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Daughter of COVID-19 victim speaks out about spread of misinformation

For Kristin Urquiza, misinformation about COVID-19 amounted to a death sentence for her father and drove her to launch her MarkedbyCovid campaign to try to stop people suffering the same fate.

During a July 30 FCC online panel discussion, Urquiza recounted how her father Mark, an otherwise healthy 65-year-old, died of the disease on June 30. He contracted COVID-19 after Arizona reopened and the governor encouraged people to resume their normal activities. She said she had understood as early as January that the virus was serious and, concerned by the apparent downplaying of the illness by authorities, had devised a strategy to keep her parents safe. Yet, as Arizona lifted its state-wide lockdown in May, citizens began returning to their normal activities. Urquiza said the downplaying of the potential risks of contracting the virus affected her father.

“My dad took this message to heart and it ended up being a death sentience for him. Two weeks later dad woke up with a cough and exhaustion. My dad ended up passing away on June 30, alone in his room in the ICU with a stranger holding his hand and he did not deserve that ending,” she said.

After his death, Urquiza said she looked through her father’s social media news feed and found ‘overwhelming’ misinformation from unverifiable news sources “which, to my trained eye, I could tell was fake news”. She is now campaigning for safer public health policies.

Appearing alongside Urquiza on the panel was Alice Budisatrijo, who heads Facebook’s misinformation policy work in Asia-Pacific. She said that Facebook had several policies in place to prevent the spread of misinformation and provide users with verified news and public information sources. She said as soon as the platform, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, started hearing about the global health crisis ‘we realised we had a responsibility to help people, to provide reliable information and stop the spread of disinformation’.

Among the measures in place to prevent the spread of misinformation, she said were chatbots on messenger apps that allow users to help find the latest information on the disease, and fact checkers in some countries via WhatsApp. On Instagram, when users search the most common keywords associated with coronavirus, the first results they see are links to the CDC in the U.S. or the World Health Organization.

“We can’t get to every piece of content,” said Budisatrijo, explaining that content that violates Facebook’s various policies is detected by automation and through reporting from users.

Claire Wardle, director of First Draft, a nonprofit coalition fighting the spread of harmful misinformation by providing “tools needed to outsmart false and misleading information”, said skepticism was needed when consuming news shared on social media. She warned that ‘seductive messaging’ in palpably false social media posts shared by presidents and celebrities alike posed a dangerous threat to us all and would only get worse if not addressed.

“We are in a much worse situation than I’ve seen in the last four years,” Wardle said.

You can watch the video here

Hong Kong Police Force Response to FCC Letter Outlining Concerns Over Treatment of Journalists at Yuen Long

Only July 22, 2020, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, wrote to the Hong Kong Police Force requesting an explanation about their treatment of journalists during several incidents at Yuen Long on Tuesday, July 21, when members of the press were repeatedly asked for their credentials. Here is the force’s response, sent on July 24.

A Message from the Board Re: Treatment of Journalists at Yuen Long

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong has written to the Hong Kong Police Force requesting an explanation about their treatment of journalists during several incidents at Yuen Long on Tuesday, July 21, when members of the press were repeatedly asked for their credentials.

There were several reports, which have been corroborated by footage posted on social media, of journalists wearing yellow vests being asked to produce press credentials when they were covering the first anniversary of the attack at the Yuen Long MTR station.

At least two journalists, wearing yellow vests and holding press badges, received a fixed penalty of 2,000 HKD for taking part in a prohibited group gathering under the ordnance on prevention and control of disease. They said the police had decided they were not journalists.

There were other instances where police “kettled” groups of journalists and checked their press IDs. As there is no official Hong Kong press card, we have asked on what basis the officers decided who was a journalist and who was not.

It appeared that HKJA card holders were accepted, others were asked to show proof that they were being paid, i.e. working as professional journalists, and in other cases it seemed to arbitrarily come down to whether the officer had heard of the journalist’s publication.

Numerous journalists reported having their ID checked multiple times.

The police said they were taking these actions because there are so many “fake reporters” at protest sites, This is an issue that police representatives have raised previously in meetings with FCC delegations.

As we explained at our last meeting with the HKPF, the reality on the ground now is that there are many amateur journalists working in the field. Although they may not be associated with any established media outet, they should be treated with respect and be allowed to operate as long as they are respecting the law.

There are also professional freelance journalists on the ground who may not have a fixed assignment but are working in the hope that they will obtain marketable content, including video and images.

Established media rely on these independent freelancers and also often use unsolicited video and photographs provided by amateur journalists, many of whom may be studying journalism or have recently graduated.

We asked the HKPF to explain:

— Has there been a change of tactics or new orders issued regarding the treatment of journalists on the ground in such situations, particularly when it comes to journalists that officers may consider in their estimation to be “fake”.

—  If officers have been asked to check the credentials of people wearing yellow vests to verify if they are genuine journalists, and if so, what criteria are they using? Has HKPF issued a checklist or guidelines for verifying the status of journalists?  If so, this would seem to be de facto a new system of press registration based on a set of particular set of criteria that none of us has seen.

We requested that the police clarify the situation and reiterated the FCC’s opposition to the idea of a government-regulated press accreditation for journalists in Hong Kong. Such a system would not be in keeping with Hong Kong’s tradition and culture as a place where press freedom is an entrenched value and the rights of journalists to do their job unimpeded is respected.

Read the Hong Kong Police Force response to our letter.

U.S./China relations: The world is at stake, warns top economist and global thinker

Improved relations between the United States and China is vital to global stability, according to economist and author, Professor Jeffrey Sachs.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs is interviewed by Club President, Jodi Schneider. Professor Jeffrey Sachs is interviewed by Club President, Jodi Schneider.

Speaking during a July 20 FCC webinar on how global cooperation is needed to solve some of the challenges currently facing us, Prof. Sachs said that if former Vice President, Joe Biden, were to win November’s election, he would advise him to work on relations between the world’s two largest economies.

“I think the U.S./China relations are so vital for the world that it’s extremely important to set in place a thorough and high-level, extensive and serious interaction between the two countries,” Prof Sachs said. “Between the U.S. and China, the world is at stake.”

Prof. Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University in New York, opened the discussion with the assertion that if President Donald Trump were reelected, the world would likely spiral out of control. Referring to the president on several occasions as ‘mentally ill’, Prof. Sachs said Trump’s ‘dangerous view of the world’ had spilled into global politics, leading to polarisation instead of the cooperation needed to face into current issues including the coronavirus pandemic.

“We cannot have [global] cooperation with Trump as president,” he said, adding that America’s ‘unilateral attacks’ on China meant ‘there can be no deal-making’.

Trump had shown ‘zero restraint’ in governance over the last three years, relying on executive orders and emergency decrees as he frequently bypassed the Senate, Prof. Sachs said. When asked whether he had considered any ‘nightmare scenarios’ of what Trump might do in his final days in office should he accept defeat at the election, Prof. Sachs answered: “Given his psychopathology, he is capable of lashing out in a serious way.” He speculated that this could be in the form of sparking a diplomatic crisis or making an international declaration of war.

Prof. Sachs, a best-selling author and former adviser to three United Nations Secretaries-General, attacked Trump for his Administration’s slow and chaotic response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which at the time of writing was responsible for the deaths of more than 140,000 American citizens.

“Our country was completely incapable of addressing the epidemic,” he said, adding: “Trump, because he is a mentally ill man, he is truly incompetent because everything is viewed through the lens of ‘how does this look on the daily news?’”.

Watch the full video here

US still supports Hong Kong, should open door to its people: Bolton

Former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton told an FCC webinar that Hong Kong still enjoys broad support in the United States even as the city’s freedoms are being eroded, and that the Trump administration should follow the lead of other Western countries and open the doors to Hongkongers wishing to leave, writes Keith Richburg.

Former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton appears in a July 15 FCC webinar. Former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton appears in an FCC webinar on July 15, 2020.

Bolton spoke the day after President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending Hong Kong’s preferential trade treatment, and a sanctions bill aimed at individuals and banks, leading some analysts to suggest Washington and Beijing were headed for a “decoupling” of their relationship if not a new Cold War.

Bolton said decoupling is “not only possible, but is happening,” although he said the likelihood of a military conflict remained remote.

Calling the new China-imposed national security law “deplorable,” Bolton said: “It must be very discouraging for the people in Hong Kong. They fought so long. They thought they had another 25-plus years before this.”

“Don’t think that anybody’s giving up on you,” Bolton added: “I favour greatly immigration and I think what Britain, Canada and others have done in terms of potential political asylum for Hong Kong is something the United States should do, too, so I favour more immigration.”

Bolton, who left the Trump administration in September 2019, described its China policy as “incoherent” and “utterly without strategy”.

While Trump understood the Hong Kong protests of 2019 to be “significant in size,” he was “resolute in not wanting to do anything about it or to get involved in it”, fearing it might disrupt prospects for a trade deal.

The July 15 discussion between Bolton and FCC board of governors member Keith Richburg focused largely on U.S. relations, which have become increasingly strained over trade, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and the coronavirus pandemic.

Bolton also touched on Republican Party politics, saying he would not vote for either Trump or former vice-president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in November, instead choosing to write in a conservative candidate.  Bolton said he wants to spend time after the election working to rebuild the Republican Party for the post-Trump era.

His recent book, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, details his 453 days in the Trump Administration.

You can watch the video here

Special Takeaway Menu Available

Special Takeaway Menu Available

Dear Members:

With the restrictions imposed started today including the 6 p.m. closing time of all outlets, the FCC will begin offering a special food and beverage takeaway menu. It includes Indian and Chinese set menus and selected wines and beverages.

The menu will be available from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., though last orders must be made by 8:30 p.m. It can be downloaded from our website at fcchk.org.

Orders should be picked up by members at Reception.

Please place orders with the FCC Restaurant at 2844 2806 or [email protected]. All orders will be confirmed by a phone call.

Thank you for your continued support of the FCC.

15 July 2020

    

 

 

Hong Kong’s businesses ‘must seize COVID-19 opportunities’

Hong Kong’s retailers must seize the opportunities brought about by COVID-19, according to two of the city’s best known business people.

Syed Asim Hussain, co-founder of Black Sheep Restaurants; and Goods of Desire founder, Douglas Young, both agreed the so-called new normal was here to stay as the city played a “cat-and-mouse game” with the lifting and reimposing of restrictions to combat the coronavirus.

The two were speaking alongside Asia economist Alicia García Herrero during a panel discussion on July 14 – the day before tighter social restrictions come into force – exploring how the city’s economy could survive without tourism dollars in the wake of the Hong Kong protests and COVID-19.

Hussain, who in 2018 became the world’s youngest restaurateur to hold two Michelin stars, predicted that by this autumn one in three restaurants in the city will have gone out of business. Young conceded that the Hong Kong protests had hit his lifestyle retail business hard, but that the face mask “is going to be my company’s saviour” since his outlets began selling fashionable and washable masks.

The outlook isn’t all bleak, however. Herrero said the good news for retailers was that rents would decrease in the city as the vacancy rate increased due to businesses closing down or moving to cheaper premises.

You can watch the event here

Maria Ressa and Caoilfhionn Gallagher express ‘shock’ at Hong Kong national security law

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and international human rights lawyer, Caoilfhionn Gallagher, have expressed shock at new national security legislation imposed on Hong Kong.

FCC First Vice President, Eric Wishart, interviews Maria Ressa and Caoilfhionn Gallagher on July 9. FCC First Vice President, Eric Wishart, interviews Maria Ressa and Caoilfhionn Gallagher on July 9.

Joining an FCC webinar on her fight against her recent conviction in the Philippines on cyber libel charges, Ressa was unequivocal when asked what was her reaction to the introduction of the law: “Shock”.

“When we were looking at the protests and this surge for press freedom… I understood why and we all were trying to understand, why is that not happening here? What’s the difference?

“What we’re seeing is really a geopolitical power shift and COVID-19 is helping that. But this is also where I feel Hong Kong is punching above its weight, what you guys do will impact the rest of us. And the Philippines is also punching above its weight in terms of a geopolitical power balance because President Duterte’s shift from the US to China and Russia. That is shifting the power balance in the South China Sea.”

Gallagher, a renowned lawyer who leads Ressa’s international defence team alongside Amal Clooney, expressed “shock and concern”. She was also deeply concerned by Carrie Lam’s July 7 comments in which the Hong Kong Chief Executive said she would give guarantees about press freedom to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club and journalists if they also give “a 100% guarantee that they will not commit any offences under this piece of national legislation”.

“That is a promise that’s not worth the paper it’s not written on, if I can put it that way, when you then look at the law, which is breathtakingly broad. I read with some horror the description of the crime of subversion, undermining the power and authority of central government. So the crimes themselves are exceptionally broad.”

She added: “I’m very concerned by the provisions relating to regulation and surveillance. The part that someone suspected of breaking this breathtakingly broad law can be wiretapped and put under surveillance is of serious concern to journalists.”

On her legal fight against her June conviction and sentence of six years in prison, Ressa said she was “geared up for battle”.

The executive editor of news website Rappler.com was arrested last year over an allegedly defamatory article published in 2012 which linked a businessman to trafficking and drug smuggling. She denied charges of cyber libel, calling them “baseless”. The move came several months after a warrant was issued for her arrest on seven charges of tax fraud — a case she called “politically motivated”. Rappler has been a frequent critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration.

On June 29, Ressa and co-defendant Reynaldo Santos Jr filed a motion for partial reconsideration, appealing to Manila Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa to reconsider her decision.

The FCC issued a statement deploring the conviction, saying it set a precedent and could have a “chilling effect on the press in the Philippines and across the region”.

Club president Jodi Schneider said: “Press freedom, already endangered in the Philippines, is now further undermined with this high-profile verdict.”

FCC Seeks Clarification on How National Security Law Affects Media

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong on July 7 noted the statement by Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a press conference before the Executive Council meeting in which she answered questions about the new National Security Law.

In answer to a question regarding letters from the FCC seeking a guarantee that journalists would be allowed to continue reporting on any topic under the law, the Chief Executive replied: “If the Foreign Correspondents’ Club or all reporters in Hong Kong can give me a 100 percent guarantee that they will not commit any offences under this piece of national legislation, then I can do the same.” The Chief Executive added that the new law “clearly defined” the four types of actions that are now unlawful.

The FCC stresses that it respects the laws of the Special Administrative Region. At the same time, the FCC has written to the Chief Executive seeking clarity on specific areas where the new law is vague and where terms are undefined, particularly regarding the press and freedom of speech. So far, our detailed questions remain unanswered.

For example, the FCC in its letter asked whether any specific topics are off limits for news reporting. Also, will journalists face legal risks for quoting government critics or critical voices? Will journalists face legal risk for their social media posts? Can journalists be held liable for activities or events, like attending conferences, outside of China or Hong Kong where critical views might be expressed?

As we have not received a detailed response to our specific and pertinent questions, we would again urge the Chief Executive to provide a more complete and comprehensive response to the concerns raised in our letter. We further would like to reissue our open invitation for the Chief Executive to give a luncheon address at the FCC and answer questions in an open forum, as a way to address journalists’ concerns created by the vagaries of the new law.

To operate within the new law, the media needs to know precisely what is permissible. We look forward to receiving clarification from the Chief Executive, as well as having her come to the FCC to speak.

The national security law: Hong Kong journalists should be more serious about protecting sources and information

Journalists in Hong Kong must be a lot more serious about protecting their sources and data if they are to navigate the new national security law.

That was the opinion of three panelists discussing the impact of the new legislation on press freedom in the city. The event on July 7 came a week after China’s top legislature enacted the law which criminalises any act of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign or external forces.

Keith Richburg, director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong and a former Washington Post Beijing bureau chief, said he potentially foresees visa restrictions for journalists in Hong Kong who cross the so-called ‘red line’ in their reporting. However, he added that the details of the ‘red line’ have been deliberately vague to allow authorities to be flexible in how the legislation is interpreted.

The key for journalists, Richburg said, was “to figure out how to operate within the law and where the red lines are – coming as close as you can without crossing them”.

Joining Richburg on the panel was Sharron Fast, a legal expert from the Journalism and Media Studies Centre, and author Antony Dapiran. Fast observed that the law is difficult to interpret as two streams had been created – authority, and the Hong Kong judiciary. She highlighted some of the articles that could threaten press freedom in the city, such as Article 41, “one of the  many provisions that waters down the right of a fair trial”, she said. No media is permitted in the courts where the offence is deemed to be state secret, yet there is no definition of state secret.

Dapiran, also a corporate lawyer, raised the issue of protection of information and data in relation to the city’s police being given new powers to search without a warrant obtained through the courts. He advised journalists to be very vigilant about the way they store information and data.

You can watch the entire event here

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