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Reuters Executive Editor Gina Chua on How News Organizations Need to Innovate

Technology has changed the way journalism is produced and distributed, but Reuters executive editor Gina Chua argued in favor of greater changes for the news business in a Zoom event hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong.

“What we do today is essentially the same thing we did 50 years ago,” said Chua. 

She said that technology should be used in smarter ways to create journalism that is more personalized and better serves readers.

“Technology is a solvable problem. What we really need, aside from capital, is imagination and culture. I think those are some of the big deficits,” said Chua, who added that young journalists will be key players in experimenting and driving innovation in the industry.

In a wide-ranging conversation moderated by FCC member and Wall Street Journal reporter Natasha Khan, Chua also spoke about the importance of language in journalism, why publications need to better understand their audiences, and how journalists should be engaging with statistics and social science methodology when working on stories “to prove that it matters.”

Chua, who transitioned in late 2020, is one of the most senior openly transgender journalists in the industry, and she also spoke about the importance of diversity in newsrooms. 

“No single view is correct. Everyone’s ‘ordinary’ is different,” she said.

“Newsrooms need to be more representative of the communities they cover, and the stories need to be more representative of those communities.”

Chua also spoke openly about her personal journey of acceptance and self-understanding, and she said the experience of spending so much time at home during the pandemic had a positive effect on her transition.

“Life’s too short to be someone you don’t want to be,” said Chua.

Watch the full discussion below:

Alan Loynd on His Career at Sea and Recovering a 747 From Victoria Harbour

Who do you call when a 747 slides off the runway into Hong Kong’s harbour? You call Alan Loynd, who spent twenty years as Salvage Master with the Hong Kong Salvage & Towage Company. In a lunch talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, Loynd discussed the highlights of his exciting and at times dramatic career, which included stints on cargo ships, passenger ships and avoiding attack in the Persian Gulf during the Iran–Iraq War, all of which is recounted in his recently published memoir All at Sea.

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to go to sea,” said Loynd.

He explained how growing up in post-World War II Britain meant he was surrounded by stories of exotic places his relatives had visited during the war, places like Japan, Indonesia and Hong Kong. Though the country setting in Devon looked idyllic, Loynd said that there were no jobs and it was quite an austere time, so he happily left for better opportunities in more exciting locales. 

After working on cargo ships and passenger ships — “The cargo walked up the gangway on it’s own — I didn’t have to do anything” — Loynd ended up in salvage. He oversaw numerous salvage operations, notably the recovery of a 747 off Kai Tak in 1993 – the only time such an aircraft has been recovered intact from the sea anywhere in the world. 

Now happily retired, Loynd has fond memories of his time at sea, but not so much that he’d want his children to follow in his footsteps.

“I had a lot of fun, but I’m glad my kids didn’t follow me,” said Loynd.

Watch the full discussion below:

Visa Denial for Sue-Lin Wong Underscores Rising Press Freedom Concerns

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, is deeply concerned that another journalist, Sue-Lin Wong of The Economist, has been denied an employment visa in Hong Kong.

This follows the denial of visas for Victor Mallet of the Financial Times in 2018, Chris Buckley of the New York Times, and Aaron Mc Nicholas of the Hong Kong Free Press last year.

The decision by the Immigration Department not to extend Sue-Lin Wong’s visa, made without explanation, further highlights the concerns raised in the FCC’s survey of correspondent and journalist members on the state of press freedom in Hong Kong published on 5 November.

The survey clearly illustrated the deteriorating working environment for journalists in Hong Kong, with visa applications emerging as a major problem. In all, 24% of respondents said they had experienced slight delays or obstacles in obtaining visas, while 29% said they had experienced considerable obstacles or delays.

The FCC has previously urged the Immigration Department, in two letters published in 2020, to provide more clarity on its procedures for issuing journalists’ employment visas. So far, we have not received a satisfactory response.

We again call on the government to provide concrete assurances that applications for employment visas and visa extensions will be handled in a timely manner with clearly-stated requirements and procedures, and that the visa process for journalists will not be politicised or weaponised.

FCC Statement on the Sentencing of American Journalist Danny Fenster in Myanmar

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong is alarmed and deeply disturbed by the harsh sentence handed down today in Myanmar to American journalist Danny Fenster. Fenster, who at the time of his arrest in May was the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, was convicted by a court in Yangon on three charges and sentenced to 11 years in jail. The court imposed the harshest possible sentences for those charges, which include an immigration offense and a violation of the unlawful associations act. 

The FCC is additionally concerned about two more serious additional charges for which Fenster is yet to stand trial. 

Since taking power in February, Myanmar’s military harshly cracked down on the media and quickly rolled back the hard fought press freedom gains made over the past decade. The offices of media organizations have been raided by security forces. Some journalists have gone into hiding or fled the country, and of more than 100 arrested journalists, dozens remain in jail for their reporting on the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country. 

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club calls on Myanmar’s government to respect and uphold its stated commitment to press freedom, and to unconditionally release Fenster and other detained journalists.

Renowned Market Analyst Herald van der Linde: Want to Understand Stock Markets? Look at the Bond Market First

Anyone looking to invest or have a better understanding of how Asia’s stock markets function shouldn’t be paying attention to the performance of the Dow Jones Index, said renowned market analyst Herald van der Linde during a lunch talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. 

“You should look at what the bond market does first,” said van der Linde. “What happens there and how do we translate that back into the stock market?”

Van der Linde, who has worked at HSBC for more than 15 years and is currently Chief Asia Equity Strategist, is the author of the recently published book Asia’s Stock Markets from the Ground Up, a jargon-free beginner’s guide to understanding equities in the region. An FCC member, he previously wrote Jakarta: History of a Misunderstood City, which was released in 2020.

He highlighted the fact that bond yields have consistently declined in recent decades, thanks to more and more money being placed in fixed income instruments, which pushes interest rates down, but the trend could reverse if demographic changes cause a major shift in where money is invested.

He also said that many people focus on economic indicators such as GDP to analyze markets, but he disagrees with that approach. 

“In particular in Asia, my view is that we don’t really have to look at that,” he said. “There’s a massive kind of disparity between what the economies are and what the markets are.”

He recommended digging deep to understand what drives companies’ profits, and he pointed out demographics, technology, government regulations and rising wealth as key factors to consider.

Van der Linde also addressed growing concerns over inflation, saying that he’s in the camp that believes the world is in a transitory stage and that inflation will calm down. Still, he admitted that the U.S. central bank had acknowledged that inflation was perhaps going to last longer than initially expected.

But he also said the central bank shouldn’t necessarily respond to pressure to raise interest rates to combat inflation, because growth had been prematurely stifled in the past as a result of such moves.

“The central bank has got to be careful because we’ve been in this situation three or four times over the last ten years,” said van der Linde.

Watch the full discussion below:

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Addresses FCC Press Freedom Survey

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin responded to a question concerning the FCC’s Press Freedom Survey during the ministry’s daily press briefing on Friday. In his comments, Mr. Wang offered details about the number of overseas employees holding work visas at foreign media outlets in Hong Kong, saying the figure has increased over the last year. 

Mr. Wang’s complete remarks about the Press Freedom Survey are posted below. The full transcript of the press briefing can be found here

Bloomberg: Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong put out a report this morning, saying that nearly half of their members are considering leaving and only about half of them said they understand where the Hong Kong government’s redlines on reporting were. What is your response to the report? Do you think the government of Hong Kong should be clearer about its redlines on reporting?

Wang Wenbin: I want to point out first that the legitimate rights and interests of foreign media and journalists in Hong Kong are fully protected as long as they abide by laws and produce reporting in accordance with laws and regulations.

With regard to what you mentioned, I would like to share some numbers with you. As of April 2021, there are 628 foreign employees holding work visas working with foreign media outlets in Hong Kong, which is an increase of 98 people or 18.5 percent year-on-year. These numbers don’t lie. They are a faithful reflection of the views on and perception of Hong Kong’s socioeconomic and reporting environment of people from all walks of life including the press sector.

During the past year, Bloomberg, the agency you work with, added 55 foreign employees alone. That speaks volumes. I would like to stress that since the promulgation and implementation of the Hong Kong national security law, Hong Kong people’s rights and freedoms have received better protection, and Hong Kong citizens, international investors and people working in various sectors have all witnessed a brand new Hong Kong and become more confident in its future.

Concerns Rising Over Weakening Media Freedoms in Hong Kong, FCC Press Freedom Survey Shows

    
Concerns Rising Over Weakening Media Freedoms in
Hong Kong, FCC Press Freedom Survey Shows
      

Journalists and correspondents in Hong Kong say working conditions have deteriorated significantly since the introduction of the National Security Law, while large numbers report growing concern about the possibility of a “fake news” law that could further erode press freedoms in the city, according to a new survey from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong.

In a wide-ranging survey of the FCC’s correspondent and journalist members, 84% of respondents said the working environment for journalism has “changed for the worse” since the law’s introduction in June 2020.

At the same time, 91% of respondents said they were either “very concerned” (76%) or “slightly concerned” (15%) about the possible introduction of a fake news law.

Concern has been heightened by the fact that, since the enactment of the National Security Law, there has been a drastic decline in the willingness of sources to be quoted–86% of respondents said their sources were less willing to be quoted or to discuss sensitive subjects, and there is concern that even relatively neutral topics might be deemed “a bit political.”

It has become very difficult for journalists to tell what is a sensitive topic: Only about half (52%) of respondents said they had a clear sense of where the government’s “red lines” were now. Moreover, respondents gave a wide range of definitions of “sensitive” and several noted that this definition could change at any time.

Most respondents (56%) said they had, to some degree, self-censored or avoided reporting on what might be considered sensitive stories. Others had deleted images out of security concerns, and there is widespread concern among journalists over digital and physical surveillance. Nearly half of the respondents (46%) said they were now considering or already had plans to leave Hong Kong because of the decline in press freedom in the city.

“These results clearly show that assurances that Hong Kong still enjoys press freedom, guaranteed under the Basic Law, are not enough,” FCC President Keith Richburg said. “More steps need to be taken to restore confidence among journalists and to make sure Hong Kong maintains its decades-long reputation as a welcoming place for the international media.”

Amid the uncertain working environment for reporters in Hong Kong, respondents noted that fake news laws have been created by authoritarian governments around the world to suppress unfavourable coverage. And there are already signs that the Hong Kong government and the police could label unfavourable coverage as “fake news”, as detailed in the FCC’s open letter on 22 April to then-Police Commissioner Chris Tang.

The FCC urges the Hong Kong government to heed the concerns of our members and take action to restore confidence among working journalists in the city. We ask the government to consider very carefully the impact a “fake news” law would have not only on the media here but also on Hong Kong’s international reputation for press freedom.

The FCC’s membership includes reporters and editors from major media outlets around the world, and from across Hong Kong’s diverse media landscape. Read the full FCC survey report here.

Contact: [email protected]


The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, Membership Survey on Press Freedom

In an effort to gauge the confidence of our members in the media environment in Hong Kong since the introduction of the National Security Law, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) has conducted a survey of correspondent and journalist members on a wide range of issues related to press freedom.

The results revealed widespread uncertainty among members over what the media is and is not allowed to report on since the implementation of the National Security Law in June 2020, and concern over the further erosion of press freedom with the possible introduction of a “fake news” law in Hong Kong. 

“This is the first time we’ve conducted a survey like this of our correspondent and journalist members,” FCC President Keith Richburg said. “There’s been a lot of talk and anecdotal evidence about concerns over the state of press freedom in Hong Kong, so we thought it would be helpful to try to quantify the extent of those concerns.”

The vast majority of respondents reported an overall deterioration in the working environment for journalists, noting in particular the unwillingness of sources to be quoted and the need for reporters to self-censor their writing or delete images. 

The survey was conducted from late August to late October 2021. While the FCC has numerous members working in non-media sectors, for this survey we chose only to contact the club’s correspondent and journalist members. We received 99 responses–70 from correspondent members (club members working for foreign media) and 29 from journalist members (those working for local media)–reflecting a response rate of about 25%. All responses were anonymous.

In terms of the general working environment for journalists, 84% said that the situation had deteriorated since the introduction of the National Security Law. While 15% said there had been no change, one respondent said the situation had actually changed for the better. 

One respondent said:

In many ways it has become worse than the mainland because nobody knows what the red lines are and there is real fear that previous coverage could be scrutinised. Self-censorship and the drying up of sources is another result of the NSL.

Another noted:

It has definitely changed for the worse. When I first arrived, Hong Kong was a much freer society — people were open to speaking, no topic within reason was off limits, and there were no real concerns about what we could publish or whether we could protect sources who spoke to us. Now, many people are reluctant or refuse to talk on sensitive subjects, and our organization — especially after the raids on Apple Daily — is much more cautious about data security and the ability to protect sources.

A total of 86% of respondents said sources were now less willing to talk about sensitive issues, while 14% reported no change. One respondent revealed:

Many of my sources are now in jail. Some have fled abroad. Others now refuse to comment to foreign media, based on advice from their lawyers or out of — very justifiable — fear that speaking to a foreign journalist could aid a prosecutor’s case against them under the National Security Law. Many people, even those abroad who might have family in Hong Kong, are now insisting on anonymity. 

Another stated simply:

Fallen off a cliff. Former sources happy to go on the record now are only off the record or won’t talk at all.

However, another respondent countered:

I think sources are still happy to talk. They might say something is a “bit political” when talking but I haven’t noticed people holding back.

A smaller, but still significant, number of members said they were self-censoring or had experienced censorship within their organization. Asked “To what extent have you self-censored your writing, either in content or by simply avoiding covering certain subjects?” 44% replied not at all, 40% said they had slightly self-censored, and 16% had self-censored to a considerable degree. 

One respondent said: 

There are certainly some topics that we would now have to think long and hard about covering in any detail, in particular anything to do with independence. We would also now consider publishing some of our coverage with a non-Hong Kong dateline to avoid potential legal/political jeopardy for colleagues based in the city. But otherwise we soldier on and do our job of reporting the news without fear or favour.

The majority of respondents, 56%, said they had not experienced any overt censorship by their news organization in the coverage of sensitive issues, 36% said they had seen slight censorship, while 8% had experienced considerable censorship. One respondent noted that “management doesn’t ‘officially’ discourage coverage of sensitive areas but makes it very difficult to do so.”

One member pointed out:

Censorship is a loaded word. Clearly, the NSL is something we need to take seriously and it has affected how we approach the news and express our opinions. We don’t want to break the law. At the same time, I don’t feel I have been prevented from saying what I want to about the NSL and about how Hong Kong has changed since its enactment.

One of the most significant results of the survey was the uncertainty among our members over what is and what is not a “sensitive subject” in the wake of the National Security Law. Around half of the respondents, 48%, said they were unclear about exactly where the red lines were in reporting sensitive issues. Other respondents were more confident in defining the red lines but significantly gave different responses: Some highlighted Hong Kong independence, while others focused on mainland China issues or more generally Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan. 

To illustrate the uncertainty, one respondent said:

When a nurse said that one of her patients didn’t want to get the Covid vaccine in China because she didn’t think the Chinese vaccines are very good, and decided to come back to Hong Kong where she could get the BioNTech shot, I got an editor’s comment “Do you think this is a bit too political?” 

In terms of sensitive images, 48% of respondents said they were not confident in knowing what is permitted when it comes to taking photos or videos of sensitive subjects, 33% were somewhat confident, and only 19% said they were confident in knowing what images were acceptable:

I have the feeling that journalists are allowed to shoot public events even if they contain banners or slogans that breach the NSL. Likewise, media can publish them. But that can change in a second.

Many respondents agreed that the definition of what is considered sensitive is shifting all the time, thereby forcing them to exercise a greater degree of caution.

The definition of what is sensitive has broadened from the specifically political to encompass the work of civil society, the media, trade union and cultural organizations. There is no indication that this widening process is about to stop.

Going forward, there is widespread concern among the FCC’s correspondent and journalist members over the Hong Kong government’s proposal to enact a “fake news” law. In all, 76% of respondents said they were “very concerned” about the introduction of a fake news law, 15% were slightly concerned, 6% were not aware of the issue, and 3% were not concerned about the legislation. 

Several respondents noted that “fake news” laws have been created by authoritarian governments to suppress unfavourable coverage. Others said there are signs that Hong Kong authorities are willing to label anything they do not like as “fake news.” For example:

It’s already clear to me that officials in high office in Hong Kong believe that “fake news” is a label they can apply to news or commentary that they don’t like, regardless of whether it is “fake,” and that a fake news law could be used broadly against critics in the same way that they have used the National Security Law. 

Other respondents, while noting the risk of abuse by the authorities, cautioned that journalists still had a responsibility to verify information before publication and avoid over-sensationalizing issues.

The media has tremendous responsibilities, and we must be abiding by our code of conduct to stay neutral. Press Freedom does not mean that someone has the freedom to make up stories that are not facts. I am saddened by how the media has deteriorated to become storytellers instead of news reporters

The survey revealed considerable uncertainty among FCC correspondent and journalist members about the future. A significant majority of respondents said they were concerned about the possibility of arrest or prosecution from reporting or writing opinion articles – 61% were slightly concerned, 10% were very concerned, while 29% said they were not concerned about arrest or prosecution. 

I’ve published extensively and it’s ‘out there’ on the net. But with laws constantly changing and applying to old works and deeds, if someone needs a flimsy excuse to ‘get me’, they’ll probably pull up some old work that was acceptable debate/opinion when it was published and now an excuse to prosecute. 

A total of 77% of respondents said they were concerned about the possibility of digital or physical surveillance, while another 12% said they had already directly experienced surveillance. 37% of respondents had deleted images, either online or one their devices, because of security concerns, and a smaller number of reporters said they had experienced interference, harassment or violence while reporting. 15% had experienced minor interference and 7% said they had encountered significant harassment or interference.

Many correspondent and journalist members have the right to permanent residency in Hong Kong and so are not directly affected by employment visa issues. That said, 29% of respondents reported that they personally, or others in their news organization, had experienced considerable delays or obstacles in obtaining employment visas or visa renewals. Another 24% said they had experienced slight delays.

Finally, we asked members if they were planning on or considering leaving Hong Kong because of concerns over press freedom. About 34% said they were considering leaving, and 12% already had plans to do so. The remaining 54% said they planned to stay. One typical response noted:

The rapidly deteriorating political environment in Hong Kong has made me consider cutting short my stay in the city. While we’re not planning an imminent departure by any means, myself and several others I know are reconsidering previous plans to stay in Hong Kong over a longer time frame, given the city we arrived in was very different than the city we currently live in. Everyone has different limits on what they will tolerate. 

Richburg, the FCC’s president, added: “We would like to conduct this kind of survey on a regular, recurring basis so we can continue to gauge the sentiment among our members who are working actively as journalists and let the results be made publicly available. We hope this survey, and any future ones, can help contribute to the ongoing discussion about the state of press freedom in Hong Kong.”

The FCC is grateful to all those members who took the time to respond to our survey.

The Fall of Kabul Was a Surprise That No One Saw Coming – FCC Panel

Nearly 20 years after the defeat of the Taliban in November 2001, a panel of journalists told an audience at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club that no one could have predicted the ease with which the Taliban regained control of Kabul this past August. 

“I’m still in shock and denial even two months later,” said Mujib Mashal, South Asia bureau chief at The New York Times and previously the newspaper’s senior foreign correspondent in Afghanistan. “Some of us did see that this was coming, but everyone was sort of surprised and shocked by how sudden and how complete the collapse was.”

CNN’s Anna Coren, who was on the ground in Afghanistan earlier this year, said that she and her colleagues sensed trouble because of the way in which the Taliban seized control of the provinces, but even they were surprised by what happened in Kabul.

“I don’t think in our wildest dreams we thought that the Taliban would just roll in on the 15th of August without a shot being fired, which is basically what happened,” said Coren. 

Reflecting on the months leading up to the American withdrawal, Mashal said that the problems were evident in the negotiations.

“They were trying to build a peace process on a decision to withdraw that had been made already, and very clearly without much flexibility,” said Mashal. “It felt like it was a last-ditch effort.”

As for the present situation, James Edgar, a journalist for Agence France-Presse based in Kabul, offered a sobering account of daily life there.

“Access to money is extremely difficult. People are really desperate to get cash in hand, and that isn’t happening. People are going to work but they aren’t getting paid.”

Watch the full discussion below:

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