Suppressing foreign owned media

Even in public pedestrian areas like the area of the entrance to Valletta, heavy vehicles should not be allowed when maintenance works are carried out

TikTok has confirmed that some US user data is stored in China
TikTok has confirmed that some US user data is stored in China

The issue of foreign owned media has come to the fore in two cases - the Chinese owned Tik Tok and the attempt in the UK by a United Emirates backed consortium to buy the group that publishes The Daily Telegraph.

The US House of Representatives a few days ago overwhelmingly passed a bill that gives TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance about six months to divest the US assets of the short-video app - or otherwise face a ban.

The reason behind this decision is an assessment made by the US House China Select Committee that concluded that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials - through ByteDance - are using TikTok to spy on the whereabouts of its US users and dictate its algorithm to conduct influence campaigns, making it a national security threat.

If ByteDance chooses to sell, TikTok would continue to operate in the US when the American President determines that the platform is ‘no longer being controlled by a foreign adversary.’

If the company chooses not to sell, TikTok would be prohibited from app stores - such as those offered by Apple and Google - as well as web-hosting services.

US concerns stem from a set of Chinese national security laws that compel organisations to assist with intelligence gathering - which ByteDance would likely be subject to - and other far-reaching ways the Chinese government exercises control.

TikTok, however, has denied assertions that it could be used as a tool of the Chinese government and the US government has not provided any evidence that shows TikTok has shared information with Chinese authorities.

Apart from security concerns, some lawmakers, researchers and critics of TikTok allege that the app suppresses content unfavourable to Beijing, which TikTok denies. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence also warned in a recently published report that the Chinese government has used TikTok to influence recent US elections.

The latest decision was taken despite TikTok’s efforts to mobilise its 170 million US users against the measure. However, the Biden administration pushed to persuade US lawmakers that Chinese ownership of the platform poses grave national security risks to the United States.

The decision was backed by a bipartisan coalition behind the measure that included Republicans, who defied former President Donald Trump in supporting it, and Democrats, who also fell in line behind a Bill that President Joe Biden has said he would sign.

In the case of The Daily Telegraph, RedBird IMI - a partnership between a fund backed by the UAE’s vice-president, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and a privately-owned US investment firm – was seeking to acquire one of the UK’s most influential newspaper groups consisting of The Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator.

The group was put up for sale in June last year as a result of the failure of the current owners, the Barclay family, to repay debts of £1.15 billion to Lloyds Banking Group.

RedBird IMI, pledged to take control of the Telegraph and The Spectator by agreeing to loans that would repay the £1.15 billion owed by the Barclays.

RedBird IMI is a partnership between the US firm RedBird Capital and International Media Investments of Abu Dhabi. It is primarily funded by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the vice-president of the United Arab Emirates and owner of Manchester City football club.

The media minister, Lord Stephen Parkinson, later announced in the House of Lords that the government would put forward an amendment to the existing law to prevent any foreign state ownership of newspapers or news magazines. The proposed legislation means that the planned acquisition of the Telegraph by Redbird IMI would be blocked.

Parkinson told the Lords that the amendment to the law would rule out “newspaper and periodical news magazine mergers involving ownership, influence or control by foreign states”.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that Rupert Murdoch’s News UK and DMGT, which owns the Daily Mail, had shown interest in the Telegraph and Spectator assets and were closely monitoring the situation.

But, then, Rupert Murdoch owning the lion’s share of the National UK printed media is no problem!

So, we have the US resorting to threatening to ban a short-media app because of security concerns and the UK government changing the law to stop a foreign government from indirectly owning a British national newspaper.

Both cases involve security concerns and the fear of undue influence in the media being exerted by a foreign country.

Is this the thin edge of the wedge as far as freedom of the press is concerned?


Waste of resources

In his weekly contribution to The Malta Independent, Alfred Sant last Monday wrote - among many other things - about the problem of works in public squares having to be redone because the type of tiling that is used fails the test of traffic loads. He rightly pointed out that this is a waste of resources.

He mentioned what happened in Paola Square and in the square fronting St Mary Church in Birkirkara.

In both cases, the surfacing slabs - rather than tiles - could not withstand the load of the traffic and started to crack and break. Eventually they were replaced by tarmac surfacing. Tarmac surfacing, I might add, is also prone to be damaged if not laid properly over a stable base, but a crack or a depression in the tarmac surface is more unnoticed than cracked slabs.

One can even see cracked floor slabs in Valletta both in the area around the Triton fountain and the area in front of Parliament. In this case, extra care was taken during the works, but the cracks have appeared as well.

The issue here is a matter of heavy traffic passing in these areas when they should not be allowed to do so.

In Malta, all sorts of cars and heavy vehicles are allowed to pass from any street or road. This should stop. Streets where heavy traffic should not be allowed are to be marked as such. This happens everywhere in Europe, but not in Malta. Transport Malta should think about grading our roads between those allowing for heavy traffic and those that are not.

Even in public pedestrian areas like the area of the entrance to Valletta, heavy vehicles should not be allowed when maintenance works are carried out.