Argentine hospitality, from popcorn trucks to prayer rooms

Updated 01 December 2018

Argentine hospitality, from popcorn trucks to prayer rooms

  • What the signs say in English is a “quiet room” is translated into Spanish as a “sale de oracion,” and turns out to be a prayer room for local and visiting Muslim journalists

I have the feeling that, whether there are geopolitical fireworks at the G20 summit or not, the event is in for a pretty good press. The Argentine organizers have made the best of an unpromising situation and gone out of their way to keep the media happy.
Planners were faced with a big logistical problem in the early stages of preparing for the event. The chosen site for the actual summit — the Costa Seguero Center on the shores of the Rio de la Plata — was not big enough to hold both the summit leaders, with their enormous entourages and teams of “sherpa” assistants, as well as the 2,500 or so journalists attending from around the world.
They decided to split the media from the summiteers, and move the journalists to Parque Norte, a sports complex about 5 km farther upriver. Maybe there was a security element in the decision, too, with no pesky journalists to contend with on the main site in a city that has gone into lockdown for the summit.
When we were first shown the arrangements, I must admit I was disappointed. From a journalist’s point of view, these kinds of events always work best when you can mingle with the stars, grab a few words on the sidelines, and generally rub shoulders with the movers and shakers.
This is why Davos works so well: You never know who you will bump into in the rabbit runs of the Kongresshalle. So when I heard that the media in Buenos Aires were to be “banished” to Parque Norte, my heart sank. Two days of watching a big screen with one eye on a “live” feed from the center? Ho hum. It would have been much better to be at the thick of a media scrum in the summit center. But there are many compensations at Parque Norte. The facilities are mind-boggling. The main press room is about the biggest I have ever seen, an aircraft hangar of a chamber oozing the latest in bling gadgetry.
And, something not to be taken for granted in Argentina, as I have learned since I arrived a couple of days ago: The Internet works much better than it does outside the media enclave.
The organizers have promised to make leaders and their officials available at Parque by driving them up to the media hub for interviews, or by driving media down the road to the center.
Let’s see how that one works in practice, but there was a steady stream of senior Argentine politicians on parade yesterday.
What will probably go a long way to winning over the hearts and minds of the assembled scribblers are the incidental facilities at Parque Norte. You want cool VR displays in a fake jungle setting with books dangling artistically from the ceiling? You want a cafeteria serving splendid Argentine produce around the clock? You want a drinks dispenser providing local specialities on tap? How about a bright red popcorn truck?
And, this being football-crazy Argentina, you want your own dedicated media football pitch? You’ve got all these and more at Parque Norte.
It is not just the fripperies, either. Some serious thought has gone into making visiting journalists, from many different countries and cultures, as welcome and comfortable as possible. What the signs say in English is a “quiet room” is translated into Spanish as a “sale de oracion,” and turns out to be a prayer room for local and visiting Muslim journalists.
Will the world’s hard-nosed hacks be swayed by such little acts of kindness? That remains to be seen. But they will probably be less inclined to put the boot into the host nation as a result. I’m going to gauge the mood of the international media about their temporary home in Buenos Aires at an evening welcome reception, complete with tango display, and will report back.


Jailed Wikileaks founder Assange no longer in solitary, health improving

Updated 19 February 2020

Jailed Wikileaks founder Assange no longer in solitary, health improving

  • Assange was moved from solitary confinement in the medical wing to a different part of the prison with 40 other inmates
  • WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson: He has improved thanks to the pressure from his legal team, the general public, and amazingly, actually from other inmates

LONDON: Jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is no longer being kept in solitary confinement and his health is improving, his spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told reporters on Tuesday.
Assange, 48, is in Belmarsh high-security prison in London, fighting an extradition request from the United States where he faces 18 counts including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law. He could spend decades in prison if convicted.
His supporters had expressed concern about the state of his health after he appeared confused during a court hearing in October, struggling to recall his age and name and saying he was unable to think properly.
Assange was moved from solitary confinement in the medical wing to a different part of the prison with 40 other inmates after his legal team and prisoners complained that his treatment was unfair, Hrafnsson said.
“I saw him about 10 days ago — he has improved thanks to the pressure from his legal team, the general public, and amazingly, actually from other inmates in Belmarsh Prison to get him out of isolation,” Hrafnsson said ahead of an extradition hearing that starts next week.
Australian-born Assange made global headlines in early 2010 when WikiLeaks published a classified US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.
WikiLeaks later angered the United States by publishing caches of leaked military documents and diplomatic cables.
Assange has consistently presented himself as a champion of free speech being persecuted for exposing abuses of power. But his critics paint him as a dangerous figure complicit in Russian efforts to undermine the West.
He fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning about allegations of sex crimes which have since been dropped. He spent seven years holed up in the embassy until Ecuador decided to stop giving him refuge and he was dragged out last May.
Earlier, a group of doctors representing 117 physicians and psychologists from 18 nations called in a letter for an end to what they described as “the psychological torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange.”
His father, John Shipton, said Assange’s long confinement indoors had damaged his health and feared that sending his son to the US would be akin to a “death sentence.”
“His situation is dire, he has had nine years of ceaseless psychological torture where false accusations are constantly being made,” he told reporters.