MBC Group to launch Arabic adaptation of ‘The Good Wife’

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Updated 29 May 2024
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MBC Group to launch Arabic adaptation of ‘The Good Wife’

  • ‘Moftaraq Toroq’ is produced by Charisma Group, will air on Sunday
  • Show aims to ‘set a new standard for Egyptian long-form series,’ MBC says

DUBAI: MBC Group has announced the launch of Egyptian TV series “Moftaraq Toroq,” an Arabic-language adaptation of the legal drama “The Good Wife.”

Licensed by Paramount Global Content Distribution and produced by Charisma Group, the show is set to premiere on MBC’s streaming platform Shahid on Sunday.

Written by Sherif Badreddine and Wael Hamdy and directed by Ahmad Khaled Moussa and Mohamad Yehya, the drama stars Hend Sabri, Eyad Nassar, Majed Al-Masri, Joumana Murad and Noha Abdeen.

It aims to “set a new standard for Egyptian long-form series” and “marks a significant milestone in the evolution of Arab television,” said Tareq Al-Ibrahim, director of MBC1, MBC Drama and SVOD content at MBC.

“Moftaraq Toroq” tells the story of Amira, a wife and mother whose life takes a sudden turn when her husband gets caught up in a public scandal.

“In the landscape of Egyptian TV series, ‘Moftaraq Toroq’ stands as a departure from the conventional,” said Aiman Al-Ziyoud, CEO and president of Charisma Group.

“While audiences may be familiar with the trials of soapy series, mainly Turkish adaptations to Arabic, ‘Moftaraq Toroq’ introduces a novel genre altogether.”

MBC said the show had been adapted to reflect cultural nuances.

“It is incredible to see how the storyline and these characters in the adaptation have been transformed to fit into the local landscape and culture so effortlessly,” said Roxanne Pompa, vice president of international formats at Paramount Global Content Distribution.

“The Good Wife” is produced by CBS Studios in association with Scott Free Productions and King Size Productions. Charisma Group acquired the format rights for the adaptation from Paramount Global Content Distribution.


Russian court jails US reporter Gershkovich for 16 years in spying case his employer calls a sham

Updated 19 July 2024
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Russian court jails US reporter Gershkovich for 16 years in spying case his employer calls a sham

  • Gershkovich and his employer say he did nothing wrong, Kremlin says he was caught ‘red-handed’
  • The decision is likely to heighten the already tense relations between Russia and the West

MOSCOW: A Russian court found US reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage on Friday and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony in what his employer, the Wall Street Journal, called “a disgraceful sham conviction.”
Gershkovich, a 32-year-old American who denied any wrongdoing, went on trial in the city of Yekaterinburg last month after being accused of trying to gather sensitive information about a tank factory.
He was the first US journalist accused of spying in Russia since the Cold War, and his arrest in March 2023 prompted many US and other Western correspondents to leave Moscow.
Video of Friday’s hearing released by the court showed Gershkovich, dressed in a T-shirt and black trousers, standing in a glass courtroom cage as he listened to the verdict being read out in rapid-fire legalese for nearly four minutes.
Asked by the judge if he had any questions, he replied “Nyet.”
The judge, Andrei Mineyev, said the nearly 16 months Gershkovich had already served since his arrest would count toward the 16-year sentence.
Mineyev ordered the destruction of the reporter’s mobile phone and paper notebook. The defense has 15 days to appeal.
The White House and State Department had no immediate comment.
“This disgraceful, sham conviction comes after Evan has spent 478 days in prison, wrongfully detained, away from his family and friends, prevented from reporting, all for doing his job as a journalist,” the Journal said in a statement.
“We will continue to do everything possible to press for Evan’s release and to support his family. Journalism is not a crime, and we will not rest until he’s released. This must end now.”
Gershkovich’s friend, reporter Pjotr Sauer of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, posted on X: “Russia has just sentenced an innocent man to 16 years in a high security prison. I have no words to describe this farce. Let’s get Evan out of there.”
Friday’s hearing was only the third in the trial. The proceedings, apart from the sentencing, were closed to the media on the grounds of state secrecy.
Espionage cases often take months to handle and the unusual speed at which the trial was held behind closed doors has stoked speculation that a long-discussed US-Russia prisoner exchange deal may be in the offing, involving Gershkovich and potentially other Americans detained in Russia.
The Kremlin, when asked by Reuters earlier on Friday about the possibility of such an exchange, declined to comment: “I’ll leave your question unanswered,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Among those Russia would like to free is Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident in a Berlin park in 2019.
Officers of the FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, at a steakhouse in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles (1,400 km) east of Moscow. He has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.
Russian prosecutors had accused Gershkovich of gathering secret information on the orders of the US Central Intelligence Agency about a company that manufactures tanks for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
The Uralvagonzavod factory, which he is accused of spying on, has been sanctioned by the West. Based in the city of Nizhny Tagil near Yekaterinburg, it has publicly spoken of producing T-90M battle tanks and modernizing T-72B3M tanks.
Earlier on Friday, the court unexpectedly said it would pronounce its verdict within hours after state prosecutors demanded Gershkovich be jailed for 18 years for spying. The maximum sentence for the crime he was accused of is 20 years.
Russia usually concludes legal proceedings against foreigners before making any deals on exchanging them.

’WRONGFULLY DETAINED’
Gershkovich, his newspaper and the US government all rejected the allegations against him and said he was merely doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.
State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel on Thursday declined to speak publicly about negotiations on a prisoner exchange, but said Washington was seeking the release of Gershkovich and another jailed American, former US Marine Paul Whelan, as soon as possible.
President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is open to a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and that contacts with the United States have taken place but must remain secret.
Friends who have exchanged letters with Gershkovich say he has remained resilient and cheerful throughout his imprisonment, occupying himself by reading classics of Russian literature.
At court appearances over the past 16 months — most recently with his head shaven — he has frequently smiled and nodded at reporters he used to work with before he himself became the story.
Since Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, Moscow and Washington have conducted just one high profile prisoner swap: Russia released basketball star Brittney Griner, held for smuggling cannabis, in return for arms dealer Viktor Bout, jailed for terrorism-related offenses in the United States.
Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, said he believed Gershkovich’s conviction would encourage the few Western journalists still in Moscow to leave.
“The 16-year sentence...is a very heavy one,” he said. “Now many Western journalists will want to leave Russia for fear that they may become victims of a hybrid war between Russia and the West.”


Majarra acquires Arabic AI startup Lableb

Updated 19 July 2024
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Majarra acquires Arabic AI startup Lableb

  • Startup’s solutions embraced by a diverse clientele

DUBAI: Arabic digital content provider Majarra has announced the acquisition of Lableb, an Arabic language artificial intelligence solutions startup.

The transaction makes Majarra the majority owner of Lableb, enabling a more complete integration of the two entities.

It also aligns with Majarra’s vision to enhance the utility of Arabic online through reliable content, advanced user experiences, and Arabic language technologies.

Lableb’s AI and neuro-linguistic programming technologies power content discovery and personalization software products, including enterprise search and recommendation engines.

The startup’s solutions have been embraced by a diverse clientele, including online stores, government platforms, news websites, and enterprise software providers, where nuanced and accurate Arabic language processing is crucial for success.

Lableb has previously collaborated closely with Microsoft and AWS, in addition to leading e-commerce platforms, including Zid, Salla, and Shopify, and content management system software providers like NVSSoft.

As one of Lableb’s earliest clients, Majarra has firsthand experience of Lableb’s Arabic technologies.

Manhom.com, which is powered by Lableb’s named entity recognition technologies, has become the region’s premier Arabic source for professional information.

Lableb’s innovations have also driven search and content discovery across all Majarra platforms, including the flagship Majarra app.

Lableb will maintain its operational independence under Majarra’s ownership, focusing on addressing the unique challenges machines face with Arabic language processing.

The language’s rich morphology, diverse dialects, complex syntactic structure, and context-dependent meanings have long posed significant hurdles for machine understanding and processing.

Abdulsalam Haykal, Majarra’s executive chairman, and CEO Ammar Haykal said: “Majarra and Lableb share a common foundation and vision.

“Kinda’s (Lableb’s CEO Kinda Altarbouch) leadership and the team’s unwavering commitment to the transformative power of Arabic AI/NLP for regional businesses have consistently delivered exceptional product quality.

“Through Lableb, we see immense potential in bringing real-life applications to large language models, some of which have emerged from our region.”

Altarbouch, who is also Lableb’s co-founder, said: “Joining Majarra marks an exciting new chapter for Lableb. Our shared vision of advancing Arabic AI and NLP will drive innovation and deliver significant value to online businesses and their customers.

“Lableb’s tools are robust, ready to deploy, and capable of handling millions of queries weekly.”

Marcus Brauchli, the managing director of North Base Media, said: “This acquisition is timely and demonstrates Majarra’s agility in responding to market evolution.

“By incorporating AI products into its portfolio, Majarra adds a crucial technology dimension to its offerings. While LLMs are transformative, their true potential can only be realized through AI agents like those Lableb provides.”


Advertising group Dentsu committed to growth in Saudi Arabia, says new regional CEO

Updated 19 July 2024
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Advertising group Dentsu committed to growth in Saudi Arabia, says new regional CEO

  • Tarek Daouk tells Arab News about company’s plans, including its new sports agency and initiatives for talent-building, empowerment of women, gender diversity and youth development
  • Dentsu has had a presence in the Kingdom for 17 years, with an established office in Jeddah, and this year opened a regional headquarters in Riyadh

DUBAI: International advertising group Dentsu this week named Tarek Daouk as CEO of its newly created Middle East, North Africa and Turkey operation.

Daouk, who previously served as CEO of Dentsu MENA, will now also lead growth strategy and business execution for Turkey, where the group has “reorganized its operations,” the company said.

He has also been appointed president of Southern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey for its technology and data-driven customer experience management company, Merkle.

Dentsu has had a presence in the Kingdom for 17 years, with an established office in Jeddah. This year it opened a regional headquarters in Riyadh. The aim was to “provide a locational and cultural hub connecting East and West, with both the opportunity for local clients to expand globally, and international clients to engage with the growth opportunities within the Kingdom and beyond,” Daouk told Arab News.

“The opening of our regional headquarters in Saudi Arabia marks a significant milestone for Dentsu MENA and underscores our commitment to driving growth and innovation in the Kingdom and beyond.”

Brands and agencies must offer “tailored solutions” to clients in response to the “rapid shifts in culture and society” in Saudi Arabia, Daouk said.

“Saudi is in a unique position and the speed of transformation here means you need a unique response. A one-size-fits-all approach for MENA is no longer fit for purpose.”

One of the ways in which Dentsu tailors its approach, he added, is through its global data, identity, and insights platform, Merkury, which combines proprietary and partner data with more than 10,000 consumer-data attributes.

“Saudi was among Dentsu’s leading markets, globally, to launch this technology, so it was a significant milestone for us in leveraging the power of data to reach audiences in a much more targeted way in the Kingdom,” Daouk said.

In May, the company announced the launch of a dedicated sporting agency, Dentsu Sports International, for the Middle East and North Africa region, with its headquarters in Riyadh and offices in the UAE. The decision to have the head office in Riyadh was a strategic one that “demonstrates our belief and commitment in the sports agenda of Vision 2030,” said Daouk.

One of the pillars of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan for national development and diversification is the goal of creating a vibrant society that offers “world-class entertainment, a thriving sports agenda and investment into gaming and esports,” and Daouk believes this presents significant opportunities to “create value with sports, film and music content.”

The demand for sports marketing in the Kingdom is at an all-time high and engagement from sports fans is strong, he added. A study conducted by Dentsu Sports International found residents of the Kingdom spend more time and money on live events than their international counterparts; for example, Saudis attend an average of six events a year compared with the UK average of two.

The company’s commitment to the Kingdom is also reflected in its investment in talent-building initiatives, Daouk said. It is “committed to accelerating Saudi talent recruitment, learning and development of knowledge and skills” through the implementation of its global programs in the country, he added.

The group is also investing in gender-diversity and youth-development initiatives in the Kingdom and has introduced its global “Path of Tabei” program to recruit Saudi women to leadership roles and develop their leadership skills, he added.

Named after Junko Tabei — who in 1975 was the first woman to climb Mount Everest, and in 1992 became the first woman to complete the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on every continent — Dentsu’s “Path of Tabei” is a yearlong program that provides training for selected high-potential women to support their advancement within the company at the senior leadership level.

It has also formed partnerships with Prince Sultan University and other higher-learning institutions, and takes part in local employment fairs and university career days “to find and train the best talents of tomorrow,” said Daouk.

As part of its investment in the Kingdom, Dentsu organized its first “Now to Next” event in Riyadh last year, which brought together global and local experts to discuss industry challenges and plan for future opportunities in the Kingdom and wider region.

This year, worldwide advertising expenditure is expected to increase by $35.8 billion to $754.5 billion, according to Dentsu’s latest Global Ad Spend Forecasts.

“This is not only a 5 percent increase, year-on-year, but is also outpacing global economic growth, (and) MENA, particularly Saudi, is one of the fastest-growing markets,” Daouk said.

This projected growth, combined with “the ongoing digital transformation, significant changes in the ad landscape presenting new routes to market, and the continued investment in gigaprojects building a thriving sports agenda and a cultural hub for gaming and e-sports,” means the “potential and opportunities in Saudi are endless,” he added.

“Our aspiration is to leverage Dentsu’s global expertise and local insights to support Saudi Arabia’s economic-diversification efforts, foster entrepreneurship and innovation, and empower local talent.”


EU court rejects TikTok challenge against new EU digital rules

Updated 17 July 2024
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EU court rejects TikTok challenge against new EU digital rules

  • TikTok owner ByteDance is one of the six “gatekeepers” under Digital Markets Act facing the curbs
  • TikTok claimed to be acting as the “most capable challenger” to digital monopolies

LUXEMBOURG: TikTok lost an appeal Wednesday to escape new digital rules that seek to rein in the power of big tech after an EU court rejected its challenge.
A landmark European Union law known as the Digital Markets Act (DMA) entered into force in March, and regulators believe it will create a fairer market.
The European Commission designated six “gatekeepers” under the DMA facing the curbs: Google parent Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft — and TikTok owner ByteDance, the only non-US company.
The EU said in May that Booking would also have to apply the law and gave the online travel agent six months to prepare for compliance.
The decision by the Luxembourg-based General Court is the first judgment on a DMA challenge by big tech, with cases lodged by Apple and Meta still pending.
“The Court dismisses ByteDance’s action,” it said. TikTok can appeal against the ruling within two months and 10 days of the decision.
TikTok had insisted it was the “most capable challenger” to entrenched players in the digital sphere, but the court dismissed that argument.
“TikTok had succeeded in increasing its number of users very rapidly and exponentially, reaching, in a short time, half the size of Facebook and of Instagram, and a particularly high engagement rate, with young users in particular, who spent more time on TikTok than on other social networks,” the court said in a statement.
The judges acknowledged that in 2018, video sharing app TikTok was indeed a challenger but it had since then “rapidly consolidated its position and even strengthened that position over the following years” despite the launch of similar rival services.


“We are disappointed with this decision. TikTok is a challenger platform that provides important competition to incumbent players,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“While we will now evaluate next steps, we already took measures to comply with the relevant obligations of the DMA ahead of last March’s deadline.”
But the court determined “ByteDance met the quantitative thresholds laid down in the DMA.”
For Brussels to name a company as a gatekeeper, they must fulfil certain conditions.
The criteria include having more than 45 million monthly active users in the EU and more than 10,000 yearly active business users established in the bloc.
Digital companies with an annual turnover in the EU of at least 7.5 billion euros ($8.2 billion) or a market value of above 75 billion euros also face the new curbs.
If a company violates the law, the EU can impose fines of up to 10 percent of a company’s total global turnover. This can rise to 20 percent for repeat offenders and in the most severe circumstances, the EU can order the break-up of companies.
It is the second defeat in the courts for TikTok over the DMA. It lost a bid in February to suspend the strict new rules pending the judgment handed down Wednesday.
Big tech is not happy about the new law. Apple, contesting the DMA in the courts, has been vocal in its criticism, saying it puts users’ security at risk.


Trump shooting conspiracy theories flourish on X, researchers say

Updated 17 July 2024
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Trump shooting conspiracy theories flourish on X, researchers say

  • The conspiracy theories were viewed over 215 million times on X, the watchdog Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) said

WASHINGTON: Conspiracy theories about the assassination attempt on Donald Trump received tens of millions of views on X, researchers said Tuesday, highlighting the potential for extreme falsehoods to go viral on the Elon Musk-owned platform.

The social media site, formerly named Twitter, was flooded with unsubstantiated claims soon after the shooting Saturday at a campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, which left one spectator dead and a bloodied Trump injured in the ear.

Those included unfounded assertions that the assassination attempt had been “staged” or an “inside job,” while fingers were pointed at imaginary culprits such as Jews and the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

The conspiracy theories were viewed over 215 million times on X, the watchdog Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) said after analyzing a sample of 100 popular posts.

A majority of the posts did not carry a “Community Note,” a crowd-sourced moderation tool that Musk has promoted as the way for users to add context to the tweets, CCDH added.

In the first 24 hours alone, unsubstantiated narratives around the incident amassed more than 100 million views on X, according to the nonprofit research group Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

X did not respond to a request for comment.

Internet hoaxers also falsely identified several people as the shooter — including Italian sports journalist Marco Violi, anti-Trump protester Maxwell Yearick and comedian Sam Hyde, AFP’s fact-checkers reported.

Federal investigators have identified the shooter, who was killed on the scene, as Thomas Matthew Crooks of Pennsylvania.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, several social media users voiced confusion as they scrambled to obtain accurate information in what appeared to be a sea of false or misleading posts, which rapidly gained traction.

The trend illustrates the ability of falsehoods to mutate into viral political discourse on tech platforms including X, which now offer fewer guardrails as they scale back content moderation.

Researchers say some clout-chasing accounts on the platform have a financial motive to post sensational falsehoods, as X’s ad revenue-sharing program incentivizes extreme content designed to boost engagement.

“In the marketplace of disinformation — which is effectively what a lot of social media platforms have now been reduced to, a marketplace for lies — extreme content is your currency,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive and founder of CCDH.

“The algorithms take the most outlandish content and amplify it exponentially until the entire digital world is flooded with conspiracism, disinformation and hate.”

Researchers have warned about a possible firehose of disinformation in the run up to the November election, which will take place in a deeply polarized political climate in the United States.

“Already, at an early stage in the US electoral cycle, we can see flashing warning signs that social media in the weeks and months ahead will be increasingly chaotic and rife with disinformation,” Ahmed said.