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Egypt’s new Ramadan series-streaming app scrutinised by critics3 min read

Egypt’s Watch iT aims to snatch audiences away from the free video-sharing giants.

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watch iT
Image credit: Ramadan Media

Egypt’s first video-streaming app, Watch iT, launched this month just in time for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The religious season is also the high season for the television industry, but the app’s debut has been panned by critics for high prices and technical failures.

Chilling thrillers, sentimental dramas and classic comedies – Egypt’s famed Ramadan TV series have long united millions of families from the breaking of the fast in the evening until dawn.

In recent years, many have taken to streaming episodes of their favourite shows on YouTube after they first broadcast on television.

Egypt’s Watch iT, which launched on May 1, aims to grab hold of this trend and snatch audiences away from the free video-sharing giant.

The platform is owned by the Egyptian Media Group and offers 15 exclusive series produced in Egypt especially for Ramadan, for a monthly fee of 99 pounds ($5.80).

“It’s way too expensive,” said Youssef Ahmed, a 48-year-old father shopping in Cairo during the first days of the fast.

Half-year subscriptions go for 555 pounds, with a year costing 999 pounds — a tall order in a country where the average monthly salary is around $220.

“Anyway, it’s better to watch the series on television as a family,” Ahmed commented.

Watch iT facing challenges

Google’s Play Store service has logged more than 10,000 downloads of the app since its launch – far below the projected figures.

Those who have forked out the money for the platform have run up against technical difficulties, sparking a wave of criticism.

Local media said the site was the victim of “hacking” and the Egyptian Media Group did not respond to questions.

CEO Tamer Mursi boasted shortly after the app launched that his media group had played a “modernising” role in Egypt’s television industry and furthered “the protection of (intellectual property) rights”.

His company owns several television channels, prominent newspapers and production companies, drawing accusations from critics that it runs a monopoly.

Surviving competition

In the age of international streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon, the moment is right for such a switch in Egypt, but critics say the Ramadan series industry is not up to the challenge.

“When such a company launches such a service, it is supposed to test it well before it enters the market,” said Ahmed Hamdi, a journalist with the business newspaper Al Mal.

Hit by general disorganisation in recent years, the industry’s latest products have been characterised by rushed filming and sloppy scripts.

“Watch iT is a new experience in the Egyptian market and fully justified in terms of both its functional and financial aspects, but it faces many challenges,” said Ahmed Adel, a telecoms research manager at Beltone Financial.

One of the biggest difficulties, he said, is that it cannot compete with international platforms.

Netflix from the United States and Wavo out of the United Arab Emirates are both technically superior and offer dozens of Western, Arab and Turkish series and films at a lower price.

Watch iT will also have to jostle for screen time with the pirated content widely available across the Arab world, Adel added.

Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous country and more than 40 percent of its 100 million residents have internet access.

Nearly three-quarters connect with their mobile phones, according to the latest figures from the telecommunications ministry.

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Business

South African Airways cancels flights ahead of strike

Around 3,000 South African Airways workers are expected to take part in the open-ended strike starting Friday

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South African Airways cancels flights ahead of strike
A South African airways flight takes off as another one is parked in a bay on the tarmac at the Johannesburg O.R Tambo International airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gianluigi GUERCIA / AFP)

South African Airways (SAA) said Wednesday it was cancelling all its flights as thousands of workers vowed to press ahead with an indefinite strike the following day after the troubled national carrier announced a major retrenchment plan.

Around 3,000 workers, including cabin crew, check-in, ticket sales, technical and ground staff, are expected to take part in the open-ended strike starting Friday, their unions said.

The looming shutdown forced SAA to announce in a late-night statement on Wednesday that it “has cancelled nearly all its domestic, regional and international flights scheduled for Friday, November 15 and Saturday, November 16”.

“The airline’s key objective is to minimise the impact of disruptions for its customers,” it said.

Unions earlier Wednesday vowed their members would forge ahead with the strike, which the state-owned airline warned could collapse the embattled carrier.

“We are embarking on the mother of all strikes,” Zazi Nsibanyoni-Mugambi, president of the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) told a news conference in Johannesburg.

“We are grounding that airline on Friday,” said Irvin Jim, general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA).

The unions are pressing for a three-year guarantee of job security and an eight per cent across-the-board wage hike. 

‘Mother of all strikes’ –

Pilots — who are not taking part in the strike – have accepted a 5.9-per cent increase, they said.

The airline had announced on Monday a restructuring process that could affect 944 employees and “lead to job losses”.

The airline, which employs more than 5,000 workers, is one of the biggest in Africa, with a fleet of more than 50 aircraft providing dozens of domestic, regional and European flights each day.

Read: Africa World Airlines and South Africa Airways sign agreement

But the company is deep in debt, despite several government bailouts, and has not recorded a profit since 2011.

The unions blamed the SAA board and executive management for the airline’s crisis.

“They have deliberately destroyed what used to be one of the world’s best airlines, because of maladministration, rampant looting and corruption,” they said in a statement.

SAA Chief Executive Officer Zuks Ramasia warned that the strike would “exacerbate rather than ameliorate our problem” and urged the unions to make affordable demands.

“The unions and all employees should be mindful of the current financial constraints the company is facing,” she said in a statement.

She said the unions were aware that the airline’s financial woes were “caused by a number of factors, including a severely distressed global airline industry.”

This, she argued, had resulted in “numerous airlines retrenching staff, embarking on cost-reduction programmes, implementing wage freezes, reducing operations, or even closing down.”

The airline has been surviving off government bailouts. Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced in February that the government would reimburse the company’s 9.2-billion-rand ($620-million) debt over the next three years.

South Africa is struggling to get its state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.

Analyst Daniel Silke warned in a tweet that the planned strike “may kill an airline already on its knees affecting the jobs of thousands more.”

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Conservation News

Former Spanish garrison becomes tourist magnet

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Former Spanish garrison becomes tourist magnet
Kite-surfers manuever their kites at Dakhla beach in Morocco-administered Western Sahara (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

In the heart of Western Sahara, a former garrison town has become an unlikely tourist magnet after kitesurfers discovered the windswept desert coast was perfect for their sport.

In Dakhla, an Atlantic seaport town punctuated with military buildings in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, swarms of kitesurfers now sail in the lagoon daily.

“Here there is nothing other than sun, wind and waves. We turned the adversity of the elements to our advantage: that’s the very principle of kitesurfing,” said Rachid Roussafi. 

After an international career in windsurfing and kitesurfing, Roussafi founded the first tourist camp at the lagoon at the start of the 2000s. 

“At the time, a single flight a week landed in Dakhla,” the 49-year-old Moroccan said.

Today, there are 25 a week, including direct flights to Europe.

“Dakhla has become a world destination for kitesurfing,” said Mohamed Cherif, a regional politician.

Tourist numbers have jumped from 25,000 in 2010 to 100,000 today, he said, adding they hoped to reach 200,000 annual visitors. 

Tourists watch kitesurfers at Dakhla beach in Morocco-administered Western Sahara
Tourists watch kitesurfers at Dakhla beach in Morocco-administered Western Sahara (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

The former Spanish garrison is booming today with the visitor influx adding to fishing and trade revenue.

Kitesurfing requires pricey gear — including a board, harness and kite — and the niche tourism spot attracts well-off visitors of all nationalities. 

Peyo Camillade came from France “to extend the summer season”, with a week’s holiday costing about 1,500 euros ($1,660). 

Only the names of certain sites, like PK 25 (kilometre point 25), ruined forts in the dunes and the imposing and still in-use military buildings in Dakhla, remind tourists of the region’s history of conflict.

In the 1970s, Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, and fought a war with the Algeria-backed Polisario Front from 1975 to 1991, when a ceasefire deal was agreed.

A United Nations mission was deployed to monitor the truce and prepare a referendum on Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco, but it never materialized.

Without waiting for the political compromise that the UN has been negotiating for decades, hotels have sprouted from the sand along the coast, and rows of streetlights on vacant lots announce future subdivisions. 

‘Good communication’ –

“The secret to success is to develop kitesurfing with good communication focused on the organisation of non-political events,” said Driss Senoussi, head of the Dakhla Attitude hotel group. 

Accordingly, the exploits of kitesurfing champions like Brazilian Mikaili Sol and the Cape Verdian Airton Cozzolino were widely shared online during the World Kiteboarding Championships in Dakhla last month.

The competition seemed to hold little interest for Dakhla’s inhabitants however.

Only a few young people with nothing to do and strolling families found themselves on the beach for the finals.

Just as rare are the foreign tourists who venture into the town of 100,000 residents to shop.

A kitesurfer manoeuvring her kite at Dakhla beach in Morocco-administered Western Sahara.
A kitesurfer manoeuvring her kite at Dakhla beach in Morocco-administered Western Sahara. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Like her friends, Alexandra Paterek prefers to stay at her hotel, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) from downtown. 

“Here is the best place in the world for learning kitesurfing,” said the 31-year-old Polish stewardess. 

On her understanding of the broader regional context, she said: “It’s an old Spanish colony and they have good seafood, for sure.”

Like many tourists, she was under the impression that the area belonged to Morocco, as the destination tends to be marketed in the travel industry as “Dakhla, Morocco”.

That angers the Polisario, which wants independence for the disputed region and tried last year in vain to sue businesses it said were “accomplices to the occupying military power.”

The independence movement is now focused on challenging commercial deals between Morocco and the European Union that involve Western Sahara, according to the group’s French lawyer Gilles Devers.

Moroccan authorities are looking actively for investors for their development projects on the west coast, the most ambitious being the Dakhla Atlantique megaport with a budget of about $1 billion to promote fishing. 

Environmental concerns –

On the lagoon, surrounded by white sand and with its holiday bungalows, “there is a struggle between developing aquaculture and tourism,” said a senior regional representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

“One has less impact on the environment, but the other generates more revenue and jobs,” said the representative, adding that “pressure from real-estate investors is very high.”

With the influx of tourists, the protection of the environment has become a major concern.

“Everything is developing so quickly… we need to recycle plastic waste and resolve the issue of wastewater,” said Rachid Roussafi. 

Read: Plastic in crosshairs at UN environment forum

Daniel Bellocq, a retired French doctor, worries for the future of this lagoon, that was “once so wild” that he has kitesurfed in for 20 years.

“There is green algae that weren’t there before, it’s becoming a septic tank,” he said.

Regional councillor Cherif, though, insists the bay is clean, saying: “All the hotels are equipped with wastewater management systems.”

For him, the real threat is from plastic waste, whether it is dropped by tourists or brought by sea currents. 

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Environment

How “ghost gears” are haunting Cape Town’s ocean wildlife

Nets, lines, cages, etc are either lost or intentionally dumped in the ocean at an estimated rate of one tonne per minute

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How "ghost gears" are haunting Cape Town's ocean wildlife

Far out in the South Atlantic Ocean, invisible to the South African coastline, diver Pascal Van Erp surfaced with an abandoned lobster cage covered in algae and other marine organisms.

He pulled it up to the deck of the Arctic Sunrise, a Greenpeace vessel conducting research around Mount Vema, an underwater mountain located around 1,600 kilometres northwest of Cape Town.

Underneath the layer of the dark algae was a green hard plastic cage used to trap lobsters, with a small white pot attached to it.

“We are a thousand miles off the coast of South Africa and finding abandoned fishing gear here… is extremely disgusting,” Greenpeace marine biologist and oceans expert Thilo Maack told reporters on board the ship.

Known as “ghost gear”, abandoned fishing objects make up a significant volume of plastic pollution in seas and oceans around the world and can trap large marine wildlife, causing them slow, painful deaths.

Nets, lines, cages, crayfish traps and gillnets are either lost or intentionally dumped in the ocean at an estimated average rate of one tonne per minute.

An underwater drone revealed Mount Vema, where the Greenpeace mission operated, had not escaped such pollution. Images showed a scattered array of fishing ropes and nets clinging to the 4,600-metre mountain, whose peak sits 26 metres below the surface.

Researchers on the three-week expedition could not determine how long the abandoned gear had been sitting there — but say it could have been there for more than a year given the state it was in.

The United Nations estimates that 640,000 tonnes of fishing equipment is discarded around the oceans each year, the weight equivalent of 50,000 double-decker buses, said Greenpeace.

They are estimated to account for 10 per cent of the plastic waste in the oceans and seas globally, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

But “in some specific ocean areas, fishing gear makes up the vast majority of plastic rubbish, including over 85 per cent of the rubbish on the seafloor on seamounts and ocean ridges,” as well as in the Great Pacific gyre, a Greenpeace report said Wednesday.

‘Zombie in the water’ –

Retired Marine Biologist Professor Robert Anderson examines a ghost fishing device onboard the Greenpeace vessel Artic Sunrise at the end of an exploration of Vema Sea Mount, on October 31, 2019. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

From their underwater resting ground, discarded non-biodegradable materials continue to catch fish and crustaceans, and ensnare large mammals such as dolphins.

“(Ghost gear) is like a zombie in the water,” Maack said. “Nobody takes out the catch, but it’s still catching.”

Such pollution kills and injures more than 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals and turtles annually, according to UK-based charity World Animal Protection.

More than 300 endangered sea turtles were killed in a single incident last year after swimming into a what was believed to be a discarded fishing net in southern Mexico.

“It’s a huge problem because as they are initially set to trap and kill marine wildlife, they will do that for as long as they are in the oceans,” Greenpeace Africa’s campaigner Bukelwa Nzimande, 29, told reporters.

Plastic can take up to 600 years to break down, eventually disintegrating into harmful micro-particles that are ingested by fish and end up in people’s food.

Bottom fishing was banned on Mount Vema in 2007 by the Namibia-based South-East Atlantic Fishing Organisation (SEAFO).

But only one per cent of the world’s oceans are covered by regional management bodies like SEAFO.

‘Cycle of death’ –

A diver prepares himself before diving in the Vema Sea Mount waters, on October 31, 2019. – Abandoned fishing objects, also known as “ghost gear”, make up a significant volume of plastic pollution in seas and oceans around the world and can trap large marine wildlife, causing them slow, painful deaths. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

Around 64 per cent of oceans lie outside national jurisdiction, according to the UN.

Environmental groups are lobbying the intergovernmental organisation to come up with comprehensive governance systems that better protect marine life.

They are also pushing for stricter measures forcing fishermen to retrieve lost gear or pay for its retrieval.

Meanwhile, non-profit organisations have taken it upon themselves to do some cleaning of the seas and oceans.

“For me, removing lost gear is the most exciting (thing),” said diver Van Erp, founder of Dutch-headquartered clean-up charity Ghost Fishing, which has been operating since 2012.

“When I find it I’m really thrilled,” said the 43-year old, his bright orange suit still dripping from his hour-long dive in the cold South Atlantic Ocean waters.

“It keeps catching. It’s sort of a cycle of death.”

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