RIYADH: In a heartfelt tribute to former Arab News staffer Roger Harrison, who has died on the Spanish island of Mallorca at the age of 75, Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab and Muslim astronaut, said that the journalist’s love of Saudi Arabia and its people was obvious in all that he did.
“He wasn’t doing those things only for his job with Arab News, but because he enjoyed it,” he said.
In an exclusive interview, Prince Sultan recalled that he was head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism when he met Harrison, a senior reporter with Arab News from 2001 until 2013, for the first time.
“Arab News was doing some fantastic articles about Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I think I noticed his name and subsequently we connected. It became a real friendship because his feelings were overwhelming.
“We ended up also doing some traveling together in different parts of the country. We invited him to come to our farm for various conferences. Basically Roger was often there when we had guests, official or nonofficial.
“And then in 2006, Bandar bin Khaled Al-Faisal came up with the idea of doing, for the first time ever, an aerial tour of Saudi Arabia using a glider.”
Harrison’s work in his seminal 2014 book, “Wings Over Arabia,” a photographic record of the three-man glider mission that flew over and photographed many spectacular and rarely seen areas of the Kingdom, has been widely praised. Prince Sultan explained how the adventure came about and how Harrison became a part of it.
“I got my gliding license in 1986 in Hawaii but I really hadn’t flown much after that,” he said. “Bandar and I started gliding in the 2000s. We met John Bally who was an English gliding instructor and he joined us when we started gliding in the Alps.
“Then we developed the idea of coming to Saudi Arabia and gliding in the Kingdom. We brought the team that worked on the documentary series. Then I brought Roger in as part of the Tourism Commission to document the mission and he threw himself completely into it.”
The prince said Roger became totally involved with the team planning Wings Over Arabia.
“It was a big team and I am very sorry to say that three of them have now passed away,” he said. “Ahmed Al-Zahrani was our mechanic in the Aviation Club. He unfortunately died in an accident. He was a great guy and you can see him in the video. I am still actually looking out for his two sons and his family.
“The other one was Captain Zakariah from Sri Lanka. He passed away only a few months ago, after he retired. He was with me for years and he flew a Twin Otter airplane, which you can see in the movie and also in the book.
“The Twin Otter was given to us by Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, though it was originally given to King Fahd. It’s a great airplane but a very slow one so we took the door off. It was then used by the photography team, the American team that comprised the other photographers and the cinematographers for the documentary.”
Prince Sultan said that he brought Harrison and Bally to the team, while Prince Bandar assembled the documentary crew.
“John came in to fly with us and, in fact, he had a great deal more experience than we did,” he said. “I was actually the most experienced pilot in the group because I had started flying in 1976 and was in the Saudi Royal Air Force. I have probably done 10,000 hours of flying jets but I had the least gliding experience in the group.
“John had the most and, of course, there was Bandar who had some gliding experience and was a great pilot, too. We flew around the Kingdom and planned the trip. Roger’s role was to do photography and write articles.”
Prince Sultan said Harrison was a vital part of the team that flew in the Twin Otter.
“He always told me he always felt sick in the plane but he kept flying, even though the door was open and he was hanging by a small strap,” said the prince. “We basically just went around Saudi Arabia on seven or eight-day trips.
“Roger of course published a number of things and we worked together on various ideas, and one of them was Saudi Colors. This was an initiative I supported within the Tourism Commission and it sponsored an annual event for photography and photographers.
“We sent Saudi photographers, and others, out of the country and, basically, we had an awards program that developed into making movies and videos. Ultimately the program even included expats and I wish it had continued. It showcased the great talents not only of Saudis but of expats as well.”
Talking about his passion for flying, Prince Sultan said: “It’s all about trying to live life fully. I do a lot of serious work, a lot of charity work, a lot of government work, and a lot of ministry work. After all, I live here.
“There are many people who tell me they have never seen me in a building because so much of my life is outside. In my childhood, Riyadh was much smaller and my brothers and I enjoyed horseback riding in the desert. The desert was not as far away as it is now; it was nothing but sand dunes and there was a small stable and a small villa which my father let us use.”
There were also more formal events, including visits from foreign dignitaries, but even these often had an outdoors element.
“There were a lot of beautiful dinners and I asked my father to host some visitors, such as the king of Morocco, the president of Lebanon and other people, in a big tent,” the prince said. “It was a real desert event and we rode horses and showed our falcons. We went hunting in the southern Iraqi desert north of Saudi Arabia, which is another empty quarter.
“The outdoors, for me, has always been something that I love and that is true even today. I can’t imagine life without being outdoors; I often sit outdoors and, especially in the evenings, I go to the desert.”
Prince Sultan said he developed a love of aviation when he was in America.
“I had a friend there, Joe Clarke,” he explained. “He owned a lot of airplanes and he is another fine man who has passed away. America is the country of adventure and is the most amazing place, too. I lived in Colorado and most of the time there I skied. I do hardcore skiing, and I used to go camping but not any more.”
Now, he has other places that inspire him.
“I sometimes go to Africa now, though I don’t shoot animals; instead I use a camera,” he said. “We go in cars following the animals as they do their seasonal migrations. I have worked with National Geographic and with some of its great photographers who have published books. I took National Geographic to places they wanted to go in the Kingdom.”
Prince Sultan said the Kingdom’s heritage and traditions remain extremely important to him.
“Our national heritage became an issue for me, and I live in a mudhouse here,” he explained. “I always pay attention to traditional things and ways of living and I visit a lot of towns and villages. I still go to Taif, for its high altitude, and just last weekend I went on a beautiful high-altitude hike there.
“The flying part is the cream on the cake in terms of adventure because you see the world from a different perspective. You can always see the beauty of the universe and of our country.
“Its beauty was opened up by Saudi Colors. We saw Saudi Arabia from so many different perspectives: That of thousands of Saudis, and thousands of photographers and movie makers. A whole industry grew from that and, InshaAllah, we will recreate it. I am working on that now.”
Roger Harrison’s affection for Saudi Arabia was also clear, the prince added.
“I think Roger was, first of all, a man who loved Saudi Arabia and loved its people too,” he said. “That’s basically what fired him up to research and write all those stories. He was a man with a lot of energy and it drove him to do many things and opened many doors. I worked with him on lots of ideas; some came (to pass) and as for the others, we had been waiting for the coronavirus to go away.
“I think Roger was somebody who appreciated beauty and adventure and the life of the people. I connect with those kinds of people: People who can feel life and not just live it, people who can identify things and ideas and run with them.
“Roger was truly unique and I always enjoyed time with him, whether it was a casual meeting or when he came to my farm for lunch or dinner. He always added an element of enthusiasm that we could all enjoy because he had been to places that he talked about and impressed us with his adventurous spirit.”
Prince Sultan said that when he was asked recently to make a video for an award presentation he immediately thought of Roger.
“In the US there is a huge aviation community and there is an annual award given to what they call ‘Legends of Aviation,’” he said. “To be an aviator is different from being a pilot, you know. A pilot is like a driver but to be an aviator is to have a passion, rather than simply a hobby you indulge in every once in a while.
“To my surprise, I was informed that the community wanted to nominate me for the award. They asked me for a two-hour video and the first person I thought of to do it was Roger. A month before, a mutual friend from the US had sent me a message saying he had been trying unsuccessfully to get in touch with Roger. So three or four days ago, I asked my assistant to reach out to Roger and tell him I wanted to talk to him about doing the video and also find out how he was.
“When my assistant finally got an answer, he spoke to Roger’s son who said: ‘My father passed away on Saturday.’"
The sad news was a great shock to the prince.
“That blew me away,” he said. “We had made plans to meet in Mallorca (where Roger had settled with his wife). Roger had even sent me suggestions of places to visit, where the Arabs from Spain had been (Al-Andalus). I was looking forward to going there in the off-season and enjoying spending some time with Roger again.
“After I had heard the bad news, I spoke to Roger’s wife and son and they were interested in seeing what Arab News had published about their husband and father. I told them there would be an event to honor Roger and we would bring them here.”
Prince Sultan said he had previously persuaded Roger to mount an exhibition of his photographs of Saudi Arabia, similar to one the prince had worked on with another distinguished expat, Richard Bodeker.
“Bodeker was a brilliant landscaper,” he said. “In fact, there is a YouTube movie called ‘The Gardener and the Prince’ that tells the story of Richard Bodeker and what he accomplished in Saudi Arabia.
“I had talked him into doing a documentary about his work; he probably had 20,000 to 30,000 photos of Saudi plants and of the landscaping he had done in the Diplomatic Quarter and Wadi Hanifah. He did the landscaping for the National Museum and though he died about a year and a half ago, his company and his son are still here. There is a garden in the Diplomatic Quarter that is named for him in acknowledgment of his 40 years in Saudi Arabia and the fantastic work he did.
“As with him, so with Roger and his achievements: We will not see his like again."
WASHINGTON: Facebook is paying a $4.75 million fine and up to $9.5 million to eligible victims to resolve the Justice Department’s allegations that it discriminated against US workers in favor of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs.
Facebook also agreed in the settlement announced Tuesday to train its employees in anti-discrimination rules and to conduct more widespread advertising and recruitment for job opportunities in its permanent labor certification program, which allows an employer to hire a foreign worker to work permanently.
The department’s civil rights division said the social network giant “routinely refused” to recruit, consider or hire US workers, a group that includes US citizens and nationals, people granted asylum, refugees and lawful permanent residents, for positions it had reserved for temporary visa holders.
Facebook sponsored the visa holders for “green cards” authorizing them to work permanently. The so-called H-1B visas are a staple of Silicon Valley, widely used by software programmers and other employees of major US technology companies.
Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. The tech companies maintain that’s not the case, that they turn to foreign nationals because they have trouble finding qualified programmers and other engineers who are US citizens.
“In principle, Facebook is doing a good thing by applying for green cards for its workers, but it has also learned how to game the system to avoid hiring US tech workers,” said Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Facebook started lobbying to change the system more to its liking starting back in 2013 when the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate was being negotiated.”
The settlement terms announced Tuesday are the largest civil penalty and back-pay award ever recovered by the civil rights division in the 35-year history of enforcing anti-discrimination rules under the Immigration and Nationality Act, officials said. The back pay would be awarded to people deemed to have been unfairly denied employment.
The government said Facebook intentionally created a hiring system in which it denied qualified US workers a fair opportunity to learn about and apply for jobs that it instead sought to channel to temporary visa holders.
“Facebook is not above the law and must comply with our nation’s federal civil rights laws, which prohibit discriminatory recruitment and hiring practices,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke told reporters in a telephone conference. “Companies cannot set aside certain positions for temporary visa holders because of their citizenship or immigration status.”
Facebook also agreed in a separate settlement with the Labor Department to expand its recruitment for US workers and to be subject to ongoing audits to ensure compliance.
The company based in Menlo Park, California, said it believes it met the government’s standards in its practices. It said it agreed to the settlements to end the litigation and move ahead with its permanent labor certification program — which it called an important part of its “overall immigration program.”
“These resolutions will enable us to continue our focus on hiring the best builders from both the US and around the world, and supporting our internal community of highly skilled visa holders who are seeking permanent residence,” Facebook said in a statement.
Facebook says it ended the April-June quarter this year with over 63,400 full-time employees globally and has 3,000 current job openings.
The lawsuit was filed against Facebook last December by the Justice Department under the Trump administration. The alleged violations are said to have occurred from at least Jan. 1, 2018 to at least Sept. 18, 2019.
A $4.75 million fine and $9.5 million in back pay are a trifle for a company valued at $1 trillion with revenue of nearly $86 billion last year. But the announcement comes at a time of intense public discomfort and scrutiny for Facebook.
Public allegations and testimony to Congress from a former Facebook data scientist that the company disregarded internal research showing harm to children have raised a public outcry and calls for stricter government oversight of the company. The former employee, Frances Haugen, accused Facebook of prioritizing profit over safety and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation.
The company is also awaiting a federal judge’s ruling in an epic antitrust suit filed against it by the Federal Trade Commission. Calls from critics and lawmakers of both parties to break up the behemoth company are intensifying.
LONDON: Britain’s competition regulator has fined Facebook 50.5 million pounds ($69.6 million) for breaching an order imposed during its investigation into the US social media giant’s purchase of GIF platform Giphy, the agency said on Wednesday.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Facebook had deliberately failed to comply with its order, and the penalty served as a warning that no company was above the law.
Facebook said it strongly disagreed.
The CMA said Facebook had failed to provide full updates about its compliance with requirements to continue to compete with Giphy and not integrate its operations with Giphy’s while its investigation was ongoing.
Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said, and it therefore considered the failure to comply deliberate.
“We warned Facebook that its refusal to provide us with important information was a breach of the order but, even after losing its appeal in two separate courts, Facebook continued to disregard its legal obligations,” said Joel Bamford, senior director of mergers at the CMA.
“This should serve as a warning to any company that thinks it is above the law.”
Facebook said: “We strongly disagree with the CMA’s unfair decision to punish Facebook for a best effort compliance approach, which the CMA itself ultimately approved.
“We will review the CMA’s decision and consider our options.”
DUBAI: WARC, TikTok and advertising conglomerate Publicis Groupe have together released a report exploring the role of social communities in influencing purchase decisions.
“As social media’s popularity and influence continue to grow, community commerce is rapidly evolving to provide an innovative, effective and fast-paced way for brands and retailers to sell directly to consumers,” said Alex Brownsell, a senior editor at WARC.
The report, titled “From Discovery to Purchase: The Role of Community Commerce,” said social commerce describes the growing retail opportunities and solutions presented by social media. Community commerce is a narrower subset that specifically refers to entertaining, compelling content, often by creators, that just happens to feature brands.
As more people spend time on social media, community commerce sits at the intersection of community, shopping and entertainment. With a non-intrusive and authentic approach, brands can fit seamlessly into this social environment and engage with audiences by connecting around specific interests or hashtags.
“The intersection of community, shopping and entertainment is what’s really different about TikTok. I can move from being entertained by my favorite creators into a shopping moment — or telling my friends about it or sharing it — pretty easily,” said Amy Lanzi, EVP, North America practice lead, Publicis Commerce.
Social platforms have disrupted the path to purchase by spontaneously inspiring users to shop as they discover new products. In fact, social platforms inspired 70 percent of consumers to shop, even when they were not looking to, according to the report.
Moreover, an average of 85 percent have purchased a product or service after seeing it advertized or reviewed on social media and 77 percent said that social platforms helped them get ideas about brands and products they had never thought of before.
“The funnel has collapsed and impulse buying is at an all-time high; people are spending more time on social media platforms, so why not go where the consumer is?” said Ryan Hartsfield, social media director at Monster Energy.
Up until now, beauty and fashion categories were the leaders in the social media space, said Daniela Mercado, head of mobile marketing, Samsung Electronics America. Because of their success, more expensive categories — like luxury and automotive — are now following.
Due to this emerging consumer behavior, brands have an opportunity to connect with their audiences in an entirely new way and spur on-the-spot decisions. An effective way of doing this is by partnering with creators who already have the followers and the ability to inspire and influence them.
Content creators boost discovery (78 percent), educate and inform their audiences (76 percent), and inspire their audiences to try new products (73 percent). Creators and social communities are the new version of “word-of-mouth,” making it a powerful medium for brands.
“Influencers are really important because they each have their own reason for loving our brands. It’s fun to discover why someone is using our products, and we like to elevate and share those voices of discovery because they are authentic and true,” said Kevin Shapiro, SVP, US marketing in consumer beauty, Coty.
The report also found that the purchase funnel has collapsed, with the line between content and commerce becoming increasingly blurry. On average, across social media platforms, only 14 percent of purchases were planned.
It is evident that the rise of community commerce presents great potential for brands. However, it’s important for brands to stay true to the platform they choose and the creators they work with.
“We need to remember that people don’t go on social media to purchase — they go to interact, to check on their friends and favorite celebrities, to engage with content and follow their interests,” said Krinio Christaras, head of media and consumer experience MENAP, Mondelēz International.
She added: “With great content — be it user-generated content, the use of influencers, or brand content — that’s fit for the platform, you give them a great experience, and through that, you give them that opportunity to buy.”
On average, 77 percent say that social platforms help them get ideas about brands and products they’d never thought of before.
85 percent have purchased a product or service after seeing it advertised or reviewed on social media.
Social platforms inspire 70 percent of consumers to shop.
Across social media platforms, on average, only 14 percent of purchases were planned.
Content creators boost discovery (78 percent), educate and inform their audiences (76 percent), and inspire their audiences to try new products (73 percent).
ALGIERS: Algerian journalist Rabah Kareche left prison on Tuesday after completing a six-month sentence for “spreading false news,” his newspaper Liberte said.
“Our reporter Rabah Kareche is free again after six months behind bars in Tamanrasset prison” in the country’s desert south, it reported on its website.
An appeals court had sentenced Kareche on October 11 to six months in prison plus six months suspended, a two-month reduction from his original sentence.
His release came as he had already served much of sentence during his trial and appeal.
Kareche was arrested in April after reporting the Tuareg, a Berber minority who have long complained of economic and social marginalization, had protested over “expropriation” of their historical lands.
He was sentenced on August 12 to eight months behind bars plus four months suspended for “spreading false information liable to damage public order.”
He was also accused of posting reports that could trigger “segregation and hatred within society.”
“I’m the victim of a grave injustice,” Liberte quoted him saying as he left prison.
“I did nothing more than my job as a journalist with professionalism.”
Algeria ranks a lowly 146th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.
CAIRO/KHARTOUM: Facebook says it has shut down two large networks targeting users in Sudan in recent months, as civilian and military leaders spar with one another over the future of an interim power-sharing arrangement.
The battle for public opinion, much of it happening online, is intensifying as Sudan reels from economic crisis and a shaky transition to democracy following 30 years under President Omar Al-Bashir, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2019.
Facebook said one of the networks of inauthentic pages it took down was linked to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the other was populated with people who researchers, hired by the civilian government, flagged as supporters of Bashir agitating for a military takeover.
This week, hundreds of protesters set up camp outside the presidential palace demanding that the military overhaul the cabinet, in what would effectively amount to a coup.
Earlier this month, Facebook said it had shut a network of almost 1,000 accounts and pages with 1.1 million followers run by people the company said were linked to the RSF.
The network boosted RSF official media feeds and other content related to the militia, led by powerful General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo who is deputy head of the ruling Sovereign Council and seen by some Sudanese as harboring political ambitions.
Representatives for the RSF and Dagalo did not respond to requests for comment. The government had no comment on the RSF-related takedown. Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, denies he is out for personal empowerment and has said in the past that he is committed to the democratic transition to civilian rule.
Facebook’s director of threat disruption, David Agranovich, told Reuters the network was identified by the platform’s own internal investigation.
The company also said it removed a second network in June, after being tipped off by Valent Projects, an independent research firm hired by Sudan’s Information Ministry to look into activity linked to Bashir loyalists.
Facebook said the network comprised more than 100 accounts and pages and had more than 1.8 million followers.
The Sudanese government’s efforts to fight what it describes as ex-regime loyalists working to undermine the transition has not previously been reported.
Loyalists were “working systematically to tarnish the image of the government,” the ministry said in a statement to Reuters, referring to social media posts in the network identified by Valent.
In both networks, posts mimicked news media but offered skewed coverage of political events, according to Facebook and some independent researchers.
Those Sudanese with Internet access — estimated at about 30 percent of the 45 million population — depend heavily on social media for news.
The military-civilian partnership that replaced now-jailed Bashir in 2019 has been pushed to breaking point in recent weeks in the aftermath of what authorities called a failed coup attempt.
Civilian officials have accused both Bashir loyalists and the military of stirring up unrest, including in the east of the country where tribal protesters have been blocking shipping at Port Sudan, exacerbating shortages stemming from a long-running economic crisis.
Military leaders deny the accusations and say they are committed to the transition to democracy.
While Facebook says it uses technical signals on its platform to target groups working to mislead users about their identity, researchers like Valent Projects say they rely on analysis of content, noting for example when a single post is shared simultaneously by different accounts.
Valent Projects said the network it identified was more than three times larger than Facebook’s assessment, attracting more than 6 million followers and continuing to grow.
It was active as recently as this week, agitating for a military takeover as protesters gathered in central Khartoum, and last month in the aftermath of the coup attempt, said Valent Projects representatives.
“It looks like they were trying to give the impression of grassroots support for such a move,” said founder and director Amil Khan.
When asked about the differing assessments, Facebook’s Agranovich said the company was confident it had shut down the entire network and that other accounts Valent identified were not connected.
He said Facebook would continue to monitor for any revival of the network.
Some of the network’s posts say Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is not a Muslim and accuse his staff of being paid in dollars, a charge they have denied.
Contributors promote the return of Bashir, jailed on corruption and other charges and wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of atrocities in the Darfur conflict. Bashir has denied all charges.
The network amplified calls for civil disobedience in the east, said Zouhir Al Shimale, Valent Projects’ head of research.
It also promoted protests ahead of the June 30 anniversary of the coup in which Bashir took power in 1989, according to the research firm.
“People in Sudan thought there was just going to be a massive demonstration because they saw so much activity,” said Khan, citing a movement called Akhtona (“Get out of the way“) in local Arabic dialect. In the end some 3,500 people showed up.
Contacted by Reuters, three administrators of pages that Facebook left running denied being part of a network.
“The ruling bodies today categorize any criticism of their oppressive policies and poor economic and political management as being related to the former regime,” said one of them, who declined to be identified.
The information ministry said it took no legal measures against the pages or administrators. “The Sudanese government is committed to protecting freedom of expression,” it said.
Two takedowns previously announced by Facebook, in December 2020 and May 2021, targeted accounts boosting Dagalo and the RSF, according to researchers at Stanford Internet Observatory and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
In both networks Facebook said it found links to the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA), the officially defunct group accused of meddling in the 2016 US elections.
Anna Bogacheva, who the United States accused of carrying out IRA operations to interfere with elections and political processes, declined to answer questions about IRA when reached by phone.
Agranovich said the most recently targeted network linked to the RSF did not reveal foreign links, and appeared part of a growing trend of domestic influence operations.