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Sask. government apologizes after HIV post featuring photo of gay couple slammed as homophobic –



Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman says the use of a photo of a gay couple in a government social media post about HIV numbers in the province is “disappointing,” but did not go as far as agreeing with criticism that the post was homophobic.

“I recognize it is very disappointing that that was the image that people were seeing when we put out an image of what people with AIDS, on a day that should be celebrated, of how far we’ve come with the treatment of AIDS,” Merriman said at the legislature on Wednesday.

The posts were shared on the provincial government’s Twitter and Facebook feeds on Tuesday, which was World AIDS Day. The post featured an image of two men and the message that HIV is treatable and urged people to get tested.

It drew criticism in hundreds of comments responding to the post. 

On Wednesday morning, it was deleted and an apology was posted to the same social media accounts. 

“Yesterday in marking World AIDS Day, Government of Saskatchewan social media pages used a photo that stigmatized HIV/AIDS and those that live with the disease,” said the statement.

“The photo has been deleted, and we unreservedly apologize.”

Merriman said he did not approve the post. It was shared by an official within the Ministry of Health. 

“I will be speaking with [Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO] Scott Livingstone later on this afternoon to see what processes he has in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” 

Saskatchewan has the highest rate of HIV transmission in Canada. 

The most common risk factor for transmission in Saskatchewan is injection drug use, which accounts for 67 per cent of cases. 

In 16 per cent of cases, the primary exposure risk is heterosexual sex. In nine per cent of cases the risk factor was in men who have sex with men. 

Jack Saddleback, the interim co-director of Out Saskatoon, said the posts reflected poorly on the government’s understanding of the issue.  

“This is an archaic viewpoint, an outdated one … and quite honestly a homophobic kind of mentality when it comes to how we view HIV and AIDS,” said Saddleback. 

He said the province should focus its efforts on reducing HIV rates on harm reduction. 

Prairie Harm Reduction executive director Jason Mercredi says the government’s social media post was ‘tone deaf.’ (Chelsea Laskowski/CBC)

Prairie Harm Reduction, formerly known as AIDS Saskatoon, requested $1.3 million from the provincial government to support its safe injection site, which opened this year in Saskatoon, but did not receive the funding. 

Executive director Jason Mercredi said the World AIDS Day post was “tone deaf” and fails to recognize good work that has been done in Saskatchewan toward reducing the HIV rate. 

“It just further reiterates that the government’s not taking addictions at the same level of seriousness as other issues,” said Mercredi. 

“And it’s not getting the right attention. Harm reduction messaging should have been at the forefront of any World AIDS Day messaging in Saskatchewan.”

Indigenous rates higher in Sask.

Statistics on HIV in Saskatchewan also show that Indigenous people account for 79 per cent of new cases. 

Margaret Kisikaw Piyesis, CEO for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, said solutions from within the Indigenous community are needed to address the high rates of HIV in this province. 

She plans to bring up the social media post at an upcoming meeting with provincial officials. 

“This really reflects the fact that the government doesn’t care about what is happening here in this province,” said Kisikaw Piyesis. 

“The government has not addressed this in ways that would help Indigenous people to look at solutions for what we are seeing in our communities.”

She said grassroots organizations are not receiving enough funding to provide support for people with HIV and AIDS, and that Indigenous people are less likely to seek help from provincial authorities due to systemic racism. 

New diagnoses of HIV in Saskatchewan jumped 27 per cent in 2019, to 213 cases, up from 168 in 2018. Early data shows at least 118 newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2020.

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Britney Spears calls recent documentaries about her ‘hypocritical’



LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Pop singer Britney Spears spoke out on Tuesday about recent documentaries about her life and career, calling them “hypocritical” because they rehash her personal problems while criticizing the media for reporting them the first time.

Walt Disney Co’s FX network and The New York Times released “Framing Britney Spears” in February. The documentary examined the singer’s meteoric rise to fame as a teenager, the ensuing media scrutiny and her widely publicized breakdown.And this month, the BBC released “The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship” in Britain. It will debut in the United States and Canada starting May 11 via the BBC Select streaming service.

In an Instagram post, Spears did not name either documentary but said “so many documentaries about me this year with other people’s takes on my life.”

“These documentaries are so hypocritical … they criticize the media and then do the same thing,” she added.

In March, Spears said she cried for two weeks after watching part of “Framing Britney Spears”.

The BBC said in a statement on Tuesday that its documentary “explores the complexities surrounding conservatorship with care and sensitivity.”

“It does not take sides and features a wide range of contributors,” the statement added.

A New York Times spokesperson declined to comment.

Spears, who shot to fame in 1998 with the hit “Baby One More Time,” is in a court battle seeking to replace her father as her conservator. He was appointed to the role in 2008 after she was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.

Her fans have shown their support on social media under the hashtags #We’reSorryBritney and #FreeBritney. Spears is scheduled to speak to a Los Angeles court in June.

In her Instagram post, which included a video of herself dancing, Spears said that “although I’ve had some pretty tough times in my life … I’ve had waaaayyyy more amazing times in my life and unfortunately my friends … I think the world is more interested in the negative.”

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Grammy organizers change rules after allegations of corruption



LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The organizers of music’s Grammy Awards on Friday announced an end to the so-called “secret” committees that have led to allegations that the highest honors in the industry are open to rigging.

The Recording Academy said that nominations for the next Grammy Awards in January 2022 will be selected by all of its more than 11,000 voting members, instead of by committees of 15-30 industry experts whose names were not revealed.

The Academy was slammed last year when Canadian artist The Weeknd got zero Grammy nominations, even though his critically acclaimed album “After Hours” was one of the biggest sellers of 2020.

The Weeknd, in a Twitter post last November, said “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.”

The Recording Academy said in a statement on Friday that the changes were significant and were made “to ensure that the Grammy Awards rules and guidelines are transparent and equitable.”

Allegations that the Grammy nominations process is tainted were made in a legal complaint filed in early 2019 by the former chief executive of the Recording Academy, Deborah Dugan.

At the time, the Academy dismissed as “categorically false, misleading and wrong” Dugan’s claims that its members pushed artists they have relationships with. Dugan was later fired.

American pop star Halsey, also shut out of the 2021 Grammys, last year called the nominations process “elusive” and said she was “hoping for more transparency or reform.”

Former One Direction singer Zayn Malik called in March for an end to “secret committees.”

“I’m keeping the pressure on & fighting for transparency & inclusion. We need to make sure we are honoring and celebrating ‘creative excellence’ of ALL,” Malik tweeted hours ahead of the 2021 Grammy Awards ceremony.

The Recording Academy on Friday also said it was adding two new Grammy categories – for best global music performance, and best Latin urban music album – bringing to 86 the total number of Grammy Awards each year.


(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Movie theaters face uncertain future



By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Maryo Mogannam snuck into the Empire theater in San Francisco with his older cousins to watch “Animal House” when he was 14. He watched most of the James Bond movies at the historic art house and took his wife there on some of their first dates.

The cinema, which had been showing movies since the silent film era, served notice in February that it was permanently closing because of the impact of COVID-19. The marquee is now blank, and cardboard and paper cover the box office window.

“It’s kind of like losing a friend,” said Mogannam, now 57, who owns a retail shipping outlet near the theater, which had been renamed the CineArts at the Empire.

As vaccinated Americans emerge from their homes, they also may find their neighborhood theater is not there to greet them.

An eight-cinema chain in New England said it will not reopen. The same fate hit a Houston art house beloved by director Richard Linklater and, in a shock to Hollywood, more than 300 screens run by Los Angeles-based Pacific Theatres. That includes the Cinerama Dome, a landmark that hosted several red-carpet movie premieres.

Following a year of closures, theaters face deferred rent bills plus media companies’ focus on drawing customers to streaming services. Up to one-fourth of the roughly 40,000 screens in the United States could disappear in the next few years, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said.

The National Association of Theatre Owners rejects that estimate, spokesman Patrick Corcoran said, noting that similar dire warnings accompanying the advent of television and the switch to digital screens never came to pass.

Hollywood filmmakers want cinemas to thrive.

“It’s the only place where the art dominates,” said “Avatar” director James Cameron. “When you watch something on streaming, the other people in the room with you are welcome to interject, to pause to go to the bathroom, to text.”

At theaters, “we literally make a pact with ourselves to go and spend two to three hours in a focused enjoyment of the art.”

“For 300 people to laugh and cry at the same time, strangers, not just your family in your house, that’s a very powerful thing,” said Chloe Zhao, Oscar-nominated director of best picture nominee “Nomadland.”

At the Academy Awards on Sunday, the movie industry will “make a case for why cinema matters,” producer Stacey Sher said. While acknowledging the hardship of the pandemic, “we also have to fight for cinema and our love of it and the way it has gotten us through things,” she said.

About 58% of theaters have reopened in the United States and Canada, most restricted to 50% capacity or less. The biggest operators – AMC, Cinemark and Cineworld – make up roughly half the overall market.

Industry leaders project optimism, forecasting a big rebound after restrictions ease and studios unleash new blockbusters.

Coming attractions include a new Bond adventure, the ninth “Fast & Furious” film, a “Top Gun” sequel and several Marvel superhero movies.

“Avatar 2,” Cameron’s follow-up to the highest-grossing film of all time, is set to debut in December 2022. Some box office analysts predict 2022 ticket sales will hit a record.

Supporters point to late March release “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which brought in roughly $48.5 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices over its first five days, even though audiences could stream it on HBO Max.

“That was a big win for the entire industry,” said Rich Daughtridge, president and chief executive of Warehouse Cinemas in Frederick, Maryland.

But near- and long-term challenges loom, particularly for smaller cinemas.

Theaters are negotiating with landlords over back rent. A federal aid program was delayed due to technical problems.

Plus, media companies are bringing movies to homes sooner. Executives say streaming is their priority, pouring billions into programming made to watch in living rooms as they compete with Netflix Inc.

Most at risk are theaters with one or two screens, Wedbush Securities’ Pachter said. He said his best guess is between 5,000 and 10,000 screens could go permanently dark in coming years.

“I think we’ll see a gradual decline in the number of screens,” Pachter said, “just like we’ve seen a gradual decline in the number of mom-and-pop grocery stores and bookstores.”


(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Rollo Ross in Los Angeles, Alicia Powell in New York and Nathan Frandino in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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