DETROIT — Volkswagen of America issued false statements this week saying it would change its brand name to “Voltswagen,” to stress its commitment to electric vehicles, only to reverse course Tuesday and admit that the supposed name change was a joke.
Mark Gillies, a company spokesman, confirmed Tuesday that the statement had been a pre-April Fool’s Day joke after having insisted Monday that the release was legitimate and the name change accurate. The company’s false statement was distributed again Tuesday, saying the brand-name change reflected a shift to more battery-electric vehicles.
Volkswagen’s intentionally fake news release, highly unusual for a major public company, coincides with its efforts to repair its image as it tries to recover from a 2015 scandal in which it cheated on government emissions tests and allowed diesel-powered vehicles to illegally pollute the air.
In that scandal, Volkswagen admitted that about 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide were fitted with the deceptive software. The software reduced nitrogen oxide emissions when the cars were placed on a test machine but allowed higher emissions and improved engine performance during normal driving. The scandal cost Volkswagen $35 billion (30 billion euros) in fines and civil settlements and led to the recall of millions of vehicles.
The company’s fake news release, leaked on Monday and then repeated in a mass email to reporters Tuesday, resulted in articles about the name change in multiple media outlets, including The Associated Press.
In falsely announcing a name change, the company went beyond telling reporters that its news release was legitimate. On Tuesday, the company emailed to reporters a press release that quoted its CEO announcing the fake change:
“We might be changing out our K for a T, but what we aren’t changing is this brand’s commitment to making best-in-class vehicles for drivers and people everywhere,” Scott Keogh, president and CEO of Volkswagen of America, said in the release.
The fake release could land Volkswagen in trouble with U.S. securities regulators because its stock price rose nearly 5% on Tuesday, the day the bogus statement was officially issued. Investors of late have been responding positively to news of companies increasing electric vehicle production, swelling the value of shares of Tesla as well as of some EV startups.
James Cox, who teaches corporate and securities law at Duke University, said the Securities and Exchange Commission should take action to deal with such misinformation, which can distort stock prices.
“The whole market has gone crazy,” Cox said. “We need to throw a pretty clear line in the sand, I believe, about what is permissible and what isn’t permissible.”
This week’s Volkswagen incident bears some similarity to one in 2018 in which Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he had the funding secured to take the company private — a comment that drove up the stock price, Cox noted. Later, it was revealed that the funding had not been lined up. Musk and Tesla each agreed to pay $20 million in penalties to the SEC.
Erik Gordon, a business and law professor at the University of Michigan, said he thought that for the SEC to be interested, it would have to believe that VW knowingly issued the fake news release to manipulate its stock price.
“I don’t think the SEC is going to see this as stock price manipulation any more than when General Motors or Ford or Toyota or anybody talks about their (electric vehicle) future,” Gordon said. “It is incredibly stupid, but if being stupid were illegal, a third of the CEOs in the U.S. would be in jail.”
A message was left Tuesday seeking a comment from the SEC.
Late Tuesday, VW issued a statement confirming that it won’t be changing its brand name to “Voltswagen.”
“The renaming was designed to be an announcement in the spirit of April Fool’s Day,” the company said.
Tim Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University, said April Fool’s jokes are common in marketing. But he said it’s rare for a company to deliberately mislead reporters.
“The problem is that in the short run, you can fool people, and it seems cute and entertaining,” Calkins said. “But in the long run, you really do need positive and good relations with the media. For a company that already has credibility problems, this is really a strange move.”
Calkins said that while the incident might not hurt VW with consumers, the company needs good relations with reporters to build its brand image over time.
Tom Krisher, The Associated Press
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)
Applications open for Pattison Media 2021 Prairie Equity Scholarship – Lethbridge News Now
(Lethbridge News Now)
Apr 19, 2021 12:01 PM
LETHBRIDGE, AB – Applications are now being accepted for Pattison Media’s 2021 Prairie Equity Scholarship competition.
The scholarship is aimed at broadcast and digital media students in the Prairie provinces who are part of under-represented groups.
Two awards of $2,000 will be made to residents of Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba who in 2021 are attending or planning to attend a recognized broadcast or digital media program at a post-secondary institute in one of the three provinces.
‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ Tops Box Office Again, Crosses $80 Million in the U.S.
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada will set aside C$12 billion ($9.6 billion) to extend its main pandemic support measures in a budget to be presented on Monday, the Toronto Star reported, as much of the country battles a virulent third wave of COVID-19 infections.
The emergency wage subsidy and the emergency rent subsidy, due to expire in June, will be extended to the end of September, the Star reported on Sunday.
Separately, the government will create the “Canada Recovery Hiring Program” in June meant to help those companies depending on the wage subsidy to pivot to hiring again, the newspaper said.
The Finance Ministry declined to confirm or comment on the report. However, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp on Sunday that government pandemic supports would continue for as long as needed.
“If Canadians need that support and the pandemic continues, the government will certainly have their backs,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson also confirmed that the budget would be “ambitious” and that the government would “invest for jobs and growth to rebuild this economy,” though he also said there would be “fiscal guardrails” to put spending on a “sustainable track”.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will present the country’s first budget in two years on Monday after promising in November up to C$100 billion in stimulus over three years to “jump-start” an economic recovery during what is likely to be an election year.
Canada has been ramping up its vaccination campaign but still has a smaller percentage of its population inoculated than dozens of other countries, including the United States and Britain.
Amid a spiking third wave of infections, Ontario, Canada‘s most populous province, announced new public health restrictions on Friday, including closing the province’s borders to domestic travelers.
($1 = 1.2501 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, Editing by Nick Zieminski)
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