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Macau press freedom survey: Journalists cite decline in access to information

SCMP photographer Felix Wong was prevented from entering Macau. Photo: SCMP SCMP photographer Felix Wong was prevented from entering Macau. Photo: SCMP

Press freedom still exists in Macau in spite of a growing trend among authorities to limit access to information, according to a survey of journalists operating in the special administrative region.

While 79.55% of reporters surveyed agreed there was press freedom and 70.45% said they had never been subject to a violation of press freedom rights, a majority said that they had encountered obstacles in accessing sources of information, particularly the judiciary (68.18%). The survey found that 58.82% of respondents described access to the Government as the executive body as ‘difficult’; and 54.55% said the same of access to the group executing governmental policy and providing services to the residents of the MSAR.

The relatively small number (20.45%) who said they had been subject to a violation of press freedom rights detailed incidents including the ‘Case of the Gravesites’, in which one journalist described a refusal of rights to sign notices of political nature; or of Oktoberfest 2015, in which “during the press conference the journalists were instructed to not ask questions that weren’t related to the event, as well as being instructed to ask questions about the brand of beer sponsoring the event”.

The survey, conducted in November 2016 by the Macau Portuguese and English Press Association (AIPIM), comes just weeks after the publication of the 2017 annual World Press Freedom Index in which Reporters Without Borders (RSF) highlighted Thailand, where the media industry is increasingly muzzled by a military government; and Cambodia, where defamation laws have been criminalised to silence dissent.

Since the survey was conducted, Macau has been at the centre of two incidents indicating an erosion of press freedom. In August this year, four journalists – one from HK01, one from South China Morning Post and two from Apple Daily – were trying to cover the clean-up work in Macau after the enclave was heavily hit by the Severe Typhoon Hato. They were denied entry on the grounds that they ‘posed a threat to the stability of the territory’s internal security’.

Shortly afterwards, the AIPIM learned that the Electoral Affairs Commission for the Legislative Assembly Election (CAEAL) had ordered weekly newspaper Plataforma to remove from its online edition an interview with a candidate to the Legislative Assembly elections.

READ MORE: Press freedom plumbs fresh depths in Southeast Asia

The AIPIM survey concluded: “Based on a thorough analysis of this survey, we may conclude that the major problem faced by the journalistic community is precisely access to sources, namely in what concerns information that should be public and is concealed as a result of a system where journalists are forced to request it via the Government Spokesperson mechanism. The area which is conspicuously more problematic is the judiciary.

“The survey allows us to conclude that in their daily work journalists are faced with difficulties in accessing sources of information which allow them to better understand the surrounding environment and obstacles in obtaining answers to questions that loom while performing their duty as journalists.”

FCC member Stephanie Scawen hopes crowdfunding appeal will help fund Multiple Sclerosis treatment

Stephanie Scawen is batting MS and needs financial assistance. Photo: Stephanie Scawen Stephanie Scawen is batting MS and needs financial assistance. Photo: Stephanie Scawen

A crowdfunding appeal has been set up for journalist and absent FCC member Stephanie Scawen to raise money to help fund her treatment for Multiple Sclerosis.

Stephanie, who worked as a producer at Hong Kong’s Star TV in the late 1990s, has lived with the auto immune disease for more than 20 years yet continued to tirelessly cover stories across Asia for the likes of Associated Press and Al Jazeera. Her condition has deteriorated in the last few years and she is now confined to a wheelchair.

In 2016, she returned to her native Britain in the hope of receiving affordable medical care. However, the National Health Service denied her access to rehabilitation facilities on the basis that MS is considered a degenerative condition and there isn’t enough money to fund cases considered to be hopeless.

Now, in a bid to raise money for private healthcare, a crowdfunding appeal has been set up to help Stephanie. You can donate here and read more about Stephanie’s plight.

August 19, 2017 Board minutes

August 19, 2017 Board minutes

Income Statement – August 2017

Income Statement – August 2017

Income Statement – July 2017

Income Statement – July 2017

July 22, 2017 Board minutes

July 22, 2017 Board minutes

China’s banks are not going to collapse – and here’s why

James Stent, a former director of the audit committee of the China Everbright Bank. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC James Stent, a former director of the audit committee of the China Everbright Bank. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

China’s banks are unlikely to collapse despite continuing fears over bad debt and shadow banking, says a former auditor of one of the country’s biggest state owned banks.

A hybrid system coupled with a cautious step-by-step approach to economic policy are two of the reasons why mainland banks will prosper, said James Stent, a former director of the audit committee of the China Everbright Bank.

Shadow banking has increased in China in recent years, resulting in new rules to discourage banks from using borrowed money to invest in bonds being issued by the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC).

Stent, who was promoting his book, China’s Banking Transformation: The Untold Story, said that although “mainstream consensus for the last 15 years on Chinese banks has been overwhelmingly negative”, he had seen a dramatic transformation in his 13 years working first as a director at China Minsheng Bank, then Everbright.

As Stent was outlining his case for China’s stealth banks at the September 21 club lunch, S&P Global Ratings cut China’s sovereign credit rating for the first time since 1999. At the same time, however, it revised its outlook to stable from negative.

“China’s prolonged period of strong credit growth has increased its economic and financial risks,” S&P said. “Although this credit growth had contributed to strong real gross domestic product growth and higher asset prices, we believe it has also diminished financial stability to some extent.”

However, Stent said China’s 17 nationwide commercial banks in reasonably good shape today, but that those lower down, “the weaker, smaller regional players” at city and provincial level were “very much a work in progress” and still had some way to go.

Cultural values were also playing a part in the “night and day” transformation of China’s banking system, he said. Where the U.S. is “all about individualism”, China “is all about the group… it starts with family and it’s all about your responsibilities to society, your duties, your obligations,” said Stent, now Senior Counselor with Vriens & Partners.

“China thoroughly understands market forces – with the Chinese market forces are a means, not an end. The Chinese do not believe markets solve all problems. They believe that the objective is not the market, the objective is building wealth and power for the nation and the people. China therefore has what I call the hybrid banking system: it’s partially market and it’s partially socialist,” Stent said.

This was where China’s cautious approach to economic policy came in, Stent said. It would prefer to avoid risk likely to affect the economy and was therefore slow to develop and implement policies on a national scale that were not tried and tested first on a local scale.

He said the great change in thinking came about after the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, when the government ordered banks to restructure to reduce non-performing loans (NPLs). China looked to good foreign banking systems to determine how it could create a successful one of its own. And it had not only caught up with good overseas banking systems, China had leapfrogged its foreign counterparts with far more advanced banking technology. Stent said you only had to look to China’s abilities in the digital payment area to see how far ahead of Western banks it is.

Part of the reason why the West has had a negative attitude towards China’s banking system is that it doesn’t understand the different context in which Chinese banks operate, Stent said. Its banks are “deeply embedded in a political economy which is very different from any Western economy, and that political economy is in turn embedded in a totally different set of cultural values”, he said.

Most directors of banks were also Communist Party members, so would also have the national interest at the heart of their decision-making.

A crackdown on China’s US$9.4tn shadow banking business and new regulations in all areas had hit bank share prices but was an indication of how serious it was about reducing risk, Stent said.

Chris Patten: Hongkongers need to stop talking about killing one another and talk to each other

Chris Patten spoke about Hong Kong and its political issues at the FCC. Chris Patten spoke about Hong Kong and its political issues at the FCC.

Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, said he hopes Hongkongers on opposing political sides will have a “dialogue” instead of talking about “killing one another”, following a university campus spat over independence.

Lord Patten of Barnes, who was at the FCC to promote his new book, First Confession: A Sort of Memoir, which explores the former Conservative MP’s “obsession” with identity politics, also spoke about Joshua Wong’s incarceration, and the future of the One Country Two Systems framework.

During a discussion about the pro-democracy and pro-independence movements in the city, Lord Patten reiterated his view that the latter would only serve to dilute any campaign to bring democracy to the city.

His visit came just days after a university row saw pro-independence students clash with their peers from the mainland over posters advocating independence for Hong Kong, which were put up at the Chinese University campus, heightening simmering tensions in the city.

“What I hope is that people will start talking to one another again. I hope there’ll be a dialogue. You can’t simply expect people to accept your values or standards or political judgements without talking to them about it. You can’t trample ideas into the dust. You have to talk to people and listen to people,” he said.

“People should be prepared to talk to one another, not fight another, or not talk about killing one another, or not putting out posters welcoming people’s suicides,” he told the packed club lunch on September 19, where guests included former Hong Kong Finance Secretary John Tsang and ex-Chief Secretary Anson Chan.

Lord Patten said he hoped Hong Kong – “a city which I love as much as anywhere in the world” – would continue to thrive.

When asked what he would do if he were the UK’s leader, he said: “First of all I’d be pleased that the last six-monthly report by the Foreign Office was a bit more honest and outspoken than some reports had been in the past. Secondly, I would begin from the assumption that we shouldn’t believe that you can only do business with China over Hong Kong or over anything else from a position of supine deference. The fact that the Chinese do it is because other countries allow them to. I don’t think it should be something we necessarily criticise them for if they can get away with it. If they can get away with weaponising trade, for example, they’ll go on doing it. But I don’t think they respect you for it and I don’t think its the only way you can do business.

“I would come to Hong Kong, I would make a speech saying that I thought Hong Kong was fantastic, that I thought it was a jewel in the crown for China potentially as we go forward into the future; that it represented in the 21st century an issue which is going to be dominant – that is how you balance economic and political freedom and what sort of role China has in the world today, what sort of role it’s prepared to take in global governance, how it’s prepared to make more of the footprint that it should have because of its economic strength and power.

“And I would hope to go on to China and say similar things.” He add that he would also raise the issue of Liu Xiaobo’s wife. Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since her husband, a prominent dissident since the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, won the Nobel prize in 2010.  She was last seen in a video recorded in August and posted on social media in which she asks for time to grieve. Many of her supporters and friends, however, have expressed concern for her welfare.

Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen also came in for criticism from Lord Patten as he was asked for his thoughts on the upcoming trials of nine pro-democracy activists involved in Occupy Central. Lord Patten said he was “loathe to comment on ongoing legal processes in Hong Kong”, and instead chose to speak specifically about Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law – jailed in August for their part in the 2014 protests.

He criticised the Justice Secretary’s decision to appeal their original non-custodial sentences, saying it was politically motivated. “He’s grown up. He must know, as I said earlier, that actions have consequences, and not to understand what signal that would send to the rest of the world, strikes me as being, to be frank, a little naive,” he said.

Referring to a Reuters report that Yuen had insisted on reviewing the sentences despite opposition from fellow prosecutors, Lord Patten added: “Perhaps it would have been wise to take the advice which we were told he was receiving from someone in his department.”

HKJA: We’ll monitor Hong Kong media accreditation rules to ensure digital-only outlets treated fairly

Carrie Lam. File photo: InMedia/GovHK. Carrie Lam. File photo: InMedia/GovHK.

The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) welcomed with caution today the decision to lift a ban on digital-only news outlets attending government events and press conferences.

The government’s u-turn comes almost a year after the city’s Ombudsman ruled in favour of allowing digital media outlets to attend such events, and follows intense pressure on the Hong Kong government from local and international media watchdogs.

“We welcome the government’s long overdue decision to lift its bar of digital only media from its press functions. We will monitor the implementation of its accreditation policy to ensure all media are fairly treated. The result of the implementation will decide whether the Association will continue with the judicial review against the government’s online media policy. We call on the government to make corresponding adjustments to its press venues and functions to accommodate the expected increase in journalists,” a spokesperson said.

The FCC issued a statement saying it has long supported the demand by HKJA and all Hong Kong online-only media that they be treated equally to other “traditional” media. “The FCC shares the relief and satisfaction of all online media and salutes the government for this fair decision.”

Tom Grundy, editor-in-chief of digital-only Hong Kong Free Press added: “This long-overdue reform follows years of pressure from local and international press freedom watchdogs, criticism from media groups and NGOs, legal threats and hard work by reporters fighting for equal access rights. The Hong Kong government’s effort to modernise and recognise how voters consume news nowadays is commendable – we hope the new rules will create a fair, level playing field for all media.”

Digital-only outlets will need to apply for registration with the Information Services Department (ISD) and meet the following criteria:

      (i) It can provide proof of regular online news reports in the past three months immediately preceding the application;

     (ii) It has been updating its news platform at least five days a week;

     (iii) It is staffed by at least an editor and a reporter; and

     (iv) It is registered under the Registration of Local Newspapers Ordinance (Cap. 268).

The ISD said it will review the arrangement after six months.

However, IT lawmaker Charles Mok cast doubt on the reliability of the accreditation rules, issuing a statement claiming that requiring digital outlets to register for accreditation under the Registration of Local Newspapers Ordinance was outdated.

The statement said: “Mr Mok’s three remarks on the new arrangement for online media:

1.  According to the four requirements issued by the ISD, online media is obliged to register under the Registration of Local Newspapers Ordinance (Cap. 268). However, certain requirements in the Ordinance have failed to keep up with the Internet development and therefore may pose challenges to online media of smaller scale.
2.  ISD should issue clearer definition on the ‘originality’ of the news content and ‘misconduct’ of the representatives of the online media as stated in the guideline. Appeal mechanism should be established for the evaluation of the criteria to be conducted in an objective manner.
3.  The government should review the requirements stated in the Registration of Local Newspapers Ordinance (Cap. 268) to cater for the mode of operations of online media.
Article 27 of the Basic Law states that Hong Kong people enjoy the freedom of the press and of publication. Mr Mok urges the government to consult online media organisations for feedback, and refer to the practices of LegCo in issuing passes to online media. Restrictions that would hamper freedom of online media should be minimised.”
Mok’s concerns were later echoed by Grundy, who added: “In order to access government press conferences and press releases, we will need to register as a ‘printed newspaper’. We’ll need to submit personal details for the editor/printer/proprietor and deliver daily ‘copies’ of our newspaper to the Chief Executive-appointed Registrar. Anyone reading the related Ordinance can see it is an outdated relic in dire need of an update. I hope this will not be a barrier to our news outlet being properly recognised.”

Curiosity, Adventure & Love: Last chance to book your seats for documentary screening

Producer Sunshine de Leon said the film took eight years to make. Photo: Sunshine de Leon Producer Sunshine de Leon said the film took eight years to make. Photo: Sunshine de Leon

A documentary recounting the story of a young American woman’s life in the Philippines from the 1930s to today is set to be screened at its 6th film festival – but FCC members and guests will get a sneak preview of the film this week.

Curiosity, Adventure & Love is narrated by 105-year-old Jessie Lichauco, a Cuban-American migrated to the Philippines where she met her husband Marcial Lichauco, a Filipino diplomat and lawyer. She shares her experiences of the country as it went through war, occupation and reconstruction. It was announced on Monday that the film would be screened at LA Femme Film Festival in Los Angeles next month.

The film’s producer, Sunshine de Leon, is Jessie’s granddaughter. A freelance journalist, Sunshine said from a young age she knew her grandmothers story was fascinating and had initially wanted to write a book. Over the years Sunshine began to collect anecdotes from Jessie. But a chance suggestion changed the course of the book.

“So, when one day, a film-maker friend suggested that since she could still tell stories at her age and she remembered history with details that made it come alive, she would make the perfect character for a documentary movie I said, with complete naivety, “You are absolutely right. I am going to make a film”,” she said

Simple? Not quite – it would be eight years before the film was made.

“I think the film took a long time to produce because 1) I was doing it while working as a freelance journalist and 2) it was my first film and I had no training whatsoever in filmmaking and for the first few years was working completely on my own. I eventually met my co-producer and co-director Suzanne Richiardone – and from that point it took another four years.”

she continued: “I knew I had a good story but how to weave together the elements of that story in the most powerful way was a challenge. We were trying to blend history and biography with lessons in life and humanity.“

By recounting her life in the Philippines, Jessie sheds light on the country’s turbulent history, including the Japanese invasion and occupation during World War II; and life under the corrupt Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

Sunshine says she hopes the film reacquaints some Filipinos with the history of the country. “I have found that quite a lot of Filipinos are not very familiar with the history of the Philippines and I believe that the detail with which the main character, an American and my grandmother,  remembers this history makes it come alive in a unique way.

“It’s important to understand the past in order to  comprehend the present and move forward in the best way possible. I hope that they walk away with a greater understanding of what has made the country into what it is today and I hope they learn from the wisdom she shares about how to live our best lives. and are inspired to do more to help the country (and the world!)”

Curiosity, Adventure and Love is showing at the FCC on Wednesday, September 20 from 7pm, where Sunshine will give a short talk to introduce the film. $100 (MEMBERS)  $150 (GUESTS). Fee will include one drink. Please reserve with the FCC concierge at (+852) 2521 1511 or (email) gro.khccf@tneveccf

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