Civil rights groups urge companies to pause ad spending on Facebook

(Reuters) – Several U.S. civil rights groups called upon some of the world’s largest companies to pause advertising on Facebook Inc (FB.O) in July, saying the social network is not doing enough to stop hate speech on its platforms.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Facebook is seen in Davos, Switzerland Januar 20, 2020. Picture taken January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The groups, which include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), on Wednesday launched here the “#StopHateforProfit” campaign with a newspaper ad.

“The campaign is a response to Facebook’s long history of allowing racist, violent and verifiably false content to run rampant on its platform,” the groups said, urging companies to “send Facebook a powerful message.”

Facebook policy chief Nick Clegg told reporters in a call that the company “emphatically stands against hate speech” and removed 10 million hateful posts from its services last quarter.

The campaign follows the killing of African American George Floyd by police last month, which has triggered widespread protests against racial discrimination in the United States.

Much of the protest activity has played out on social media, as has organizing by far-right groups promoting racism and violence.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg was criticized after Facebook left untouched a post by President Donald Trump about the protests which critics said was racially charged and violated company rules against inciting violence.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday advertisers should use their leverage to hold social media companies accountable. Pelosi was speaking at an online forum about COVID-19 misinformation.

She and other Democrats have called on Facebook to step up measures against hate speech and misinformation, particularly in political ads.

Facebook made some concessions this week, introducing transparency features and a promised tool enabling users to hide the ads, but has stood firm on its hands-off approach.

The rights groups also include Sleeping Giants, Color Of Change, Free Press and Common Sense.

Reporting by Ayanti Bera in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford and Katie Paul in San Francisco; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Sonya Hepinstall


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Safe-haven dollar lifted by rise in coronavirus cases

FILE PHOTO: Saudi riyal, yuan, Turkish lira, pound, U.S. dollar, euro and Jordanian dinar banknotes are seen in this illustration taken January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. dollar was slightly higher on Wednesday afternoon as evidence of a surge in coronavirus cases in some U.S. states and in Beijing sent investors into safe-haven assets.

The dollar index was up 0.140% to 97.121 and stronger versus the euro by 0.25% to $1.124. Against other traditional safe-havens the dollar was weaker, down 0.28% against the Japanese yen and down 0.23% against the Swiss france.

“Mixed risk-taking levels, largely driven by a surge in virus cases in several U.S. states, and in Beijing, have prompted some save-haven dollar buying,” wrote analysts at Action Economics.

On Wednesday a record number of cases were reported in Oklahoma. Florida reported over 2,600 new cases and Arizona more than 1,800 – the second-highest daily increase for both states. A day earlier, six states reported record increases in cases, including Texas, Nevada and Oregon.

Earlier Wednesday Beijing cancelled scores of flights, shut schools and blocked off some neighborhoods as it ramped up efforts to contain a coronavirus outbreak that has fanned fears of wider contagion.

Gains in the dollar were capped by some bullish sentiment after Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell in remarks before U.S. lawmakers beat the drum for more government aid to bolster the domestic economy.

“We at the Fed need to keep our foot on the gas until we are really sure we are through this, and that’s our intention, and I think you may find that there’s more for you to do as well,” Powell said in testimony via a video link to the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee.

The dollar index has recovered from a three-month low last week, but the outlook for the currency looks weak as U.S. economic data has begun to recover and stock indexes have soared.

“The broad dollar outlook remains negative as investors are cutting back on some of the extreme tail risk hedging bets in the markets, some of which were buying dollars,” said Ilan Solot, a currency markets strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman.

Reporting by Kate Duguid in New York and Saikat Chatterjee in London; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown


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Kristen Stewart to play Princess Diana in new movie

FILE PHOTO: Cast member Kristen Stewart poses at a screening for the film “Underwater” in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Kristen Stewart will play Britain’s Princess Diana in an upcoming movie about the breakdown of her marriage to Prince Charles, Hollywood trade publication Deadline reported on Wednesday.

Stewart, 30, best known for her role in the “Twilight Saga” movies, has been cast in the film which will take place over three days in the early 1990s when Diana made the bombshell decision to part ways with Charles and remove herself from becoming queen.

Charles and Diana separated in 1992 and divorced four years later in what was an unprecedented move in modern times for an heir to the British throne. Diana died in a Paris car crash in 1997 at the age of 36.

The independent movie, to be directed by Chilean Pablo Larrain, is expected to start shooting in 2021. No casting was announced for Charles.

“When someone decides not to be the queen, and says, I’d rather go and be myself, it’s a big big decision, a fairy tale upside down,” Larrain told Deadline.

“How and why do you decide to do that? It’s a great universal story that can reach millions and millions of people, and that’s what we want to do. We want to make a movie that goes wide, connects with a worldwide audience that is interested in such a fascinating life,” he added.

The movie, titled “Spencer” after Diana’s maiden name, is the latest in a string of movies, television series, documentaries and even a Broadway musical about the life of the late princess.

Larrain, who won critical praise for his 2016 film “Jackie” about the wife of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, said Stewart was a great fit for the part.

“She can be very mysterious and very fragile and ultimately very strong as well, which is what we need,” he told Deadline. “I think she’s going to do something stunning and intriguing at the same time.”

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Tom Brown


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London producer Mackintosh shuts down ‘Hamilton’ and other top shows until 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – Shows including “Hamilton” and “Les Miserables” will not return to the London stage until 2021, producer Cameron Mackintosh said on Wednesday, blaming uncertainty over when the British government would lift social distancing measures.

Theatres, cinemas and other entertainment venues were shut down in March as part of efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, which has claimed more lives in Britain than in any other European country.

An influential figure in London’s West End entertainment district where he owns several theatres, Mackintosh has produced hit musicals for decades.

He said he had taken the “heart-breaking” decision to delay the return of his four current London shows, which also include “Mary Poppins” and “The Phantom of the Opera”, to ensure that his business could survive.

The decision could lead to redundancies for all employees on the productions, and an internal consultation process had begun.

“Despite the government engaging with the desperate pleas from everyone in the theatre industry, so far there has been no tangible practical support beyond offers to go into debt which I don’t want to do,” he said in a statement.

“Their inability to say when the impossible constraints of social distancing will be lifted makes it equally impossible for us to properly plan for whatever the new future is.”

Mackintosh said his companies’ reserves had been massively depleted by the complete closure of the industry, and that he had to take drastic steps to ensure his shows could restart next year.

Culture minister Oliver Dowden said he had spoken to Mackintosh and others in the industry, and the government was working to resolve the challenges they faced.

“It is going to be exceptionally difficult for theatres to open consistent with social distancing, and that is why I continue to have discussions across government to see what further support we can give theatres,” he said at a news conference.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison


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Golf: You should be here, McIlroy tells European players upset about rankings

FILE PHOTO: Jun 14, 2020; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the third tee during the final round of the Charles Schwab Challenge golf tournament at Colonial Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

(Reuters) – The European players who opted not to travel to the United States for the PGA Tour’s restart after a three-month COVID-19 break should not complain about losing out on world ranking points, world number one Rory McIlroy said on Wednesday

The Official World Golf Ranking decided to unfreeze the ranking with last week’s resumption of the PGA Tour even though competitors on the European Tour cannot preserve their ranking at home since action remains on hold.

Northern Irishman McIlroy, competing this week at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, said that while he had little sympathy for the Europe-based players.

“Look, personally, I — if I were in their shoes and I was asked to come over to the states and shelter in place or quarantine for two weeks before these tournaments, I would have done that,” McIlroy said at Harbour Town Golf Links.

“I mean, if you really care about your career and care about moving forward, you should be here.”

The European Tour, suspended since March, will fully resume with the British Masters on July 22.

Among the high-profile golfers who opted not to head to the United States in the meantime are McIlroy’s Ryder Cup team mates Tommy Fleetwood, who slipped outside the top-10 in the rankings this week, and Francesco Molinari.

“I get there’s different variables and families and stuff involved, but we all have the means to rent a very nice house in a gated community in Florida and — you know, it’s not a hardship for two weeks to come over and quarantine,” McIlroy said.

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond


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Racing Point get 2020 F1 car on track at Silverstone

LONDON (Reuters) – Racing Point became the first Formula One team to get their 2020 car on track after the COVID-19 shutdown when Lance Stroll took part in a limited-mileage private test at Silverstone on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 – Pre Season Testing – Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain – February 26, 2020 Racing Point’s Lance Stroll during testing REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo

None of the 10 teams’ drivers have turned a wheel in their latest cars since the end of pre-season testing in Spain in February.

Teams are allowed two in-season promotional days for filming purposes, and Stroll completed 100km on Pirelli demonstration tyres at the circuit over the road from the Racing Point factory.

Renault were also in action at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, where the season is due to start on July 5 with two back-to-back races, with Frenchman Esteban Ocon at the wheel of the team’s 2018 car and completing 614km.

“I’ve missed this so much, 145 laps done ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix feeling fresh, feeling ready, and more,” he said on Instagram.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo drove on Tuesday, doing 115 laps and 500km.

Six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas drove the title-winning 2018 W09 car last week as they practised protocols for races without spectators and special measures related to the pandemic.

Other drivers have also clambered back into the cockpit after months of gym work and simulated racing, but in less powerful cars.

McLaren’s Lando Norris drove a Formula Three car at Silverstone this month.

“It’s surprising how many top quality drivers fancy a go in an F3 car just to get their eye back in,” Trevor Carlin, who runs teams in a range of junior series, told Reuters.

“Lando’s doing Silverstone again this week and (team mate) Carlos (Sainz) is doing a day with him as well. I’ve had a Red Bull driver out, I’ve got a Williams driver out and I’ve got various other young drivers out as well.”

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond


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Lufthansa warns of threat to its $10 billion bailout deal

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – German airline Lufthansa (LHAG.DE), responding to investor criticism of a state-backed rescue deal, warned it might need to apply for protection from creditors if the bailout plan failed to win shareholder approval.

Lufthansa’s biggest shareholder, German billionaire Heinz Hermann Thiele, criticised the 9 billion euro ($10.1 billion) bailout, saying he had raised his stake in Lufthansa to over 15% and hoped alternative options could be explored.

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, Thiele declined to tell FAZ whether he would vote against the deal that gives the German government a 20% stake in Lufthansa and two seats on its supervisory board, but said he was not satisfied with it.

Like the rest of the airline sector, Lufthansa has been hard hit by what is expected to be a protracted travel slump due to the coronavirus pandemic, forcing it to seek the bailout.

Lufthansa said on Wednesday its executive board expected attendance at its June 25 virtual general meeting to vote on the deal to be under 50%, which would mean two-thirds of those present would need to vote in favour.

“The board considers it possible that the stabilisation package could fail to achieve the two-thirds majority of votes cast,” it said.

Lufthansa said it might possibly have to apply for protective shield proceedings under insolvency law a few days after the meeting if no other solution is found immediately.

Under German protective shield proceedings, a company’s management remains in charge and gets up to three months to come up with a survival plan.

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said after Thiele’s comments that he was not worried the deal could collapse and he urged shareholders to approve it.

FILE PHOTO: Airplanes of German carrier Lufthansa are parked at the Berlin Schoenefeld airport, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Schoenefeld, Germany, May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

Thiele, who is honorary chairman of Knorr-Bremse (KBX.DE), declined to comment on Lufthansa’s statement, a spokeswoman for the German brake manufacturer said.

Lufthansa shares closed down 1.25 after it was disclosed that Thiele now had a 15.5% stake.

‘COMPLETELY IRRESPONSIBLE’

“The German government has taken a high-risk bet. Its wish for the government to take a direct stake in Lufthansa is putting the jobs of hundreds of thousands of Lufthansa employees at risk. It’s completely irresponsible,” said Michael Theurer, a senior member of the opposition Free Democrats (FDP).

Vanessa Golz, who covers Lufthansa for investment fund Deka, which owns 0.9% of the airline, said there was no question it needed a bailout and time was pressing.

“If the position of the shareholders can be improved, this is to be welcomed, but with a sense of proportion. The task now is to draw up a future concept for a ‘new Lufthansa’ as quickly as possible. Otherwise there are only losers: Lufthansa employees, the taxpayer and the shareholders,” she said.

Patrick Schuchter, portfolio manager at Union Investment, said his company would approve the state rescue, but wanted the interests of existing shareholders taken more into account in the design of the rescue package.

Lufthansa shareholders must register to attend the shareholder meeting by June 20 and if more than 50% attend, a simple majority would suffice, the airline said.

As of June 4, 85% of Lufthansa’s shareholders were based in Germany.

Slideshow (3 Images)

Thiele said an indirect government participation via German state-owned development bank KfW could be an alternative to an outright stake.

Under the deal, the government could raise its stake to 25% plus one share in the event of a takeover attempt and the airline must transfer up to 24 takeoff and landing slots in Frankfurt and Munich to rivals.

With many of its planes grounded because of the pandemic, Lufthansa said on Monday it was seeking to strike agreements with worker representatives by June 22 on how to make job cuts equivalent to 22,000 full-time positions.

Reporting by Michelle Martin in Berlin, Ilona Wissenbach in Frankfurt and Joern Poltz in Munich; Editing by Keith Weir, David Clarke and Elaine Hardcastle


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Adidas rejects investigating HR chief in race row

BERLIN (Reuters) – Adidas (ADSGn.DE) rejected on Wednesday a call by employees to investigate the German sportswear brand’s human resources chief over her handling of racism at the company after she described it last year as “noise” only discussed in America.

FILE PHOTO: An Adidas shop is seen in Berlin, Germany, March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

An Adidas spokeswoman said it strongly rebuffed statements made in a letter by 83 employees, obtained by the Wall Street Journal, asking the supervisory board to investigate Karen Parkin’s approach to racial issues in the workplace.

The spokeswoman said Parkin had apologised for the comments in a statement issued to staff and was working with a coalition on the company’s global diversity and inclusion commitments.

“Our black employees have led the response that we will continue to implement together and that we have committed to as a company,” the spokeswoman said.

In Parkin’s statement, the HR boss admitted she had not made clear the company’s stance against discrimination at a meeting at the Reebok brand in Boston last year when she made a comment about concern about racism being “noise”.

“I should have chosen a better word…Should I have offended anyone, I apologise,” she said.

Parkin, who holds joint British and U.S. citizenship, was appointed to the Adidas executive board in 2017, the first woman to join the company’s top leadership since 1993.

The employee letter cited by the Journal also asked Adidas to create a public platform where people can make anonymous complaints about racism.

Adidas said it had long had a hotline where employees could submit such reports. It said last week it would engage a third-party investigator to oversee a zero-tolerance policy on racism and set up a council to ensure action on the issue.

After close consultation with black employees, Adidas last week pledged to invest $20 million in the black community in the United States and make sure that at least 30% of all new U.S. jobs are filled with black and Latino people.

Companies around the world have pledged to fund racial and social justice causes amid worldwide protests over the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck.

Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Mark Heinrich


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French Open to be held with fans: French federation president

FILE PHOTO: Tennis – French Open – Roland Garros, Paris, France – June 6, 2018 French federation president Bernard Giudicelli REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

(Reuters) – The French Open, unlike its U.S. counterpart, will be held with fans when it takes place from Sept. 27-Oct. 11, the head of the French tennis federation (FFT) said on Wednesday.

“It will absolutely not be behind closed doors. There is no final decision yet on the number of spectators, which will be decided on with the public authorities,” FFT president Bernard Giudicelli told reporters.

Usually held at the end of May, the French Open was first moved to a Sept. 20-Oct. 4 slot but the main draw has been pushed back another week.

The qualifying tournament, which had been discarded from previous plans, will be held as usual and will start on Sept. 21 in a boost for lower-ranked players who have been especially hard hit by the lack of earning opportunities since tennis was shutdown in March.

Giudicelli said tickets would be sold around the end of the month or at the beginning of July.

With three Masters tournaments and two Grand Slams in the space of seven weeks, players might have to make hard choices but French Open director Guy Forget is confident they will turn up at Roland Garros.

“Seventy-five players from the top 100 are currently in Europe and I am convinced they will preserve themselves to be in top form in Paris,” said Forget.

Giudicelli added that the Paris Masters would be held on its scheduled dates, from Oct 31-Nov 8.

Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis


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Performers fume as Serbia reopens but theaters remain shut

BELGRADE (Reuters) – While lockdown measures have eased in Serbia, allowing indoor gatherings of up to 500 people and a soccer match attended by around 20,000, the country’s theaters remain closed and some performers complain that culture is being demoted.

They say that at a time of crisis, the government has failed to back the country’s arts.

“Theaters never closed … not even during the Spanish flu (pandemic) or plague or cholera,” said Dusanka Glid, a lead actress at the National Theatre, which is based in the capital Belgrade.

“It is as if they are being abolished, as if they are redundant,” she told Reuters.

Serbia has reported 12,522 cases of the coronavirus and 257 deaths.

In restaurants and cafes around the city, life is returning to normal as people sip coffee and chat.

Most stage actors, meanwhile, remain out of work and out of pocket.

As part of Serbia’s 5.1 billion euro ($5.73 billion) recovery program, independent artists received a one-off financial aid payment of 90,000 Serbian dinars ($860.75).

Under provisions of the 2019 budget, about 0.73% of gross domestic product is allocated to Serbia’s culture.

Many theaters in Serbia have tried to ride out the pandemic by streaming performances online or airing past plays.

And in late June and July, Belgrade theaters will start taking turns to use one of Belgrade’s open-air stages. But even that will only last a few weeks, and most theaters will remain closed at least until October, when the new season traditionally begins.

Sonja Lapatanov, a ballet teacher and former prima ballerina at the National Ballet, said the government, which faces a general election on June 21, was putting mainstream entertainment ahead of theater, opera and dance.

“When you need to fool the people and you need to give them something to enjoy, then they are given mass events.”

($1 = 0.8903 euros)

($1 = 104.5600 Serbian dinars)

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Mike Collett-White


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