CANBERRA, Australia — The last two journalists working for Australian media in China have left the country after police demanded interviews with them and temporarily blocked their departures, marking a further twist in China’s increasingly troubled relationship with the foreign media.
The absence of Australian media from China for the first time in four decades comes during a low point in the two countries’ relations, and the events that led to the journalists’ departures were seen as evidence of an increasing risk to foreign journalists working in China.
Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s Bill Birtles and The Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith landed in Sydney on Tuesday after flying from Shanghai on Monday night, both news outlets reported.
Both journalists had sheltered in Australian diplomatic compounds in recent days.
They left after Australia revealed last week that Australian citizen Cheng Lei, a business news anchor for CGTN, China’s English-language state media channel, had been detained.
Both journalists were told they were “persons of interest” in an investigation into Cheng, The Australian Financial Review reported. Seven uniformed police visited each journalist’s home in Beijing and Shanghai at 12:30 a.m. Thursday, the newspaper said.
Birtles said he knew Cheng, “but not especially well,” and Smith had met her once in his life.
“I believe the episode was more one of harassment of the remaining Australian journalists rather than a genuine effort to try and get anything useful for that case,” Birtles said from his Sydney pandemic quarantine hotel room.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters Tuesday that Cheng was “suspected of carrying out criminal activities endangering China’s national security.”
“Compulsory measures have been imposed on Cheng and she has recently been investigated by relevant authorities,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.
As part of that investigation and in accordance with the law, China’s “relevant authority” demanded to question Birtles and Smith “which is normal law enforcement,” Zhao said.
He had no details on the circumstances of the departure of the two Australians, but said China protected the legitimate rights and interests of news gathering staff and they have the obligation to comply with the laws and regulations in China.”
“As long as foreign journalists conduct news reporting in accordance with laws, they should have nothing to worry about,” Zhao said.
Australian Embassy officials in Beijing told Birtles last week that he should leave China, ABC reported.
Birtles was due to depart Beijing on Thursday and was holding a farewell party on Wednesday when police came to his apartment and told him he was banned from leaving the country, ABC said. He was told he would be contacted on Thursday to organize a time to be questioned about a “national security case,” his employer said.
Birtles went to the Australian Embassy, where he spent four days while Australian and Chinese officials negotiated. Smith had similarly holed up at the Australian Consulate in Shanghai.
Birtles and Smith both agreed to give police a brief interview in return for being allowed to leave the country.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Cheng’s detention was part of the reason her government had advised the journalists to leave. She declined to detail all the reasons.
“It is disappointing that after many years, Australia will not have a media organisation present in China for some period of time,” Payne said.
She said Australia would not retaliate by revoking the visas of Chinese journalists working in Australia.
“Australia operates according to law and in our national interests and unless individuals are breaching laws in Australia, then that would not be an approach that we would take,” Payne said.
Australia’s travel warning of the risk of arbitrary detention in China “remains appropriate and unchanged,” she added.
ABC news director Gaven Morris said Birtles was brought back to Australia on the Australian government’s advice.
“This bureau is a vital part of the ABC’s international news-gathering effort and we aim to get back there as soon as possible,” Morris said.
“The story of China, its relationship with Australia and its role in our region and in the world is one of great importance for all Australians and we want to continue having our people on the ground to cover it,” he added.
The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Michael Stutchbury, and editor, Paul Bailey, described the situation as “disturbing.”
“This incident targeting two journalists, who were going about their normal reporting duties, is both regrettable and disturbing and is not in the interests of a co-operative relationship between Australia and China,” they said in a statement.
Relations between China and Australia were already strained by Australia outlawing covert interference in politics and banning communications giant Huawei from supplying critical infrastructure. They have worsened since the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of and international responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia’s journalist union, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said China was no longer safe for foreign reporters.
“These outrageous attacks on press freedom place any foreign correspondents reporting from China at risk,” union president Marcus Strom said.
Birtles told reporters at Sydney’s airport that his departure was a “whirlwind and … not a particularly good experience.”
“It’s very disappointing to have to leave under those circumstances and it’s a relief to be back in a country with genuine rule of law,” Birtles said.
Smith told his newspaper: “The late-night visit by police at my home was intimidating and unnecessary and highlights the pressure all foreign journalists are under in China right now.”
Smith said at the airport that he had felt “a little bit” threatened in China.
“It’s so good to be home, so happy, I can’t say any more at the moment, it’s such a relief to be home, so really happy,” Smith said.
“It was a complicated experience but it’s great to be here,” he added.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China strongly condemned what it called the government’s “unprecedented harassment and intimidation” of the two.
“This effort to keep foreign journalists in China against their will marks a significant escalation of an ongoing, sustained Chinese government assault on media freedoms,” the club said in a statement Tuesday.
China expelled a record 17 foreign journalists in the first half of 2020 and recently delayed renewing the press cards of five others working for U.S. outlets — putting them at risk of expulsion — in tit-for-tat retaliation for Washington’s limits on Chinese reporters operating in the U.S. and delays in renewing the visas of others.
Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press
French media: Raspy-voiced singer Juliette Greco dead at 93 – Preeceville Progress
PARIS — Juliette Greco, a French singer, actress, cultural icon and muse to existentialist philosophers of the country’s post-War period, has died aged 93, French media said Wednesday.
They said Greco died in her Ramatuelle house in the south of France, near Saint Tropez.
The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, tweeted that “a very grand lady, an immense artist has gone.”
With expressive eyes inherited from her Greek ancestors and an impossibly deep, raspy voice — acquired from years of cigarette-smoking — Greco immortalized some of France’s most recognizable songs in an enduring seven-decade career, including the classics “Soul le ciel de Paris” (Under the Parisian sky) and “Je hais les dimanches” (I hate Sundays).
Greco was born in Montpellier on February 7, 1927, and went on to become a French music and fashion icon whose bobbed hair, Cleopatra-style eye-lines and demure black clothes became synonymous with the rebellious 1960s.
In March, 2016, Greco suffered a stroke while she was stopping off in Lyon as part of her tour, and cancelled the rest of her concerts. It was the same year that her only daughter, Laurence-Marie, died, of cancer.
Some social media stars chafe at COVID restrictions, angering authorities – TheChronicleHerald.ca
By Anthony Deutsch
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A handful of social media stars and influencers have publicly flouted rules aimed at containing the coronavirus pandemic and even encouraged others to do so, and authorities from the Netherlands to the United States are not happy.
The online dissent comes as the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States passed 200,000 and many countries in Europe are grappling with a second wave of infections.
“I say ‘NO’ to all measures until the government can verifiably justify this policy,” a group of young Dutch entertainers wrote in a series of Instagram posts coordinated with organisers of protests against the restrictions.
The online celebrities have several million followers on Instagram between them.
They include 21-year-old singer and Instagram model Famke Louise, who took part in a Dutch government campaign promoting social distancing rules in the spring but has now switched sides.
“We can only get control of the government if we stick together,” she posted on Monday night. “I’m opting out.”
Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge, who is battling new infections that jumped at a rate of more than 60% in the Netherlands this week to pass 100,000, criticised that attitude.
“We have to ask questions and being critical is certainly allowed, but just saying ‘I am opting out’ isn’t an option,” he said. “It’s irresponsible because they have huge influence on young people. We need our youth, we need everyone to keep the virus under control.”
The debate in the Netherlands is playing out the world over between people frustrated about restrictions on their lives and those who support governments’ attempts to stop the virus, which has infected more than 31 million people.
Popular TikTok “influencers” Bryce Hall and Blake Gray were charged in the United States for throwing parties in Los Angeles at which hundreds of revellers were pictured ignoring social distancing rules.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said that with a combined 19 million followers on TikTok, the stars should be “modelling good behaviour – not brazenly violating the law and posting videos about it.”
In Britain, Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher has voiced doubts about the effectiveness of wearing masks, while Van Morrison is releasing three songs to protest against “the way the government has taken away personal freedoms,” his website said.
He is donating profits from the tracks to musicians who have suffered financial hardship because of the coronavirus, according to the BBC.
But flouting government rules faces a backlash of its own, and social media campaigns including the #WearADamnMask hashtag have attracted support from major stars.
U.S. actors Bryan Cranston and Tom Hanks, both of whom contracted the virus and recovered, have also made public appeals for people to wear masks as a courtesy to others.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo in Madrid; Editing by Mike Collett-White)
Advertisers agree deal with social media on steps to curb harmful content – TheChronicleHerald.ca
By Martinne Geller
LONDON (Reuters) – Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have agreed with big advertisers on first steps to curb harmful content online, following boycotts of social media platforms that advertisers had accused of tolerating hate speech.
The agreement comes three months after Facebook was hit by a boycott from major advertisers in the wake of anti-racism demonstrations that followed the death of George Floyd, an American Black man, in police custody.
Advertisers have complained for years that big social media companies do too little to prevent ads from appearing alongside hate speech, fake news and other harmful content. Big tech companies, meanwhile, want to be seen as taking action on the issue to fend off calls for more regulation.
Under the deal, announced on Wednesday by the World Federation of Advertisers, common definitions would be adopted for forms of harmful content such as hate speech and bullying, and platforms would adopt harmonised reporting standards.
The platforms agreed to have some practices reviewed by external auditors, and to give advertisers more control of what content is displayed alongside their ads. The deal comes less than six weeks before a polarising U.S. presidential election.
“This is a significant milestone in the journey to rebuild trust online,” said Luis Di Como, executive vice president of global media at Unilever, one of the world’s biggest advertisers. “…Whilst change doesn’t happen overnight, today marks an important step in the right direction.”
Carolyn Everson, Vice President for Global Marketing Solutions at Facebook, said the agreement “has aligned the industry on the brand safety floor and suitability framework, giving us all a unified language to move forward on the fight against hate online.”
Campaigners who want more regulation of social media companies have been sceptical of voluntary measures such as those announced on Wednesday.
“Any progress in reducing harmful online content is to be welcomed. However, up to now voluntary action from social media companies has rarely lived up to its initial promises. So time will tell how much of a difference this latest industry-led initiative will make,” David Babbs of UK-based group Clean Up the Internet told Reuters by email.
The Stop Hate for Profit campaign behind the Facebook boycott is backed by the Anti-Defamation League and NAACP, two of the oldest and biggest anti-racism campaign groups in the United States. The campaign did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
In a statement last week, it said: “Facebook’s failures lead to real-life violence and sow division, and we’re calling on the company to improve its policies. We need to urge people to vote and demand Facebook stop undermining our democracy. Enough is enough.”
(Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Peter Graff)
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