China's NBA Free Speech Debacle Turned Out To Be A Prelude To Its COVID-19 Denialism

from the free-speech-saves-lives dept

Since time is a concept with increasingly less meaning, you may have forgotten that it’s been only five months, not five years, since the NBA’s dustup with China over Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” tweet.

In response to that controversy, a number of business-conscious — to put it generously — major sports figures distanced themselves from Morey’s tweet. Some went so far as to suggest that it wasn’t their concern or responsibility to discuss human rights violations outside their own country.

At the time, these responses were clear examples of craven, self-serving statements from people who were more interested in preserving their investments than speaking honestly about human rights in a country in which they have major financial interests.

But given the current moment, it’s clear that they weren’t just wrong on the ethics of the situation. Because while there are many unknowns about COVID-19 — like when this nightmare will end — we do know this: China censored information about the outbreak, which helped accelerate its spread. Suddenly the chasm between American citizens and China’s silenced whistleblowers doesn’t seem so wide.

The Associated Press reported this week that China’s top leadership became aware that COVID-19 would likely be a pandemic in mid-January — and sat on that information for nearly a week. As early as December, China was censoring keywords about coronavirus on social media. Reporters Without Borders chronicled the impact China’s stranglehold on information had on the pandemic, from threatening doctors trying to warn the public to arresting whistleblowers for “false rumors.” Dr. Li Wenliang, who lost his life to coronavirus, has become a martyr in China, his experience a warning of both the seriousness of this pandemic and the cruelties of the Chinese government’s repression.

None of this absolves other governments of their failures to adequately respond to COVID-19. Every official, whether in China or the United States, is responsible for their own actions. But had China not censored vital information about a deadly pandemic and hid what it knew, its people could’ve been better prepared and slowed the spread of COVID-19. According to Zhong Nanshan, “one of China’s most highly regarded epidemiology experts and the leader of the National Health Commission’s task force on the epidemic,” if China had taken appropriate action early on, rather than obfuscate and censor, “the number of sick would have been greatly reduced.”

China’s citizens — and people across the globe — would have had more time to respond. Whether that time was or would have been utilized responsibly is another question.

Back in October, no one in the NBA could’ve known what awaited the world just a few short months later. But revisiting that debacle now casts into even sharper relief the disgrace of it all.

After Morey’s tweet, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr stated: "None of us are perfect and we all have different issues that we have to get to and saying that is my right as an American...The world is a complex place and there's more gray than black and white." Suggesting Morey wasn’t “educated” on the situation, LeBron James warned that, even though we have freedom of speech, we should “be careful” about what we say.

And the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan said, “I want to have an opinion in America, there’s a civic duty to engage and do the right thing, but having an opinion on sovereign matters in other countries, it’s for those people to decide,” and concluded that “you have to respect the norms” of China. (Khan’s comments were particularly baffling given that many Chinese people have faced extreme consequences for “having an opinion on sovereign matters.”)

Shaquille O’Neal was one of the few to get it right. Shaq stressed the right to free speech, and added: “Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say ‘that’s not right,’ and that’s what [Morey] did.”

We should care about Uighur prison camps, forced disappearances, crackdowns in Hong Kong, suppression in Tibet, censorship of women’s rights activists, the Great Firewall, and mass surveillance simply because caring about human suffering is the right thing to do, regardless of its proximity to us.

But if basic morality doesn’t persuade us, maybe our current situation will. Censorship in China may seem like a faraway problem, but its effects will be felt globally for a long time to come. If that doesn’t convince us to care, it’s not clear what will.

Sarah McLaughlin is Director of Targeted Advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The views expressed here are her own.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: basketball, censorship, china, covid-19, free speech
Companies: nba


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    GHB (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 12:31pm

    Just IMAGINE what if it happens to activision-blizzard...

    ...during the outbreak to ban a blitzchung player at that time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Godfree (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 4:19pm

    Credible?

    In addressing the NBA/Hong Kong issue, the author, Sarah McLaughlin preaches about "self-serving statements from people who were more interested in preserving their investments than speaking honestly about human rights in a country in which they have major financial interests" when she herself has a major financial interest in beating this dead horse. Hong Kong was never about human rights. Even our own Cato Institute ranked it #1 in the world for freedom. It was about jobs, homes, and self-respect.

    But I digress... "The Associated Press reported this week that China’s top leadership became aware that COVID-19 would likely be a pandemic in mid-January. As early as December, China was censoring keywords about coronavirus on social media." Nobody knew that it would be a pandemic in mid-January. The world's leading epidemiologists, at the WHO said it would not. Only later did they change their minds. China, wanting a second opinion, asked Michael Levitt, a Nobel laureate and Stanford biophysicist. Three weeks later, Levitt told the China Daily News that the virus’ rate of growth had peaked. He predicted that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in China would end up around 80,000, with about 3,250 deaths. As of March 16, China had counted a total of 80,298 cases and 3,245 deaths in a nation where 10 million die every year.

    "Dr. Li Wenliang, who lost his life to coronavirus, has become a martyr in China". Dr. Li was an irresponsible man who saw a report to the Wuhan Health Department and told his friends on social media that 'SARS is back.' The result? 140,000 fled Wuhan and spread it further.

    "According to Zhong Nanshan, “one of China’s most highly regarded epidemiology experts and the leader of the National Health Commission’s task force on the epidemic,” if China had taken appropriate action early on, rather than obfuscate and censor, “the number of sick would have been greatly reduced.”" Yes. The rule was, 'if you encounter three cases of pneumonia of unknown origin you must report it (with a simple mouse click) to the CCDC. Local officials delayed the report from December 16 to December 27. That doesn't sound like much but early detection makes a big difference.

    "We should care about Uighur prison camps, forced disappearances, crackdowns in Hong Kong, suppression in Tibet, censorship of women’s rights activists, the Great Firewall, and mass surveillance simply because caring about human suffering is the right thing to do, regardless of its proximity to us." We should care about these things if they in fact exist. They don't. They are invented by the people who employ writers like Sarah McLaughlin to spread mischief. Sarah's employer, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, FIRE, receives substantial funding from conservative private donors, including $3.5 million from anonymous conservative donors through Donors Capital Fund and DonorsTrust, $1.3 million each from the right-wing Bradley Foundation and Sarah Scaife Foundation, and about $1 million between the Charles Koch Foundation and F.M. Kirby Foundation.

    Sarah might use her time and talents better by reflecting on this: of the 30 human rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration, China leads the USA in 26.

    Just sayin'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 5:35pm

      Re: Credible?

      We should care about these things if they in fact exist. They don't.

      You're actually claiming that none of these things exist in China:

      • Uighur prison camps
      • forced disappearances
      • crackdowns in Hong Kong
      • suppression in Tibet
      • censorship of women’s rights activists
      • the Great Firewall
      • mass surveillance

      Well I guess I know how seriously to take the rest of your comment then.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        flyinginn (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 7:51pm

        Re: Re: Credible?

        I bet he doesn't believe in Iraq WMD either. But on the point about delayed reporting: Aside from Dr. Wenliang's suspicions, even the whistleblowers weren't concerned until the first diagnosis of a cluster of abnormal flu pneumonias by Wuhan-based respiratory expert Zhang Jixian - December 26. First report by local doctors to Wuhan CDC - December 27. First report to WHO - December 31. WHO reported the information it had which initially was still inconclusive. So conspicuous China-bashing from US and UK, both of whom would love to have someone to blame for their own criminal negligence, is less than convincing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2020 @ 10:58pm

          Re: Re: Re: Credible?

          ...This makes China's own fuck-ups when it comes to them shutting up Dr. Wenliang better, how exactly? Can we not simply say a lot of powerful countries fucked up and move onto solutions instead?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Apr 2020 @ 7:12am

        Re: Re: Credible?

        "Well I guess I know how seriously to take the rest of your comment then."

        Given that "Godfree" has a profile which stands at a grand total of two posts, both summarily defending the glorious PRC as more respecting of human rights than the US...I'd say he might have earned his 50 cents for getting a few posts up but the blatant USSR-style propaganda spin points at the chinese PR department doing a sloppy job in training him.

        The irony is that today China would present a better image outside if they simply said "Look, 95% of our citizens are well-fed, well educated, prosperous, happy. We don't do freedom, we don't do "human rights" and we don't do concepts like "justice" well. Take it as is or move yourself off our soil".

        Instead they pretend they're enlightened defenders of truth and justice with a bowl of propaganda you couldn't feed anyone who wasn't raised to kowtow to the state since infancy. It's as shoddy an attempt as the PR spun by old-style USSR-style commissars.

        As a result of which every time China loses all credibility where it'd really be better off not trying to fervently deny and defend that which is undeniable and indefensible.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 17 Apr 2020 @ 7:24am

          Re: Re: Re: Credible?

          What's interesting is the obvious Chinese propaganda is written in excellent English (much better than Trump supporters for example). Makes me wonder about who this is. A highly educated Chinese national? A Chinese citizen living in an English speaking country? An English speaking native doing it for the money?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 20 Apr 2020 @ 3:56am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Credible?

            "What's interesting is the obvious Chinese propaganda is written in excellent English (much better than Trump supporters for example). Makes me wonder about who this is. A highly educated Chinese national? A Chinese citizen living in an English speaking country? An English speaking native doing it for the money?"

            There should be some publicly available channel carrying the chinese mainstream news. Listen to the english-speaking anchorperson for awhile. You will find the presentation a portrayal of everything we consider news should be, all read out in absolutely perfect erudite english. As long as it didn't concern internal news from China at which point you're suddenly offered a great deal of conspicuous absence of political information.

            When my relatives went to China once for vacation they were guided by a chinese tour guide who was perfectly fluent in swedish and well educated about swedish culture and tradition.

            You can assume that anything part of China's outside face will be a production worthy of art awards.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2020 @ 3:29pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Credible?

            Once you find out who it is, can you have him write new instructions for half the stuff I buy off of Amazon?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 21 Apr 2020 @ 6:28am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Credible?

              "Once you find out who it is, can you have him write new instructions for half the stuff I buy off of Amazon?"

              We could, but given his current vocation the risk exists that although the instructions might be written in flawless english the described steps might be along the lines of "Sit down with toes and knees touching the floor. Raise both arms above your head. Now bend your waist until your forehead and hands hit the floor and exclaim 'All hail his imperial Majesty Xi Jin Ping and the glorious People's Republic. Long Live!' Repeat nine times."

              I'm not sure the instructions would be suitable for the specific needs you have, is all I'm sayin'...

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2020 @ 7:49am

      Re: Credible?

      "Just sayin'."

      or is it copy/pastin?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ben, 17 Apr 2020 @ 10:13pm

    Dr. Li Wenliang

    Soooooooooooo... do we really believe Dr. Li Wenliang died from the corona virus? I guess it doesn't really matter at this point, but it seems like that might be worth of skepticism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 18 Apr 2020 @ 12:20am

      Re: Dr. Li Wenliang

      Dying from the virus he was trying to warn people about made the chinese government look at sorts of bad, so yeah, it seems entirely believable that that's what actually happened as the alternative is the chinese government came up with a story that left them looking bad, which would just be kinda out of character for them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

Introducing the new Techdirt Insider Chat, now hosted on Discord. If you are an Insider with a membership that includes the chat feature and have not yet been invited to join us on Discord, please reach out here.

Loading...
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.