China’s “great leap backward” continues apace. The nation’s radio-and-television authority has urged Chinese media to “resolutely resist showing off wealth and enjoyment, hyping up gossip and privacy, negative hot topics, vulgar ‘internet celebrities’ and the bottomless appreciation of ugliness, and other pan-entertainment tendencies.” Whew! Oh, and also, according to Reuters, to “ban ‘deformed’ tastes such as ‘sissy idols’ who do not conform to macho or masculine male stereotypes prevalent in traditional Chinese culture.”
“The slew of regulatory overhauls has been swift and dizzying,” noted The Guardian. “In recent months, Chinese authorities have come for e-commerce, social media, the $100bn private education industry, artists, celebrities and reality television, affecting individuals from Alibaba boss Jack Ma to actor Vicki Zhao.” (You might have seen Zhao in Jade Goddess of Mercy. Or not.) The government insists that President Xi Jinping’s cultural crackdown is merely for the greater societal good. Hence the edict that minors’ bottomless appreciation of the pan-entertainment tendency known as gaming be limited to a few hours a week.
Meanwhile, not to be outdone by the culture crowd, China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development is putting an end to the country’s dozen-years-long unofficial skyscraper race, and banning new buildings above 500 meters (1,640 feet). The Beijing News editorialized against “the blind pursuit of being the highest, the strangest,” blaming developers who “have lost touch with actual needs, raise costs, intensify energy consumptions and increase the difficulty for safety management.”
Authorities in northwestern Nigeria are resorting to drastic measures in an attempt to end the plague of kidnappings that has seen more than 1,000 children abducted from schools since December. “More than nine million residents of Zamfara state have been cut off from the phone networks and the internet, and markets have been closed, as the security forces hunt kidnap-for-ransom squads who have long terrorised communities,” reported The Times of London. “Cutting off network towers and restrictions on buying petrol is intended to starve the motorbike-reliant gangs of the means to operate, officials said.” The Internet blackout is believed to be temporary, but one unintended consequence, according to the newspaper, is that “people have resorted to travelling, sometimes taking an entire day, to find phone signals to … check on family members.”
A battle between the producers of prosecco and the inhabitants of this region of Italy is fizzing, with no signs of going flat. “As the sparkling wine’s success enriches wine-makers, residents of Miane and the 14 other villages nestled among the so-called ‘Unesco hills’ of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene are rising up against what they describe as the ruthless expansion of its production,” reported The Guardian. The residents say prosecco-making has gotten out of control, with more and more land ceded to vineyards, in the process damaging the environment (destruction of forests), posing a health risk (pesticides), and making an awful lot of noise (chain saws).
The prosecco producers insist that they are “committed to sustainability … because the issue of environmental protection concerns everyone.” Meanwhile, “the region [just] gave the approval to another 6,000 or so hectares for prosecco,” a local councillor told the newspaper. “I know someone who abandoned his masonry company to make prosecco. Prosecco is now a monoculture, and this is having serious collateral effects.”
The wild iterations of some essential crops—potatoes, cotton, avocados, and vanilla—are threatened with extinction, according to a study conducted by the Switzerland-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Those crops join wild versions of banana, apple, and prunes, among others, on the I.U.C.N.’s “red list.”
The study’s lead author, Bárbara Goettsch, warned that avocado toast and vanilla ice cream could disappear, telling The Guardian that “the salinity of the soil is changing, and crops don’t have the capacity to adapt. Temperatures are rising. Because of climate change, pests and diseases will also alter and this can have a massive impact on cultivated plants. We could have shortages of these foods.” This does not sound good. But at least we’d be able to drown our sorrows with prosecco.
In the meantime, climate-change deniers needn’t be alarmed by News Corp Australia’s stated goal of carbon neutrality, nor by News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller’s revelation that the company’s audiences “want to know more about how their choices can help make the planet a better, greener place.” Nor indeed by Über-boss Rupert Murdoch’s assertion a couple of years ago that “there are no climate change deniers around, I can assure you.” As the 142-newspaper conglomerate announced plans the other day to step up its climate coverage, it made sure to send conflicting yet strangely soothing signals.
“We will endeavour to ensure that all views, not just the popular ones, are heard,” Miller said. “All our commentators and columnists will be encouraged to participate, and their views will not be muzzled.” In other words? “Miller denied [a] claim that conservative commentators would be expected to tone down and reframe their political arguments,” reported The Guardian. “The [Melbourne] Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt, who describes global warming as a ‘cult of the elites’, and the [Sydney] Daily Telegraph’s Tim Blair, who says the climate emergency is ‘bogus’, will apparently be free to continue to undermine the science.” Another prosecco, please.
It’s barely three months old, but the start-up television channel GB News is already on the ropes. The abrupt resignation this week of the organization’s chairman, Andrew Neil—who had been on leave for most of the channel’s life—is a blow, but it’s also apparently indicative of a larger, ongoing issue: a badly polarized newsroom. “Two camps are said to have emerged at the channel,” reported The Times of London. “On one side of the divide are those who consider themselves traditional news journalists, who joined because of the pedigree of senior presenters including Neil and [former BBC anchor Simon] McCoy. On the other is a growing roster of populist commentators, who under the leadership of [GB News chief executive Angelos] Frangopoulos are making the station’s agenda more like Fox News … Insiders have said that other more sensationalist voices are poised to join the station’s roster of guest commentators.”
The departure of Neil, who will himself continue as a commentator—for a little while—followed last week’s resignation of three senior producers. Ratings have also been a problem at GB News, with some shows reportedly tallying a probability-defying zero viewers.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for Air Mail