Middle East Censorship News

 2018: July-Sept

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Faith in censorship...

Lebanon bans the horror movie, The Nun


Link Here 18th September 2018
Full story: Banned Films in Lebanon...Beirut Hotel
The Nun is a 2018 USA horror mystery thriller by Corin Hardy.
Starring Taissa Farmiga, Bonnie Aarons and Charlotte Hope. BBFC link IMDb

Summary Notes

When a young nun at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest with a haunted past and a novitiate on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together they uncover the order's unholy secret. Risking not only their lives but their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that first terrorized audiences in 'The Conjuring 2,' as the abbey becomes a horrific battleground between the living and the damned.

Lebanon's film censors have banned the new horror movie, The Nun, from a cinema release. The censors claimed that the film was offensive to the Christian faith.

The Warner Bros production was awaiting a screening licence from the General Security's censorship committee ahead of an expected release on 6 September. However last Wednesday, the Catholic committee watched the movie and asked the General Security to ban it in Lebanon for religious reasons.

It is unclear which scenes caused 'the offence', but some believe the ban may stem from the victimisation of nuns in the film.

According to the constitution, multi-religious Lebanon can impose censorship on local and international productions for a number of reasons. These include banning films for stirring religious and political sensitivities as well as those with sexually explicit content.

 

 

Cultural censorship...

Iran imprisons theatre manager and the director of Midsummer Night's Dream


Link Here 16th September 2018
Theatre director Maryam Kazemi and theatre manager Saeed Assadi were detained by Iranian authorities over a video trailer for a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream on 9 September 2018.

The trailer features men and women dancing together, which is illegal in Iran.

Cultural censorship official Shahram Karami said the issue was with the type of music played and the actors' movements used in the trailer.

Both men were later bailed on surety of about $23,000 each.

 

 

True Git...

Sunday morning westerns on TV end in Turkey over bad relations with Donald Trump


Link Here 16th September 2018
The decades-long Turkish tradition of watching a classic American cowboy film on Sunday morning came to an end in August 2018, with state-run broadcaster TRT giving them the boot as US-Turkey relations deteriorate.

American Westerns have been shown at 9.55am on Sundays since the 1980s; according to NRT News , the John Wayne film Big Jake that aired on 19 August was the last.

TRT will now show films supported by the Turkish Ministry of Culture in that timeslot.

The change comes after a diplomatic dispute over US pastor Andrew Brunson, who is under house arrest on charges relating to the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey.

Arab News says the decision comes after the Turkish media censor, Radio and Television Supreme Council, warned about the expansion of American imperialism and culture through movies.

 

 

Rousing music...

Wagner still unofficially boycotted by Israel


Link Here 16th September 2018
Israel's public broadcaster has apologised to listeners after playing part of an opera by German composer Richard Wagner on 31 August 2018.

Classical music radio station Kol HaMusica (the Voice of Music) said its editor erred in choosing to play the final act of Wagner's Goetterdaemmerung (Twilight of the Gods) opera, which goes against the broadcaster's long-standing directive not to play any music by the controversial 19-century figure, who was Adolf Hitler's favourite composer.

Wagner's music has been unofficially banned in what is now Israel since 1938. In addition to composing music, Wagner also wrote a pamphlet called Judaism in Music, in which he said that the Jew was incapable of artistic expression.

 

 

Crushing censorship...

Another repressive internet censorship law in Egypt


Link Here 19th August 2018
Full story: Internet Censorship in Egypt...Egypt blocks political and porn websites
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has signed a new law that tightens controls over the internet.

The legislation means websites can be blocked in Egypt if deemed to constitute a threat to national security or the economy.  Anyone found guilty of running, or just visiting, such sites could face prison or a fine.

Authorities claim the new measures are needed to tackle instability and terrorism.

But human rights groups say the government of trying to crush all political dissent in the country. The Cairo-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression said more than 500 websites had already been blocked in Egypt prior to the new law being signed.

Last month another bill was passed by parliament, yet to be approved by President Sisi, that would allow any social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers to be placed under supervision.

 

 

Killing speech softly...

How the world's biggest tech companies are quietly censoring critical expression in the Middle East


Link Here 12th August 2018

Following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January 2015, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a message reflecting on religion, free expression and the controversial editorial line of the magazine:

A few years ago, an extremist in Pakistan fought to have me sentenced to death because Facebook refused to ban content about Mohammed that offended him.

We stood up for this because different voices -- even if they're sometimes offensive -- can make the world a better and more interesting place.

Later that same month, Facebook agreed to restrict access to an unspecified number of pages for "offending prophet Muhammad" in Turkey at the request of local authorities.

Turkey is notorious for the number of requests it makes to internet companies to remove content for violating its local laws, but it is not the only government in the Middle East to resort to such tactic to silence critical voices.

While a number of the region's governments sometimes make direct requests for content removal -- along with exerting "soft" pressure through other means -- the failures of tech giants in moderating content in the region is a much bigger and more complex problem.

Abuse of flagging mechanisms

Across the region, social media platform "flagging" mechanisms are often abused to silence government critics, minority groups or views and forms of expression deemed not to be in line with the majority's beliefs on society, religion and politics.

In 2016, Facebook suspended several Arabic-language pages and groups dedicated to atheism following massive flagging campaigns.

This effectively eliminated one of the few (in some cases, the only) spaces where atheists and other minorities could come together to share their experiences, and freely express themselves on matters related to religion. Across the region, atheism remains a taboo that could be met with harassment, imprisonment or even murder. Jessica Anderson, a project manager at onlinecensorship.org which documents cases of content takedowns by social media platforms, told Global Voices:

[Abusive flagging] is a significant problem.

In the Middle East as well as other geographies, we have documented cases of censorship resulting from 'flagging campaigns'--coordinated efforts by many users to report a single page or piece of content.

Flagging mechanisms are also abused by pro-government voices. Earlier this year, Middle East Eye reported that several Egyptian political activists had their pages or accounts suspended and live-streams shut down, after they were reported by "pro-government trolls."  Anderson said:

What we have seen is that flagging can exacerbate existing power imbalances, empowering the majority to 'police' the minority The consequences of this issue can be severe: communities that are already marginalized and oppressed lose access to the benefits of social media as a space to organize, network, and be heard.

Failure to consider user rights, in context

This past May, Apple joined the ranks of Facebook and Twitter -- the more commonly-cited social media platforms in this realm -- when the iTunes store refused to upload fives songs by the Lebanese band Al-Rahel Al-Kabir. The songs mocked religious fundamentalism and political oppression in the region.

A representative from iTunes explained that the Dubai-based Qanawat, a local content aggregator hired by Apple to manage its store for the region, elected not to upload the songs. An anonymous source told The Daily Star that iTunes did not know about Qanawat's decision, which it made due to "local sensitivities." In response to a petition from Beirut-based digital rights NGO SMEX and the band itself, iTunes uploaded the songs and pledged to work with another aggregator.

This case does not only illustrate how "local sensitivities" can interfere with decisions about which types of content get to be posted and stay online in the region, but also shows that companies need to practice due diligence when taking decisions likely to affect users' freedom of expression rights.

Speaking to Global Voices, Mohamad Najem, co-founder of SMEX pointed out that both Facebook and Twitter have their regional offices located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which he described as one of the "most repressive countries" in the region. He said: "This is a business decision that will affect free speech in a negative way,"

He further expressed concern that the choice of having an office in a country like the UAE "can sometimes lead to enforcing Gulf social norm[s]" on an entire [Arab] region that is "dynamic and different."

Location, location, location

Facebook and Twitter have offices in the UAE that are intended to serve the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region that is ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse, and presents a wide range of political viewpoints and experiences. When companies are pressured by oppressive governments or other powerful groups to respect "local sensitivities," they are being complicit in shutting down expression of such diversity. Anderson said:

"Platforms seem to take direction from louder, more powerful voices...In the Middle East, [they] have not been able to stand up to powerful interests like governments,"

Take, for example, Facebook's willingness to comply with the Turkish government's censorship demands. Throughout the years, the company was involved in censoring criticism of the government, religion and the republic's founder Ataturk, Kurdish activists , LGBT content and even an anti-racism initiative .

Facebook's complicity with these requests appears to be deeply ingrained. I spoke to a Turkish activist two years ago who told me that he believed the platform "was turning into a pro-government media." Today, the platform continues to comply, restricting access to more than 4,500 pieces of content inside the country in 2017 alone. Facebook is not transparent about the number and rates of requests it complies with.  Arzu Geybulla, a freelance writer who covers Turkey and Azerbaijan for Global Voices said:

The biggest shortcoming in [the] ways platforms deal with takedown requests is [their] lack of understanding of the political contexts. And even if there is some kind of idea of what is happening on the ground, I am not entirely sure, there is always due diligence involved.

In conference settings, representatives from Facebook are routinely faced with questions about massive flagging campaigns. They maintain that multiple abuse reports on a single post or page do not automate the process of the post or page being removed. But they offer little concrete information about how the company does see and respond to these situations. Does the company review the content more closely? Facebook representatives also say that they consult with local experts on these issues, but the specifics of these consultations are similarly opaque.

And the work of moderating content -- deciding what meets local legal standards and Facebook's own policies -- is not easy. Anderson from onlinecensorship.org said:

Content moderation is incredibly labor intensive. As the largest platforms continue to grow, these companies are attempting to moderate a staggering volume of content. Workers (who may not have adequate knowledge and training, and may not be well paid) have to make snap decisions about nuanced and culturally-specific content, leading to frequent mistakes and inconsistencies.

For activists and human rights advocates in the region, it is also difficult to know the scope of this problem due to lack of corporate transparency. Cases like that of iTunes may be occurring more often than is publicly known -- it is only when someone speaks out about being censored that these practices come to light.

 

 

Commented: Half Times...

Qatar censors The New York Times as it highlights the difficulties faced by the Qatar LGBT community


Link Here 3rd August 2018
Qatar has removed whole articles from the Doha edition of The New York Times for highlighting the plight of the emirate's LGBTQ community.

According to ABC News, large sections of the Qatari edition of the New York paper have been censored with a note that said exceptionally removed .

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, as it is in many other Arab countries, and homosexual acts can be punished under current laws.

The New York Times told the U.S. news channel that the decision to censor the articles was made by a local vendor or distributor. A spokesman said:

While we understand that our publishing partners are sometimes faced with local pressures, we deeply regret and object to any censorship of our journalism and are in regular discussions with our distributors about this practice.

Offsite Comment: My Article Was Censored. I Found Out Why

3rd August 2018. Thanks to Nick. See article from nytimes.com by Shannon Sims

The censored article covered a New Orleans museum show as a whole, but focused on one artist's contribution: an exhibit exploring an overlooked, dark chapter of the history of the L.G.B.T.Q. community in New Orleans. The artist, Skylar Fein, researched the tragic killing of 32 people at a gay bar in 1973, and he recreated both the feeling of the bar and the limited -- and sometimes homophobic -- news coverage around it at the time.

The article featured images of Mr. Fein's exhibit and the artist shot by a local photographer, William Widmer. Though the images may be suggestive (a shirtless man, for example), they are not explicit. In fact, the article was similar in many ways to other Arts pieces that have been published in The Times, and not particularly edgy.

See the full article from nytimes.com

 

 

Facebook Law...

Israel set to adopt a new internet censorship law


Link Here 18th July 2018
The Israeli government would have far-reaching power to remove or block content from social media sites under legislation coming up for a vote in the Knesset.

The so-called Facebook Law could delete the content for reasons that include incitement to terrorism without criminal proceeding and without any admissible evidence.

The legislation, which was approved Sunday by the Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, is expected to be voted on before the Knesset ends its summer session on July 22.

Along with Facebook, among the social media outlets that would be covered by the legislation are Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, YouTube and reddit.

 

 

The offensive arms trade...

Megan Markle attracts a little more coverage in Saudi Arabia


Link Here 14th July 2018
Saudi-based journalist, Ahmed Al Omran, recently tweeted a photo of a censored magazine cover featuring Meghan Markle in Saudi Arabia with a crudely drawn black ink  stole covering her bare shoulder.

One Twitter user shared a different version of the cover, with white stickers covering the Duchess' arms and shoulders. The tweep told StepFeed it was taken in Jeddah at Aldanoub Supermarket.

However, staff members at Arab News visited several newsstands in the kingdom, and said the issue of the cover was available and uncensored.

The censorship is commonplace in the Middle East and hardly newsworthy, but when they vandalise images of royalty in such a way then the censorship attracts a little more coverage from the press.

 

 

A Forgotten Spring...

Egypt's Draconian New Cybercrime Bill Will Only Increase Censorship


Link Here 13th July 2018
Full story: Internet Censorship in Egypt...Egypt blocks political and porn websites

The new 45-article cybercrime law, named the Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes law, is divided into two parts. The first part of the bill stipulates that service providers are obligated to retain user information (i.e. tracking data) in the event of a crime, whereas the second part of the bill covers a variety of cybercrimes under overly broad language (such as threat to national security).

Article 7 of the law, in particular, grants the state the authority to shut down Egyptian or foreign-based websites that incite against the Egyptian state or threaten national security through the use of any digital content, media, or advertising. Article 2 of the law authorizes broad surveillance capabilities, requiring telecommunications companies to retain and store users' data for 180 days. And Article 4 explicitly enables foreign governments to obtain access to information on Egyptian citizens and does not make mention of requirements that the requesting country have substantive data protection laws.

Update: Passed

17th July 2018. See  article from kveo.com

Egypt's parliament has passed three controversial draft bills regulating the press and media.

The draft bills, which won the parliament's approval on Monday, will also regulate the Supreme Media Regulatory Council, the National Press Authority and the National Media Authority.

The bills still need to be approved by the president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, before they can become laws.

 

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