South Korean basketball is cutting foreign players down to size

After South Korea’s basketball league kicked out a foreign player for being too tall, news reports have since emerged of athletes desperately trying to shrink themselves.

A new height limit imposed on the sport has drawn both controversy and ridicule for its attempt to cut foreigners down to size.

What exactly happened?

The Korean Basketball League (KBL) recently angered fans when it announced a significant change in the rules.

Each team in South Korea can have only two foreign players. Starting with the 2018-19 season, one of these players must not be taller than 200cm (6ft 6in), while the other one cannot be taller than 186cm.

This meant that one of the country’s most popular foreign players – an American called David Simon – had to leave. At 202.1cm, he had missed the cut-off by just millimetres.

“I was a little upset,” Mr Simon recently told the BBC World Service’s OS programme.

“Just to be that close and not be able to make it, kind of stinks. Doesn’t look like I’ll be going back there to play unless they change the rule again.”

Simon, who had topped the KBL in the previous basketball season, had to head home to the US, much to fans’ chagrin. A petition was filed to the South Korean presidential office to abolish the KBL’s height rules, and bring back Simon, reported Yonhap news.

Fans then took to social media to bid farewell to departing players.

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We will miss ya 😭 #davidsimon #simon #데이비드사이먼 #사이먼 #180313 #안양kgc #kgc인삼공사 #안양실내체육관 #창원lg #창원lg세이커스 #프로농구 #KBL #농구 #농구선수 #basketball #basketballplayer

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Why has South Korea done this?

It’s not the first time this has happened. In fact, Korea has had a height limit for foreign players since 1997, but this is the shortest that has ever imposed.

The KBL has maintained that it has to protect local players who, on average, cannot match the heights of foreign players, mostly Americans.

The league has also said the height limit will lead to better games with higher scores and a faster pace.

“We believe this new height restriction will revive the popularity of pro basketball in the country,” KBL Secretary General Lee Sung-han told Yonhap.

Is South Korea alone in this?

The lack of extremely tall local players appears to be particularly acute in Asia, where for every Yao Ming (229cm) there are many more players of average height.

It’s one reason why the basketball league in the Philippines has had for decades a 200cm height limit for foreign players, as “permitting American 7-footers to play would wreak havoc”, reported Slate magazine.

The debate has long overshadowed the sport. Way back in 1957, Sports Illustrated magazine ran a discussion with both proponents and opponents arguing that either way, a height limit was discriminatory.

“There are advantages and disadvantages both to being taller and shorter,” Donyell Marshall, the men’s head coach of basketball at Central Connecticut State University’s Blue Devil Athletics, told the BBC.

“If you’re taller you can score around the rim better, you can block shots and you can rebound. But smaller players can usually shoot better. They are faster and better dribblers.”

So how do you shrink a basketball player?

It’s a shadowy science. Yonhap reported that the South Korean teams tried lifting weights and jogging before measurement, hoping that dehydration could knock off a few centimetres.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when bouffant hairstyles were popular, Philippine teams would shave their foreign players’ heads to battle height restrictions, reported Slate. Other methods employed over the years include doing shoulder presses and squats, with the idea that this could compress their bones.

If all else failed, some resorted to cheating – slouching, bending their knees ever so slightly, or leaning against the wall during measurement. But officials soon cottoned on – and simply measured the athletes while they lay flat on the ground.

Doctors say it’s almost impossible to shrink your body.

First of all, there hasn’t been much of a market for shrinkage, so there’s hardly been any medical innovations.

“It’s actually very rare… usually people want to grow taller and the technology has been there for that,” says Dr Tan Chyn Hong, an orthopaedic surgeon and a former Singapore national athlete.

“If you want to lose a lot, there is no reasonable way to do that – short of chopping your bones.”

But not all hope is lost.

“Non-surgically, there are things you can do to a very small degree,” says Dr Tan.

“The discs in your spine are composed of water amongst other things, so for example, if you dehydrate yourself, you could perhaps lose a bit of height from the shrinking of the accumulated discs.

“I would say from doing that, and maybe also slouching a bit, it’s possible to lose 1cm – but any more than that is very tough.”

Reporting by the BBC’s Andreas Illmer and Yvette Tan.

Will Netflix’s Amo be the Philippine Narcos?

Allegations of historical inaccuracy, character stereotypes and the glamorisation of a drug-fuelled past have long plagued the critically-acclaimed Netflix hit series Narcos in Colombia.

And in early April, the global streaming giant will release another drug crime drama, this time from the Philippines.

Set against the backdrop of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ongoing drug war, Amo – produced in the Philippines and directed by Filipino Brillante Mendoza – tells the story of a troubled teenager named Joseph, who gets pulled into Manila’s underground world.

Traffickers and dangerous drug lords, crooked cops and corrupt government officials all feature prominently in the 12-episode series.

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    Produced by commercial broadcast network TV5, the series will be the first Filipino Netflix Original to be screened globally, starting 9 April.

    Netflix’s vice-president of content acquisition Robert Roy told the BBC it was a “bold and suspenseful show that has the potential of capturing thrill-seeking audiences worldwide”.

    But while there’s some local pride in a potentially breakthrough Philippine show, there’s also concern about the message it will send, not least because Brillante Mendoza is an open supporter of President Duterte.

    Since Mr Duterte launched an all-out campaign to stamp out drugs, rights groups estimate that more than 12,000 people have died.

    Many were shot without trial by police or vigilantes, their bodies left out in the open.

    The strongman leader recently announced plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) after it began examining alleged crimes committed during his war.

    Mendoza denied his programme was Duterte propaganda.

    “As a filmmaker stepping into this project, I want to tell truthful stories. I don’t care about politics,” Mr Mendoza told BBC News in Manila.

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    He said he didn’t know whether the president had seen the series but that his representatives “liked it”.

    “My work speaks for itself and people have to watch Amo first. Just because I did a movie about illegal drugs, people are starting to accuse me of doing a propaganda film.

    His 2016 gritty tale Ma Rosa chronicled the struggles of a mother in Manila forced to sell drugs in order to make ends meet.

    “There are a lot of killings [in Amo],” he said. “I will show both sides of the coin, not just the side of the government but also the side of the victims and the police. There is a lot of corruption among them and they are partly to blame.”

    Critics say the story of the Philippine drug war will be a tricky one to tell.

    In a statement to BBC News, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the show appeared to gloss over “the vicious reality of Duterte’s drug war”.

    “The Philippine government presents a whitewashed view of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war that paints a ludicrous veneer of civility and lawfulness. They will be well-pleased by the first two episodes of Amo,” said deputy Asia director Phelim Kine.

    “One of the most notably preposterous elements of the show is the significant number of suspected drug users and dealers actually surviving their encounters with the Philippine National Police, which is contrary to what has actually been occurring since the drug war began in 2016,” he added.

    “Any dramatic representation of the drug war should stick to the same facts that have motivated an ICC examination of the killings, rather than provide an airbrushed version which does detriment to the truth while benefiting the Duterte government’s formidable propaganda machine.”

    Narcos, which debuted on Netflix in 2015, won critical acclaim for its documentary-style depiction of Colombian drug lords, with the earlier defining seasons centring on the story of Pablo Escobar.

    But the reception in the country where the series was based has always proven to be mixed. Many native audiences questioned the show’s authenticity and ridiculed its sympathetic narrative towards police officers and politicians.

    In the case of Amo and the Philippines, could native Netflix subscribers view a show about their president’s drug campaign as entertainment?

    “I’d watch it for sure,” said Isabel Sedano. “But I’d expect a strong story that won’t shy away from showing the darker and grittier side of local law enforcement and crime.

    “Fiction personalises issues and I feel that Amo will definitely help in making the drug war feel in even closer to home than it is.”

    Kimberly Koschinger, a 20-year-old student, said she would not want anything “sugar-coated”.

    “The Philippine drug war is anything but glamorous. I’m excited to see how it will be portrayed on Netflix,” she said. “Our country may be known for beautiful beaches and friendly people but if we are going to delve deeper into the darker parts of our country, I’d want to see full disclosure of the subject.”

    Others like Gab Bonifacio expressed stronger sentiments. “What shows haven’t glorified drugs? Just look at Breaking Bad and El Chapo.

    “But do we really think the narrative in Amo will be anti-establishment? I’m sure the scriptwriters will justify all the killings just like they did in Narcos,” he said.

    “Brillante Mendoza did a lot of good stuff before but based on his work with President Duterte, it becomes overwhelmingly obvious that what the show will have is the farthest thing from an objective observer.”

    Additional reporting by Howard Johnson and Virma Simonette in Manila.

Outlaw or ignore? How Asia is fighting ‘fake news’

Everybody is talking about it: fake news.

President Trump decries it every time he sees a critical article, the Pope has condemned it, governments are fretting about its influence, holding parliamentary hearings.

And now Malaysia has passed a law criminalising it, with a penalty of up to six years in jail. Yet no-one has defined what it is.

The term first came to prominence during the 2016 US presidential election campaign. But the problem of deliberately falsified news articles, masquerading as properly-researched journalism, goes back centuries.

However, the Malaysian government’s definition in the recently-passed law is far more sweeping than that.

It has criminalised the dissemination of “any news, information, data and reports, which is or are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas”.

Human rights groups have been quick to point out that this could be used against anyone who makes an error in their reporting or social media posts.

Moreover at least one member of the government has already stated that, when it comes to articles critical of Prime Minister Najib Razak, especially over the notorious 1MDB scandal, where billions of dollars of a government-run investment board are alleged to have been misappropriated, any information not verified as true by the government will be viewed as fake news.

The fact that this law has been rushed through right before what is likely to be a hard-fought general election has raised suspicions that its real purpose is to intimidate government critics.

It is not clear anyway that Malaysia has a serious fake news problem.

In a response to the concerns expressed about the new law, the communications and multimedia minister Salleh Said Keruak highlighted the foreign media’s failure to get the sometimes complicated string of official titles for high-ranking Malaysians right – irritating, yes, but hardly a threat to national security.

The article goes on to excoriate mainstream media which have published negative pieces about Mr Najib, calling them fake news, and thus rather confirming suspicions that the law is aimed at them, rather than the manipulation of social media opinion through fraudulent Facebook accounts and automated Twitter bots.

‘Better safe than sorry’

Singapore is the other country which has raised the alarm over fake news, holding 50 hours of parliamentary hearings.

Facebook’s policy director Simon Milner was publicly dressed down by the law and home affairs minister K Shanmugam over his failure to acknowledge the full extent of data taken by the data analysis company Cambridge Analytica when he testified to the British parliament earlier this year.

Academics speaking at the Singapore hearings presented an alarming scenario of disinformation campaigns launched by foreign actors bent on attacking the island state, of cyber armies in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore working as proxies for other countries in undermining national security.

It also gave Singapore academics and officials an opportunity to snipe at the US belief in free expression, the “marketplace of ideas”, which had allowed the abuse of personal data on Facebook to take place, in contrast to Singapore’s “better safe than sorry” belief in a more tightly regulated society.

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    But the actual examples of fake news which have come up during this national debate have mostly been prosaic; a hoax photo showing a collapsed roof at a housing complex, which sent officials rushing unnecessarily to the scene; and an erroneous report of a collision between two trains on the light rail transit line.

    Irritating and worrying for some, for a while, but hardly likely to bring Singapore society to its knees. In any case both Singapore and Malaysia already have plenty of laws capable of penalising false, inflammatory or defamatory comment.

    A poisonous tide

    In the country where social media misinformation has had the most devastating impact, by contrast, there is no clamour for a fake news law.

    Myanmar too has a raft of existing harsh laws sweeping enough to stifle any reporting deemed a threat to the state or society, laws which all too often have been used to jail journalists.

    But these laws have been unable to prevent a poisonous tide of hate speech on social media, which has helped ignite anti-Muslim sentiment.

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      Myanmar famously leapt from being a society largely without even old-fashioned telephone lines, to one with more than 40 million mobile phone accounts, in just three years.

      Seventeen million people have Facebook accounts, and as in so much of Asia, this is how most Burmese send messages and get their news.

      Most don’t bother with email accounts. This has coincided with the end of strict military censorship, and the emergence in the mainly Buddhist population of a primeval fear of the small Muslim minority.

      It has been all too easy to find cartoons and doctored photographs on Facebook which depict Muslims in a sinister and derogatory way. Worse still, large numbers of posts about Muslims are completely false, with photographs purporting to show atrocities against Buddhists by Muslims which are from a completely different part of the world.

      The government has done nothing to stem this tide of disinformation, at times appearing to encourage it.

      For example the Facebook page of the Myanmar armed forces still has on it a gruesome photograph with a caption stating that the dismembered bodies of infants, being dragged by apparently Muslim men, are Rakhine Buddhists killed by Rohingya militants in 1942.

      In fact the photograph is from the Bangladesh independence war in 1971.

      When journalists, myself among them, were given photographs in September 2017 during a government-run tour of Rakhine state, supposedly showing Muslims burning down their own homes, backing the assertion by officials that this was the cause of the destruction of Rohingya villages, we were quickly able to ascertain that the perpetrators in the photos were actually displaced Hindus dressed up as Muslims.

      Yet the government spokesman posted one of the photos on his Twitter feed proclaiming “It’s Truth”, although he later removed it. I was told in all seriousness in one Rakhine village that Muslims used to cut up Buddhists and cook them with their beef stew.

      These kinds of stories are circulating unchallenged in Myanmar, creating a tide of fear and hate which then intimidates anyone trying to advocate a more tolerant approach into silence.

      The UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee, who has herself been subjected to vicious online abuse for her focus on human rights in Rakhine, and has now been banned from entering the country, has described Facebook there as “a beast”.

      Facebook says it takes the problem of hate speech very seriously, but has yet to stop the site being used to stir up sectarian conflict.

      The social media game changer

      The other country where social media has had a profound impact is the Philippines, where critics of President Duterte have accused his supporters of “weaponising” Facebook and Twitter to twist public opinion and silence dissent.

      Filipinos are among the heaviest users of Facebook in Asia, with more than one third of the population visiting the social media site regularly.

      This is has made it a potentially game-changing arena for political actors who know how best to use it, in a country which has long had a lively and competitive traditional media.

      Long before the 2016 election which propelled Rodrigo Duterte, a late candidate with outsider status, to the presidency, the internet was already being exploited by public relations experts promoting products and opinions with so-called “click factories”, where thousands of low-paid workers raised the clicks for specific websites, and companies openly offering hundreds of fake Facebook or Twitter accounts in support of the online profile of clients.

      After announcing his candidacy in November 2015 Rodrigo Duterte hired social media experts to craft a strategy which outflanked the usual dependence on endorsement from mainstream newspapers and television channels.

      It worked brilliantly, tapping into a hitherto unarticulated yearning for change among many Filipinos.

      But researchers have also detected what they believe is the use of automated bots and fake Facebook accounts to amplify the pro-Duterte message, something the president’s team has denied.

      The online news site Rappler published a detailed report about this in October 2016, enraging Mr Duterte’s supporters, and, it believes, prompting the ruling in January this year by the Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission that the site is illegally owned by foreign investors, a claim first made by the president last year.

      Rappler also highlighted the way Facebook’s algorithms could be “gamed” to ensure certain content dominates users’ newsfeeds.

      Leaving aside the allegations of social media manipulation, what President Duterte’s supporters have succeeded in doing is using Facebook and other sites to wage a war of words against his critics, or anyone publishing unfavourable reports.

      I experienced this in September 2016 after the BBC published a report on Mr Duterte’s campaign against drugs dealers and users which has resulted in thousands of police and extrajudicial killings.

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        I received a flood of hostile messages, and a few death threats on my Facebook page, and the BBC complaints site was swamped with almost identical protests over “erroneous and biased” reporting. Maria Ressa, the CEO and founder of Rappler, was at one point getting 90 hate messages an hour.

        In part this militant response has been shaped by Mr Duterte’s own depiction of his presidency, more as an existential struggle to save his country than just another administration.

        Mr Duterte uses emotive and bellicose language to describe his mission, openly threatening to kill those who stand in his way, including journalists, and suggesting he may in turn be killed, by unnamed enemies.

        Having successfully motivated those who voted for him into believing he could be a one-man saviour for the many ailments afflicting the Philippines, he, like President Trump in the US, has also instilled in his supporters a deep mistrust of traditional mainstream news sources, as controlled by powerful vested interests set on ensuring the failure of his presidency – “presstitutes”, in their preferred term.

        Nowhere has the political climate been more polarised than in Myanmar and the Philippines.

        Yet hearings at the Philippines Senate concluded that a specific fake news law was unnecessary, and possibly counterproductive.

        Clarissa David, a professor of mass communications at the University of the Philippines, testified to the Senate about the dangers of an information environment she described as “polluted”, with no one sure any more what is real and reliable, and what is fake.

        But she warned against easy definitions of fake news. And trying to outlaw it, she argued, is not worth the inevitable cost there will be for media freedom.

        Hers is an argument which was made, but lost, in Malaysia.

Philippines to temporarily close popular tourist island Boracay

The Philippine island of Boracay will be closed to tourists for six months following concerns of damage to its once pristine shores.

A spokesperson for President Rodrigo Duterte said the closure would begin on 26 April.

Earlier this year Mr Duterte said Boracay was turning into a “cesspool” and threatened to shut it down.

The island, known for its white-sand beaches, attracted nearly 2 million visitors last year.

The decision has prompted concern for the thousands of people employed in Boracay’s busy tourist trade.

The island is home to around 500 tourism-related businesses, which drew in annual revenue of $1.07bn (£760m) last year. The government said affected companies will receive financial aid.

It’s not clear how the shutdown will be implemented, though the department of trade and industry had earlier proposed closing the island down in phases, saying a total shutdown would be detrimental to businesses and livelihoods.

Damage fears

The move follows growing concern over the island’s environmental health.

Officials had warned businesses had been releasing wastewater into the surrounding waters.

In February, Mr Duterte condemned the island’s hotels, restaurants and other tourist businesses, accusing them of dumping sewage directly into the sea.

“I will charge you for serious neglect of duty [for] making Boracay a fishpond or a sewer pool,” Mr Duterte said at the time.

“Either [you] clean it up or I will close it permanently. There will be a time that no more foreigners will go there.”