunity to represent my country and let it be heard by different people from different nationalities is a dream.

“Radio is always about having fun. It’s the one thing where you just get on and be yourself.”

How a new journalism scholarship aims to keep Shireen Abu Akleh’s legacy alive

Updated 12 June 2024

How a new journalism scholarship aims to keep Shireen Abu Akleh’s legacy alive

  • Palestinian-American reporter was shot dead by an Israeli soldier on May 11, 2022 while covering a raid in the West Bank
  • The Shireen Abu Akleh Foundation will provide ten annual scholarships to aspiring journalists and media professionals

DUBAI: It has been two years since the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. For her niece Lina Abu Akleh, her aunt’s death, which sent shockwaves around the world, “feels like it was just yesterday, but also feels like it was a lifetime ago.” 

On May 11, 2022, the former Al Jazeera reporter was shot dead by an Israeli soldier while covering a raid in a refugee camp in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, despite wearing a distinctive blue flak jacket embossed with the word “press.”

Initially, then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accused Palestinian fighters of shooting Shireen — an allegation that was quickly disproven by independent reports.

At the time, many called Shireen’s death “a black day” not only for Palestine but also for journalism and the wider news industry.

Palestinian mourners carry the casket of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh from a church toward the cemetery, during her funeral procession in Jerusalem, on May 13, 2022. (AFP)

To highlight her important contribution to journalism, and to coincide with the second anniversary of her death, Shireen’s family launched a foundation in her honor devoted to helping young reporters break into the industry.

A central aim of the California-based Shireen Abu Akleh Foundation is to provide ten scholarships on an annual basis for Palestinian and international students who aspire to become journalists and media professionals. 

Under the motto “journalism is not a crime,” the foundation is raising funds and working in collaboration with media outlets and higher education institutions in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, the UK and Canada to reach top students for scholarship opportunities. 

“We wanted to launch a foundation to honor Shireen’s legacy, empower more journalists who want to continue their education in journalism, but also for people to remember who Shireen was, to remember her story, to remember what she stood for as a Palestinian-American female journalist,” Lina, who is the foundation’s co-founder, told Arab News.

The foundation aims to promote community empowerment by increasing access to education and inclusive spaces for students by connecting them with opportunities in the field of journalism.

It also aims to collaborate with communities to raise funds for students and to amplify public appreciation and recognition of journalistic talent.

Several universities and organizations around the world have already named courses and scholarships after Shireen, including Jordan’s Yarmouk University and Jordan Media Institute, the UK’s University of Exeter, Canada’s Carleton University, the West Bank’s Birzeit University, Lebanon’s American University of Beirut, and even the UN.

A reporter wearing a flak jacket with the hashtag in Arabic, “#Shireen Abu Akleh” takes a picture inside a house that was burnt during an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, on May 13, 2022. (AFP)

The foundation’s mission could not be more relevant today. According to Reporters Without Borders, more than 100 Palestinian journalists, including at least 22 in the line of duty, have been killed by the Israeli army since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel triggered Israel’s retaliatory operation in Gaza.

“I know how discouraging this might be for people out there who want to study journalism. But at the same time, that shouldn’t stand in the way of wanting to study journalism, because there is no truth without journalism,” said Lina, who is herself a journalist.

In 2022, Lina landed a spot in Time Magazine’s “Next 100” List, highlighting emerging personalities in the fields of art, innovation and leadership. Lina says she doesn’t want to be known as an activist but simply as “Shireen’s niece.”


More than 100 Palestinian journalists, including at least 22 in the line of duty, have been killed by the Israeli army since Oct. 7.

Source: Reporters Without Borders

The two were very close, she says, speaking every day, playing the online game “Wordle,” and enjoying Sunday lunches with family. She remembers her aunt as caring, funny, and thoughtful, despite her demanding job.  

“She was someone very important to me, like a second mother,” said Lina. “She was our support system. She was more like a friend. We relied on her in every way possible. She was always there for me and my siblings and my parents. She always made time for us. 

“We miss having her so much around the table during holidays and celebrations. Nothing has been the same without her.”

In May 2022, immediately after Shireen’s death, the family filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court. In December of the same year, Al Jazeera also filed a formal complaint with the ICC for war crimes.

Four months after the killing, an Israeli army investigation admitted that there was a “high probability” that she had been “accidentally hit” by Israeli fire, while stating that it had no intention of bringing criminal proceedings against the soldiers involved. 

A year later, in May 2023, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari declared the army was “deeply sorry about the death of Shireen Abu Akleh.” 

To highlight her important contribution to journalism, and to coincide with the second anniversary of her death, Shireen’s family launched a foundation in her honor devoted to helping young reporters break into the industry. (Supplied)

Since then, despite several independent investigations proving that an Israeli soldier shot Shireen, who was clearly identified as a news professional, no one has been punished.

Although Shireen was a US citizen, the US Security Coordinator only visited the site of the shooting and did not pursue an independent investigation, basing its conclusions on those of the Israeli army and the Palestinian Authority, as well as a ballistics report. 

A Department of Justice investigation is reportedly still underway.

Meanwhile, the International Press Institute and other press freedom monitors have called on Israel to conduct a credible investigation and to hold those responsible to account. 

They have also urged the ICC to open an investigation into the circumstances of the killing to determine whether it amounts to a war crime under the Rome Statute.

A woman walks past a mural depicting slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering an Israeli army raid in Jenin, drawn along Israel’s controversial separation barrier in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on July 6, 2022. (AFP)

Lina still recalls the phone call from her father in which she learnt of her aunt’s death. 

“Looking back, it’s still heartbreaking and tragic,” she said. “It’s something that until this day I cannot comprehend and process, the fact that we lost Shireen in such a brutal, horrific way.”

On Shireen’s birthday — April 3, 2022 — Lina traveled from the US to Ramallah in the West Bank to spend the Easter weekend with family. 

In early May, there were Israeli incursions into Jenin. Although Shireen was urged by her family to take some time off from work. “She said: ‘I can’t, I have to go,’” Lina recalled. 

“Shireen was very committed to her work. She was very loyal and would have never said no to any sort of deployment.” 

Lina Abu Akleh, the niece of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, sits surrounded by photographs of her late aunt, at the family home in occupied east Jerusalem, on July 13, 2022. (AFP)

Lina and her family could never have imagined the tragedy that would follow, or the global attention that Shireen’s death would attract as they try to privately grieve their loss.

“From the day she was killed, we had numerous reporters inside our house to get a statement from the family,” said Lina. “My father was not at home at that time. He arrived later in the night at about 10 PM. We were still trying to comprehend as we were in a state of shock. 

“I was the one in position who had to take the role of saying something. It was definitely not something I would see myself doing had she not been killed but I felt that Shireen would have stepped up in the moment.”

On May 13, Shireen’s funeral took place in Jerusalem with thousands of mourners in attendance. However, the procession soon descended into chaos when Israeli riot police charged the crowd. 

At one point, Shireen’s casket almost fell on the ground amid the scuffle. Lina says it was one of the most traumatic days of her life.

Shireen’s funeral took place in Jerusalem with thousands of mourners in attendance. However, the procession soon descended into chaos when Israeli riot police charged the crowd. (AFP)

“I always say this: It was the second time they killed Shireen,” she said. “First in Jenin, and then in Jerusalem. The attack on her funeral was beyond horrific. It was a violation to her dignity, to our right as a family to bury and mourn her in peace. But for us, it felt like an attempt to silence her, and it felt like she was reporting on her own funeral.”

However, Lina says she was also moved by the outpouring of love and support that Shireen and her family received from all over the world.

“It gives our family some solace and comfort to know how Shireen was loved, but at the same time, appreciated for the work she’s been doing for the past 25 years,” said Lina.

“It’s something that resonated with so many Palestinians and Arabs around the world, considering how influential, empowering, courageous and brave she was.

“She never viewed herself as a public figure or as a celebrity. She cared for the people. That’s why she chose journalism. I don’t think she would have even imagined she was going to become this icon. It makes me proud.”

Elon Musk withdraws lawsuit against OpenAI

Updated 12 June 2024

Elon Musk withdraws lawsuit against OpenAI

  • The lawsuit said Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman approached Musk to make an open source, non-profit company, but the startup established in 2015 is now focused on making money

CALIFORNIA: Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk on Tuesday moved to dismiss his lawsuit accusing ChatGPT maker OpenAI and its CEO Sam Altman of abandoning the startup's original mission of developing artificial intelligence for the benefit of humanity and not for profit.
Attorneys for Musk asked the California state court to dismiss the lawsuit, originally filed in February, without giving a reason for the move, according to a filing in San Francisco Superior Court.
A Superior Court judge there was prepared to hear OpenAI’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.
OpenAI and an attorney for Musk did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Musk dismissed his case without prejudice, which means he could refile it at another time.
The lawsuit marked a culmination of Musk's long-simmering opposition to OpenAI, a startup he co-founded and that has since become the face of generative AI through billions of dollars in funding from Microsoft.
Musk last July founded his own artificial intelligence startup, xAI, which raised $6 billion in series B funding in May to reach a post-money valuation of $24 billion.
The lawsuit said Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman approached Musk to make an open source, non-profit company, but the startup established in 2015 is now focused on making money.
OpenAI "set the founding agreement aflame" last year when it released its most powerful language model GPT-4, the lawsuit said.
Musk in the lawsuit asked a judge to force OpenAI to make its research and technology available to the public and to prevent the startup from using its assets, including GPT-4, for the financial benefit of Microsoft and others.
OpenAI had argued in a court filing that the lawsuit was based on incoherent claims, describing it as a contrived attempt by Musk to advance his own AI interests.
"Seeing the remarkable technological advances OpenAI has achieved, Musk now wants that success for himself," OpenAI's attorneys said.
Musk in a filing in April said OpenAI was trying to “advance arguments that are based on disputed facts” that are beyond the scope of the lawsuit.