Snapchat censors the news in Saudi Arabia

As a former journalist in the Middle East and one that continues to check out what is happening to journalism in the region, the move towards mixing the media and foreign policy in a very clear way is disturbing. While it is not surprising for the media to be mixed up with politics, as this is always been the case, it is disturbing when one form of social media bans different opinions from its platform.

This is what the Wall Street Journal says about it.

Snapchat Removes Al Jazeera Channel in Saudi Arabia

Snap says it is complying with local law; Al Jazeera calls move an ‘attempt to silence freedom of expression’

Snap, trying to grow its popularity as a destination for news articles and videos, is encountering new questions around the potential for government censorship of that news on its social-media app.

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Employing refugees: how a hotel in Vienna does it

Refugees are instrumental in running a hotel in Austria. Could a similar project be rolled out in New Zealand? Lucia Dore asks the CEO of Magdas Social Enterprise, Gabriela Sonnleitner, to explain how it operates.  

Magdas Hotel, in Vienna, Austria, is a hotel with a difference. Run by 20 former refugees and 11 hotel professionals, in co-operation with artists, architects and students, it aims to improve the lives of marginalised people, refugees in particular.

Sixteen countries are represented at the hotel and 26 languages are spoken. Training is done on the job and in special courses supported by professionals and volunteers.

The refugees have “regular work and that gives them security and stability in their lives. With their loan they have a secure income, can pay for a flat and other things and are no longer dependent on social welfare. They can live a self contained life,” says Magdas’ general manager, Gabriela Sonnleitner.

Even though the hotel is a social enterprise, based on the work of Nobel peace prizewinner, Muhammed Yunus, (who founded the Grameen Bank and pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance) it is self-financing and all income is reinvested. It does not receive any public funding.

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The Saudi Arabian sheep deal again

The deal between the New Zealand government and Saudi businessman Hmood Al Ali Al Khalaf has re-surfaced. After the report came out by the Auditor General Lyn Provost last November that there was no evidence of corruption- although there were "significant shortcomings"- it was probably assumed that the matter was all done and dusted. But it's election time so it's probably not surprising that the deal has resurfaced.

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How do refugees find work?

Refugees and other marginalised people often find it very hard to find work. But this is only one of the many obstacles that they  must overcome. The article below about an asylum seeker in New Zealand tells a story that is all too common. It will be published within a larger volume of research that is being undertaken with the Canterbury Refugee Resettlement and Resource Centre (CRRRC).

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The Qatari Crisis- is this the end of the GCC?

I was listening to a podcast today by Nader Kabbani, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a senior fellow in Global Economy and Development. He provided a background on the Qatar-Gulf crisis, which has gone on for three months, and outlined its social, economic, and political implications.

He noted that Qatar has shifted its air and land routes, and although it can take longer to get from A to B the difference is not significant. Flying to Europe and Asia takes about 20 minutes longer, while to Africa it can take longer.

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Saudi Aramco's IPO

Saudi Arabia is attempting to diversify its economy so that it becomes less reliant on oil. Part of the plan includes an initial public offering (IPO) of Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, valued at between about USD 8 billion and USD 10 billion.  It’s hoping to get more than that when the oil company goes public, reportedly about USD 2 trillion. But will this be achieved?

It appears that Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Aramco in particular, is scaling back its plans for diversification. It seems that it may not happen to the extent originally intended by 2020.

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How you can detect a fake from the real thing?

The world is full of terrible natural disasters, especially earthquakes and hurricanes. (Being based in New Zealand, we know all about earthquakes). So it’s a change to be discussing something frivolous such as handbags and shoes, even if they are fake.

 Living, and shopping in Dubai, it’s assumed that nearly everything you buy is fake. Handbags, though, were more readily available before, than now. Maybe that’s because of two reasons: the authorities have cracked down on fake items, imposing some hefty fines if sellers are caught; and more goods are put on social media. (Movements are afoot to impose fines on buyers too).

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Making the Middle East worse, Trump style

The problems across the Middle East just seem to get worse. How is it possible? When you're living in the region it's pretty clear that US foreign policy in particular, as well as the foreign policy of many of the European countries, including the UK and Germany, are much to blame, whether good or bad-- although foreign policy is generally bad.

This article that was published in Foreign Policy magazine back in June is enlightening. It explains why the problems are so intractable. One reason is expediency and stupidity; the other is the lack of force. Only force will bring about a solution, sort of, especially when it comes to the Israeli - Palestinian peace process. As I was told about five years ago when visiting both countries (I was attending a conference in Bethlehem) Israel will always be better off (territory wise) with the status quo than taking part in a negotiated settlement. This article appears to bear this out.

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Are anti-Muslim comments acceptable?

Anti-Muslim comments are becoming increasingly common all over the world. We have a great deal of anti-Muslim rhetoric from the US President, Donald Trump, who portrays all Muslims as terrorists; there is similar rhetoric emanating from the UK.

In New Zealand, we have a professor from Waikato University who, on Facebook, suggested that hiring Muslims was a poor move because of their prayer schedule. They pray five times a day, three of which are generally early in the morning and late at night.

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How to know if news is fake or not?

AI can do many things and one of them is the writing of fake news. How do you know what is fake news and what is not? The answer simply is that you don’t which is what this article that appeared in Business Insider Australia  explains

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How important is shorthand?

Learning shorthand is almost a rite of passage at journalism school. Everyone learns it. Not everyone is good at it. And most people don’t continue to use it. Or if one does, often one develops a new shorthand, which I did.

So when I read this story that was published in The Guardian I was shocked. I’m sure that this student has developed other ways of taking notes.  

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How hoax news looks like real news

Fake news is becoming more common; and fake it is. What is fake news? How is it produced? What makes it look so real? With technology improving all the time its’s becoming easier to produce fake news and make it look like the real thing. Here’s how.

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Gulf Businesses Face Declining Working Capital Perfomance

I'm working on some projects that require financing from the Middle East. It's undoubtedly more challenging than before to raise finance in that part of the world, as this article that was published on August 16, 2017 in Arabia Inc confirms.

Working capital metrics for firms have been weakening each quarter beginning from the fourth quarter of 2014.

The crash in oil prices and subsequent economic pressures have impacted the working capital performance for companies big and large, according to accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

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Will the US President be impeached?

If, like me, you’re wondering what is going to happen to US President Donald Trump, I was more convinced than ever that Trump could be impeached, sooner rather than later.

A few weeks ago I was listening to a talk by a former Professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware and he anticipated that Trump will hang on until the second half of his term in office. This is because it takes a long time to get the legal issues in place if impeachment is to happen. And enough Republicans votes would have been gathered to make impeachment possible.

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Top US journalists give advice

I read this article about advice from top journalists that was published in the Columbia Journalism Review with interest. All had worked in America and were giving an American perspective. That’s fair enough. What is not, is for all readers to feel that they are failing if they do not obtain the source material to start with.

While it’s relatively straightforward to get information from Europe, or even Australia or New Zealand, as well as the US, it is not always easy in the Middle East, which does not have a culture of transparency or corporate governance. Most important, is that there is no Companies House. Moreover, few people in any of the Arab Gulf countries, Iraq or Egypt, or the rest of North Africa, will talk to the press, meaning that it is necessary to go through a press office. This all makes the job of being a journalist so much tougher.

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Talking Heads: an exhibition exploring culture and gender

For any body in Christchurch who wants to go to an art exhibition please go on 25 August.

17 August 2017: Two Christchurch artists are exhibiting their work from Friday 25 August until August 31, at Next Gallery in Christchurch. It will be an exhibition of portraiture, but with a difference.

Self-portraits by at least 80 participants will be on display, many by Fine Art students from Banaras Hindu University.  Consequently, it will be a kind of dialogue between New Zealand and Asia and will highlight the differences in gender and culture between the two regions and communities. Over time, the exhibition will include other countries, with the intention of encouraging further dialogue between communities.

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Damac and CEO, Hussein Sajwani

I was amused to read this article in the the UK’s Daily Mail today. Billionaire? When I interviewed Hussein Sajwani a few years ago, he was still CEO of Damac, the Middle East’s largest private developer, but certainly not a billionaire. I also understand that at that time, the property developer had had some financial problems, and the Dubai Government helped out. Damac has always been a property developer that was too big to fail. Imagine what damage could be done to Dubai’s reputation.

When I was back in Dubai recently, Damac was advertising Trump villas, as well as his golf course. Clearly, local investors are not investing as Damac would have hoped so it is now looking further afield for investors.

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NZ Super Fund reduces risk in carbon assets

This press release came across my desk today. It shows that the NZ Super Fund is reducing its investment in firms emitting greenhouse gases. Perhaps other funds around the world will follow.

NZ Super Fund shifts passive equities to low-carbon

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Self-publishing- does it work?

Like many people. I've thought of self publishing. Somehow, it didn't appeal. Maybe it was because Penguin, which was part of Pearson, was in the same building in London. I think I'm now converted; I'm sure self-publishing is the way to go. Here are the reasons why.

Not so long ago, there weren’t many resources available that would enable an author to self-publish their writing. As the technology emerged, so did a stigma. It was thought that you only self-published if your book wasn’t good enough to be picked up by a publishing house.

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Fires in Dubai

There’s been a great deal of talk about fires recently- the Grenfell Tower in Kensington Borough, London and now the appropriately named Torch Tower in Dubai.

I know the building well, since I passed it most days and it was down the road from our office. Not an outstanding building, just a tall one.  And one where the rental price was high- fully furnished, good facilities (but that’s the norm in Dubai)- which was about 20,000 dirhams a month (USD 5,400 a month) for rent. Some of the people have moved back in, according to reports.

It was the second time it had caught alight within two years. It’s the external cladding that is to blame evidently. I interviewed the CEO

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