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Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post on Ed Snowden and intelligence leaking

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The importance of leaking to ensure transparency in a democracy is something we should never forget.

The great Al Jazeera media program The Listening Post this week tackles Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Wikileaks. They asked me to comment on the ways in which the Snowden story unfolded in the press. My clip is at 10:28. Previous contributions here:

Inside Syria – What does 2013 have in store for Syria?

[youtube http://youtu.be/Qkq1-fHLdog?]

Listening Post – Syria: Battles fought, lives lost, lies told

Anti-Islam film: What we know

An obscure slapstick film said to be entitled Innocence of Muslims or Life of Muhammed has been cited as the cause for riots at US diplomatic posts in Egypt and Libya.

But the existence of the purported filmmaker, Sam Bacile, allegedly a 52-year-old Israeli-American real estate developer, has not been proven.

In interviews with the AP news agency and the Wall Street Journal, a man calling himself “Sam Bacile” said he had raised about $5m to produce the film. He also was quoted describing Islam as “a cancer”, and claimed he had raised money from “about 100 Jewish donors” to make the video.

But the interview subject did not even give the same age during his two known press interviews, as he told the AP he was 56.

The man said the amateur, two-hour-long film had involved dozens of actors and was produced in California in 2011. But new reports suggest neither any prior social media presence by the director nor any IMDB page for the film.

The director of the California Film Commission – which issues permits for films that are shot in the state, told the Huffington Post that no permit was ever granted to someone by the name “Sam Bacile”.

‘Desert Warrior’

The trailer for the film – which itself is so far unavailable to the public – portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a fraud and a womaniser, and depicts him having sex. The entire film has only been shown once in public, at a theatre in Hollywood, said the source who identified himself as “Bacile”.

He also explained he made the film because “after 9/11 everybody should be in front of the judge”, AP reported. “Even Jesus, even Muhammad.”

But actors who participated in the filming now say they had no idea the film was even about Muhamad or Islam. The original casting call was reportedly for a film called “Desert Warrior” by director Alan Roberts.

And all the film’s religious references were actually dubbed after the original shooting.

“Bacile” is now reportedly in hiding, even though reports suggest that the name is merely cover for a larger group, or a pseudonym for someone who may be neither Israeli nor Jewish – but who cited such an identify to inflame tensions.

One of the actresses who says she was tricked into being in the film says “Bacile” told her on set that he was Egyptian, and that he spoke Arabic to other men present.

Reuters has reported that Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox church issued a statement condemning some Egyptian Christians living aboard who it said had financed “the production of a film insulting Prophet Muhammad”.

In Egypt and Libya, public anger at the video spilled over on Tuesday, leading to the death of the US ambassador in Benghazi, Libya and the evacuation of embassy workers in Cairo.

Spread on social media

How did an obscure film trailer come to have international ramifications? It was first posted on YouTube by a user called “sam bacile” in July 2012, and has received about 450,000 views to date.

The trailer began to get more attention in September. On September 4, the same user posted a version dubbed in Arabic, which has garnered tens of thousands of views.

Morris Sadek, a Coptic Christian born in Egypt but who lives in the US, told AP he had been promoting the film on his website. He also tweeted a link to the trailer on September 9.

Sadek, the head of the National American Coptic Assembly, is known for his vehemently anti-Islam views, and told the Wall Street Journal that “the violence that it [the film] caused in Egypt is further evidence of how violent the religion and people are”.

Terry Jones, the Florida pastor whose burning of Qurans in 2011 spurred riots across the Muslim world leading to several deaths, also reportedly promoted the film.

The Arabic version of the trailer received heavy media coverage in Egypt last week, including by controversial hardline TV host Khaled Abdallah, who reported on the film on September 8.

A clip of the show was posted to YouTube on September 9, where it has received almost 400,000 views so far.

“The operation behind this film appears to be extreme Egyptian Copts who want to discredit the Morsi government and create a provocation,” journalist Max Blumenthal told Al Jazeera.

“They oppose the revolution and are aligned with Christian right groups who have an apocalyptic, theocratic agenda and who are inciting against Muslim-Americans,” Blumenthal said, adding, “They put Muslims in the US in danger, they put Copts in Egypt in danger, and they’re putting US diplomats in danger.”

YouTube clip blocked

The Afghan government on Wednesday temporarily blocked YouTube in an effort to discourage people from watching the clip. YouTube also blocked the video in Egypt, agency reports said.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the company said: “We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions.

“This can be a challenge because what’s OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere.

“This video – which is widely available on the web – is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube. However, given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt we have temporarily restricted access in both countries.

“Our hearts are with the families of the people murdered in [Tuesday’s] attack in Libya.”

Observers say Google has grown more averse to removing videos. After its 2006 acquisition of YouTube, it was accused of censorship in several high-profile controversies.

“They’re squeezed on all sides,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a fellow at the New America Foundation. “But because of pressure from a lot of people who feel they made the wrong decisions, they now generally err on the side of keeping things up.”

In recent years, Google has used technology to filter out videos in certain countries to comply with local regulations.

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Listening Post – Caught in Syria’s propaganda war

[youtube http://youtu.be/8JcOq-uW0yE?]

Al Jazeera Series, ‘Poets of Protest,’ Starts Tomorrow

Al Jazeera’s “Poets of Protest” series — which promises to document the lives and landscapes of Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, Syrian Hala Mohammed, Lebanese Yehia Jaber (another video of Jaber here), Iraqi Manal al-Sheikh, Palestinian Mazen Maarouf, and Algerian al-Khadra — is set to begin tomorrow.

The first “Artscape” portrait will be of vernacular poet Fouad Negm, who was also recently featured in a disappointing Egyptian film. An Al Jazeera news release promises that “Poets of Protest focuses on writers, their political and artistic struggles, and their work, with beautifully filmed visual interpretations of the poems. “

The release adds, after discussing the profile of Fouad Negm, “In other episodes in the series, Syria’s renowned Hala Mohammed tells us about the pain of watching from exile as her country is violently torn apart. Poets of Protest also goes beyond the Arab Spring to hear the works of Mazen Maarouf from Palestine, Manal Al-Sheikh from Iraq, communist fighter turned poet Yehia Jaber from Lebanon and the ‘the poet of the rifle,’ Al Khadra, from Western Sahara. “

Short promo for the series:

[youtube http://youtu.be/4NkPtECHUy4?]
More from Al Jaz

Listening Post – Listening In At The Leveson Inquiry

[youtube http://youtu.be/2VGN2tl_NK4?]

On Listening Post this week: Listening in at the Leveson Inquiry: Former British prime minister Tony Blair and cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt take the stand. And, the Washington Post 40 years after Watergate.
It has been one of the biggest, most protracted media scandals the world has ever seen. It started with a single rogue reporter but is now tainting British governments, both past and present, and could very lead to new set of rules and regulations for the UK media. This week, the drama intensifies at the Leveson Inquiry as former prime minister Tony Blair and current cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt take to the stand.

Witness – The Great Book Robbery

[youtube http://youtu.be/myvobIkwkNM?]

Listening Post – The dangers of reporting the ‘war on terror’

Rarely does the Listening Post dedicate a whole show to the story of a single journalist. But when that story speaks so eloquently of how world history is being written, or erased, we decided it was something we just could not ignore.

In December 2009, Yemen’s air force claimed it had killed 30 suspected al-Qaeda operatives during an airstrike on a training camp in the southern Abyan province.

This version of events was circulated around the world but when Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye managed to get to the scene, the remains of the missiles he found were clearly marked ‘Made in the USA’. And among the dead were 14 women and 21 children.

Shaye’s subsequent report incriminated the US in a military operation in which they had been so keen to deny any involvement. Yemen dismissed the report and the US refused to comment – and Shaye became a marked man. He was accused of being an al-Qaeda operative and has been behind bars ever since.

Last month, the Yemeni government pardoned Shaye and was about to release him. But it took just one phone call from the US president urging them to reconsider, and the government backtracked.

Shaye remains locked up.

In this week’s Listening Post, we take an in-depth look at the case of Abdulelah Shaye: what it reveals about the politics and the dangers of reporting the so-called war on terror – and what the world stands to lose when the work of independent journalists is put on the line.

When the team here at the Listening Post has watched as much serious news as it can possibly take – we switch to The Onion – the US-based satirical website for some light relief. Every news channel loves a political panel discussion and the Onion has its own. On the table for discussion this week, a revolutionary thought: Could The Use Of Flying Death Robots Be Hurting America’s Reputation Worldwide? Watch our online video of the week.

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