ESPN has instructed its staff to avoid discussing Chinese politics related to its coverage of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of the pro-democracy Hong Kong protestors, according to Deadspin.
Chuck Salituro, the senior news director at the sports network, sent an internal memo obtained by Deadspin prohibiting on-air discussion of the tweet and directing shows to focus on basketball instead. Deadspin reports:
Chuck Salituro, the senior news director of ESPN, sent a memo to shows mandating that any discussion of the Daryl Morey story avoid any political discussions about China and Hong Kong, and instead focus on the related basketball issues. The memo, obtained by Deadspin, explicitly discouraged any political discussion about China and Hong Kong. Multiple ESPN sources confirmed to Deadspin that network higher-ups were keeping a close eye on how the topic was discussed on ESPN’s airwaves.
The directive comes as the NBA is grappling with a flurry of controversy about a since-deleted tweet Morey sent out last week supporting demonstrators in Hong Kong worried about China’s moves to break its promise to protect their historic legal rights and privileges. The tweet sparked an international incident when the Chinese consulate in Texas denounced Morey and the NBA put out a statement bowing to China by writing that the tweet was “regrettable.”
“We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China,” said the NBA. “We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”
The NBA received condemnation from all sides of the America political spectrum in response to the statement, which was far less apologetic than the translated version circulated in China.
“We feel greatly disappointed at Houston Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey’s inappropriate speech, which is regrettable,” the statement written for the Chinese audience reads.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver attempted damage control this week by backing Morey’s tweet after the bipartisan backlash for the league’s initial condemnation.
“The long-held values of the NBA are to support freedom of expression, and certainly freedom of expression by members of the NBA community,” Silver said during a Tokyo press conference. “Daryl Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right as one of our employees.”
China announced Tuesday that it would not be airing certain NBA pre-season games.
“We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,” Chinese Central Television said in a statement. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”