Media Watch 17/4/15

By Rowan Williams

Five of Britain’s political opposition leaders went head-to-head in a televised debate on Thursday night, ahead of the 7 May general election. Leaders from Labour, the Green Party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the Scottish National Party (SNP), and Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru all took part, with the Conservative Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister not in attendance. Party leaders clashed on issues of the budget, health, immigration, and foreign policy. Party leaders were all critical of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister for their absences. A snap poll taken after the debates suggested that Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband had ‘won’ the debate, with a 35 percent share, with SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon in second on 31 percent. During the debate, Sturgeon took the opportunity to reach out to Miliband and offer some terms of a coalition agreement. Her attempts were rejected by Miliband, who claimed that the risk to the UK from forming a Labour-SNP coalition would be too great.

Greece has been pushed a step closer to defaulting on its debts, and a potential exit from the eurozone, after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ruled out any delay in the country’s repaying of its €1 billion debt due to the fund next month. IMF chief Christine Lagarde said that any delay in repayment would be unprecedented, and only make the situation worse. Fears have been exacerbated by comments from German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, that Greece would struggle to find creditors outside of the EU and IMF. His comments come after fears of a Greek debt default saw the country’s borrowing cost jumping to 27 percent, a rise of 3.5 percent. Greece is still awaiting a second bailout package of €7.2 billion that has been held up after Greece’s left-wing Syriza party opted to scrap previous commitments to cut welfare and privatise state assets. A late repayment of its loans would not necessarily mean a Greek exit from the euro however, economists have said.

China has jailed journalist Gao Yu for seven years for illegally providing state secrets to foreigners. Gao Yu reportedly leaked a confidential government strategy document, known as “Document No 9”, said to include calls for restriction on press freedom, democracy and civil society. Human rights groups have condemned the verdict, as well as state secret laws that they claim are used arbitrarily to quell freedom of expression. Gao has been jailed in the past, having previously been convicted of leaking a speech by then-President Jiang Zemin. Gao’s lawyers have confirmed they will appeal the verdict.

The Papers

Last night’s televised election debate betwen the UK’s political opposition leaders makes the headlines today. The Daily Telegraph leads with news of the offer from Scottish National Party (SNP) Leader Nicola Sturgeon to Labour Leader Ed Miliband: “I’ll make you PM”. Sturgeon used the opportunity of the event to lay down proposals regarding a potential coalition with Labour. The Times takes a different angle on the exchange, paraphrasing Sturgeon’s message to Miliband as “Join me or you’ll pay” in its headline. Sturgeon ‘laid down the law’ for a future deal with Miliband, the paper writes, with Sturgeon saying that Miliband “would never be forgiven” if he declined an SNP deal that could keep the Conservatives out of power. In other news, The Guardian continues to lead with its report into the 1985 fire at Bradford City footall stadium, writing of calls for a “new Bradford fire inquiry”. Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has joined a “campaign for action” on the fire, the paper writes. Justice is also the issue on The Independent’s front page, with the paper leading with the headline “Justice denied”, after it emerged that Lord Janner will not face prosecution over child sex abuse charges. The decision has been met with “Fury”, the paper writes, given the existence of “sufficient evidence to bring 22 charges” of sexual assault. The Financial Times leads with news that strong figures from US banks Goldman Sachs and Citigroup “signal end to long malaise on Wall Street”. Figures suggest the banking sector is finally “recovering” from the 2007 financial crisis.

British Media on China

On the sentencing of Gao Yu: The sentencing of Gao Yu (see third paragraph, above) received coverage from the BBC, Daily Telegraph, and The Guardian. Coverage focuses on what outlets perceive to be a crackdown on human rights in China. The BBC notes that Gao is a “rarity” in China – “an outspoken reporter who chose to work outside the mainstream state media outlets”. The Guardian’s agency piece writes that the verdict “appears to confirm formal Communist party policy on curbing press freedoms and civil society”. The verdict “verifies widely held assumptions about [President] Xi’s distrust of any social organisation outside party control”, the paper writes. The Daily Telegraph writes that rights groups have described the verdict as “the latest chapter in an unyielding Communist Party offensive against its opponents”.

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