Media Watch 2/2/15

By Rowan Williams

Al-jazeera journalist Peter Greste has said he will not rest until his colleagues in Egypt have been freed from prison, following his own release from an Egyptian prison. Greste has been deported to Cyprus, where he will travel onwards to his native Australia. Greste was arrested and tried in 2013 for offences including spreading false news and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood. Two of his colleagues from Al-jazeera remain behind bars. One, Mohamed Fahmy, could be freed if he renounces the Egyptian part of his dual nationality. The second, Baher Mohamed, is of sole Egyptian nationality however. All three journalists have had their convictions overturned in 1 January this year, but so far only Greste has been released. Greste and Fahmy had been sentenced to seven years in prison, with Mohamed sentenced to ten. All three journalists had denied the charges against them, and decried their trials as a sham.

Nearly 3,500 schools in Britain rated as ‘requiring improvement’ could face forced leadership change under new proposals to be announced by Prime Minister David Cameron. The plans, to be implemented should the Conservatives win the general election in May, would involve taking schools receiving the ‘requires improvement’ rating from Ofsted and replacing their Headteachers with ‘Superheads’ brought in from high-achieving schools. Other underperforming schools could be taken over by academy trusts, while underperforming academies could have their academy sponsors changed. The ‘requires improvement’ rating is the second-lowest Ofsted rating above ‘inadequate’, with the focus on the rating to be described by the Prime Minister as an “all-out war on mediocrity”. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has clarified that replacing Headteachers would only be considered on underperforming schools without the ability to make improvements, and schools that set out inadequate plans for their improvement.

Two members of a cult in China have been executed for murdering a woman in Shandong province. Zhang Lidong, and his daughter Zhang Fan, had been members of the banned Church of Almighty God group and beaten a woman to death in a McDonald’s restaurant in the town of Zhaoyuan in May 2014. Their executions were announced on Monday. The woman was reportedly attacked after refusing to give members of the Church of Almighty God group her phone number, with a video of the attack prompting widespread public outcry in China. The five members of the group involved in the attack were found guilty of their crimes in September 2014, with the other cult members receiving jail sentences ranging from seven years to life imprisonment. Hundreds of members of the Church of Almighty God have been detained by Chinese authorities since the attack.

The Papers

Education stories make the headlines in a few papers today. The Daily Telegraph leads with news of a pledge from the Prime Minister to “take control of mediocre schools” as part of an “all-out war on mediocrity”. Schools rated to be underperforming by schools watchdog Ofsted could be converted to academies under the proposals. The Times leads with news that university chiefs have ‘scorned’ Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband’s pledge to lower university tuition fees to £6,000, claiming that the policy would only help the rich. In a letter to the paper, university Vice-chancellors have argued that the plans would lead to universities needing further government funding. The Independent leads with news of “The dropout generation failed by colleges”. Students leaving “courses they should never have been signed up for” cost the government £800 million annually, the paper reports, with colleges focused on getting “‘bums on seats'” instead of matching students to the correct course. The Guardian leads with news that property firms stand to profit as rules on affordable housing change. A ruling from the government means that firms developing empty buildings for housing will no longer have to make contributions towards affordable housing – a ruling that will cost Westminster City Council £1 billion in lost fees. The Financial Times leads with news of the eurozone’s fears of “financial chaos” in Greece over its stance on financial bailouts. Greece could take up to four months to draft a new deal with its creditors, while it is unknown how much support Greece will continue to receive from the European Central Bank.

British Media on China

On the execution of Zhang Lidong and Zhang Fan: the execution of two of the members of the Church of Almighty God received coverage from the BBC and The Independent, with The Guardian also carrying an agency piece on the story. While reporting on the pair’s execution, papers have used the event to highlight issues of freedom of religion in China. The BBC writes that the killing “sparked public outrage” across China. The Independent, meanwhile, notes that China’s crackdown on cults has meant that religious activity not deemed by the state to be ‘normal’ is prohibited, which includes many religions outside of state control. The Guardian’s piece reports that “Cults have multiplied in recent years but demonstrations have been put down with force by the Communist party and some sect leaders executed”.

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