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EU fights for media freedom and New Zealand is in no hurry to sever ties with the royal family

12-9-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

CNN: Ukraine regains its territories

The last week has seen a stunning transformation of the battlefield in eastern Ukraine, as a swift armored offensive by Ukrainian forces rolled through lines of Russian defenses and recaptured more than 3,000 square kilometers of territory.

That is more territory than Russian forces have captured in all their operations in Ukraine since April.

As much as the offensive was brilliantly conceived and executed, it also succeeded because of Russian inadequacies. Throughout swathes of the Kharkiv region, Russian units were poorly organized and equipped -- and many offered little resistance.

Over the weekend, the Russian retreat continued from border areas that had been occupied since March. Villages within five kilometers of the border were raising the Ukrainian flag.

The collapse of Russian defenses has ignited recriminations among influential Russian military bloggers and personalities in Russian state media.

Until this week, the Russians were able to attack Ukrainian defenses in Donetsk from three directions: north, east and south. The northern axis is now gone: the threat to the industrial belt in and around Sloviansk has much diminished, as has the prospect of Ukrainian defenses being surrounded.

Simply put, the battlefield in eastern Ukraine has been redrawn in days.

The most influential -- and perhaps surprising -- public critic of the situation was Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has supplied thousands of fighters to the offensive. In a Telegram post Sunday, he said he would be contacting senior officials at the Defense Ministry to spell out his message.

"It's clear that mistakes were made. I think they will draw a few conclusions," he said.

Hinting at disarray among commanders, Kadyrov said that "if Russia's General Staff did not want to leave, the (troops) wouldn't back out" -- but Russian soldiers "didn't have proper military training" and that led to them to retreat.

Influential military bloggers in Russia have been even more blunt.

Zakhar Prilepin, whose Telegram channel has more than 250,000 subscribers, reposted a commentary that described events in Kharkiv as a "catastrophe" and a wholesale failure of intelligence.

The Institute for the Study of War notes the "withdrawal announcement further alienated the Russian milblogger and Russian nationalist communities that support the Kremlin's grandiose vision for capturing the entirety of Ukraine."

That begs the question as to how the Kremlin prosecutes the war after suffering its worst week of the entire campaign. It appears to be short of high-quality units. US officials say the Russians are running short of munitions, even turning to North Korea for supplies.

Politico: EU struggles for media freedom

The European Media Freedom Act, which is scheduled to be released this week, could give Brussels new tools to strengthen safeguards against state control of public and commercial media through political nominations on oversight boards and covert funding through advertisement.

The EU has had its own battles over media freedom with member states. In July, the Commission took Hungary to the EU's top court for allegedly violating laws on media freedom and LGBTQ+ rights. The Commission announced it was sending Hungary to the Court of Justice of the European Union for refusing to renew a radio license for independent Hungarian media Klubradio. Hungary will also have to face European judges over an anti-LGBTQ+ law that seeks to prevent children and teenagers from accessing content and ads about LGBTQ+ issues.

Under the planned new rules, media organizations would have to declare who owns them, either directly or indirectly, and state who their shareholders are.

Such clarity is "crucial" for readers and viewers to identify and understand potential conflicts of interest so they can come to well-informed opinions, officials said in the draft. This is a prerequisite "to actively participate in a democracy."

The bill is the European Commission’s response to growing threats to media freedom across Europe.

As well as Hungary, Poland has ramped up efforts to control the media amid battles with Brussels over political attempts to undermine the rule of law.

Other European countries have also seen press freedom deteriorate in recent years, according to Reporters Without Borders. Greece, the lowest-ranked EU country for press freedom, is currently mired in scandal after it was revealed journalists’ phones were tapped by its National Intelligence Service.

Several EU countries currently lack national rules to protect journalists from surveillance and media from state control, the Commission's draft said. The new rules could give lawyers across Europe a much stronger arsenal for holding EU governments accountable, it said. This addresses calls from press freedom and journalists' associations.

Commission Vice President Věra Jourová said Tuesday that she was prepared for a clash with governments.

"This will be an uphill struggle," Jourová said. "We cannot and we will not stay idle in the light of threats to media freedom."

The law could also tackle the “opaque and unfair allocation of state advertising,” the draft said. Governments as well as regulators and state-owned companies would have to publish how much they spend on media advertising every year.

Beyond domestic political meddling, the Commission wants to restrict foreign propaganda and disinformation.

The issue came to the fore when the EU scrambled to stem a tide of disinformation from Kremlin-backed outlets like RT and Sputnik at the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. There is still a question of how to handle foreign organizations funded by the Chinese or Turkish governments that may also seek to influence the European debate.

AP:  New Zealand will not take advantage of the Queen's death

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that her government will not be pursuing any moves toward changing New Zealand to a republic following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Prime Minister of  New Zealand Jacinda Ardern
Photo: Mark Mitchell/Pool Photo via AP

Ardern said she thought New Zealand would eventually become a republic, and it would probably happen within her lifetime, but that there were more pressing issues for her government to pursue.

Under the current system, the British monarch remains New Zealand’s head of state, represented in New Zealand by a governor-general. The governor-general’s role is these days considered primarily ceremonial.

Still, many people argue New Zealand won’t be able to fully step out from the shadows of its colonialist past and become a truly independent nation until it does become a republic.

Many people in New Zealand have speculated in the past that the republic debate would gather momentum only after the death of Elizabeth, given how beloved she was by so many.

But Ardern said she didn’t link the two events: “I’ve never attached it in that way,” she said.

The Guardian: The future of electric cars is becoming increasingly obscure

Soaring energy costs are threatening the future of the electric car, industry bosses in Germany have warned.

A rise in electricity prices as well as in raw material costs and availability, a chronic shortage of parts, and a widespread reduction in disposable income are having a considerable impact on the production and sales of cars.

If the trend continues, there is also concern that there will be a knock-on effect on investors who will lack incentives to build charging facilities, making electric cars less attractive – because they would be more impractical – to run.

Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Until recently ownership of electric cars had been gaining in attractiveness as the cost of petrol rose. But since recent rises in electricity prices – in Germany of around a third compared with a year ago – the price differential has shrunk.

Electric car owners, whether charging their cars at home or through contracts with charging operators, have seen price rises of 10% or more.

Further price rises are expected, owing to the fact that the price of electricity is linked to that of gas, which has become ever scarcer since Russia turned off its gas supplies to Germany almost two weeks ago.

According to the automobile economist Stefan Bratzel, the development is an immediate threat to the industry.

“The electricity price explosion could end up being an acute danger for vehicle transition, and we need to be damn careful about it,” he told German media.

“Electric cars are losing their charm,” Helena Wisbert, director of the Duisburg-based Center for Automotive Research, wrote in a recent commentary for the economic daily Handelsblatt.

Industry observers say they do not believe an EU reform that is on the cards which would decouple the price of electricity from that of gas will happen fast enough.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva