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U.K. to Ban Junk Food TV Ads Before 9 PM to Tackle Obesity Amid Pandemic

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  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to roll out sweeping new rules for the sale and advertisement of unhealthy food, including a ban on TV ads for junk food before 9 p.m.
  • The move comes as a growing body of evidence has shown that obesity is an increased risk factor for the coronavirus.
  • Johnson had previously opposed efforts to crack down on unhealthy foods, but according to reports, he changed his mind after he was hospitalized for COVID-19 in April, now believing his weight was a contributing factor to the severity of his illness.
  • While some praised the plan, food manufacturers, advertising agencies, and broadcasters condemned it, arguing that the measure would hurt the economy and have little effect on reducing obesity.

New Food Rules

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to ban junk food advertisements from airing on television before 9 p.m. as a part of a series of new regulations on how junk food is sold and advertised. Those rules are set to be rolled out early next week.

While the plans have yet to be finalized, sources have told reporters that, in addition to the crackdown on televised ads, the new rules are likely to include a ban on online ads for unhealthy foods, restrictions on in-store promotions, and requirements for some restaurants to put calorie labels on menus.

The move marks a significant shift for Johnson, who has previously criticized the U.K.’s sugar tax as a “sin stealth tax.”

However, the prime minister changed his tune after he was hospitalized with the coronavirus in April. According to reports, Johnson believes that his weight was a contributing factor to his illness and hospitalization. 

Numerous studies have shown that people who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19, a fact noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While speaking at a medical center in east London, Johnson said that while he did not like “nannying” the country, he believed that overweight U.K. citizens need to get in shape to protect themselves from COVID-19. 

“Obesity is one of the real co-morbidity factors,” he said. “Losing weight, frankly, is one of the ways you can reduce your own risk from coronavirus.”

Statistics provided by the government estimate that in 2019, 28.7% of adults in England were obese, while another 35.6% are overweight. Currently, the U.K. has the highest coronavirus death rate in Europe.

Speaking to BBC Friday, Health and Social Care Minister Helen Whately said that obesity was “possibly the greatest health challenge” the U.K. has faced “particularly with Covid.”

In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Chairman of the National Obesity Forum Tam Fry praised the prime minister’s plan.

“There hasn’t been a ban like this but it has got to be given a try – and if after a period of time it is shown not to be so effective, then maybe it will stop,” he said. “It is indeed a risk but the problem is that the consequence of obesity is so great that risks and daring measures have to be put in place.”

Criticism

However, the idea has also been rejected by food manufacturers, advertising agencies, and broadcasters, who were quick to voice their strong opposition.

Tim Rycroft, the chief operating officer of the Food and Drink Federation, called move a “slap in the face” to the food industry which has worked “heroically” to keep food output going during the pandemic. 

“It is going to put enormous costs on the advertising industry and on broadcasters at a time when the economy is in quite a tenuous situation,” he continued.

In a letter to Johnson sent by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), the organization pointed out that a government impact assessment from last year showed that a ban on ads for unhealthy foods and drinks would be negligible in changing childrens’ diets. 

“The introduction of such a draconian measure at this time could have deep repercussions for agencies and the advertising sector, generally, in terms of jobs and creative output, for very little end result,” IPA director general Paul Bainsfair wrote in the letter. 

Those remarks were also echoed by Stephen Woodford, the chief executive of the Advertising Association, who argued that the ban would hurt small companies.

“Speculation that the government intends to introduce bans on high fat, salt and sugar advertising would be in direct conflict with its own evidence that such restrictions would have a minimal impact on obesity levels,” he said.

These measures, if introduced, would have significant economic impact at a time when the economy is already under strain. The government must reconsider any proposals which could damage the recovery.”

Johnson’s new initiative is not the only plan aimed at tackling obesity that has been proposed in recent years. In 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron was set to announce significant regulations on food marketing and advertising. However, he abruptly left office after Brexit, and Theresa May, his successor, abandoned most of his ideas.

In 2018, May and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt came out with plans to ban fast food advertising on TV before 9 p.m. and stop supermarkets from promoting unhealthy foods, but those plans dissolved after Johnson took office. 

With Johnson’s new revival of the measures, many hope that the U.K. will once and for all have a comprehensive plan to tackle manageable obesity.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (The Independent)

International

Russia Orders Social Media Sites To Block Calls for Navalny Protests

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  • Shortly after his arrest on Sunday, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for protests to take place on Jan. 23 and was met with a wave of support online.
  • In response, the government ordered tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Russian-centric VK to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
  • TikTok has already deleted 38% of posts with such calls while VK and YouTube have deleted 50%, and Instagram has removed 17%.

Navalny Calls for Protests

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and subsequent arrest earlier this week has set off a chain of events in the country.

Since his arrest, Navalny has called for protests to occur on Jan. 23. Now, Russian authorities are taking precautions and arresting his allies in an effort to slow down the momentum of the looming demonstrations. Among their many demands are that Navalny be released.

Throughout the week, thousands of posts shared by younger Russians have raged across social media asking that people partake in the protests. The reach of those posts, however, have been curtailed by the government.

Social media tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and the Russian-centric VK were ordered by the Russian government to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”

Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, later stated, “Internet sites will be brought to administrative responsibility in connection with the dissemination of information prohibited by law and aimed at attracting minors to participate in unauthorized mass public events.”

“Participation in such events is in violation of the established procedure, including in a pandemic, and carries risks of harm to life and health,” it added.

Censorship Payoff Unknown

For many of the sites, which are often seen as a way to promote free speech in regimes that are far more restrictive, the order puts them in an awkward position. Still, many have already complied, at least to some extend.

According to Roskomnadzor, Tiktok has deleted 38% of videos calling for minors to attend the protests. VK and YouTube have both deleted 50% of similar posts, while Instagram has removed 17% of posts that violate the regulations.

It’s unclear to what extent this censorship will have on stopping Russians from attending tomorrow’s protests; however, some of the nation’s largest protests in modern history have been organized by Navalny.

See what others are saying: (Moscow Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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Accusations Against Chinese Actress Shine Light on the Nation’s Surrogacy Laws

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  • Chinese actress Zheng Shuang is facing major backlash after her former partner, Zhang Heng, accused her of abandoning her two children born through U.S.-based surrogates.
  • Beyond public outcry and losing brand deals, Zheng is likely facing legal consequences after a Chinese government agency said that using a legal loophole to obtain a surrogate from abroad was “definitely not innocent.” 
  • Zheng denies the claims and hasn’t confirmed if the children are actually hers, although she’s listed as their mother on their birth certificates.
  • As for the children in question, Zhang has been taking care of them in the U.S.

American-Based Surrogacy Cause Controversy

Chinese social media users have launched into debates surrounding how the rich and elite circumvent domestic laws in order to obtain surrogate services.

The latest controversy is surrounding actress Zheng Shuang. Though she has never confirmed this publicly, Zheng allegedly went to the U.S. with her-now-ex Zhang Heng and had two children with the help of American surrogates. However, on Monday, Zhang accused Zheng of abandoning the children and leaving him to take care of them in the U.S. The couple reportedly broke up before the babies were born due to Zhang’s alleged infidelity.

According to the South China Morning Post, Zhang’s friend released a voice recording on the Chinese platform NetEase Entertainment. In it, Zhang and Zheng are allegedly having a discussion with their parents over what to do with the then-unborn children. Zheng’s father suggested that they abandon the children at the hospital, while Zheng reportedly expressed annoyance that they could not be aborted so late in pregnancy.

Legal Grey Zone Likely Won’t Help

Beyond public outcries, Zheng lost a recent brand deal with Prada that she signed just eight days before the accusations were made. Additionally, other brand partners, such as Aussie, have distanced themselves from the actress. She also faces multiple awards she has won being revoked as well as potential legal consequences.

Currently, surrogacy is illegal in China; however, the laws have a legal grey zone. Technically, providing surrogacy is what is illegal, but obtaining one from abroad is not explicitly mentioned, even if it goes against the spirit of the law.

The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party commented on the situation in a Weibo video post, saying that using this legal loophole to get a surrogacy was “definitely not innocent.” 

“Surrogacy is banned in China as it uses women’s uteruses as a tool and sells life as a commercial product.,” it continued. “As a Chinese citizen, the act of traveling to the US on a legal loophole is not abiding the law.” 

Following the post, companies like Blued, a gay dating app in China, took down sections of their apps that helped users set up services with surrogacy firms overseas.

Surrogacy is a controversial subject in China, with many actors and actresses obtaining them overseas, but many social media users across the country are against the practice. Officially, the government claims that it “overlooks life” and “tramples the bottom line [of human morality].

Zheng has denied claims that she abandoned any children, and has never confirmed whether or not she actually has any, although she is listed as the mother on the children’s birth certificates.

As for the children in question, even though Zheng’s father suggested abandoning them in the hospital, her ex has been taking care of them in the U.S.

See What Others Are Saying: (South China Morning Post) (Straits Times) (New York Times)

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American Influencer Kristen Gray To Be Deported From Bali

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  • In a viral Twitter thread, influencer Kristen Gray encouraged people to move to Bali like she did while promoting her eBook and other resources on how to do so amid COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Many criticized her for encouraging an influx of travelers during the pandemic. She also sparked conversations about gentrification and was slammed for falsely characterizing Indonesia as queer-friendly.
  • The local government promised to deport her Tuesday, arguing that selling her book and offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit. They also say she was “spreading information that could unsettle the public.”
  • “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia,” Gray told reporters. “I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT.”

Kristen Gray Goes Viral

Officials in Indonesia said Tuesday that they will deport Kristen Gray, an American influencer who has caused international outrage in the last week.

Gray moved to Bali with her girlfriend in 2019 with plans to stay for six months. In reality, the couple ended up staying much longer because of the coronavirus pandemic, and in a viral Twitter thread, Gray shared how positive their experience has been.

Gray pointed to several benefits of moving to Bali in her posts, like its safety, low cost of living, luxury lifestyle, as well as its queer-friendly and Black communities.

She also encouraged others to make the same move and promoted their $30 eBook “Our Bali Life Is Yours” for tips on how to do it. “We include direct links to our visa agents and how to go about getting to Indonesia during COVID,” she even wrote in one post.

Backlash

The thread sparked outrage for encouraging an influx of travelers to a country that has closed its borders over the worsening pandemic. On top of that, it sparked conversations about the gentrification of neighborhoods there.

Bali is a major tourist destination for Americans, Europeans, and Australians in particular, and like areas all over the world, it has suffered from the loss in visitors this year.

However, many online noted that locals have been steadily priced out of certain areas of the island as foreigners open businesses to cater to tourists. Others argue that poorly regulated development is also destroying industries that Balinese people have historically relied on.

Aside from those criticisms, many people also took issue with Gray characterizing Bali as a queer-friendly when the reality for locals is far different.

“It well may be the case for you. However, please recognize that it is because a) you’re a foreigner and b) you have economic leverage since the Indonesian local community is financially dependent on keeping you happy so they don’t mess with you,” a user named Kai Mata said in a viral TikTok.

“Please realize for the rest of us Indonesians on the island, this is not a queer-friendly place. Our gay communities are often shut down and raided by authorities and Indonesia at large has tried to mandate conversion therapy for us the LGBTQ+ Community.

Government Responds

The local government responded to the public outrage over Gray’s thread Tuesday. In a statement, it said selling her book and also offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit, which was valid until January 24.

Gray was also accused of “spreading information that could unsettle the public” by saying Bali is queer-friendly and suggesting foreigners travel there during the pandemic.

According to Reuters, she was being held at an immigration detention facility Tuesday and was to be deported as soon as a flight was available.

In a brief statement to the Balinese press, Gray defended herself. “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia. I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT,” she explained.

Many of her fans believe her and also argue that she is seeing this level of criticism because she is a Black woman.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Reuters) (Vulture)

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