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Zoos turn to social media to raise money amid virus

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Fernando, the two-toed sloth, reaches out for a red rose to eat inside his habitat at the Phoenix Zoo Monday, April 27, 2020, in Phoenix. The pandemic has jeopardized zoos around the world that have been forced to close but rely on ticket sales. The struggle has some zoos turning to social media to engage with people who can no longer visit and raise some much-needed cash.
Image Credit: (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

May 04, 2020 – 9:00 PM

PHOENIX – The Phoenix Zoo, struggling like others worldwide during coronavirus closures, has found an unlikely saviour in a sloth.

While Fernando may be a slow mover offline, the 4-year-old Linne’s two-toed sloth has risen rapidly on the internet. Since Fernando joined Cameo, a video-sharing platform where people pay for celebrity shoutouts, the zoo has received 150 requests for a personalized clip. His popularity let the zoo boost his fee from $25 to $50.

“I think we’ve gotten more creative, kind of thinking a little bit outside the box. We’re trying things we never have before,” said Bert Castro, Phoenix Zoo’s president and CEO.

Social media is one way zoos worldwide are engaging with people who can no longer visit — their main source of income — and raise some much-needed cash. Zoos and aquariums have brought adorable distraction by posting photos and videos of animals, but the closures mean they’re still in jeopardy. While a smattering of zoos, from Utah to Germany, have started reopening with social distancing rules, there’s no telling when they will reach their usual levels of visitors and revenue.

Besides jobs, the well-being of the animals is at stake.

“They can’t just send their employees home and turn off the lights and lock the doors. They have to care for animals,” said Dan Ashe, president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The association’s 220 U.S. zoos and aquariums, which typically host a combined 200 million people annually, all closed, Ashe said. A recent survey showed more than 60% have laid off or furloughed employees.

About 60% of its members have applied for loans through the federal coronavirus relief package intended to limit layoffs at small businesses and nonprofits.

The Phoenix Zoo, a $1 million-a-month operation, has been losing $80,000 a day since shuttering March 18, Castro said. The facility in the nation’s fifth-largest city has been approved for $2.7 million in loans under the federal program and has raised hundreds of thousands online for its 3,000 animals.

Castro believes behind-the-scenes Facebook Live videos make people feel more connected to the zoo. In the past month, viewership has spiked 350%, and its Instagram following is growing. Fernando’s Cameo appearances may be a tiny boost, but “it’s so popular we’ll continue it for as long as we can,” Castro said.

The Oakland Zoo in the San Francisco Bay Area recently brought back more than 200 full-time employees — at least until June — after getting loans under the federal program. It also started an online subscription program offering daily behind-the-scenes videos with animals and zookeepers. It’s $14.95 a month; $9.95 for zoo members.

“Our objective is to just make it to the point where they allow us to reopen for business and the people can come and enjoy the animals,” zoo president Joel Parrott said.

The Toronto Zoo is live-streaming moments like weigh-ins of red pandas, drawing tens of thousands of new social media followers, spokeswoman Amanda Chambers said. The strategy also helps spotlight lesser known animals.

“It’s the opportunity to highlight species that often don’t get high-profiled,” CEO Dolf DeJong said. “For us, it’s being able to talk about Blanding’s turtles, an endangered species from our community that we’re breeding.”

California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium is captivating people by live-streaming African penguins and sharks. It also created YouTube “MeditOceans” videos for meditating to sights and sounds of ocean creatures. Divers jazzed up their kelp forest maintenance routine with a dance to the Sugarhill Gang’s “Jump On It” in a popular video.

The financial scramble is reverberating for zoos worldwide.

Bioparque Estrella, a safari theme park outside Mexico City, is hoping to get by with enough funding until a tentative reopening this month. It’s been using social media primarily to promote reduced-price advance tickets. More than 1,000 tickets have been sold — far below the 10,000 visitors seen at Easter last year.

In Germany, the government is letting zoos reopen with social distancing restrictions. Zoos were trying reduce costs during the closures — the biggest being staff salaries — and some sought public donations, said Volker Homes, head of Germany’s Association of Zoological Gardens.

Recent reports that a cash-strapped German zoo planned to feed some animals to others sparked outrage. But Homes said last month that there’s no reason to fear for any animal’s safety.

In Poland, where zoos have been closed since mid-March, the lack of income from tickets is threatening their future, and they’re asking people for financial support.

Private-owned zoos are in especially dire straits. The popular Zoo Safari in central Poland, known for breeding rare white lions and tigers, lost most of its income overnight. It’s offering advance ticket vouchers for the 2020 and 2021 seasons to help fund care for its 600 animals. It also launched a crowdfunding page.

The ZSL London Zoo has used social media to promote itself and front-line workers. It’s near several hospitals and has let medical employees use its parking lot, where many glimpse giraffes Maggie and Molly through the fence during lunch breaks, according to the zoo’s Facebook page. It’s shared photos and videos of the giraffes in front of a sign honouring medical workers.

— Associated Press writers Terry Chea in Oakland, California, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland contributed to this report.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020

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iPolitics AM: Weekend protests likely to come up during PM's daily media update, special committee session – iPolitics.ca

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ALSO TODAY: Singh to hold pre-sitting press conference — Amnesty International, MPs call on Canada to speak out against China’s proposed new national security laws

As previewed in the iPolitics weekly lookahead, the SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC is set to kick off its first full four-day work week with an extended ministerial question period that will include both the small contingent of MPs assembled in the Chamber and those joining the proceedings remotely via webcam. (12 noon)

Barring a last-minute scheduling change, however, the 95-minute session won’t feature an appearance by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

According to his official itinerary, Trudeau will hold his usual mid-morning media availability outside Rideau Cottage, during which he’s virtually guaranteed to field questions on the protests that continued across the United States through the weekend in the wake of the death of George Floyd, as well as an anti-racism march in Montreal that, as Canadian Press reports, “degenerated into clashes between police and some demonstrators on Sunday night.” (11:15 AM)

Also on his to-do list, as per the same advisory: Phone check-ins with his Guatemalan counterpart Alejandro Giammattei and the Sultan of Oman, as well as other “private meetings.”

UPDATE: A hot-off-the-press exclusive from the Star reveals that Trudeau is also expected to unveil “several billion dollars in assistance to help cash-strapped cities whose bottom lines have been battered by the pandemic,” which, according to an unnamed but looped-in senior official, “will be earmarked for infrastructure project.”

Back in the precinct, New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh will likely also have something to say about the ongoing protests when he drops by the West Block press theatre to chat with reporters before heading to the Commons for the special committee meeting. (9:30 AM)

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer will also make himself available to the media this morning. (10 AM)

ON AND AROUND THE HILL

Amnesty International Canada teams up with the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, the Toronto Association for Democracy in China and the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, as well as Sen. Marilou McPhedran and a trio of MPs from the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic caucuses to push for a “strong Canadian response to China’s proposed national security law,” which, as per the notice, should include “anticipation of the potential for a growing number of refugees from Hong Kong seeking Canada’s protection.” (2 PM)

ON THE VIRTUAL COMMITTEE CIRCUIT

INDUSTRY members examine the impact of the pandemic on scientific and medical research during a panel discussion that will include Queen’s University astrophysicist Arthur McDonald and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories CEO Joe McBrearty, as well as senior executives from StarFish Medical, Dynamite Network and Bidali. (11 AM – 1 PM)

HUMAN RESOURCES surveys the leaders of some of Canada’s largest labour groups, including Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff, Unifor president Jerry Dias and United Steelworkers national director Ken Neumann. ( 2 – 4 PM)

Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada distinguished fellow Stephen R. Nagy offers his perspective on Canada’s response to the pandemic during a one-hour appearance at GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS. (2 – 3 PM)

FISHERIES AND OCEANS members hold their first virtual organizational session, which is also the first time the committee has gotten together since March. (11 AM – 1 PM)

Due to the ongoing parliamentary shutdown, most House and Senate committee meetings are suspended until regular sittings resume.

FRESH FROM iPOLITICS

FEATURED OPINION

Sen. Tony Dean: Three Senators switch seats as Senate reform accelerates

HOT OFF THE WIRES

Committee highlights courtesy of our friends at iPoliticsINTEL.

Don’t miss today’s complete legislative brief in GovGuide.ca!

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Trump's social media regulation push faces key hurdle at the FCC – National Post

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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump’s effort to regulate social media companies’ content decisions may face an uphill battle from regulators who have previously said they cannot oversee the conduct of internet firms.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai did not endorse Trump’s proposal on Thursday but said in a written statement “this debate is an important one” and added the FCC “will carefully review any petition for rulemaking.”

In August 2018, Pai said he hoped social media companies would embrace free speech but did not see a role for the FCC to regulate websites like Facebook, Alphabet’s Google and Twitter.

“They are not going to be regulated in terms of free speech,” Pai said at a forum. “The government is not here to regulate these platforms. We don’t have the power to do that.”

Another Republican on the five-member commission, Mike O’Rielly, expressed mixed feelings.

“As a conservative, I’m troubled voices are stifled by liberal tech leaders. At same time, I’m extremely dedicated to the First Amendment which governs much here,” O’Rielly wrote on Twitter.

Trump signed an executive order Thursday directing the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to petition the FCC to write rules clarifying social media companies’ legal protections under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

Former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, a Republican, wrote on Twitter that the review is “based on political #speech management of platforms. So many wobbly parts to this govt ‘nudge.’ I don’t see how it survives.”

Another barrier is timing. The FCC will spend at least a few months reviewing and likely seeking public comment before potentially drafting proposed regulations. It could take a year or longer to finalize any rules, long after the November presidential election.

Section 230 protects internet companies from liability for illegal content posted by users and allows them to remove lawful but objectionable posts.

Trump wants the FCC to “expeditiously propose regulations” to determine what constitutes “good faith” by firms in removing some content. He also wants Congress to repeal the Section 230 protections.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican, said he expects the commission will seek public comment on the forthcoming NTIA petition to provide clarity on what “good faith conduct” by companies means and draw a line between permissible and improper behavior.

“When a final decision is reached, my hope and expectation is that it will provide clarity about that line,” Carr said.

Twitter called Trump’s executive order “a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law…. Attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and Internet freedoms.”

Alexandra Givens, chief executive of the Center for Democracy & Technology, said the order “not only violates the Constitution, it ignores 20 years of well-established law. The Executive Order is designed to deter social media companies from fighting misinformation, voter suppression, and the stoking of violence on their services.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, suggested turning the FCC “into the president’s speech police is not the answer. It’s time for Washington to speak up for the First Amendment.” (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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In China, U.S. protests a hot topic on state, social media – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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By Huizhong Wu

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese state media is giving extensive coverage to violent protests roiling cities across the United States, while the unrest has also featured widely in Chinese social media.

The death of George Floyd, a 46-year old black man, while in police custody last week has sparked demonstrations and unrest across the politically and racially divided country.

China’s state-run CCTV aired parts of an interview that his brother, Philonise Floyd, gave to U.S. news channel MSNBC in its noon broadcast on Monday, where he said U.S. President Donald Trump did not give him the opportunity to speak during a phone call and where he cried at the mention of his brother.

While the unrest in U.S. cities has been widely reported by international media, China’s interest comes at a time when relations between the two are particularly strained.

CCTV featured reports from one of its reporters running with protesters in Minnesota, as well as short videos shot by Americans depicting police violence against protesters.

On China’s social media platform Weibo, at least five news items on the protests were among the top 20 trending topics by midday, led by reports Trump had been temporarily taken to a bunker as protesters surrounded the White House.

On Twitter, the protests also featured widely among the top 20 trending items, with the hashtag #BunkerBoy at a prominent second place.

For some analysts, the Chinese media coverage of the protests echoed their reporting on the coronavirus situation in the United States.

“The number one thing they want to show is that the Communist Party is doing a better job in terms of fighting the coronavirus and managing society,” said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

“That’s the main message: the U.S. is not doing good.”

Some Chinese media have made comparisons between the U.S. protests and those in Hong Kong, the latest flashpoint in U.S.-China tensions. Trump has begun the process of eliminating special U.S. treatment for Hong Kong to punish Beijing’s decision to impose new national security laws on the territory.

The state-run China Daily posted a political cartoon showing a coronavirus patient saying “I can’t breathe” – the dying words of Floyd – as a figure resembling Trump walks away after cutting the line to an oxygen tank labelled “WHO”.

That was a reference to his decision to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization on Friday.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying wrote on Twitter on Saturday “I can’t breathe” in response to a tweet from U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus criticising China’s actions in Hong Kong.

(Reporting by Huizhong Wu; Editing by Tony Munroe and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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