AOC & Ted Cruz Team Up With Bipartisan Lawmakers in Letter Slamming NBA’s China Censorship
Should the NBA be criticized for censoring speech the Chinese government doesn't like?
by Countable | 10.10.19
A bipartisan group of lawmakers that includes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) have sent a letter to National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver that slams the league for “self-censorship” after it “caved to Chinese government demands” for an apology.
The controversy began after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl tweeted in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, but he then deleted the Tweet and both the franchise and the NBA apologized for the “regrettable” comments. That didn’t stop a backlash in China, as the state broadcaster CCTV and Internet company Tencent (which has a $1.5 billion broadcast rights deal with the NBA) canceled broadcasts of NBA preseason games. Sportswear giant Nike later pulled all Houston Rockets merchandise from its stores in China.
In addition to Ocasio-Cortez and Cruz, the letter’s co-signers include Sens. Ben Sasse (R-NE), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Tom Cotton (R-AR), plus Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), and Jim Banks (R-IN). The letter reads in part:
“The NBA should have anticipated the challenges of doing business in a country run by a repressive single party government ― including by being prepared to stand in strong defense of the freedom of expression of its employees, players, and affiliates across the globe. NBA players have a rich history of speaking out on sensitive topics of social justice in the United States, and the NBA takes pride in defending their right to do so. Yet while it is easy to defend freedom of speech when it costs you nothing, equivocating when profits are at stake is a betrayal of fundamental American values.
Worse, your statements come at a time when we would hope to see Americans standing up and speaking out in defense of the rights of the people of Hong Kong. The NBA’s initial statement, and pressure placed on Mr. Morey to back away from his statement, has not only sold out an American citizen. It reinforces the Chinese Communist Party view that those who point to Chinese repression in Hong Kong are at best stating opinions, not facts, and that the official Chinese government view deserves equal respect. Hundreds of millions of people within China will read your statements as an admission that their government’s propaganda is correct; millions of people in Hong Kong will be dispirited.”
Adding to the controversy, numerous NBA players and coaches have avoided commenting on the crisis in Hong Kong or other human rights abuses by China when asked in interviews. An NBA handler shut down a CNN reporter’s attempt to ask a question about the issue, which the league later apologized for. And outspoken coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich, who regularly criticize President Donald Trump, were mocked by the president for “pandering” to China in their responses to questions about the controversy.
ESPN, the Disney-owned “worldwide leader in sports”, distributed a memo telling staff to avoid discussing political issues in its coverage of the NBA-China dispute and further raised eyebrows after it used a pro-China map in its coverage. The map not only highlighted Taiwan ― a self-governing, democratic nation that the communist People’s Republic of China claims regards as a breakaway province ― as if it were part of the PRC; it also featured the “nine dash line” in the South China Sea that the Chinese government uses as a boundary to claim sovereignty over islands and waters at the center of territorial disputes with neighboring nations.
It’s worth noting that not all American brands are bowing to Chinese censorship. On Tuesday evening, pro-democracy protesters on the streets of Hong Kong screened the recent episode of South Park entitled “Band in China”. The episode was strongly critical of the Chinese government for its human rights abuses and of American companies for allowing China’s government to censor their work. It caused the long-running satirical cartoon series to be scrubbed from the Chinese internet, which elicited an “apology” from the show’s creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker that read in part:
"Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn't look just like Winnie the Pooh at all... Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn's sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?"
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: dannyb via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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