‘Miscommunication’ over Chinese press conference

Updated 02 December 2018

‘Miscommunication’ over Chinese press conference

  • Five minutes before it was due to start, a Chinese man stood up to inform us that it was all a “miscommunication” and there would be no press gathering after all. Trade war averted perhaps?
  • With Donald Trump in town, the owner of the Ping Golf driving range must have thought his dreams had come true when the US president took an hour out to hit a few balls into the Silver River

After a while, the G20 Summit of world leaders in Buenos Aires just melts into surreality. Residual jetlag, early-morning starts, long days and lots of sensory stimuli send you into a state of hyper-awareness. This must have been how Alice felt in Wonderland.

“Never heard of yerba mate? You soon will,” runs the advertising slogan on the stall in the International Media Center (IMC), home to 2,500 journalists for the duration of the G20. 

“Argentinian yerba mate is one of the next big trends on the horizon, and it’s about to become your next superfood obsession,” said the promotional literature. 

It is a kind of tea native to Argentina, and “reduces inflammation, helps your body detox, protects your DNA (!) and can help with weight loss,” the ab blurb reads. 

I had a cup before heading off from the IMC for the 5-km trip to the Costa Salguero Center, the venue for the leaders gathering in Buenos Aires and a veritable fortress for the duration. Normal traffic is banned from the center, and all roads around it are closed to anyone not involved in the G20.

It was spooky driving beside the Rio de la Plata along what on a normal day would have been a busy six-lane highway. The only other vehicles were G20-branded. The only other people were heavily armed military and police, manning roadblocks every so often, boarding the media bus with enough kit to take out a regiment, asking to see your lanyard and waving you through with a finger flick. 

When you get to the Costa Salguero Center, the through-the-looking-glass experience intensifies. Some of the sights were just too coincidental to be true. With Donald Trump in town, the owner of the Ping Golf driving range must have thought his dreams had come true when the US president took an hour out to hit a few balls into the Silver River.

Maybe Trump would stop at the nearby Trixie diner, a pastiche of an old American railroad carriage eating-house complete with red neon lights offering hamburgers, hot dogs and pancakes?

Likewise, the BMW franchise saw a unique opportunity and quickly knocked up a promotional banner that screamed “Herzlich willkommen Frau Merkel” to the chancellor, maybe in the hope that she would be in the market for a 7 series on her final G20 trip as leader of Germany.

Inside the center, things got even more bizarre. I was there to attend a press conference by a Chinese minister, which looked interesting in view of the ongoing US-China trade confrontation. 

But five minutes before it was due to start, a Chinese man with an impeccable English accent stood up to inform us that it was all a “miscommunication” and there would be no press gathering after all. Trade war averted perhaps?

Disgruntled at the inconvenience, I went off to look for a sherpa. These legendary load-bearers are the brains and sweat behind big international gatherings. They do exist. I found one heading out of the “sherpas plenary room” on his way to the “sherpas lounge.” You could tell he was a sherpa because of the color of his lanyard.

I made an amiable joke about not being able to speak Nepalese, but he had obviously heard it a hundred times before and did not want to speak to the press anyway. He was far too busy, with the G20 communique still to be drafted and the midnight oil looming. He headed off with the look of a man bearing a heavy load.

For me, there was nothing for it but to leave the center, on a different route, equally deserted but with impromptu army barracks on either side of the road where bored-looking young men sat in large groups cleaning long-barrelled automatic weapons. 

I asked myself if it was all a dream. Ping Golf, Trixie and the sherpa; did any of that happen? I resolved to lay off the yerba mate in future.


Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

Updated 38 min 3 sec ago

Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

  • Al Jazeera journalists under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur
  • The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3

KUALA LUMPUR: Six members of staff from state-owned Qatari news broadcaster Al Jazeera were questioned by police in Malaysia on Friday.

They are under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur during the coronavirus lockdown.

“The documentary has ignited a backlash among the public,” said national police chief Abdul Hamid Bador. “During our investigation, we found out there were inaccuracies in the documentary that were aimed at creating a bad image of Malaysia.”

He said police have discussed the case with the attorney general and added: “We are going to give a fair investigation and a fair opportunity for them to defend themselves, in case the AG wants to file charges against them.”

The journalists, accompanied by their lawyers, were questioned at police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3. It highlighted the plight of undocumented migrants reportedly arrested during raids on COVID-19 lockdown hotspots. Malaysian officials said the report was inaccurate and misleading.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera said it refutes the charges and “stands by the professionalism, quality and impartiality of its journalism” and has “serious concerns about developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of the documentary.” It added: “Al Jazeera is deeply concerned that its staff are now subject to a police investigation.”

However, the incident highlights the broadcaster’s double standards in reporting issues about migrant workers. When Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Qatar in February of failing to implement a system to ensure construction companies pay migrant workers on time, the issue was not highlighted by Al Jazeera, the headquarters of which is in Doha.

On May 23, migrant workers staged a rare protest in Qatar over unpaid wages but Al Jazeera did not send reporters to interview the demonstrators.

Also in May, HRW said that crowded and unsanitary conditions at Doha Central Prison were exacerbating the COVID-19 threat. The organization urged Qatar to reduce the size of prison populations and ensure inmates have access to adequate medical care, along with masks, sanitizer and gloves. Again Al Jazeera did not focus on the issue.

Activists and civil-society groups criticized the Malaysian government for its heavy-handed move against Al Jazeera.

“The Malaysian government should stop trying to intimidate the media when it reports something the powers that be don’t like,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division. “The reality is Malaysia has treated migrant workers very shoddily and Al Jazeera has caught them out on it.”

Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia program officer for freedom of speech advocacy group Article 19, said the action against Al Jazeera is alarming and akin to “shooting the messenger.”

She added: “The government should instead initiate an independent inquiry into the issues raised in the documentary.”

There are at least 2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, though the true number is thought to be much higher as many are undocumented. They are a source of cheap, low-skilled labor in industries considered dirty and dangerous.