Moscow says to block access to 81 EU media outlets, including AFP website

Russia has already blocked access to much of the Western media since sending troops to Ukraine, as well as to Western social media giants. (AFP/File)
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Updated 25 June 2024

Moscow says to block access to 81 EU media outlets, including AFP website

  • The list also include France’s Le Monde, Germany’s Der Spiegel and Spain’s El Mundo
  • “Retaliatory measure” was taken in response to Brussels banning several Russian broadcasts, Moscos said

MOSCOW: Russia said that Tuesday it would block access to 81 EU media outlets, including AFP’s websites, as a “retaliatory measure” after Brussels imposed broadcasting bans on several Russian state media outlets.
The European Union in May said it had decided to block access to four Kremlin-controlled media for being “instrumental in bringing forward and supporting” Moscow’s Ukraine offensive.
Moscow said it was responding to that move.
“Counter-restrictions are being introduced on the access from Russian territory of broadcast resources of media outlets from EU member states,” Moscow’s foreign ministry said in a statement, publishing a list of media outlets and blaming Brussels for the restrictions.
The list included AFP’s homepage and its client portal
France’s Le Monde, Germany’s Der Spiegel and Spain’s El Mundo were also among the media outlets named on the list.
Russia denounced the EU sanctions as “politically motivated” and said the bloc’s decisions were “forcing Moscow to take mirror and proportionate countermeasures.”
It said it would “revise” the restrictions if sanctions on Russian media were lifted.
Russia has already blocked access to much of the Western media since sending troops to Ukraine, as well as to Western social media giants.
Domestic media that are critical of President Vladimir Putin’s rule or his Ukraine offensive have also been banned, harassed and outlawed, and many independent media outlets and journalists have fled into exile.

Tunisian judge imposes media ban on a candidate for presidential election

Updated 12 July 2024

Tunisian judge imposes media ban on a candidate for presidential election

  • Opposition party said decision is ‘obstructions to challenging President Kais Saied’

LONDON: A Tunisian judge barred a potential presidential candidate from appearing in the media or traveling around the country on Friday, the latest politician to face what their parties have called obstructions to challenging President Kais Saied.
Abd Ellatif Mekki’s party called the measures an attempt to exclude a serious candidate from the campaign for elections on Oct. 6.
Opposition parties have accused Saied’s government of exerting pressure on the judiciary to track down the president’s rivals and pave the way for him to win a second term.
They say imprisoned politicians must be released and the media allowed to operate without pressure from the government.
Saied’s supporters deny allegations that opposition politicians have been targeted for political reasons. They say that running for elections is not a reason to stop prosecutions against people accused of crimes such as money laundering and corruption.
Two political leaders, Abir Moussi and Ghazi Chaouachi, have been imprisoned since last year.
Last week, police arrested another candidate, Lotfi Mraihi, on suspicion of money laundering. He said in a video that he has faced restrictions and harassment since announcing his candidacy.
Other potential candidates, including Safi Saeed, Mondher Znaidi and Nizar Chaari, are facing prosecution for alleged crimes such as fraud and money laundering.
Mekki’s lawyer, Monia Bouali, told Reuters, “The judge decided to impose a travel ban on Mekki and prevent him from appearing in the media and social media and ordered him to stay (in) Wardia area,” referring to a neighborhood in the capital, where Mekki lives.

Court officials were not immediately available to comment on the decision.
“Mekki is clearly targeted to obstruct his campaign to collect signatures from citizens and to contact them,” said Ahmed Naffati, a prominent official in Mekki’s party, told Reuters.
Days after Mekki announced his candidacy this month, a court spokesman said Mekki was suspected of having participated in the murder of a businessman who died in prison years ago.

Mekki said he had nothing to do with this case, and that filing a case against him after he announced his intention to run showed he was targeted.
Saied, who was elected president in 2019, has not officially announced his candidacy but is expected to do so soon. Last year he said he would not hand over power to what he called non-patriots.
In 2021, Saied dissolved parliament and began ruling by decree in a move that the opposition described as a coup. Saied said his steps were legal and necessary to end years of rampant corruption.

‘If it’s happening in the Kingdom, chances are it’s on Snapchat’

Updated 12 July 2024

‘If it’s happening in the Kingdom, chances are it’s on Snapchat’

  • Snapchat reaches over 90% of those aged 13-34 in Saudi
  • Kingdom’s users open app over 50 times daily on average

DUBAI: “Snapchat is particularly popular in Saudi Arabia,” Snap Inc.’s regional business lead in the Kingdom, Abdulla Alhammadi, told Arab News during a recent interview.

In Saudi Arabia, the app reaches over 90 percent of those aged between 13 and 34, with users opening it over 50 times a day on average.

And it boasts a monthly addressable reach — or the number of Snapchat users who can be reached through ads in a given month — exceeding 22 million.

Its popularity in the Kingdom “is deeply rooted in its ability to fuel and foster real connections within the community amid the evolving social and cultural landscape of the Kingdom,” Alhammadi explained.

Snapchat was always built to be different from other social media platforms, he added.

Unlike other apps, Snapchat does not have a news feed. However, every Snapchat user has a “Snapscore” that is displayed under their profile.

This is described by the company as a “super-secret, special equation” based on the number of Snaps sent and received, Stories posted, and other undisclosed factors.

Still, this score does not affect the popularity of the posts themselves. This is unlike other social media platforms whose algorithms take “likes” and “shares” into account to determine the popularity of posts and their appearance to a user’s friends or followers.

On the contrary, posts on Snapchat are temporary, disappearing after 24 hours — a feature copied by other apps in the form of Stories.

Alhammadi believes these features allow the app’s users “to be — and show — their true, authentic selves.”

This is why Saudi Arabia’s citizens “express their authentic selves on Snapchat twice as often as on other platforms.” This results in Snapchat surpassing “other social connectivity apps” to become “the platform of choice” for citizens, he added.

In order to celebrate the app’s popularity in the Kingdom, Snapchat launched its first Saudi Arabia-focused campaign this May called “Telgana Ala Snap,” which translates to “Find us on Snap.”

The campaign film showcases how audiences in the Kingdom use Snapchat: from a brother imitating his father through the old age lens, to a teenager tucked into bed watching Snap star Naif Hamdan.

For Snap, Alhammadi said, the campaign is a celebration “of the profound role of Snapchat in the daily lives of Saudis.

“We like to say, if it’s happening in the Kingdom, chances are it’s on Snapchat.”

Despite Snapchat’s reach in the Kingdom, “many brands are still not fully harnessing these capabilities to connect with audiences,” he said.

Augmented reality has been shown to enhance the shopping experience leading to a 94 percent higher conversion rate in Saudi Arabia, according to Alhammadi.

But lack of awareness about AR and platforms like Snapchat, as well as challenges in integrating AR into marketing strategies, pose a significant barrier for advertisers.

He advises brands to understand the unique needs of the Saudi Arabia audience and tailor their strategies accordingly, especially as the Kingdom is making big leaps toward integrated digital experiences.

According to a recent study by consulting firm Kearney, a majority of respondents (84 percent) expressed a preference for engaging in at least part of their shopping activities online, with only 16 percent preferring in-store shopping.

And yet, less than 30 percent of consumers see the retail sector as being technologically advanced, the study found.

“There is a lot of work to be done to ensure brands are equipped to thrive in the digital age,” Alhammadi said.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and the government’s investments in the digital economy “create an environment conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship, laying a solid foundation for Snap’s growth and business development in the region,” he added.

And Snap is committed to working with local governing bodies to support their goals for the Kingdom, such as the digital transformation agenda, he continued.

The company has partnered with several government bodies on various occasions to create AR lenses, filters, and physical activations.

For example, this February, Snap partnered with the Saudi Tourism Authority to create a campaign for the Kingdom’s Founding Day that included an AR experience, which enabled users to dress up in traditional attire.

The campaign, which was live for one day, reached 15 million Snapchat users. This created a new record of one-day engagements for a single activation on Snapchat and marking a first for the company in the Middle East and North Africa region, Alhammadi explained.

Last year, Snapchat collaborated with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture and the Saudi Fashion Commission, to launch TASAWAR, an augmented reality exhibition that merged design and technology.

Snapchat created AR showrooms for five Saudi designers — Hekayat, Hindamme, ArAm, Abadia, and KAF by KAF — that allowed visitors to experience virtual runways, dress try-ons, and headpiece selfie lenses during Riyadh Fashion Week.

Going forward, Alhammadi said, Snap is focusing locally on two areas: improving results for advertisers to drive overall demand on Snapchat, and continue showcasing its AR technology.

This “has the power to change the face of every industry, meeting the ambitious digital transformation agendas taking shape in the region.”

He added: “With internet adoption at 100 percent and smartphone penetration at 95 percent (in Saudi Arabia), Saudi consumers are eager to explore new ideas and engage with the latest innovations, driving demand for Snap’s products and services.”

Musk’s X ‘deceives’ users with blue checks, EU charges

Updated 12 July 2024

Musk’s X ‘deceives’ users with blue checks, EU charges

  • Breach of EU’s Digital Markets Act regulations could lead to hefty fines as high as 6 percent of total annual turnover
  • ‘Blue check negatively affects users' ability to make informed decisions about account authenticity and content,’ Commission said

BRUSSELS: Tech billionaire Elon Musk’s X platform is misleading users with its blue checkmarks for certified accounts, and is also violating EU content rules, Brussels said Friday, in a finding that could lead to hefty fines.
EU regulators are unhappy with the blue badge system under Musk’s ownership since anyone can now obtain it with a premium subscription, whereas before it was reserved for verified accounts including leaders, companies and journalists, after approval.
The formal warning against X is the first under the Digital Services Act (DSA), a sweeping law that forces digital companies do more to police content online. It follows a probe launched in December 2023.
X becomes the third company in as many weeks to face the European Union’s wrath for violating landmark new rules, after Brussels warned Apple and Meta to change their ways or risk massive fines — for breaches of a second law known as the Digital Markets Act (DMA).
Musk has overhauled the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, including changing its name, since purchasing it in October 2022.
But his plans for X have put him at odds with Brussels since the EU wants big tech to do more to protect users online and increase competition in the digital sphere.
Now the European Commission has told X of its preliminary view that it is “in breach of” the DSA, arguing that the social network “deceives” users with its new blue badge rules.
“Since anyone can subscribe to obtain such a ‘verified’ status, it negatively affects users’ ability to make free and informed decisions about the authenticity of the accounts and the content they interact with,” the commission said in a statement.
“There is evidence of motivated malicious actors abusing the ‘verified account’ to deceive users,” it added.
The commission also accused X of failing to comply with rules on advertising transparency — since it does “not provide a searchable and reliable” ad database — and failing to give researchers access to public data.
“X has now the right of defense — but if our view is confirmed we will impose fines and require significant changes,” the EU’s top digital official, Thierry Breton, said.
Fines under the DSA can go as high as six percent of a company’s total worldwide annual turnover and force it to make changes to address violations.
X will be able to examine the EU’s file and defend itself against Friday’s finding.
There is no time limit on how long an investigation may last.
EU regulators’ wide-ranging probe into X also continues to look into the spread of illegal content and the effectiveness of the platform’s efforts to combat disinformation, the commission said.

Under the DSA, X is one of 25 “very large” online platforms, including Facebook and TikTok, with more than 45 million monthly active users in the 27-country EU.
X is also in the EU’s crosshairs for a cut to content moderation resources. In May, the EU told X to hand over “detailed information and internal documents” and demanded more information about steps taken to mitigate risks from generative AI on elections.
There are currently other investigations under the DSA into Meta’s Facebook and Instagram as well as TikTok and AliExpress.
The DSA and the DMA are both part of the EU’s bolstered legal armory targeting big tech and EU regulators have stepped up enforcement of the laws since they came into force.

Media organizations renew plea for ‘open access’ to Gaza in latest rebuke to Israel

Updated 11 July 2024

Media organizations renew plea for ‘open access’ to Gaza in latest rebuke to Israel

  • Letter says Israeli ban places ‘unreasonable and untenable burden’ on local journalists, fosters misinformation
  • Release of the letter precedes a scheduled visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the US

LONDON: More than 60 organizations are demanding Israeli authorities allow free and unrestricted media access to Gaza, in the latest in a series of appeals.

In an open letter issued on Thursday and backed by bodies in 26 countries, major news outlets including Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, the BBC, CNN, The Guardian, and The New York Times criticized Israel for imposing a near-total ban on international media.

“More than 100 journalists have been killed since the start of the war and those who remain are working in conditions of extreme deprivation,” the organizations said in the letter.

“The result is that information from Gaza is becoming harder and harder to obtain and that the reporting which does get through is subject to repeated questions over its veracity.”

The letter emphasized the “unreasonable and untenable burden” placed on local journalists to document events, and stressed Israel’s obligation to “uphold press freedom by granting foreign media immediate and independent access to Gaza.”

The bodies also called on Israel to fulfill its international commitments to protect journalists as civilians.

Media organizations and civil society groups have consistently urged Israel to allow independent access to international news organizations seeking to report from the Gaza Strip.

They argue that the current restrictions intensify pressure on local journalists and foster an environment in which misinformation can thrive.

Exceptions to the ban have been rare, although some journalists have been permitted entry under direct Israeli military supervision.

The release of the letter precedes a scheduled visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the US, during which he plans to meet President Joe Biden and address the US Congress on July 24.

Delta Air Lines faces backlash for linking Palestine flag pins to Hamas in social media post

Updated 11 July 2024

Delta Air Lines faces backlash for linking Palestine flag pins to Hamas in social media post

  • US carrier responds to user’s ‘Hamas badge’ claim, says ‘I’d be terrified as well’
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations urges Delta to apologize for ‘racist anti-Palestinian tweet’

LONDON: Delta Air Lines has sparked controversy by appearing to support a post on X claiming that Palestine flag pins worn by two of its cabin crew members were “Hamas badges.”

In a now-deleted response, the US carrier’s account seemed to validate a user’s accusation that its staff were allowed to wear “Hamas badges in the air.”

The company wrote: “I hear you and I’d be terrified as well, personally. Our employees reflect our culture and we do not take it lightly when our policy is not being followed.”

It added in another reply: “Nothing to worry, this is being investigated already, particularly the involved parties.”

The incident reportedly occurred during a flight last Friday between Boston and West Palm Beach in Florida.

The photo showing crew members wearing Palestine flag pins initially surfaced on the social media platform and was subsequently shared by several pro-Israel advocacy groups, including StopAntisemitism, which humorously suggested that Delta was opening “a new summer route” to Palestine.

The account also shared images from one of the flight attendant’s personal Instagram pages.

Delta Air Line’s response triggered an outcry on X, with users calling for a boycott of the airline over its handling of the situation.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations urged Delta to apologize for the post, describing it as a “racist anti-Palestinian tweet.”

CAIR Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in a statement on Thursday: “Whether this racist post on Delta’s X account was approved or unauthorized, Delta must apologize and take steps to educate its employees about this type of dangerous anti-Palestinian racism.”

The incident adds to a series of controversies involving the American carrier, including previous criticism over alleged discrimination, particularly against Muslims.

In a reported incident in May, media outlets revealed that Delta staff had asked a Jewish activist to cover up a T-shirt reading “Jews say ceasefire now” during a flight.