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Abominable: A DreamWorks movie, a map, and a huge regional row

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Screenshot showing a girl in front of an Asia map

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Vietnamese media featured this photograph – showing the controversial dashed line – which was taken in the cinema

Malaysian censors have ordered a scene to be cut from DreamWorks film Abominable before it is screened there – because of a brief glimpse of a map.

It is the third South East Asian country to take offence at the scene in the film, a Chinese co-production.

The contentious map shows the “nine-dash line”, which China uses to show its claims in the South China Sea.

Parts of the sea and various island groups are claimed by five other Asian countries, as well as China.

Vietnam has already pulled the movie – while Philippine politicians are calling for a DreamWorks boycott.

It might be merely a backdrop in an animated movie – but it shines a spotlight on one of the world’s hottest territorial disputes.

What is in the scene?

Abominable is an animated children’s movie which actually has nothing to do with the South China Sea.

It’s about a Chinese girl from Shanghai who discovers a yeti on her roof, strikes up a friendship with him, and – against all odds – manages to take him back to Mount Everest.

The girl, Yi, has a makeshift shed on the roof of the high-rise where she lives. In that shed, there’s a big map of East Asia on the wall, with pictures and notes pinned to it.

And it shows the South China Sea – with a series of lines marking what’s known as China’s nine-dash line.

What is the nine-dash line?

The South China Sea is a strategically important region, rich in potential natural resources and fishing grounds, and lying between several influential countries.

China says it has always controlled a large chunk of this territory. The nine-dash line carves out by far the largest portion – leaving only a small coastal strip to each of the other claimants.

In 1947, China issued a map detailing its claims, and insists history backs up its claims.

The other claimants beg to differ.

Vietnam also has historic maps showing its claims, while the Philippines invokes its proximity to some of the islands, which have long been populated by Filipinos.

While Taiwan’s claim mirrors that of China (and China considers Taiwan to be part of China anyway), Malaysia and Brunei insist parts of the sea fall within their economic exclusion zones as defined by United Nations laws.

The Philippines have sought international arbitration – and a UN tribunal in 2016 backed Manila, saying China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights.

Beijing, though, boycotted the proceedings and the ruling hasn’t had any consequences.

China’s rapidly growing influence in the region has the other claimants torn between taking a stance – or bowing to Beijing’s economic might.

Why was it included in the film?

It’s hard to say, as it doesn’t actually play a role in the movie.

But Abominable is the first co-production between US company DreamWorks and China’s Pearl Studio production firm.

Within China, the sea is routinely shown with the nine-dash line. So for the Chinese side of the co-production, it’s simply an accurate and normal map.

Movie-goers in Vietnam, though, were quick to accuse China of inserting the map to gradually make its claims less and less controversial on the global stage.

In fact, Beijing doesn’t merely claim the territory: it runs naval patrols in the area and, for years, has been building military outposts on the disputed islands.

In some cases, small rocky reefs have turned into fully fledged military runways.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionA BBC team flew over the disputed South China Sea islands in a US military plane

Over the past few years, China has become more insistent on territorial questions.

It has, for instance, been increasingly strict in policing how foreign firms describe Hong Kong – which is part of China but has a special status – or Taiwan, which is self-ruled but which Beijing sees as a province of the mainland that has broken away.

This has led to officials and outraged Chinese social media users going after Western companies that use “wrong” maps.

Just this week, Christian Dior apologised to China for using a map of China without Taiwan.

What have Malaysia and other countries said?

“The film has been given approval for screening in Malaysia,” the Malaysian film board chairman Mohamad Zamberi Abdul Aziz told news agency Reuters.

“Under the condition that the controversial map is removed from the film.”

Vietnamese movie-goers were the first to notice the nine-dash line – and officials swiftly ordered the film to be pulled.

Next was the Philippines, where public and politicians were equally upset. Foreign Minister Teddy Locsin on Twitter called for a boycott and speculated about cutting the map out of the movie.

The movie has been showing in the US since last month, and the map scene has largely gone unnoticed.

Yet the US is also frequently at loggerheads with Beijing over the South China Sea.

The US Navy routinely carries out what it calls “freedom of navigation” acts. Its ships sail through what the US calls international waters – only for China to accuse it of provocation and interference in regional matters.





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Sir Philip Pullman calls for 50p boycott over Oxford comma

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The commemorative coin will come in to circulation later this week

Author Sir Philip Pullman has declared war on the new Brexit 50p – but it’s nothing to do with politics.

Sir Philip has taken umbrage because the Oxford comma is missing from the coin’s wording: “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations.”

The Oxford comma is included before the final “and” in lists but it is not used universally and is often a topic of debate for grammar enthusiasts.

The coin will come into circulation on 31 January, when the UK leaves the EU.

Stig Abell, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, agreed with Pullman, tweeting: “The lack of a comma after ‘prosperity’ is killing me.”

But Susie Dent, from Countdown’s Dictionary Corner, said the Oxford comma was optional.

“Yes it is optional: it clarifies things quite often though, and I just find it easier and more consistent to use it all the time,” she tweeted.

And broadcaster Joan Bakewell tweeted that she was taught that it was wrong to use the comma in such circumstances.

The new coin was unveiled by Chancellor Sajid Javid at the weekend.

Mr Javid had first ordered production of the coins in advance of the UK’s original 31 October departure date from the EU.

But the Brexit delay meant about a million coins had to be melted down and the metal put aside until a new exit date was confirmed.

On Sunday, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell said he would be asking shopkeepers for “two 20p pieces and a 10” rather than accept the new 50p coin.

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Gary Lineker calls for ‘voluntary’ licence fee

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Gary Lineker

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Lineker has been the main presenter of Match of the Day for more than 20 years

Gary Lineker, one of the BBC’s highest paid presenters, has called for the TV licence fee to be voluntary.

In an interview with The Guardian, the former footballer and Match of the Day presenter said the annual charge was the BBC’s “fundamental problem”.

“You’re forced to pay it if you want a TV, and therefore it’s a tax,” he is quoted as saying. “The public pay our salaries, so everyone is a target.”

His comments come amid mounting debate on the future of the licence fee.

Last week culture secretary Baroness Morgan told the BBC the subject was “coming up more and more on the doorstep”.

  • Morgan warns BBC over licence fee ‘concern’

Lineker said he had “always said for a long time” the £154.50 annual charge should be voluntary while admitting he did not know “the logistics of how it would work”.

“You would lose some people, but at the same time you’d up the price a bit”, said the presenter, whose BBC salary was between £1,750,000 and £1,754,999 in 2018-19.

“[The licence fee] is the price of a cup of coffee a week at the moment,” he continued. “If you put it up you could help older people, or those that can’t afford it.”

Last year the BBC said it was scrapping free TV licences for all over-75s and would limit the provision to low-income households where one person receives the pension credit benefit.

The online publication of The Guardian’s interview saw Lineker receive praise from ITV presenter Piers Morgan, usually Lineker’s sparring partner, for making “a sensible point“.

The drip, drip, drip of smaller events…

It’s September 2020. The new director-general is in No 10 for her or his first meeting with Boris Johnson since getting the job.

“Look, prime minister,” the BBC’s new DG says. “I know this seems radical. I believe there is a case not only for keeping the compulsory licence fee – but raising it”.

A door slams open. Dominic Cummings bursts in.

“What?!” says Mr Cummings. “But how can you argue that, when even your highest-paid star – your most famous face – agrees with us it should be voluntary?!”

Gary Lineker may or may not be right. The fact is, his intervention has weakened the negotiating position of the next DG, even if just marginally.

Big social and political changes never happen suddenly. They follow the drip, drip, drip of smaller events that made the final change inevitable.

Right now, the idea that the BBC should become a subscription service is mainstream Conservative thinking. A prominent Remainer at the BBC has just reinforced it.

Many of the BBC’s most loyal audiences are about to lose a benefit – in free TV licences for the over-75s – that they want.

Decriminalisation of the licence fee looks likely, which could cost the BBC a couple of hundred million pounds.

A huge re-organisation of BBC News will cost many jobs, demoralising some staff, and leading to sharp cuts in some programme budgets.

Every day, streaming giants pour more dollars into high-value productions that lure eyeballs away from the BBC.

Every day, the bond between the BBC and young audiences weakens – to the point that it is becoming close to non-existent for many.

Then Gary Lineker says the licence fee should go.

Anybody fancy being DG?

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Lord Hall to step down as BBC’s director general

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Tony Hall outside the BBC's London HQ

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Tony Hall outside the BBC’s London HQ

Tony Hall is to step down as director general of the BBC in the summer, after seven years in the role.

Lord Hall said the decision had been hard, adding: “If I followed my heart I would genuinely never want to leave.”

But he said he felt it was important the BBC had the same leader for the BBC’s mid-term review in 2022 and the renewal of its charter in 2027.

The National Gallery subsequently announced he had been appointed chair of its board of trustees.

The BBC’s chairman, Sir David Clementi, said the search for the BBC’s next leader would begin “within the next few weeks”.

He added that the BBC was “committed to selecting the best-qualified person for the job”.

BBC Newsnight understands Lord Hall had wanted to stay until the BBC’s centenary in 2022, but after “big discussions with the board” it was decided he would go earlier.

The programme’s political editor Nicholas Watt said the timing was being interpreted in government circles as “something of a masterstroke” by Sir David, whose term as chairman ends in 2021.

“Had Tony Hall waited until 2022 it would have been a new chairman of the BBC making the appointment, and that new chairman would have been appointed by Boris Johnson’s government,” said the correspondent.

Potential successors

James Purnell, the former Labour politician who became the BBC’s director of radio and education in 2016, is currently the bookmakers’ favourite to take on the role.

Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs, is another contender, as is Anne Bulford, the BBC’s first female deputy director general, who left the corporation last year.

Media commentators are also speculating, with The Independent’s Adam Sherwin suggesting Channel 4’s chief executive Alex Mahon might be in the frame, along with Apple’s Jay Hunt and Charlotte Moore, the BBC’s director of content.

The Guardian also points to these female candidates but also suggests former Ofcom chief Sharon White and Gail Rebuck, chair of Penguin Random House UK, might be in contention.

Newsnight’s Nicholas Watt said he was hearing that the cabinet “are expecting the BBC to sound them out on this appointment”, and there was “no appetite” in the government for “a BBC lifer” who is not interested in reform.

Speaking of Lord Hall, Sir David said the corporation had been “lucky to have him”.

He described him as “an inspirational creative leader” who had “led the BBC with integrity and a passion for our values”.

Image copyright
PA Media

Image caption

Samira Ahmed recently won an employment tribunal she brought against the BBC

Culture secretary Nicky Morgan thanked Lord Hall for his service, saying he had made “a huge contribution to public service broadcasting in his career”.

“In this ever changing broadcast landscape the next DG will need to build on Lord Hall’s success,” she wrote on Twitter.

‘Change has been tough’

In a letter to staff, Lord Hall said he believed he would be “leaving the BBC in a much stronger place than when I joined”.

His appointment in 2012 followed the resignation of George Entwistle in the wake of the Newsnight Lord McAlpine row.

Lord Hall said the BBC felt “a very different organisation” that was “more innovative, more open, more inclusive, more efficient [and] more commercially aware”.

What does the director general do?

The director general, or DG, is the chief executive officer of the BBC, its editor-in-chief.

The person in the post is the editorial, operational and creative leader of the corporation, with responsibility for a worldwide workforce running services across television, radio and online.

The DG and the BBC board are responsible for the effective running of the BBC, delivering its public service and commercial services – including BBC Studios – both at home and abroad.

The DG is appointed by the BBC board. As of April 2019, the holder of the post is paid £450,000 a year.

“Change has been tough at times,” he wrote. “But I believe our recent record of transformation stands comparison with virtually any other creative organisation in the world.”

Lord Hall takes over at the National Gallery in London from interim chair Sir John Kingman, who has been in the post since Hannah Rothschild’s departure in September 2019.

He said: “I am proud to take on the role of its chair. The National Gallery isn’t just about serving those who already love art, but reaching a wider audience and future generations.”

His appointment was welcomed by Baroness Morgan, who said he would bring “a wealth of experience” to the role.

Analysis – BBC media editor Amol Rajan

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionBBC media editor Amol Rajan says Lord Hall’s successor will need “phenomenal skills”

Director general of the BBC is one of the most privileged, but also one of the most relentless and tough jobs in Britain – and it gets tougher every day, because of the technological context.

His successor will need to combine world-class political, commercial, editorial and managerial talent, while coming under a relentless barrage of criticism from all fronts.

The question of who gets it will depend on where the BBC Board and its chairman, Sir David Clementi, want to place their emphasis. Someone with commercial nous, or someone who can charm Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings? Someone with a track record at managing talent – or someone who can make a brave, correct call on a Panorama investigation?

The perfect candidate will be able to do all this – and therefore doesn’t exist.

Read more from Amol here

Lord Hall’s departure from the BBC comes amid another turbulent time for the broadcaster, with issues around equal pay disputes, political bias, diversity and TV licences at the top of its agenda.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

June Sarpong said she relished “the challenge… to make the BBC more inclusive.”

Earlier this month presenter Samira Ahmed won an employment tribunal in a dispute over equal pay, while radio presenter Sarah Montague has confirmed she won a settlement and an apology from the BBC after being treated “unequally”.

  • Samira Ahmed wins BBC equal pay tribunal
  • Montague confirms £400k BBC equal pay settlement

The BBC has also faced criticism over its reporting on the recent general election, presenter pay, star salaries and a lack of diversity both on and off screen.

It also found itself in the spotlight back in 2018 when Sir Cliff Richard won a High Court case against the broadcaster over its coverage of a police raid on his home.

Last year TV presenter and campaigner June Sarpong was appointed the BBC’s first director of creative diversity in a bid to improve the BBC’s “on-air talent portrayal”.

  • June Sarpong appointed BBC diversity director

Sarpong said it had been a “great pleasure and honour” to work under Lord Hall’s “visionary leadership”.

“I cannot overstate the support he has shown me in helping to start the process of inclusive change,” she wrote on Twitter. “He will be sincerely missed.”

Other developments during Lord Hall’s tenure include the growth of BBC iPlayer, the increasing success of BBC Studios. and the launches of BBC Sounds and streaming service Britbox.

It was also announced last year that free TV licences for all over 75s would be scrapped and replaced by a scheme based on pension credit benefit.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Lord Hall is the BBC’s 16th director general

Last week Lord Hall outlined a plan that will see at least two thirds of the corporation’s staff based outside London by 2027.

Lord Hall – a mini biography

Lord Hall, 68, joined the corporation as a trainee in the Belfast newsroom in 1973.

He became editor of the Nine O’Clock News at the age of 34 and was appointed chief executive of BBC News in 1996.

While there, he launched BBC Radio 5 Live, the news channel, the BBC News website and the parliament channel.

He left in 2001 to become the chief executive of the the Royal Opera House until 2013, and was also deputy chairman of Channel 4.

He was also on the board of the London organising committee for the Olympic Games before returning to the BBC in the top job.

Lord Hall, whose official title is The Lord Hall of Birkenhead, was made a cross-bench peer in 2010.

Reaction to news

Bonnie Greer, who served alongside Lord Hall on the Royal Opera House board, noted that the BBC had been going through a difficult period.

“I think it’s been a lot of pressure for the organisation and a lot of pressure for him,” the playwright and critic said on The Victoria Derbyshire Show.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Lord Hall with Alice Webb, director of BBC Children’s, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in November 2018

Talent agent Jonathan Shalit said Lord Hall had been “fantastic” in the director general role and that it was “normal” for someone in his position to move on after seven years.

“He was going to be moving on soon,” he told the same BBC programme. “I think the point he makes about making sure one person oversees the midway point of the licence fee is important.”

Philippa Childs, head of broadcast trade union Bectu, said Lord Hall had been “a strong advocate for the BBC, its staff [and] the licence fee”.

She said the outgoing director general had always “acted with integrity and transparency” during their “extremely positive and productive working relationship”.

Veteran presenter David Dimbleby said Lord Hall “revived the place” because of his passion for broadcasting.

On the future of the BBC, Dimbleby added: “It’s always worth remembering, I think in the end, people trust the BBC more than the politicians who try to diminish it.

“I’m not saying there aren’t major, major problems with the BBC at the moment; I think there are.”

Former BBC chairman Michael Grade said he did not believe that Sir David, or the BBC board, would allow the government to interfere with the appointment of the director general.

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