Tag Archives: media

Marketplace flagged over 800 social media posts with COVID-19 misinformation. Only a fraction were removed

The world’s social media giants promised to crack down on harmful COVID-19 misinformation that has proliferated since the pandemic began, but a CBC Marketplace investigation found that when problematic posts were flagged, most weren’t labelled or removed. 

Marketplace producers, between Feb. 3 and Feb. 16, combed through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter — using the user tool to flag and report more than 800 posts that breach each company’s policies that cover, among other things, posting misinformation.

The result: 12 per cent of the posts were labelled with warnings or taken down entirely. That number jumped to 53 per cent per cent only after Marketplace journalists identified themselves and shared the findings directly with the companies.

WATCH | Full Marketplace report on COVID-19 misinformation:

Inside one of the world’s most dangerous Covid-19 conspiracy movements; Canada’s food labels fail to disclose added sugar content which makes some packaged foods appear healthier than they are. 22:30

“Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have become the primary superspreaders of misinformation in our world,” said Imran Ahmed, founder of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a non-profit based out of Washington, D.C., which Marketplace collaborated with on this project. “That is a shocking failure to act on misinformation that was handed to them on a silver platter.”

This post, presented as a study, claims ‘masks provide no benefit’ and ‘vaccines are inherently dangerous.’ It was one of the few posts that was taken down shortly after Marketplace reported it. (CBC)

Of the 832 posts Marketplace flagged, 391 came from Facebook, 166 from Instagram, 173 from Twitter and 102 from YouTube. The posts had a combined 1.5 million likes and 120,000 comments and covered a range of COVID-19-related topics, but generally circled back to a few central themes: vaccines are dangerous, COVID-19 isn’t and don’t trust authorities. 

Partly fuelled by social media, partly fuelled by the COVID-19 conspiracy movement’s effective persuasion tactics, misinformation has contributed to anti-lockdown sentiment, COVID-19 denial and vaccine hesitancy, said Ahmed.

Ahmed says companies such as Facebook are motivated to keep users sharing more content, not less. The more you scroll and the more users consume, the more these companies make from advertisements, which is where most of their revenue is generated, he said.

Imran Ahmed, the founder of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, says social media companies have become the primary superspreaders of misinformation online. (Jason Burles/CBC)

‘Incredibly dangerous’

Marketplace was interested in seeing if the social media giants had made improvements since a 2020 CCDH study, which found the companies only acted on five per cent of misinformation it reported. The CCDH cross-referenced and analyzed CBC’s data to ensure problem posts did breach company policies for FacebookInstagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, took action on about 18 per cent of the posts flagged on both platforms. That number jumped to about 67 per cent after Marketplace shared its findings. 

One of the posts that is still up on Facebook weeks later shows a picture of Bill Gates with the headline: “New vaccine causes sterility in 97% of women!” There is no evidence that links coronavirus vaccines to sterility.

As of March 29, this post remains on Facebook, even though Marketplace reported it and subsequently shared the findings with the company. (CBC)

Another post shows a homeopathic product, which purportedly “enhanced immunity” against COVID-19 and promised “reduced frequency and shorter duration of symptoms.” It sells for $ 49.99 US.

There are no homeopathic remedies that can cure or alleviate COVID-19 symptoms.

“Completely ridiculous and a little bit infuriating,” Timothy Caulfield, a health law and policy expert at the University of Alberta, said after he was shown the post. “Homeopathic is an easy one because it’s completely scientifically implausible. That one is so clearly wrong and harmful it should be taken down immediately.”

This homeopathic remedy, which purports to prevent COVID-19 symptoms, was flagged but remains on Facebook. There are no homeopathic remedies that can cure COVID-19. (CBC)

Caulfield says self-reporting tools on social media must lead to action otherwise people will stop using them, but understands the difficulty of monitoring platforms that have billions of users.

“The numbers of messages that have to be evaluated are just huge so I think that is one of the great challenges of social media: how can you meaningfully monitor all of these posts, but we know we need to,” said Caulfield. “The challenge is there but the harm is real.”

Over the course of Marketplace‘s test, Facebook did take down a number of prominent accounts on its platforms, including Robert Kennedy Jr.’s Instagram account, which had close to a million followers — the result of a new policy in February that outright prohibited the posting of any anti-vaccination or COVID misinformation. RFK Jr.’s Facebook account, and the Facebook and Instagram accounts of his group, Children’s Health Defense — with a combined following of close to 700,000 — are still up.

The company disputed that some of the posts Marketplace flagged violated its protocols, and said in an emailed statement that it had “removed millions of pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram that violate our COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation policies — including two million since February alone.”

YouTube, Twitter performed worst

Of the four platforms Marketplace tested, Twitter and YouTube took the least action.

Twitter initially left up all but two of the 173 posts Marketplace reported — including one by a prominent anti-vaccination leader that called the COVID-19 vaccine a “military-grade, deadly bio-weapon.” The post yielded more than 2,100 likes and 1,400 retweets. 

This Twitter post claims the COVID-19 vaccine is a ‘military-grade, deadly bio-weapon.’ Marketplace reported it but it still remained online as of March 28. (CBC)

While Twitter has since removed 18 per cent of the posts Marketplace reported, the company would not say why it initially left up the majority of flagged posts and said it doesn’t “directly comment on third-party studies.” It pointed to its updated policies, which include a five-strike system for users that would lead to an account deletion.

YouTube didn’t take down any of the flagged videos until Marketplace shared its findings. After that, it took down 34 per cent of the reported videos.

But many still remain — including one from a known conspiracist telling his audience that people are sending him information “telling me causes of [COVID] death have been altered.” He said he is also receiving information about, “hospitals that are completely dead, nothing happening in there,” referencing a viral trend early in the pandemic where people would record videos of empty hospitals to try to back up their claims that COVID-19 wasn’t real.

The video has over 700,000 views.

This video showing a prominent conspiracist talking about COVID-19-related deaths being altered is still up online, despite Marketplace reporting the video. (CBC)

YouTube said in a statement that only some of the videos Marketplace reported violated its policies, and said that since February 2020, it had “removed more than 800,000 videos for violations of our COVID-19 misinformation policies.”

Ahmed says CBC’s results suggest YouTube, Twitter and Facebook may not be paying as close attention to misinformation until news organizations or legislators put them under the microscope. 

“What’s really great about this study is that this tells us what they’re doing when they think no one is watching.”

  • Watch full episodes of Marketplace on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.

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CBC | Health News

How U.S. media lost the trust of the public

A global pandemic, historic anti-racism protests and a turbulent U.S. presidential election had Americans glued to their screens in 2020 like never before. Cable news ratings soared, online news subscriptions increased and the amount of time we all spent online broke records.

But as people consumed more news, they also began to trust the media less, surveys showed. According to a recent Gallup survey, the percentage of Americans with no trust in the mass media hit a record high in 2020: only nine per cent of respondents said they trust the mass media “a great deal” and a full 60 per cent said they have little to “no trust at all” in it.

The American media landscape has become increasingly polarized over the last few decades. 

A Pew survey suggests 95 per cent of MSNBC’s audience are now Democrats while 93 per cent of the Fox News audience are Republicans. A similar trend is unfolding online. 

“There’s a constant selection process that’s going on, that Silicon Valley is encouraging and accelerating,” said U.S. journalist and author Matt Taibbi in the new CBC documentary Big News. “If you read the Daily Caller, you are not going to read the New York Times and vice versa.” 

Meanwhile, the media’s traditional sources of revenue have been uprooted. More than 16,000 news jobs were cut in the U.S. last year alone, the highest on record. 

“Profitability is disappearing. Losses are growing. And budgets are tighter and tighter,” said conservative commentator and author Andrew Sullivan. “And the truth is … polarization is profitable.” 

WATCH | Matt Taibbi and other media critics on the loss of trust in media:

Journalist Matt Taibbi and others reflect on the loss of trust in the U.S. news media and the parallel rise in ratings. 1:47

Online metrics also show that the best way to get people to engage and spread content is to inflame their emotions, said Taibbi, who wrote the book Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another

CBC’s Big News, which was released March 26 on CBC Gem, examines some of these issues in depth by interviewing media insiders and critics who dig into the ratings wars, public mistrust, the Trump effect, the politicization of the anti-racism protests and the pandemic, and the weaponization of social media. Coming off a record-breaking news year, the documentary asks, can the U.S. media be saved from itself?

Watch some highlights below:

Capitol Hill riots expose trust crisis in the U.S. 

Every year, the public affairs company Edelman releases a trust barometer that measures perceived trust in the information we consume and its sources. This year’s report paints a particularly bleak picture.

“This is the era of information bankruptcy,” said CEO Richard Edelman in a statement. “We’ve been lied to by those in charge, and media sources are seen as politicized and biased. The result is a lack of quality information and increased divisiveness.”

“Fifty-seven percent of Americans find the political and ideological polarization so extreme that they believe the U.S. is in the midst of a cold civil war.”

Some of the experts interviewed for the documentary said that polarization and the increasing alienation from mainstream media among parts of the American population contributed to the convictions that drove the deadly Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill.  

“Jan. 6 was the logical result of the profound disparity between the elites and a lot of people who had been profoundly misinformed,” Sullivan told the CBC.

WATCH | MSNBC host Ali Velshi and others on media polarization and the Capitol riot:

MSNBC host Ali Velshi and others analyze how the U.S. media landscape contributed to the events at the Capitol on Jan 6, 2021. 2:26

How cable news became polarized in the U.S.

Until the 1990s, American broadcast news was focused on gaining the largest possible audience with the least objectionable content, Taibbi says in the documentary. 

“It was oblivious in all sorts of ways to poverty, to race, to issues of sexual orientation, to America’s role in the world, but it knit together a common understanding. And that common understanding drove politics,” Lawrence Lessig, lawyer and author of They Don’t Represent Us, told CBC.

By the early 2000s, as competition increased and regulations softened, that profit model began to change and media outlets began targeting specific demographics.

WATCH | How did media become so polarized? Experts offer their take:

Lawrence Lessig, Sue Gardner and others explain how and why American broadcast news became increasingly polarized. 7:50

Journalists increasingly seen as ‘out of touch’

According to a 2019 Pew survey, 73 percent of Republicans say news media don’t understand people like them, and 40 percent of Democrats feel the same way.

Local news has been particularly hard-hit by recent job cuts, which means journalists are now increasingly congregated in big urban cities, such as New York, Washington and Los Angeles.  

“Those cities are expensive, and so you have to be wealthy to be a journalist, which didn’t used to be true,” said Sue Gardner, former director of the Wikimedia Foundation and CBC.ca. 

“People don’t know journalists anymore unless they themselves are also part of the wealthy elites, so all of that creates more distance.”

Former Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson grew up and worked in the Midwest for decades before becoming a Fox News host in the early 2000s. “There are a lot of people who feel like their voice isn’t being heard,” she told CBC.

WATCH | How journalists lost touch with their audiences:

Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson and others dig into the divide between journalists and their audiences. 1:39

Global pandemic another test of media credibility

The coronavirus pandemic was another event that polarized Americans, and the media played a part in that, those who spoke with CBC for the Big News documentary said.

One example, says New York Times health reporter Apoorva Mandavill, was the shifting and increasingly politicized coverage of the mask debate.

“I think that as journalists, we were disoriented at the beginning, and we probably didn’t ask quite as many tough questions, like, ‘Why wouldn’t masks work?” Mandavilli said.  

“It really did feed into this idea that we cannot trust anybody.”

According to a University of Michigan analysis, COVID-19 stories in American newspapers and network news were highly politicized and polarized.

“It is likely that media coverage is contributing to the polarization of public attitudes [around COVID-19],” the study concluded.

WATCH | Why even coverage of the pandemic became polarized:

How the American news media’s coverage of the COVID-19 crisis put people’s faith in media and experts to the test. 5:14

Watch the full documentaryon CBC Gem

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CBC | World News

Myanmar official dies in custody as junta cracks down on media

An official from deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) died in custody after he was arrested early on Tuesday — the second party figure to die in detention in two days — as security forces broke up street protests against the military junta.

Police also cracked down on independent media, raiding the offices of two news outlets and detaining two journalists.

Myanmar has been in crisis since the army ousted Suu Kyi’s elected government in a coup on Feb. 1, detained her and other NLD officials, and set up a ruling junta of generals.

The NLD’s Zaw Myat Linn died in custody on Tuesday after he was arrested in Yangon around 1:30 a.m. local time, said Ba Myo Thein, a member of the dissolved upper house of parliament.

“He’s been participating continuously in the protests,” Ba Myo Thein said. The cause of death was not clear.

A protester gets Coca-Cola poured on his face in an attempt to diminish the effects of tear gas during a demonstration in Yangon. (AFP/Getty Images)

In a Facebook live broadcast before he was detained, Zaw Myat Linn urged people to continue fighting the army, “even if it costs our lives.”

“Their power must never last,” he said.

Neither the military nor the police responded to calls for comment.

Tear gas, stun grenades used to disperse protesters

Zaw Myat Linn is the second NLD official to have died in custody in the last two days. Khin Maung Latt, who had worked as a campaign manager for an NLD MP elected in 2020, died after he was arrested on Saturday night.

More than 1,900 people have been arrested across the country since the coup, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.

Police broke up scattered demonstrations in Yangon — the former capital and still the commercial hub — and other towns across Myanmar with tear gas and stun grenades on Tuesday.

This still image from social media video shows anti-coup demonstrators in Loikaw, Myanmar, fleeing tear gas. (Mizzima Burmese/Reuters)

As night fell, soldiers fired weapons in different districts of the coastal town of Dawei, while at least two people were wounded earlier in the day, one by a gunshot, in the town of Mohnyin in the north, local media said.

Witnesses said two journalists from Kamayut, an independent media company, were arrested, while the military raided the offices of Mizzima News in Yangon.

Live footage posted to social media also showed a raid after nightfall on the offices of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB).

A day earlier, the junta stripped Mizzima, DVB, and three other outlets of their licences. They had all been active in covering protests against the coup.

At least 35 journalists have been arrested since the Feb. 1 coup, Myanmar Now reported, of which 19 have been released.

The U.S State Department said it “strongly condemned the junta for the … violent crackdowns on those peacefully taking to the streets and on those who are just doing their jobs, including independent journalists who have been swept up.”

Daily protests against the coup are being staged across the country and security forces have cracked down harshly. More than 60 protesters have been killed and more than 1,800 detained, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an advocacy group, has said.

Ambassador to U.K. recalled

International powers have condemned the takeover, which derailed a slow transition to democracy in a country that has been ruled by the military for long periods since independence from Britain in 1947.

The army has justified the coup by saying that a November election won by the NLD was marred by fraud — a claim rejected by the electoral commission. It has promised a new election, but has not said when that might be held.

The junta said on Tuesday it was recalling its ambassador to the United Kingdom a day after he urged them in a statement to release Suu Kyi, state media reported.

Anti-coup demonstrators in Yangon spray fire extinguishers over a barricade. (Reuters)

The MRTV news channel said Kyaw Swar Min, one of several ambassadors to publicly break from the military line, had released the statement without following orders.

The military has brushed off condemnation of its actions, as it has in past periods of army rule when outbreaks of protest were bloodily repressed.

It is also under pressure from a civil disobedience movement that has crippled government business and from strikes at banks, factories and shops that have shut much of Yangon this week.

The European Union is preparing to widen its sanctions to target army-run businesses, according to diplomats and two internal documents seen by Reuters.

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CBC | World News

Former FC Barcelona officials detained after raid on soccer club, Spanish media report

Catalan police detained several people after raiding Barcelona’s stadium on Monday in a search and seize operation, adding to the club’s turmoil less than a week before it elects a new president.

The operation was related to last year’s “Barcagate,” in which club officials were accused of launching a smear campaign against current and former players who were critical of the club and then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Police said detentions were made but did not say who or how many people were taken into custody. Spanish media said Bartomeu and other former club officials were among those detained.

Authorities spent several hours at the team’s headquarters searching documents and talking to employees.

The club, mired in debt of more than 1.1 billion euros ($ 1.68 billion Cdn), said it offered “full collaboration to the legal and police authorities to help make clear facts which are subject to investigation.”

It added the case was related “to the contacting of monitoring services on social networks.”

“The information and documentation requested by the judicial police force relate strictly to the facts relative to this case. FC Barcelona (expresses) its utmost respect for the judicial process in place and for the principle of presumed innocence for the people affected within the remit of this investigation,” the club said.

The club did not mention Bartomeu.  A text message sent to Bartomeu was not immediately answered.

Key former officials detained

One of the three presidential candidates, Joan Laporta, told Lleida Radio that what happened on Monday “was a consequence of the bad management by the previous administration.”

He said news of Bartomeu’s reported detention was “shocking” and “not good” for the club, but said the former president deserved the “presumption of innocence.”

Laporta was Barcelona’s president a decade ago and, like Bartomeu, also faced a no-confidence vote during his time in charge.

Among those reportedly detained were club CEO Oscar Grau and legal department chief Roman Gomez Ponti. Jaume Masferrer, Bartomeu’s former chief of staff, also was allegedly detained.

Police say several people were detained but did not say who or how many were taken into custody. (AP/Joan Monfort)

They were taken to a police station for interrogation, Spanish media said, and police also went to Bartomeu’s house searching for evidence. 

Court officials said a judge ordered the search and seize operation but the detentions were made at the discretion of the police agents involved. Authorities said the operation was being carried out by the police’s financial crimes department.

A period of struggles

Barcelona has denied accusations that it hired – and overpaid – a company to make negative comments about its own players and opponents on social media in order to boost the image of senior club officials.

The company was accused of using fake social media accounts to discredit opposition figures when they expressed views that went against the club. Some of the figures were reported to have included players such Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique, as well as former coach Pep Guardiola.

The club later released an independent audit report showing that there was no wrongdoing.

Bartomeu and his board of directors resigned last year amid fallout from the controversy surrounding Messi. The club has been mired in political turmoil and debt prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The club has been managed by a caretaker board since Bartomeu left in October while facing a no-confidence motion supported by thousands of club members furious at the team’s poor performances and the club’s financial situation.

The club’s struggles began to surface after the team’s embarrassing 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League last season, which was the first without a title for the Spanish club since the 2007/08 season.

Bartomeu was loudly criticized by Messi, especially after the former president denied the player’s request to leave the club at the end of last season. Messi’s contract ends this season and the Argentine great has yet to say whether he will stay or go.

Barcelona is five points off the Spanish league lead. It lost at home to Paris Saint-Germain 4-1 in the first leg of the round of 16 of the Champions League and was beaten by Sevilla 2-0 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals.

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CBC | Soccer News

Media, protesters caught in Hungary and Poland’s slow squeeze

Dozens of newspapers, TV stations and websites blank or black: this was what the national strike of private media in Poland protesting a sudden and crippling government tax on advertising looked like on Feb. 10.

In Hungary the same week, an opposition radio station was ordered by a court to turn off its microphones this coming Monday.

This is the politics of the slow squeeze in Central Europe. It’s a strategy designed by two men, the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, and the vice-premier and de facto leader of Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Their countries, both former members of the Soviet bloc, belong to the European Union, and profit from it, but their ideas on democracy and the rule of law, principles their countries agreed to uphold when joining in 2004, are far from those endorsed by EU leaders in Brussels.

‘A 21st-century Christian democracy’

For Hungary’s Orban, democracy of the liberal kind is a dirty word. He has, instead, vowed to build an “illiberal state.”

“We have replaced a shipwrecked liberal democracy with a 21st-century Christian democracy, which guarantees people’s freedom and security,” Orban proclaimed to the Hungarian parliament in May 2018.

A year later, he told a summit of students and policy makers that “the essence of illiberal democracy is Christian liberty and the protection of Christian liberty.”

“Our task will be to turn against liberal internationalism,” he said.

Orbán speaks to the media as he arrives at EU headquarters in Brussels on Dec. 10, 2020. Earlier this month, a Hungarian court ordered the closure of one of Klubrádió, one of the last remaining independent radio stations in the country. (John Thys/AFP via Getty Images)

Kaczynski is a devout Catholic but above all a devout Pole. 

Late last year, the biggest chain of regional dailies and weeklies in Poland, with a reach of 17 million readers, was bought from a German publishing house by state-controlled petrochemical company PKN Orlen. On Feb. 4, Kaczynski explained that for two decades, the German-owned, or “non-Polish” as he prefers to put it, papers had been “demoralizing” Polish young people.  

His government’s goal was “re-polonization,” and this was a shining example. Others see the deal as a Putin-style approach.

“The consolidation of the state, the oil sector and the media is a well-known manoeuvre in the Russian scenario,” Peter Wolodarski, editor-in-chief of the major Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter and of Polish origin himself, wrote in his paper late last year. 

“This should be an alarm signal for the world.”

‘Media without choice’ read the headlines on the front pages of Poland’s main private newspapers, part of a protest against a proposed media advertising tax that journalists say is politically motivated to consolidate government control over media. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

The politics of resentment

Kaczynski, 72, and Orbán, 57, are believers in nationalism and the politics of resentment. 

Kaczynski’s view is that, in the years after communism crumbled more than 30 years ago, Poland’s liberal democratic leaders betrayed the country’s Christian principles. 

He went on record in 2005 with this apocalyptic prediction: “the affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilization.”

When it won elections that year, his Law and Justice party promised a “moral revolution” to root out corruption and a so-called fourth republic, in league with the Catholic Church. 

Kaczynski, seen in the lower house of parliament in Warsaw last May, is a devout Catholic and has promoted the idea of a ‘moral revolution’ in Poland. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images)

Orban, his country’s longest-serving prime minister, posted on Facebook last year a map of a pre-WWI “Greater Hungary.” The country was on the losing side of the First World War and stripped of about 70 per cent of its territory. Predictably, the post infuriated neighbouring countries. 

Orban’s vision is of a Christian Hungary with no Muslim refugees, or “invaders” as he called them in a 2018 interview.

Both Orban and Kaczynski are nationalists who refuse the dreams of a more federal, multicultural Europe and brook little or no criticism of their vision.

Media feel the squeeze

And so, the strike and the radio station.

The sudden tax on advertising threatens the existence of independent Polish media outlets, their editors said.

“This is simply extortion,” they wrote in an open letter to the government on Feb. 10.

The Polish prime minister defended the tax as “a fair step,” saying the money raised would go toward fighting COVID-19 and would level the playing field between domestic and foreign players and small and big companies.

The editors said that Polish state media, filled with ruling-party loyalists, receive huge subsidies and would likely get more to offset the tax. The independent sector would receive none, they said.

The closure in Hungary of Klubradio is a slight departure from Orban’s previous strategy, which involved government allies buying up critical media. In 2019, Reporters Without Borders said the degree of media control under the Orban government was “unprecedented” among EU member states.

An employee of Klubradio works at the station’s headquarters in Budapest. The station’s licence will expire Sunday after Hungary’s broadcast regulator refused to renew it, a move that Orban critics say was intended to silence opposition to his government. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

In the spring of 2020, a pro-Orban businessman took a 50 per cent stake in the firm that controls the advertising and revenue of Index, Hungary’s biggest news site. The editor-in-chief was soon under fire. Then he was gone. Seventy journalists resigned in protest. And Index is now a tame animal.

Klubradio’s licence, which expires Feb. 14, was not renewed last September by the government broadcasting authority for violating broadcasting rules on “six occasions in the last seven years,” according to the secretary of state for international communication and relations.

The station argued its infractions were minor and similar to those of other broadcasters that had not had their licences revoked.

The government has called allegations that the closure is part of a government crackdown on press freedom “a fiction” and part of the anti-Orbán agenda of the mainstream liberal media.

State TV decries ‘leftist fascism’

In Poland, when the Law and Justice party took power in 2015, its first priority was to fill the top positions in state-financed TV and radio with loyalists. 

The result was on display when tens of thousands of women demonstrated in October 2020 against a court ruling that struck down one of the few remaining exceptions to the near-total restriction on abortions.

The state TV channel TVP displayed a banner saying, “Leftist fascism is destroying Poland” on several occasions during its coverage of the demonstrations and opposition parties’ protests against the abortion law in parliament.  

A screen shot of an Oct. 28, 2020, newscast on the Polish state television channel TVP displaying a banner saying ‘Leftist fascism is destroying Poland’ during the anchor’s lead-in into an item on the demonstrations against a ruling further restricting abortion. (Archiwum Wiadomości/YouTube)

This bitterly contested ruling was the result of the alliance between the government of the majority Catholic country and the Catholic Church. But first, it required compliant judges.

So, soon after coming to power, the government brought in rules lowering the retirement age for judges, then replacing the departing ones with loyalists on the Constitutional Tribunal. They, in turn, handed down the abortion ruling.

A large crowd in Warsaw protests a ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal that struck down one of the few remaining exceptions to abortion restrictions Oct. 30, 2020. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)

Kaczynski’s government, which denies trying to influence the court, proceeds carefully.  After the massive demonstrations, it postponed bringing the abortion law into effect. Then, three months later, in the middle of a cold winter, it activated the ruling.

There were more nights of demonstrations by thousands of women, but there was a sense of frustration.

“This pause between the verdict and its coming into effect is typical of how they proceed,” one demonstrator named Ania told French daily Le Figaro. “They go slowly, and people get tired.” 

It was another example of the slow squeeze.

WATCH Demonstrations across Poland protest new abortion restrictions:

Thousands of people in Poland took to the streets after a new, highly restrictive abortion law came into effect. 0:46

EU intervention comes too late

Orban changed the retirement rules for judges as well, then also packed the courts with loyalists.

He then squeezed Central European University in Budapest, funded by Hungarian-American Jewish financier George Soros, a frequent target of Orban’s and the subject of various conspiracy theories and rhetoric widely decried as anti-Semitic.

The university was forced to move to Vienna after the courts said the university was illegal because it was incorporated in the U.S

The EU has tried to fight back, launching cases in the European Court of Justice and winning them. Hungary’s actions against Soros’s university were ruled illegal under EU law as was its forced early retirement of judges. Poland’s new retirement rules for judges were also deemed unconstitutional.

But the cases took several years. New judges were already in place in Poland and Hungary. The university had moved.

People attend a rally in support of Central European University in Budapest in November 2018. The school was deemed illegal because it was incorporated in the U.S., a ruling that the European Court of Justice later found violated EU law. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

There are, however, worrying signs for both leaders. In Hungary, six opposition parties have united and polls show their coalition neck and neck with Orban’s party, Fidesz.

“Fidesz is gradually dropping, and this is mostly due to the virus’s economic impact and the perception that the government isn’t handling the crisis as well it should,” Tibor Zavecz, head of Zavecz Research, told BNN Bloomberg in December.

In Poland, support for the Law and Justice party has dropped from 47 per cent in May 2020 to 36 per cent in February, according to Politico’s poll of polls. Here, too, the pandemic has hurt.

But Orban doesn’t face an election until 2022 and Kaczynski not until 2023.

Until then, the work of the “moral revolution” in Poland and of “illiberal democracy” in Hungary will go on.

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CBC | World News

Hong Kong court orders media publisher Jimmy Lai back into custody

Hong Kong’s top court has remanded media and publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, the most high-profile person to be charged under the Chinese-ruled city’s national security law, in custody until another bail hearing on Feb. 1.

The Court of Final Appeal’s ruling comes a week after Lai, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy activists who is accused of colluding with foreign forces, was released on $ 1.3 million US bail along with extensive restrictions that included barring him from using social media.

Prosecutors immediately appealed against the bail decision.

Beijing imposed the legislation on the former British colony in June that critics say aims to crush dissent and erode freedoms in the semi-autonomous, Chinese-ruled city — charges that authorities in Hong Kong and China reject.

Lai, a critic of Beijing who had been a frequent visitor to Washington, is widely believed to be a target of the new legislation.

Lai is among a string of pro-democracy activists and supporters arrested by Hong Kong police in recent months as authorities step up their crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. 

On Tuesday, Lai resigned as chairman and executive director of Next Digital, which runs the Apple Daily newspaper, according to a filing made to the Hong Kong stock exchange. He did so “to spend more time dealing with this personal affairs” and confirmed that he had no disagreement with the board of directors, the filing said.

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Saudi women’s rights activist sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison: state-linked media

One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights activists was sentenced on Monday to nearly six years in prison under a vague and broadly worded law aimed at combating terrorism, according to state-linked media.

Loujain Alhathloul’s case, and her imprisonment for the past two and a half years, have drawn international criticism from rights groups, members of the U.S. Congress and European Union lawmakers. Alhathloul, whose family members in Canada have been advocating for her release, is a graduate of the University of British Columbia who lived in Canada for five years.

State-linked Saudi news outlet Sabq reported that Alhathloul, 31, was found guilty by the kingdom’s anti-terrorism court on charges including agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda and using the internet to harm public order.

She has 30 days to appeal the verdict. 

Activism and imprisonment

Alhathloul was among a handful of Saudi women who openly called for the right to drive before it was granted in 2018 and for the removal of male guardianship laws that had long stifled women’s freedom of movement and ability to travel abroad.

She was arrested for the first time in 2014 while attempting to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates — where she had a valid driver’s licence — to Saudi Arabia. She spent 73 days in a women’s detention facility, an experience she later said helped shape her campaigning against the kingdom’s male guardianship system.

In 2016, a year after she became one of the first women to stand for municipal election in Saudi Arabia, she was among 14,000 signatories on a petition to King Salman calling for an end to the guardianship system.

In March 2018 Hathloul was arrested in the UAE, where she was studying, and forcibly flown to Riyadh, where she was held under house arrest before being moved to prison in May, rights groups say. She was among at least a dozen other women’s rights activists arrested.

UN calls sentence ‘deeply troubling’

In a statement, the UN human rights office said the conviction and sentence handed to Hathloul, “already arbitrarily detained for 2½ years, is also deeply troubling.” The office urged her “early release” as a matter of urgency.

Her family has called on the Canadian government to be more aggressive in holding Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations to account. Alhathloul has told her family she has been held in solitary confinement and suffered electrocution, flogging, and sexual assault.

A rights group called Prisoners of Conscience, which focuses on Saudi political detainees, said that Alhathloul could be released as early as the end of March 2021 based on time served. She has been imprisoned since May 2018 and 34 months of her sentencing will be suspended.

The judge ordered her to serve five years and eight months in prison for violating anti-terrorism laws, according to Sabq, which said its reporter was allowed inside the courtroom during Monday’s session.

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18 coal miners killed by carbon monoxide in southwest China, state media reports

China’s state TV says at least 18 coal miners have been killed by high levels of carbon monoxide in the country’s southwest.

One miner was found alive following the disaster Friday in the Diaoshidong mine in Chongqing, the report said.

Rescuers are looking for five others.

China’s coal mining industry used to be the world’s deadliest, suffering more than 5,000 fatalities a year.

Safety improved dramatically after authorities overhauled the industry starting about 15 years ago.

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Tyson-Jones Jr. bout a car wreck designed to attract social media rubberneckers

This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

This past May, a video went viral of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in what looked like heavy training at age 53. 

Sporting bulging quads, biceps the size of softballs and a white beard, Tyson fired off combinations with speed and rib-rattling power. His trainer wore thick body armour but still withered under the assault. There isn’t a foam pad dense enough to keep you safe when Tyson punches with what he famously called “Bad Intentions.”

To the casual sports fan Tyson, who has since turned 54, looked as sharp as the 20-year-old phenom who won the heavyweight title in 1986, and possibly ready to challenge a current heavyweight champ such as Anthony Joshua or Tyson Fury.

But close followers of boxing remember Tyson peaked in 1988, and is about as likely to beat Joshua as Ben Johnson is outrun Christian Coleman for Olympic gold next summer. Staying ripped and blazing fast at 54 is an achievement; it doesn’t make fighting at 54 sensible.

But aging champs don’t unretire to pursue good ideas. They do it to chase paydays and attention, and the illusion that a new diet or trainer or workout regimen can erase years – or decades in Tyson’s case – of decline and help them perform like the fighter they used to be.

Roy Jones Jr. knows.

In July, the 51-year-old ex-champion and light-heavyweight legend emerged as Tyson’s opponent in the main event of a pay-per-view card slated for Nov. 28 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Organizers are selling it as an overdue clash between Hall-of-Fame fighters, but any bout in which the participants’ combined age totals 105 isn’t a sporting event. It’s a spectacle. And Tyson-Jones Jr. is less a fight than an infomercial wrapped in a boxing match, perched precariously atop a pair of potential health catastrophes.

If the main event between Tyson and Jones doesn’t tell you this fight card’s target audience doesn’t include hardcore boxing fans, the co-feature between YouTube star Jake Paul and retired NBAer Nate Robinson makes it clear. Tyson has won 50 of his 56 career bouts, but the important number here is his 17.9 million combined Instagram and Twitter followers.

Paul, meanwhile, is 1-0 as a pro, his lone official fight a win over fellow YouTube celeb AnEsonGib. And if you don’t know who those guys are, the 20.1 million people who subscribe to Paul’s YouTube channel do.

The goal here is less to determine the best fighter than to harvest the participants’ vast social media followings.

For what?

For pay-per-view buys, of course, but also to funnel Tyson and Paul’s existing fans to Triller, a new mobile app and social media platform and a partner in the fight card. It’s not just that Tyson already has a Triller account and nearly 133,000 followers. The video-heavy social platform is producing a 10-part documentary series leading up to the fight as well as streaming the card to pay-per-view customers, all to help turn the start-up into the next TikTok.

Except TikTok already is TikTok, and the intersection of sports and social media is littered with the wreckage of allegedly better versions of existing platforms.

Remember Shots? It was “the next” Instagram, funded and promoted by Justin Beiber and Floyd Mayweather. In 2013 and 2014 Mayweather would use the app to announce his upcoming fights.

Still don’t remember Shots?


Or what about Tsu? It was “the next” Twitter, a status-update heavy platform that wrapped posts in ads and shared revenue with users. Used correctly, it was supposed to help U.S. college athletes monetize their fame without breaking NCAA rules.

Still don’t remember Tsu? That’s fine. Most of us don’t.

Roy Jones Jr. is seen above during a weigh-in prior to a match for the television series Knockout in 2015. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

If novelty fights were a reliable marketing tool – as opposed to just a recurring one –Paul’s bout with AnEsonGib would have triggered a flood of subscriptions to DAZN, the sports streaming service that broadcast them. DAZN reported 8 million subscribers worldwide as of last December, but the company’s offerings run deeper than Paul’s fight..

In Canada, DAZN owns the rights to English Premier League Soccer and streams NFL Sunday Ticket. It also has committed more than $ 1.3 billion US to boxing, including an 11-bout, $ 365-million deal with four-division champ Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.

Tyson will also use this fight card to launch his Legends Only League, which hopes to stage a series of live events pitting retired athletes against each other. Anyone who has ever sent a text message will recognize the self-sabotage that comes with the LOL acronym, but the stakes are serious in any boxing match between two men in their 50s.

Sports can’t outrun pandemic

Boxing in the U.S. paused for COVID-19 – live events stopped in March, then resumed in June when Top Rank began staging events at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. But pro sports can’t outrun the pandemic. Monday morning we learned that at least 14 players and staffers with the Miami Marlins tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the team to cancel its home opener and the league to scramble for backup plans if this outbreak hits other clubs.

The Tyson-Jones bout is scheduled for California, a coronavirus hotspot where more than 8,100 people have already died from COVID-19, and where the caseload is growing by nearly 10,000 people daily.

And the event can’t transcend medical science, which confirms that the middle-aged brain is especially vulnerable to the trauma boxing inflicts.

Doctors understand that reality through study, and Jones knows from experience. Through the early 2000s Jones was an untouchable light-heavyweight champ with lightning reflexes and even faster hands, the author of highlight-reel knockouts. He cracked Virgil Hill’s ribs with a single right hand in their 1998 bout. Four years later he hid his hands behind his back, then cracked Glen Kelly across the temple with a roundhouse right, ending that fight.

But as Jones slowed with age he became the victim of a string of terrifying knockouts, most recently in 2015 against England’s Enzo Macarinelli.

Five years later, we can’t guarantee he’s better equipped to withstand a Mike Tyson uppercut, but Tyson is vulnerable, too. He looked unbeatable in the gym but we haven’t seen him absorb punches since 2005, when he quit on his stool against Kevin McBride.

Twenty years ago, when Tyson-Jones Jr. was discussed as a fantasy catch-weight matchup, the bout would have made compelling sport. But in 2020 it’s a gamble that pay-per-view buyers will turn into Triller users, and that two fighters in their 50s can escape an eight-round exhibition without serious injuries.

Tyson and Jones might attract an audience with their names alone, but nothing here is promised except danger.   

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Russian media serve up smugness, mockery after U.S. vote

In the aftermath of the still-to-be-officially-called U.S. election, the hot take from Russian state TV pundits was that the election’s chaotic, indecisive conclusion demonstrates how far the mighty superpower has fallen.

The implications for what a Joe Biden presidency might mean for relations between the United States and Russia appeared secondary to the propaganda bonanza.

“The borders of insanity are limitless,” said political scientist Andranik Migranyan on the talk show Big Game on state-owned NTV.  

“Each of the candidates accuses the other of stealing votes. This shows the deep crisis in the U.S.A.”

Stolen votes?

Guests on talk show 60 Minutes feigned being scandalized as they borrowed Donald Trump’s lines that mail-in votes in tight races such as Georgia and Pennsylvania had to have been “stolen” because there was no way so many of them were going Democratic.  

WATCH | U.S. election exposes flaws, Moscow says:

The Kremlin says outdated rules in the United States have led to ‘shortcomings’ in the voting process. Russian state television has been repeating Donald Trump’s claims, without evidence, that the election is fraudulent and ‘rigged.’  3:10

Other prominent voices struck an almost apocalyptic note.

The situation in the U.S. is “extreme,” said Gennady Zyuganov leader of Russia’s Communists, the second largest party in the country’s parliament.

He went on to raise the prospect of “anarchy” coupled with a looming “nuclear threat” to Russia as a result of the contested outcome.

Maria Zakharova, who speaks for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, said she hoped Russia could avoid “mass riots” in the country.

Election fairness especially sensitive 

The U.S. frequently accuses Russia of rigging its elections — particularly those involving President Vladimir Putin — and the ongoing uncertainty has offered the Kremlin’s friendly voices an irresistible opportunity to turn the tables. 

Putin won the last presidential race in 2018 with 77 per cent of the vote in a contest that was so heavily stage managed that potential challengers had to be approved or vetoed by the Kremlin.

People attend a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters who were detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections in Moscow on Sept. 29, 2019. The placard shows protester Konstantin Kotov, who was sentenced to four years in prison for participation in unauthorized rallies. (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

The question of election fairness is especially sensitive as it has been the trigger for large scale unrest.   

In the summer of 2019, authorities refused to allow several opposition candidates to run for seats in Moscow’s municipal elections leading to weeks of large street protests.

One of Putin’s frequent pronouncements is that liberal democratic values around the world are in decline, as well as the country that purports to be their greatest champion, the U.S. 

To what extent Russians actually believe that is unclear, but the fallout from election night has been covered extensively.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Putin react at the end of the joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki on July 16, 2018. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)

No ‘best candidate’ for Russia

Still, beyond propaganda value, there appeared to be little sign of remorse from commentators that Trump — the man the Kremlin was repeatedly accused of trying to install in the White House — was probably on his way out.

“There is no ‘best candidate’ for Russia in the United States,” said Aleksey Pushkov, a member of the ruling United Russia party from the Duma’s upper house.

While many state TV hosts continue to mockingly refer to Trump as “our guy,” the conventional wisdom from most pundits is that his administration failed to deliver for Russia.  

Despite Trump’s unwillingness to personally criticize Putin, the U.S. imposed a succession of economic and political sanctions on Russia over the 2016 election interference and Russia’s use of nerve agent Novichok in an assassination attempt in 2018.

Tatiana Stanovaya, a Paris-based scholar with Carnegie Moscow Center who studies the power plays within Russia’s ruling elite, said there is no single “Kremlin view” about what a Biden presidency could mean.

In an Carnegie essay, she claims that there are nuanced positions among the groups closest to Putin, with some influencers feeling Trump’s ability to “sow chaos” among Western allies helped the Kremlin, while others believe his unpredictability did more harm than good.

Russian President Putin takes part in a video conference call with members of the Security Council in Moscow on Friday. (Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin/Sputnik/Reuters)

“The problem is that Russia became a key tool for the [U.S. political] opposition to hit Trump,”  Stanovaya told CBC News in a followup interview.

“So in the Kremlin now, they hope that this factor will disappear, and it will open the doors for bilateral dialogue.”

A topic of common interest

If, as it now appears more likely, Biden does move into the Oval Office in early January, the new dynamic may get an early test over the issue of extending a key nuclear arms pact, START III.

Putin has been pushing the Trump administration to accept a single year extension to give both sides time to negotiate a new agreement on nuclear weapons.   

The move would also allow Russia to continue developing its next generation “hypersonic” weapons, which limit strategic nuclear missile launchers but does not address the number of warheads a country can possess. 

Trump, however, appears to have little interest in extending the life of the agreement that was negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and shepherded through Congress by none other than Biden.   

“About 90 per cent of all nuclear warheads, which together can destroy the planet several times, are in the possession of Russia and the United States. Is there a topic for common interests? Certainly,” former Russian ambassador to Washington Vladimir Lukin said in an interview published in the Daily Storm. 

A protester wears a face mask of Putin as he holds a marionette of Trump during a demonstration in front of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 27. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Russian-American agenda

But other veteran foreign policy watchers doubt a single issue will be enough to move the needle and warm up a frozen relationship that nosedived after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Ukraine — and much of the world — considers the annexation illegal.

“I think that Russian-American agenda is limited to one issue — and that issue is preventing a military collision that leads to war,” said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Trenin said a Biden presidency would also be more focused on pursuing a human rights agenda, and that would likely include addressing perceived violations inside Russia.

“I think the front line of Russia-U.S. confrontation will be extended to fully include Russian domestic politics — which Trump doesn’t really care about democracy, human rights and whatever you can think of,” Trenin said.

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