FCC Statement on Closure of Voice of Democracy in Cambodia
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong is deeply troubled by the forced closure of Cambodia’s leading independent media outlet, Voice of Democracy.
Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered VOD’s licence revoked, effective Monday, over what he said was an erroneous report about his eldest son. The prime minister had demanded an apology from VOD, but refused to reconsider the revocation even after the outlet later complied.
The sudden and arbitrary closure is a devastating attack on the country’s free press and is yet another example of the increasing restrictions on press freedom in Cambodia, coming after years of harassment and intimidation of journalists, independent media outlets, and civil society groups.
The FCC notes that the closure of VOD will have far-reaching implications for Cambodia’s already fragile democracy. As the country prepares for a general election in July 2023, Cambodian citizens need access to truthful and unbiased information to help inform their choices. The right to free and independent press is essential to the functioning of any democratic society and the FCC urges the Cambodian government to respect this fundamental right.
The FCC stands in solidarity with VOD and other independent news outlets in Cambodia, and supports all journalists’ right to cover stories without fear of harassment or arrest.
Rock n’ roll, drugs, and a little bit of journalism: The life and career of Tony Parsons
It’s safe to say that Tony Parsons has had a life that can’t be replicated.
From humble beginnings as the only child of working-class parents to covering the rise of punk rock and writing George Michael’s biography — and so much more — he’s seen a career trajectory that was unheard of in his heyday, and even more so now.
After four years of unprecedented travel rearrangements due to Covid, Parsons was finally able to sit down with FCC Second Vice President Tim Huxley over a glass of wine and talk about his life. Along with him at this one-of-a-kind Club Dinner — an unorthodox yet successful event — were copies of his latest novel Who She Was.
Parsons first talked about why he became a writer. As a young child, he took boxing lessons from his “tough guy” father and read Rupert the Bear stories with his mother.
“I just fell in love with stories, I just fell in love with the possibility of stories,” he said.
Parsons’ love for literature resulted in him publishing his first novel The Kids at the ripe-old age of 21. Although he admitted that as his earliest work, it wasn’t that good, but the book’s mere existence put him above his peers and led to his first true journalism gig at the New Musical Express (NME).
Punk rock was all the rage, and it was Parsons’ job to cover bands like The Sex Pistols, young guys who could have easily been his schoolmates. Occasionally he’d write stories about The Rolling Stones, fatherly figures in the rock n’ roll world who still found themselves behind bars every now and then after substance-fueled nights.
With concerts, parties, girls, music, and whatever writing he could fit in between all that mayhem, Parsons learned quickly that his new career wasn’t for the weak. He didn’t even receive any kind of formal training, he was immediately thrown out on the road without a lick of advice.
Instead of his editor or a senior journalist, it was Thin Lizzy’s lead singer Phil Lynott who sat Parsons down for a proper briefing before heading out on tour.
“Listen, it’s going to be quite rough the next few days,” Lynott began. “You’re going to be burned out really, really fast.”
Lynott also reminded Parsons that since they’re drinking vodka at breakfast, they’ve got to have it with orange juice for vitamin C, which will prevent them from getting sick.
Parsons, who just turned 70 during his week-long visit to Hong Kong, reflected on the wild antics of his early 20s and noted that it’s not sustainable if one wants to live a long life.
“I think they’re [drugs] always a dead end. If you’re going to do them, it’s got to be over by the time you’re 25. It’s not something you can do at a later age,” he said.
Ironically, Parsons left NME at age 25. He began freelancing, not simply for the freedom and breath of fresh air it provided, but also because his former employer wasn’t as well-connected to the rest of the UK’s journalism landscape — despite the fame and notoriety.
“As soon as you stepped outside of that world, nobody knew who you were. Nobody cared. Even the best of us were just kind of unwanted and unknown in this little, wild rock n’ roll world for as long as it lasted,” he said.
Eventually his freelancing paid off when he was offered the chance to write George Michael’s biography — by George Michael himself.
The offer came from Michael’s suspicion that there were at least seven or eight biographies already being written about him. He was just 25 years old at the time, and Parsons was a full decade older.
Parsons offered to do it later on when he had accomplished more in his music career, but Michael insisted they do it now and kill all the other “unauthorized” books. They struck a deal and shook hands on splitting the profit 50/50.
Michael’s lawyers didn’t like the deal. When Parsons brought up the issue, the singer-songwriter simply told him not to worry or even think about it anymore. Once the biography was released, Parsons received the biggest payday he ever had up until that point in his life.
“I saw the power of someone that knows what I’m worth,” Parsons said.
Despite remaining close to Michael for many years after the biography, Parsons eventually had a falling out with the celebrity after publishing an interview in The Daily Mirror. The piece was edited by none other than Piers Morgan, and Michael didn’t want his words to be filtered through such a divisive figure. Parsons maintained that Morgan was a fantastic editor, and although he and George Michael parted ways, he looks back at the singer with “enormous affection.”
Parsons’ freelancing days also birthed his first ever trip to Hong Kong.
While one of Parsons’ first Hong Kong experiences resulted in spending nearly all of his hard-earned cash on a night out in Wan Chai, the city’s toll on his wallet didn’t deter the writer from returning on and on throughout the years. The lights, action, beauty — and most importantly — his friends who stayed in Hong Kong for a lifetime are all what have enabled Parsons to say, “I’m on my 40th stay at the Mandarin.” To him, Hong Kong has a welcoming society that’s unmatched in other places.
“At any major city in the world, you turn up and everybody says ‘Who cares?’ You come to Hong Kong and people say ‘Join us.’ And I think that doesn’t get enough credit. I think that doesn’t get celebrated enough,” he said.
A handful of Parsons’ novels feature characters who have lived in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia, and even not being able to travel to Hong Kong during the Covid-19 pandemic also inspired his most recent work Who She Was, a psychological thriller set in Cornwall.
But regardless of whether it’s a novel or his weekly column in The Sun, or if it’s on the road or at home, the bottom line is that Parsons is writing. And while it may seem that being a journalist and an author with two opposing writing styles may be difficult, he finds that they actually complement each other — especially if one doesn’t work out.
“I always felt that I couldn’t rely on just one,” he said and further added that he wished he could see other talented journalists take a stab at writing their own novels.
When asked about advice for the new generation of journalists, Parsons gave a surprising answer.
“I’d avoid journalism,” he said. “Being a journalist is like saying ‘I want to work for the British Empire.’ Well, you know, you’re 100 years too late.”
Still, Parsons added that modern-day social media and other new tools can pioneer the budding careers of young journalists. What transcends from his generation to the next, however, is the love and enthusiasm for writing.
But, his advice comes with the final warning that times have indeed changed, and there’s no way that the rock n’ roll debauchery that dominated the early days of his reporting career could ever be cloned.
“You have to find a way to make it [journalism] work for yourself and in your own time. Good writing will always be valued. If you want to do it, great. But you’re not going to be taking drugs with Debbie Harry, ok? Forget about it,” he said.
Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:
Despite adversity, Hong Kong’s Gay Games went on as scheduled — a win for the city’s LGBTQ+ community
For the first time in its 40-year history, the quadrennial Gay Games were held in Hong Kong — a first not just for the city, but for Asia as well.
To gain more insight into the challenges that the 11th Gay Games faced, the FCC held a Club Lunch panel with three of the Games’ representatives on November 9th, the seventh day of the 9-day sporting event.
Sitting on the panel were Joanie Evans, Co-President of the Federation of Gay Games; Emery Fung, Football Lead and Diversity & Inclusion Director of GGHK; and David Ko, Director of Marketing and Communications of GGHK. Moderating the talk was FCC First Vice President Jennifer Jett.
The panel first discussed how Hong Kong won its bid for the 2023 Gay Games and why it was important to break new ground by coming to Asia.
“It’s not about us being in places where it’s easy,” said Evans. “It’s going to places where we know that the participants are not going to have that opportunity to experience what the Gay Games are about.”
For Ko, he didn’t fully understand why the Gay Games were so important to the LGBTQ+ athletic community until he witnessed the Opening Ceremony on November 3rd.
“They [Gay Games athletes] all talk about the atmosphere when they’re marching into the stadium and how that changed them. I never truly understood that until we experienced it ourselves last weekend. That was the moment I thought to myself ‘Oh, I finally get it now.’ I understand why everyone’s so passionate about this,” he said.
Similar to the Olympics, athletes walk out onto the field by country and are accompanied by music and cultural performances.
Political leaders also typically make appearances. Executive Council Convenor Regina Ip — a staunch supporter of the Gay Games — gave a speech at this year’s Opening Ceremony.
But not all of Hong Kong’s politicians were just as open-minded towards the Gay Games.
On November 1st, just two days before the Opening Ceremony, Junius Ho and six other anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers held a press conference calling for a ban of the Gay Games, claiming that they were a Western plot attempting to subvert national security and traditional Chinese family values.
As Co-President of the Federation of Gay Games, Evans has experienced plenty of opposition in various places from conservative and religious groups, but maintains that as race organizers, they don’t have a hidden agenda anywhere they go.
“For what people say about bringing the Gay Games to anywhere, it’s like they think that there’s an ulterior motive to it, and there isn’t. There’s no ulterior motive. We don’t want to benefit from anything. It’s not going to benefit us as an organization. It’s about what we can bring to the community and trying to bring the world together,” she said.
Ko also commented on the public’s overall negative response to Junius Ho’s comments.
“The feedback is overwhelming against him,” he said. “His remarks are being described as laughable, irrelevant, whatever, and that was very gratifying to us because it meant that people understand more than we think they do.”
The panel reiterated that the Gay Games as a whole is not a political organization and that they are committed to uniting people and celebrating diversity, which includes allowing people who do not identify in traditional gender identities to join as well.
The Gay Games’ Gender Inclusion Policy states that while some sports may still have traditional male and female categories, non-binary competitions and open competitions for all genders will be included whenever possible to give all athletes a chance to participate.
Fung, as a transgender man and football player, finds the Gay Games’ inclusion efforts to be one of the most impactful aspects of the event.
“The Gay Games are the only event or organization that I know of that will actually allow people who are trans, non-binary, or intersex to be part of the Games without putting up too many barriers… It’s very rare that there’s a space for people like us,” he said.
The Gay Games ended with its Closing Ceremony on November 11th.
Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:
From pain to purpose: How a mother who lost her son to addiction is now fighting the US opioid epidemic
“It didn’t have to happen.”
This was the conclusion that Cammie Wolf Rice came to when recounting the death of her son Christopher who, after 15 years, lost his battle against opioid addiction.
Speaking at the FCC on October 8th, Cammie went into detail about her son’s death, and how it moved her to become an activist fighting the United States’ ongoing opioid epidemic, which has taken an estimated 500,000 lives since Christopher passed away in 2016. Moderating the talk was Anna Healy Fenton, an Addiction and Relationships Counsellor at OT&P and former FCC President.
It started with Christopher being diagnosed with a colon disease in middle school and then the removal of his colon before he finished high school. After his operation, Christopher’s doctor recommended he take painkillers every 4 hours, and Cammie simply followed the doctor’s instructions.
“I didn’t even think to ask questions [about] if it was ok or if it was safe,” she said.
Cammie explained that 80% of heroin users start with painkillers, and that even just one dose is enough to get someone addicted.
“People don’t wake up and say, ‘Oh, I want to be an addict.’ No one asks to become addicted to opioids, but literally it can happen with one prescription,” she said.
After 15 years, Christopher died from an overdose. The loss of her son initially left Cammie unable to admit what happened to her loved ones, for fear of being stigmatized.
“It took me two years to say that Christopher overdosed,” she said. “Why is that? It’s not cancer, right? If you say your kid has cancer, you have people coming to your house and bringing you casserole dishes. But with addiction, you hide it under the rug because you don’t want to be looked at as a failure as a parent.”
After finding the courage to be honest about what happened to Christopher, Cammie made it her life mission to educate people about the dangers of opioids. She created her foundation, the Christopher Wolf Crusade (CwC), which advises patients on non-opioid pain treatments and has helped establish “Life Care Specialists” at hospitals in the US who coach people through their pain.
“Look at our society. We use coaches for everything,” she said. “But you don’t have a coach when you have a health crisis. And that’s the most critical time that you need a coach.”
In her opinion, opioids do have their place — like when treating victims of car accidents or amputees — but people must “taper off” opioids quickly before it’s too late.
Cammie also explained the differences between opioids and fentanyl, why everyone should carry Narcan, and talked about her book, The Flight, which tells her and Christopher’s story.
Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club Awards Clare Hollingworth Fellowships 2023
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club Awards Clare Hollingworth Fellowships
Mithil Aggarwal is a producer / reporter for NBC News, covering global breaking news and human interest stories. An engineering graduate from The University of Hong Kong, he stumbled into journalism by accident, producing an award-winning podcast.
Eudora Wang is the Deputy Editor, Greater China, at DealStreetAsia, where she covers alternative investments. Wang holds a master’s degree in international journalism studies from Hong Kong Baptist University and a bachelor’s degree in radio and television studies from Xi’an International Studies University.
Aruzhan Zeinulla is a senior-year international journalism student at Hong Kong Baptist University from Kazakhstan. After completing her summer internship, primarily covering the Russia-Ukraine war, she joined CNN as a freelance news desk researcher.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong is pleased to announce that it has chosen Mithil Aggarwal, Eudora Wang and Aruzhan Zeinulla as recipients of the fifth annual Clare Hollingworth Fellowship, named in honor of the preeminent and path-breaking journalist.
The panel of judges noted the winners offer clear potential as future leaders both within the FCC and in the wider Hong Kong journalism community.
The Fellowship is focused on early-career journalists and current journalism school students in Hong Kong.
The open competition drew significant interest from a cross spectrum of applicants. The adjudicators noted the high standard of applicants and encouraged all to apply again next year.
Too little, too late: Hong Kong’s efforts to get more women into boardrooms are a good first step, but not enough according to panel of diversity experts
While companies across the world are introducing new measures to increase diversity through progressive hiring practices, in the boardroom Hong Kong still lags behind, with only 19.1% of the city’s board seats being held by women as of July 2023. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEx) has introduced new regulations that require all listed companies to have at least one female board member by the end of 2024, but some critics argue that these new rules aren’t enough to create meaningful change.
To discuss possible solutions to Hong Kong’s board diversity issue, the FCC held a panel discussion in early October with three experts: Fiona Nott, CEO of the Women’s Foundation, Tim Payne from Brunswick, and May Tan – the former CEO of Standard Chartered Bank HK. Moderating the discussion was FCC Correspondent Board Member Karen Koh.
The conversation began with the panel discussing why diversity is important in the first place and whether or not it has an effect on a company’s performance.
“Gender equality and the advancement of women is an imperative that benefits everyone. It benefits society, business, the economy,” said Nott, who then provided statistics from her organization’s research.
According to The Women’s Foundation, companies that prioritize gender equality experience a 60% increase in profitability, productivity, and their ability to attract and retain talent. Also, solving the gender gap across the world would contribute US$12 trillion to global GDP.
Nott also noted that Hong Kong as a society is quite rule-heavy, whereas if there is no rule — especially in reinforcing diversity initiatives — then nothing happens.
Payne also chimed in regarding rules. HKEx has announced that all companies listed on the HK Stock Exchange must have at least one woman on their boards by the end of 2024, but to Payne, a target of 30% is more likely to bring change.
“Why 30 percent?” he asked. “Not because it’s a target, but because once you get to about a third of any organization cognitively diverse, then people stop questioning the diversity and start thinking about the value of the organization itself.”
To Payne, one of the reasons why Hong Kong hasn’t been able to reach its diversity targets is due to the lack of government support and mandates that other countries across Asia have developed over the past decade.
“If you go back ten years, we were beating Singapore, we were beating Malaysia, we were beating Japan, we were beating South Korea, and now we’ve seen several of these countries come past us,” he said.
Tan, as the panelist with multiple board experiences throughout her career, was invited to share her thoughts on gender inequality, particularly in how a lack of opportunities and resources prevents women from giving back to their respective societies.
“What you’re telling me is that society is actually paying for the education of these women who are not really able to contribute to the wider society,” she said. ”They need to have the opportunity to give back to society and contribute.”
Tan also echoed the other panelists when giving her opinion on the government’s board initiatives for 2024.
“I’m very pleased to see that we have now got an end to all single-gender boards in 2024. But honestly, in my view, it’s too little too late, because an end to single-gender boards will mean one woman… one woman is not enough to change the tone in the boardroom,” she said.
Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:
FCC Statement on Journalists and the Israel-Hamas War
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong is deeply saddened and disturbed by the severe toll the ongoing Israel-Hamas war has taken on journalists.
As of Oct. 26, at least 27 journalists were among the more than 7,000 people killed in the conflict, including 22 Palestinians, four Israelis and one Lebanese, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least eight other journalists have been injured, and nine others are believed to be missing or detained.
There are multiple other unconfirmed reports of journalists being killed, injured, missing, detained or threatened, and of their homes and offices being damaged.
The Club expresses its deepest condolences to the colleagues and loved ones of the journalists who have been killed, as well as the journalists whose families have been killed in the conflict they are covering.
The Club further calls on all parties to ensure the safety of journalists on the ground in Israel and the Gaza Strip, who are reporting the news with great courage under extremely dangerous circumstances. Journalists are civilians who should not be targeted, and their ability to freely and safely do their jobs is vital for understanding the conflict and working toward its end.
How the HK Philharmonic rose to international success
As the Hong Kong Philharmonic (HK Phil) begins its 2023-2024 season, the FCC had the pleasure of sitting down with Benedikt Fohr, HK Phil’s Chief Executive, to discuss the orchestra’s recent success. From managing practice during the pandemic’s social distancing requirements to winning the 2019 Orchestra of the Year award from UK magazine Gramophone, the HK Phil has overcome many challenges on its journey to becoming one of the top orchestras in Asia.
Moderating the discussion was FCC Correspondent Board Member Karen Koh.
Fohr began with a quick presentation on HK Phil’s history. Starting in 1957, the HK Phil was renamed from its original title, the Sino-British Orchestra. The HK Phil became fully professional in 1974 and since then has toured across the world. Concert halls in Bangkok, Osaka, Seoul, Singapore, and various cities across Australia and Europe have all welcomed HK Phil’s musicians.
In 2012, the HK Phil welcomed Jaap van Zweden as their 8th Music Director, and this current season will be his last. It’s also HK Phil’s 50th season, a milestone in their performing history.
The pandemic had a major impact on the orchestra’s ability to rehearse and perform, yet with the government’s support, they were able to maintain salaries for all of their 96 musicians and support staff.
“Even during the pandemic, the government was very supportive to Hong Kong Phil,” Fohr said.
In his presentation, Fohr noted that over 60% of HK Phil’s funding comes from government subsidies, while the remaining amount comes from performance revenue and sponsorships.
HK Phil is widely regarded as one of the top orchestras in Asia, drawing musicians from around the world, and musician turnover is very low. Fohr talked about the recruitment process for musicians, which has evolved after the pandemic.
Fohr also discussed a musical dilemma in Hong Kong. While many local parents put their children in piano, violin, or other types of music classes, at the same time they discourage them from pursuing a professional career in music.
“Parent’s usually don’t want their kids to be professional musicians because they know how hard it is,” he said.
On the plus side, audiences in Hong Kong tend to be younger than those in Europe, which Fohr says is a good thing for the longevity of HK Phil and Hong Kong youth’s interest in classical music.
“The good thing here [Hong Kong], compared to Europe, is that there is a lot of motivation from the parents to bring their kids into music for whatever reason,” Fohr said, which then leads to consistent ticket sales for performances whereas in other countries, only older generations might be in attendance.
“That’s very hopeful,” Fohr added.
Fohr also had some advice for parents who are thinking about introducing their children to music: stick with mastering one instrument, even when it gets difficult.
“As a part of education, I think the most important thing is that we teach our kids to do something and stick with it, and not to change from one subject to another when it’s getting difficult,” he said.
Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:
FCC: Your Club Needs YOU! (To Join the New Charity Committee)
Formula One doesn’t need an 11th team, says motorsport expert Matthew Marsh at the FCC
Mid-September’s Singapore Grand Prix resulted in Max Verstappen of the dominating Red Bull Team being dethroned by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. Then just a week later, Verstappen redeemed himself by coming in first at the Suzuka Grand Prix.
These neck-and-neck outcomes have revived fan and expert optimism that Formula One can still be just as exciting and unpredictable as other mainstream sports.
Matthew Marsh is one of those experts. He covered F1 in Asia for ESPN and FOX Sports for over 20 years and was the first driver to represent Hong Kong in the Le Mans 24-Hours. Now he focuses on commercial partnerships in F1, as well as cross-series events in Formula E, Indycar, and NASCAR.
To share his insider thoughts about the recent races, as well as other key aspects about F1, Marsh sat down at the FCC’s September 26 Club Lunch with Second Vice President Tim Huxley. The duo began their discussion with Red Bull’s dominance and how they have been able to stay on top throughout the years.
“If you rewind the clock, in those years of Mercedes dominance, Red Bull still won two or three races a year with a sub-optimal power unit,” Marsh said. “Now they’ve got an equal — at least equal — power unit. They’re dominating again as they were in the Sebastian Vettel years.”
Huxley then asked Marsh about who he finds to be the current “winners” and “losers” in F1 racing. For winners, Marsh listed Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, and Oscar Piastri, who have all placed in the top ten at the last two races.
For losers, one name came to Marsh’s mind: Sergio Perez, who DNF’d at the most recent Suzuka Grand Prix. He cited mistakes that Perez has made, mistakes that other drivers wouldn’t make — or would intentionally make at critical moments while driving.
For the rookie drivers, Marsh thinks there’s a fundamental issue.
“I still think we have a problem that Formula One testing is so restricted,” Marsh said. “There are so few days now — for cost-cutting reasons, I understand that — but that does mean that young drivers never really get a chance to hone their skills. These cars are super complicated.”
Huxley and Marsh also debated the idea of introducing more F1 teams to the sport, an idea that Marsh finds completely unnecessary.
“We’ve got 10 teams, how many do we need? This is the Champions League of motorsport. There are no crap teams in Formula One. There are no crap drivers. There used to be both crap teams — they would die — and there used to be crap drivers. They’re no more,” he said.
Marsh went on to explain how additional teams would dampen F1’s efforts to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly, efforts that aren’t well-known across newcomer and seasoned fans.
“If we went to a Grand Prix, I bet that less than 10-percent of the people in the grandstand, depending on the Grand Prix, would actually know the cars are hybrid,” he said.
He clarified that although this is a sport using motor vehicles, only one percent of F1’s carbon footprint is coming from the racecars going around the track. The remaining 99-percent of the carbon footprint comes from the logistics and travel arrangements, factors that all sports must take into consideration.
“An 11th team adds 10-percent to the carbon footprint… So why would F1 want to do that? I don’t see any upside,” Marsh said.
When it comes to F1 in Asia, Huxley posed an important question: Is Asia being neglected in F1’s efforts to expand their business? He listed a series of Asian countries which have fallen off the F1 calendar — India, Malaysia, South Korea, and Vietnam.
In his reply, Marsh pointed out Singapore as a model F1 location that other countries can learn from, especially in regards to hospitality and improving fan and athletes’ overall experience.
“It is a two-way street. The reason that Singapore has been successful is that Singapore saw the value of being on the F1 calendar,” he said.
Marsh compared F1 in Singapore to races in Shanghai, a location he still likes but also finds himself questioning due to the city’s seemingly lack of amenities and thoughtfulness in putting on a Grand Prix, all of which Singapore takes into great consideration for their events.
Another important note about Singapore’s involvement with F1 is their official sponsorship with the sport, which he recommends all host cities enact in order to reap the full range of benefits and overall race experience.
“If you’re going to spend 30 million dollars a year on hosting a Grand Prix, then why don’t you spend another two or three on top to activate it properly?” he said.
Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:
Control over AI is one of the most important battles for China, EU, and US, according to digital regulation expert Anu Bradford
With AI’s exponential growth and its increasing uses in nearly all sectors, governments across the world are racing to keep this advancing technology under their control. Three key players have emerged in the global battle in keeping tech companies in check — China, the European Union, and the United States — each with their own unique approach and philosophy towards governance.
But alongside their internal power struggles, these three players are also competing against each other in exporting their style of regulation to the rest of the world, and there’s no clear leader in sight.
To break down the dynamics of AI regulation, the FCC hosted a Club Lunch discussion on September 20 with Professor Anu Bradford from Columbia Law School. Bradford is an expert in international trade law and digital regulation, as well as the author of Digital Empires: The Global Battle to Regulate Technology, which was published in September 2023.
“There’s a recognition that AI is one of the most important ‘theaters of war,’” Bradford said. “That’s where the most important battles are being fought, and that’s where you cannot afford to be left behind.”
Alongside FCC Professional Committee member Antony Dapiran who served as the moderator of the talk, Bradford explained the differences between AI regulation’s “horizontal” battles (between different governments) and “vertical” battles (between governments and their respective tech companies). While the vertical battles result in either self-regulation by tech companies or government overreach, horizontal battles highlight the different approaches by the three main regulation players and how they attempt to export their style of regulation.
China takes on a state-driven approach similar to how the rest of the country is governed. The US is market-driven, meaning that free speech and internet, along with innovation, are core values that guide legislation. On the other hand, the EU is rights-driven — the democratic rights of internet users are the top priority for European lawmakers.
Both the US and EU are considered “liberal democracies” in the tech world while China is more authoritative, yet it is China that poses a significant challenge in the US and EU’s efforts to extend their methods of regulation to the rest of the world.
“It’s the Chinese model that holds greater appeal,” said Bradford, citing higher surveillance as one of the reasons why countries with higher crime rates than the US and EU might adopt China’s way of using AI.
Another reason why other countries might idealize China’s model is due to a critical look at how technological innovation still exists despite the heavy regulation that the US and EU constantly warn against.
“There’s been this notion that the American model is partially superior because people are free, and when you are free, freedom is necessary for innovation,” she said. “China has challenged that notion. China has shown that even though it is not free, it has been able to innovate.”
Additionally, Bradford cited the US’ failed attempts at enforcing its own tech companies to self-regulate, resulting in growing concerns over the privacy and data safety of American internet users.
“The American digital empire is declining,” she said. “There’s very little faith anymore in the tech companies’ self-regulation. Even the US is slowly abandoning its hardcore commitment to free markets and sort of recognizing it hasn’t provided a society that is necessarily free or where democracy is more robust.”
However, China does have one limitation: generative AI. This is where Bradford explains that the US has a significant advantage over China given the Chinese government’s level of censorship, which results in the data pool for Language Learning Models to train being drastically reduced.
“That might be the moment for the US to say, ‘look, ultimately there are limits to your [China’s] innovations in certain domains of technology where you are restricting information,’” she said.
A couple of outliers that Bradford mentioned in her talk are India and Japan, who both pick and choose the elements from the three styles of regulation and aren’t necessarily emerging as their own separate digital empires.
Mixed styles of regulation like these also leave room for increased influence from either the authoritative models or tech companies that pose major risks to the US and EU models.
“That leaves the the US and the EU with a very big challenge that if they cannot show to themselves and to the world that there is a liberal democratic way to govern tech companies, the true digital empires are either the authoritarians or the tech companies, and that is a very disconcerting outcome for anybody who believes in liberal democracy as a foundation for human engagement and for our digital society,” Bradford concluded.
Digital Empires: The Global Battle to Regulate Technology is now available on Amazon.
Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:
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