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Hong Kong’s story, one sketch at a time (and a few of the FCC)

When artist Pam Williams first came to Hong Kong in 1996, she was armed with a sketchbook and a fax machine to record the build-up to the handover. Now she’s back and drawing daily life around the city and at the Club. Here she tells her story.

A chance to visit Hong Kong from the London studio sounded ideal.

Digging up the harbourfront Digging up the harbourfront

The timing was perfect. It was 1996 and I needed somewhere away from England to sit and think what my next path in life would be.

Apparently, Hong Kong was the leading light of computer technology. So, as a professional illustrator, on holiday or not I had to be prepared. The latest telephone/fax machine was packed ready to plug in on arrival. Remember, there was no Internet. Fax was the email of the time. I bought a mobile phone as well, a Nokia, and learned how to use it on the plane. Text messages – how did that work? Someone was sure to show me.

On arrival in Hong Kong, the sight of hundreds of narrow high-rise tenements cascading down from the peak was astounding. Lazing in sunny Victoria Harbour, a sampan drifted while giant container barges were pulled past by tiny determined tugs. After 20 years, honing the personal passion of sketching on location, I was in heaven, watching and documenting this feast fresh to the eyes.

Pam Williams comes from a family of artists including Hugh Lofting, author and illustrator of the Doctor Dolittle children’s books, and Morris Meredith Williams, World War One artist. Pam Williams comes from a family of artists including Hugh Lofting, author and illustrator of the Doctor Dolittle children’s books, and Morris Meredith Williams, World War One artist.

An American English teacher at the YMCA saw the results. “Go downstairs and call the Governor’s press office first thing tomorrow morning. Say you have come to sketch the handover.” So I did.

Being an army brat, or “an officer’s daughter”, is life’s training ground, if you like. Unexpectedly, it was the fast-track ticket to move with and among handover organisers.

Once introduced to the British Forces by Governor Chris Patten I was sent press releases so that I could follow activities.

Francis Moriarty, on RTHK, told me: “Contact David Tang, ask for a commission or retainer.” He was too busy to help, but said: “I’m curious to see what you do.”At the last minute, David Tang did give me a commission to fly me back to Hong Kong to continue my work.

The Hong Kong Harbour The Hong Kong Harbour

Clare Hollingworth, the late doyen of the FCC, commandeered my assistance at the Ghurka’s disbandment parade. “Call me at 7am tomorrow, I may need you to come and read the papers to me.’” This extraordinary woman, then aged 82, became my anchor and guide. She was indeed a consistent challenge. “When I was in China, I had a room with a bed and a wooden chair, and I thought how lucky I was,” she told me one day.

At the end of 1997, a grand exhibition was held at the FCC and the Fringe Club. The work got a lot of people talking. Sketches can catch the depth of fleeting moments and moods that photographs can only scan. Perhaps it’s the passion and emphasis of immediate marks on paper.

Many, many people who had helped me had left and missed seeing the collection.

Fast forward to the last three years, and a sketchbook has been in the making. But how could I bring some meaningful depth to it all? Those who know Hong Kong well, from diverse communities, contribute towards tracking Hong Kong’s development – back to the 1950s, bizarre events before and after the handover.

Far East correspondent Jim Laurie was on Skype to London from the U.S. and told me: “1997 is passé Pam, you have to go out there to gather current material today. It is a Chinese Hong Kong now. That is controversial.”

I arrived in September, gathering clips of conversations with residents. There are different concerns, unsettling facts as well as encouraging foresights. Fears of the past loom heavily overhead. It is time to take a pause, as Christine Loh and Richard Cullen prescribe in their book, No Third Person.

The old Police Station HQ entrance in Central – now better known as the recently-opened Tai Kwun heritage and arts centre The old Police Station HQ entrance in Central – now better known as the recently-opened Tai Kwun heritage and arts centre

To read a book without pictures is not easy for everyone. This has been a colourful and extraordinary journey for me to learn and understand Hong Kong in more depth. The full collection of my 60-100 sketches and paintings will be published for the first time. There will be sketches of today, as well as those I did back in 1997.

I hope the journey is as engaging for others as it has been and is for me. Remember, it does not compete with thorough studies of history at any point. It is a sketchbook with contributions from behind the scenes; the essence of Hong Kong’s journey. Also, it is personal and I hope it will be a valuable journey to share with you.

I bought a smartphone on the second day of my arrival in September. I looked at my old friend, the Nokia phone from my first visit here, on the shelf. Technology has surpassed even construction and it is a reminder that we are in a new era today.

* Pam will be here until March 14. To receive a monthly link to track the progress and release of the book, send an email to Pam at [email protected] and see her work at https://www.pamwilliams.co.uk/hongkongbook

Bert's bar Bert’s Bar
Beijing, 1997 Six lane highways filled with cyclists, very few cars Beijing, 1997 Six-lane highways filled with cyclists, very few cars

The last Governor, Chris Patten The last Governor, Chris Patten
The FCC chef at work The FCC chef at work

Introducing… FCC new members, January 2019

The latest group of members to join the FCC is, as always, an interesting bunch. The membership committee meets regularly to go through applications and is always impressed by the diversity of people who want to join the Club.

Anita Liu

Anita Liu

I was born and raised in Taiwan, lived and studied in Sydney. As an international school teacher, I’ve had the privilege to live and work in several different countries. Besides Taiwan, I also call Australia and Turkey home, as I have lived and taught in these two amazing countries. I have been living in Hong Kong for 12 years (was planning to be here for two). Lots of life-changing events have happened during that time. I met my American husband, Ryan, and now we are raising our three-year-old daughter. I enjoy hiking, travelling, planning events, cooking and reading.

 

Mary Hui

Mary Hui

I’m a freelance journalist and writer in this wonderful-but-flawed city that I’ve called home my entire life, minus a few years away for college and a seven-month stint last year at the Washington Post in D.C. I’m an avid trail runner and am training to compete in a couple of 50-kilometre trail races this season. If I’m not too tired from all the miles of running up and down mountains, I also like to go climbing and bouldering.

 

Tracy Alloway

Tracy Alloway

If I was an animal, I would not choose to be a butterfly, because that would be derivative. These are the kind of terrible and obscure finance jokes you can expect when you meet me at the FCC. I’ve recently moved to Hong Kong to be Head of the Asia News Desk at Bloomberg. In addition to Bloomberg, I’ve worked at the Financial Times, with experience in New York, London, and Abu Dhabi, where I was previously based. I also anchor on TV and co-host a weekly podcast, Odd Lots, where we talk about poker, algorithmic trading and forensic accounting – in addition to butterfly option strategies.

 

Paul-Alexandre Bourieau

Paul-Alexandre Bourieau

My name is Paul-Alexandre Michel Albert Bourieau, but they call me POLO. I am French, my son Italian, my wife English and my grandfather was a Spanish refugee. And I am a sculptor here in Hong Kong. I arrived in Hong Kong almost by mistake in 2003. I fell in love with this city “in between two worlds” which inspires me greatly in terms of identity crisis in the new millennium. Since then, I have been creating site-specific works for the new “agora” of the 21st century.

 

Fergus Gifford

Fergus Gifford

It is an honour to be a member of this wonderful institution. I was born in London, grew up in Tokyo and studied in Edinburgh. I then worked as a teacher in Kobe before beginning my career in shipbroking with Arrow in London, and I’ve now been in Hong Kong since 2015. I love this city. In a day I can cover all of my passions – eating my bodyweight in dim sum at Maxims, hiking up Mt High West to watch the container ships pass and then heading to the bar at the FCC!

 

Marianne Bray

Marianne Bray

After a stint working as a social scientist in Wellington, New Zealand, I left my life at home to study for a masters of journalism at Columbia University in New York. This led to adventures like reporting from the streets of the Bronx, trading on the American stock exchange, having dinner with Walter Cronkite, interviewing a eunuch in the slums of Mumbai and covering 9/11 for CNN.com in Hong Kong. I now teach at HKU’s journalism school. I also write for the Economist Group, Thomson Reuters Foundation and the South China Morning Post, judge the annual SOPA awards, and am a mother of three kids very interested in pushing the green agenda.

Bjorn Hojgaard

Bjorn Hojgaard

I am the Danish CEO of ship management company Anglo-Eastern Univan Group. We have more than 600 vessels under full technical management, another 200+ under crew management, and have project managed the building of 450 new ships. I am married to Brenda, a “Hong Kong girl”, and have lived here close to 20 years. Together with our Labrador Retriever, we are avid hikers and Hong Kong is a superb home in this respect. I’ve also climbed Mount Kota Kinabalu and Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peaks in South East Asia and Africa respectively. Apart from that, my favourite pastime is sailing.

Alberto Aliverti

Alberto Aliverti

My name is Alberto Aliverti and I am originally from Como, Italy. I arrived in Hong Kong in 1982, coming from the United States. After assimilating the culture and business climate, I started my own company. Initially I was importing fabrics, fashion accessories and textile chemicals from Italy, but I also acted as a textile consultant for an Italian Government institution. My fondest memories were being able to travel to unspoiled places in China, especially areas closed to foreigners at the time. I still remember 20 days of negotiations in Hubei, lodging in the summer residence of Mao Tse Tung. Being the dead of winter, there was no heating, and my 1000 sq ft bedroom always remained a cool 2-3C.

Sean Gleeson

Sean Gleeson

Hello! I moved here in April to work at Agence France-Presse, where I continue to distinguish myself as the tallest person in the office. Before that my partner and I lived in Yangon, where my commanding height was the object of much ridicule. When I wasn’t being chased down the streets by rampaging gaggles of selfie-hungry Burmese teens, I worked for the news magazine Frontier Myanmar. I started my time in Asia at the Phnom Penh Post (RIP), where one of my articles got pulled because I compared the Cambodian information minister’s sartorial tastes to those of Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman.

 

Gregor Stuart Hunter

Gregor Stuart Hunter

I’m a cross-asset markets reporter for Bloomberg News, which I joined earlier this year after a four-year stint at The Wall Street Journal and another three years spent in Abu Dhabi covering Middle Eastern banking and finance for The National. I passed the CFA Level 2 exam this summer and will soon curtail my social life to prepare for the next one, so as to not bore people by gabbing away excessively about exotic derivatives. I’m also a marathon runner, a computer programmer, and am often found near fellow FCC member Babette Radclyffe-Thomas (pictured).

 

Alex Daniel

Alex Daniel

Hello. I was born in the UK and have been living in Asia since 2002. I moved to Hong Kong in 2007 and I manage a company focused on raising money for various local and international charities using TV advertising – in Hong Kong, Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand mostly. I met my wife in Hong Kong on Boxing Day 2009 and we married in October 2010. Claire’s parents are from Hong Kong, but she was born and raised by them in Germany so our two daughters are growing up speaking and hilariously mixing up German, English, and Chinese.

 

Casey Quackenbush

Casey Quackenbush

I’m an American reporter for TIME based in Hong Kong. I fell in love with the city’s trails and transience two years ago and have lived here ever since. At TIME, I cover everything from politics to culture across the Asia-Pacific, but my favourite stories are the ones with a good adventure. Some of the best include chasing Everest climbers in Nepal, cheese-hunting in the Alps, and droving in the Australian Outback. Let’s swap tales over Moscow Mules at the bar sometime.

 

Dr. Serina Ha

Dr. Serina Ha

I am Deputy Head of Radio Development and the Culture and Education Unit of RTHK, and a consultant in the arts at Hang Seng University of Hong Kong. I hold a PhD in Japanese Studies from the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at HKU and graduated with an MA in communication and MSoc in Media Management from HK Baptist University.  I am a guest lecturer at universities in Bangkok, Beijing, Chengdu, Hong Kong, and Japan. I am also an accomplished Japanese botanic artist and my work has been exhibited in the U.S., Japan, and Hong Kong.

 

Caroline Malone

Caroline Malone

I feel lucky as a journalist, currently News Stream Producer at CNN International, to have front row seats to the first draft of history – whether that is reporting on the inaugural cycling ‘Tour de Timor’ as a celebration of what was then the newest country in the world, witnessing protests in Turkey and Syrian refugee resettlement into Lebanon, or violence on the Jordan-Iraq border. I’ve recently returned to the city of my birth, Hong Kong, at a time when technology and tyrannical leadership have become new frontlines. People are a real passion of mine, specifically developing female athletes in Ultimate Frisbee. The sport will one day be in the Olympics.

 

Gemma Shaw

Gemma Shaw

As managing editor of Hong Kong Living, I oversee print titles including Southside & The Peak, Sai Kung, Mid-levels and Expat Parent magazines as well as content for hongkongliving.com. Originally from the UK, this is the second time I’ve lived in Hong Kong. My (now) husband and I lived here in 2014. We returned to Hong Kong a year ago, after living in Vietnam (too wet) and Singapore (too hot). We now live in Southside with our adopted cat. As an ex-Portobello Road, London, market stallholder, I love a good deal. I also like to start my days early with a hot yoga session and end them with the occasional glass of champagne.

 

Vivek Prakash Vivek Prakash

Vivek Prakash

I’m a photo editor for the New York Times and photographer for AFP. In previous lives I’ve been Chief Photographer, Indian Subcontinent and Staff Photographer, Singapore for Reuters; Before that, I was a staffer at AAP in Sydney. Before that, I was actually a night shift taxi driver for two years while I was getting my career as a photographer off the blocks in Australia. So if you’re looking for a raging debate on the state of modern photojournalism, or pointers on how to fix a Ford Falcon’s radiator hose – come find me at the bar.

Obituary: Derek Maitland, Vietnam War photographer and author

Born April 17, 1943; died January 7, 2019

The bio for the exhibition on the Van Es wall of 34 Vietnam photos last September and early October revealed a clue to how Derek Maitland’s career path was set. “My life really began the day I saw Kowloon Docks in 1966.”

Derek Maitland. Derek Maitland.

He expanded on this thought for my piece in SCMP Sunday Post Magazine piece last September (which was to be his last interview) “I was 23; Hong Kong was all the things one would like at that age. It was the jumping off point to where I passionately wanted to be at that time, a war correspondent in Vietnam.”

Derek left Vietnam after two years: “After three major combat incidents that I covered – one in the massive Tet Offensive – convinced me my luck might be running out,” he told The SCMP. Twenty-six years earlier, in The Correspondent of January 1992, he’d written: “I was convinced that after nearly two years of my own madness that the next bullet would be for me. That and an even bleaker fear that in the inexorable deterioration of my youth and spirit, furiously burning up on a napalm blast of drink, adrenalin, danger, terror,

Obviously terrified hamlet girl has her hands tied behind her. Photo: Derek Maitland Obviously terrified hamlet girl has her hands tied behind her. Photo: Derek Maitland

and depravity to which the war had sunk, I might lose touch with the real world altogether.”

He was open about his battles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He suffered it for 15 years after the Vietnam War, until he met a psychologist whose expertise was Vietnam Vets. “It was not just the vets who went off the rails after the war. Saigon … made much of life thereafter seem meaningless and mundane, requiring tremendous effort to restore everyday faith and excitement. And that against the backdrop of abiding melancholy and occasional hallucinations in the dead of night,” he wrote of PTSD in The Correspondent in January, 1992.

From Vietnam, Derek flew to London and worked with BBC-TV News and wrote his first novel, The Only War We’ve Got. From London he moved to Beirut and covered the Middle East. It was there that he met his first wife, Therese Herbert, a French Canadian, with whom he had two sons, Nick and Luke, who are in their early forties and who celebrated their father’s 75th birthday in Australia last year.

Derek came back to Hong Kong in the mid-1970s and worked as a freelance feature writer and humourist. He returned to television news in Toronto and went back to London with the BBC, where he led the first news crew to film the immediate aftermath of the IRA bombing on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s hotel in Brighton in 1984.

ARVN troops and their US advisors on a typical Mekong operation. Photo. Derek Maitland ARVN troops and their US advisors on a typical Mekong operation. Photo. Derek Maitland

In 1985, he travelled China and once again returned to Hong Kong with his second wife, New Zealander Jan O’Neill. launching the China Traveller magazine. This later became the Pacific Traveller. Together, the husband-and-wife team produced corporate videos.

After a stint in Sydney in 2000, Derek and Jan moved to Orange, and later further west to the heritage town of Canowindra in New South Wales, where they bought a house. Gregarious, articulate, intelligent, wry and witty, Derek also wrote four novels and five non-fiction books. When he passed away in Canowindra on a summer’s day after a battle with cancer diagnosed in 2016, he was working on a book of his life and another, poignantly titled Coming Home To Die.

Derek was part of the Vietnam Hacks email group, along with FCC member Robin Moyer, who said: “Derek and I spent some time together in Vietnam after the war. He had a keen sense of humour, especially when observing the cultural collision of East and West. [Fellow FCC member] Mark Erder coaxed Derek to send me his Vietnam photos from his year–long sojourn at the height of the fighting there in 1968–69 and we carried on a stimulating email conversation, in between bouts of chemo, as we put the pictures and captions together for his last hurrah on the Van Es Wall in September.”

FCC archives: Recording the history of those who witness it

The FCC’s archives may have dropped down the club’s list of priorities in recent years, but they’re not forgotten. Carsten Schael makes a passionate case for bringing them centre stage again.

The view from the terrace of 41A Conduit Road in the mid-Fifties The view from the terrace of 41A Conduit Road in the mid-Fifties.

Walking into the club from Ice House Street, many first time visitors may assume that the FCC has occupied the premises since they were built. The building and our storied organisation are that well matched to each other.

While the club’s origin only dates back to 1943 (the building was completed in 1917), it has filled these walls with many great stories of events which have changed the course of humanity. FCC members were active participants in recording history in the making. This has left the club as one of the custodians of records that bear witness to these events.

When I joined the club as a correspondent (freelance photographer) member in 2006, its history attracted my interest. I became acquainted with many members and started to learn about the great stories behind the photographs on the walls. As I became involved in the Wall and Publications (now Communications) Committees I was dismayed to find that there were no archives for the safe-keeping of the Club’s history.

The send-off for Mr Liao in 1977, with from left, Club president Bert Okuley, Liao Chien-ping, Richard Hughes in full swing and Mrs Li The send-off for Mr Liao in 1977, with from left, Club president Bert Okuley, Liao Chien-ping, Richard Hughes in full swing and Mrs Li

After getting elected to the board in 2011, I found initially that very few governors at the time considered the past of the club as important as present or future issues. It took a good year to find consensus on setting up the Archives Sub-committee, which I then headed. Then it took another year and changes in the board to get agreement on spending money on setting up an archives system and structure. Following over a year of work with expert consultants Simon Chu and Don Brech, the FCC Archives became a reality and the club started to reach out to the membership for contributions.

The club’s 70th anniversary in 2013 was a great opportunity to showcase a visual timeline of its history. And just a couple of months before the celebration we received a letter from an eye witness of the club’s foundation in Chungking. Mrs Wing Yung Choy-Emery was then a student in a journalism school near to the press club building and knew many of the China correspondents there (The Correspondent, Sept/Oct 2012). Sadly she has since passed away, but she left us with some great firsthand accounts of these early years.

The Governor Edward Youde, who officially opened the ice House Street premises in November 1982 The Governor Edward Youde, who officially opened the ice House Street premises in November 1982

With time and witnesses passing, the sub-committee compiled a substantial list of long-standing members to be interviewed for an oral history of the club. But being only a small group of dedicated volunteers (Vaudine England, Annemarie Evans, Cammy Yiu, Terry Duckham, Paul Bayfield, John Batten) and FCC staff, we were reaching the limits of the achievable very quickly. And as time went on, of the three-and-a-half staff members (the “half” refers to a part-timer) that were trained by our archive consultants, only 1.5 remain working for the club.

The last blow to the archives effort was the missing seven votes of my 2017 unsuccessful bid for the FCC presidency, which resulted in me leaving the board and the role as the convenor of the Archives Sub-committee without a successor being appointed.

The Club moved to Conduit Road from Kotewell Road in 1951 The Club moved to Conduit Road from Kotewell Road in 1951

Since then, not much has happened except club presidents have changed multiple times and the club’s residence in its Ice House Street building has been threatened following events of recent months.

This, of course, is of paramount concern to the board and the membership which might explain why the archives have been languishing. But I would like to make the case that the club’s greatest asset is its history.

The bits that we have gleaned so far are just the tip of the iceberg. There is the story of FCC Captain Mr. Liao (or “Papa Liao” to many early Hong Kong FCC members) who was a steadfast custodian of the club’s property through its early turbulent years. And much more …

It can look as if the FCC has always been at Ice House Street It can look as if the FCC has always been at Ice House Street

Unfinished research during the anniversary year revealed that there are several overseas archives that contain very interesting contextual information to the club’s history, as do the personal archives of several elderly members. So we would not run short of material for some time to come.

But first things first, I would like to ask for the current board to appoint a governor to lead the archives effort. I know our current president is already thinking along those lines, but the day-to-day business is shifting priorities. Please imagine all the amazing stories that are waiting to be rediscovered and the ones that we can preserve for the future of this great institution.

I would also appeal to our friends and supporters outside the club to consider that this club is a tremendous asset to the historic centre of this amazing city which has started to treat its tangible heritage with a bit more respect and consideration in recent years, because recognising where we came from is as important as where we will be going.

And as a final request, I would like the board to consider raising the importance of the archives to a full committee level, not just sub-committee. Of course, this will require a constitutional change and is not done overnight. Please consider this, because without its history the club is just another inexpensive bar/restaurant with interesting patrons.

Carsten Schael is a photographer and digital archives consultant based in Hong Kong. Since 2009 he has worked on local and international archives related projects. He served on the FCC Board of Governors for six years.

 

Blockchain explained – and why it’s going to change our lives

Blockchain is apparently going to change our lives, but most of us don’t have a clue what it is. Colin Simpson tracked down someone who has made it her business to be in the know.

Baffled by blockchain? If so, you’re not alone – a report by HSBC found that 80 percent of people surveyed did not understand the technology that powers cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

Yet blockchain evangelists say it is about to radically shake up our lives. So where does this leave the lay person struggling to keep up with it all – or for that matter reporters and editors covering such a hype-ridden and complex subject?

Stepping into the knowledge gap is Hong Kong-based Forkast News, a start-up co-founded by former Bloomberg TV anchor Angie Lau. It aims to provide clear and authoritative coverage of blockchain to the general public, techies, investors, companies – and journalists.

“The underlying technology of blockchain is going to transform industries,” said Lau, an FCC member. “It will change our world, and yet currently there is a lot of distrust, misunderstanding, and confusion amongst the general public.

“As journalists, we explain very complex ideas clearly, concisely and simply. I’m applying [this] to a very niche industry that not a lot of people understand and are probably afraid of and suspicious of.

“I want to be a bridge of understanding between the average person and the blockchain community.”

Angie Lau, co-founder of Forkast News Angie Lau, co-founder of Forkast News.

The view that the technology is about to usher in massive change appears to be shared by business leaders. Deloitte’s 2018 global survey of executives familiar with blockchain found that 74 percent of respondents said their organisations saw a “compelling business case” for its use. Those surveyed came from a range of industries, including the media.

Forkast, which is based in Causeway Bay, aims to launch its service in the first quarter of 2019. The exact form it will take is still being finalised, though there will be digital and video elements backed up by social media.

A group of specialists, data scientists, legal experts, developers, and coders – currently numbering around a dozen but expected to grow – has been assembled to evaluate blockchain ventures.

Lau said they would be able to determine, for example, if a new pitch is, in fact, a copycat version of a project that had failed previously, or if those behind a plan had been involved in earlier launches that had not come to fruition.

“The resources to actually verify [blockchain projects] and do deep dives doesn’t currently exist within the framework of traditional newsrooms,” she said.

Lau agreed that blockchain had been tainted by its association with wild cryptocurrency price swings, scams, tax evasion, and money laundering.

“Those aren’t the only stories that are relevant,” she said. “There are a lot of superficial headlines out there, and that’s great, it’s all part of the same ecosystem, but it is not the only part. I want to elevate understanding.”

Lau was a speaker at the Digital Media Asia conference in Hong Kong in November. Reflecting the growing interest in blockchain, the conference featured the technology for the first time and presented a full-day workshop about reporting on the subject. Topics covered included the rise of the blockchain beat and newsdesk, and – underlying the difficulty many have in understanding the subject – there was a session entitled “demystifying blockchain terminology”.

Forkast will not be without competition in the blockchain space. Singapore-based Block Asia, which launched in May, describes itself as a “one-stop news, media, and events portal for blockchain and cryptocurrency information in Asia and around the world”. Block Asia journalist Hui Xian said the site received an average of 75,000 views a week, and employed mainly freelancers.

Managing director Ken Nizam started the service after seeing a gap in the market for crypto news in the ASEAN region, said Hui.

Matt Coolidge, co-founder of Civil Matt Coolidge, co-founder of Civil.

Another startup, US-based Civil, is aiming to create a blockchain-based registry of newsrooms around the world in an effort to support trust in the age of fake news. The independently owned and run newsrooms are expected to meet Civil’s ethical journalism standards.

“Any newsroom found to be violating these standards can be challenged and, if the challenge is upheld by the community, removed from the trusted list of Civil newsrooms,” said Civil co-founder Matt Coolidge. “In this way, we’re seeking to build the anti-Facebook for news.”

In Asia, Civil has partnerships with Singapore’s Splice and a startup called Global Ground and says it is in talks with some larger publishers in the region. Partnerships with AP and Forbes have also been announced.

Splice has an ambitious plan to launch 100 media startups in Asia in three years. Both Splice and Global Ground are engaged in a surprisingly low-tech form of journalism – newsletters. Global Ground has journalists in South Korea, Thailand, and India, according to its website.

Civil suffered a setback in October when it was forced to scrap the initial sale of a cryptocurrency that was to be used by members of the network after failing to achieve the $8 million minimum fundraising target. A new, simpler, sale is due to take place early this year alongside the launch of the registry.

Civil’s original wide-ranging and somewhat confusing plans to transform journalism met with scepticism in some quarters. Coolidge, while conceding that blockchain is not a cure-all for the industry, said the transparency it gives “can help repair the considerable trust gap that currently exists between journalists and the public”.

BLOCKCHAIN EXPLAINED

Blockchain is a public ledger of transactions. It is sometimes referred to as a distributed ledger, meaning that it exists on many computers, rather than being a single record of a transaction on the server of, say, a bank. This means, in the case of payments as an example, they can be made directly without the need for a third party such as a bank or PayPal.

Blockchain’s design makes it almost impossible for anyone to change details of completed transactions, and the fact it is public provides transparency. The technology is most closely associated with cryptocurrencies, though technology giants, financial services firms and start-ups are exploring ways of using it in other areas – including journalism. For example, the Civil registry will use blockchain to ensure transparency by providing newsrooms and journalists with proof that they own their material. Readers will be able to check that a particular story was published by its stated author and is not fake news. Blockchain was launched in 2009 by the mysterious and unknown individual or team behind the first cryptocurrency, bitcoin, who used the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto.

 

Why 2018 was a year of living dangerously and dying violently for journalists

Reports on how the media fared in 2018 are relentlessly bad news, with killings, imprisonments and hostage-taking of journalists all up. Sue Brattle takes a look at the statistics.

2018 was a grim year for journalists, with 80 killed, 348 in prison and 60 being held hostage at the time of going to press. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) stated that there was “an unprecedented level of hostility towards media personnel”.  In its annual round-up of abuses against the media, RSF concluded: “Journalists have never before been subjected to as much violence and abusive treatment as in 2018.”

In fact, the FCC has chosen this issue as its theme for 2019’s Journalism Conference on 23 March, entitled Enemy of the People? The Dangers of Being a Journalist in 2019.

In December, TIME magazine named their person, or persons, of 2018, under the title The Guardians and the War on Truth. The honoured were: murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, imprisoned Myanmar journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, Rappler founder Maria Ressa of the Philippines, and The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., where five staff were shot dead in June.

Sam Jacobs, executive editor of TIME, said after the announcement on December 12: “We are trying to make a statement, trying to stress the importance of freedom of the press. One of the big themes we have seen this year is the question around truth. What they [the media] are guarding is liberty, democracy and freedom. And they are searching for facts.”

More than half of the journalists killed in 2018 were deliberately targeted, according to RSF, whose Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said: “The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists.”

Award-winning Chinese photographer Lu Guang in New York. He vanished in the restive northwest region of Xinjiang and was "officially arrested" by local authorities, his wife said on December 12, 2018. Award-winning Chinese photographer Lu Guang in New York. He vanished in the restive northwest region of Xinjiang and was “officially arrested” by local authorities, his wife said on December 12, 2018.

British human rights organisation Article 19 has concluded in its report spanning 2017-2018 that freedom of expression is at its lowest point for 10 years. Journalism is more dangerous – and more under threat – than at any time in the last decade. The rise of authoritarian governments and the threat of internet censorship has redoubled pressures on reporters globally, the report found.

Matthew Bugher, head of Article 19’s Asia Programme, told The Correspondent: “Headline stories concerning attacks on journalists, the prosecution of peaceful protesters and new repressive legislative initiatives paint a grim picture for the right to freedom of expression in Asia.

“Over the past year, the Cambodian government has engineered the evisceration of independent media, and Myanmar and the Philippines have persecuted journalists and human rights defenders who are reporting on grave human rights crises.

Members gather on the steps of the FCC to mark the one-year anniversary of Wa Lone & Kyaw Soe Oo being jailed in Myanmar. Members gather on the steps of the FCC to mark the one-year anniversary of Wa Lone & Kyaw Soe Oo being jailed in Myanmar.

“Thailand’s military government still presides over a rights-restricting legal framework of its own creation and Indonesia’s politicians have shown themselves willing to accommodate religious hardliners by silencing moderate voices.

“Meanwhile, China continues to export its authoritarianism, providing technology and training to support censorship and surveillance by regional governments and providing diplomatic cover for the repression of free speech.”

Afghanistan holds the tragic record for most journalists killed in 2018, with 15 deaths. Among them was AFP’s chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai, whom the FCC commemorated with a Wall exhibition of his pictures.

In Syria, 11 were killed, and in Mexico nine journalists were murdered.

RSF found that the number of journalists detained worldwide at the end of the year – 348 – was a rise from 326 at the same time last year. As in 2017, more than half of the world’s imprisoned journalists are being held in five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey. China remains the biggest jailer of journalists with 60 being held at the moment, including award-winning photojournalist Lu Guang who went missing in November. Chinese authorities waited a month before admitting he’d been arrested in Xinjiang.

The number of journalists being held hostage – 60 – is 11 percent higher than this time last year, when it was 54. All but one are in three Middle Eastern countries – Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

Malaysia's People's Justice Party president and leader of the Pakatan Harapan coalition Anwar Ibrahim (C) takes an oath as a member of the parliament during swearing in ceremony at the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur on October 15, 2018. Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP. Malaysia’s People’s Justice Party president and leader of the Pakatan Harapan coalition Anwar Ibrahim (C) takes an oath as a member of the parliament during swearing-in ceremony at the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur on October 15, 2018. Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said: “This was really the year when the governments struck back against the media. In many countries, reporters determined to ask hard questions and raise uncomfortable issues faced waves of harassment and death threats by government-sponsored online trolls, surveillance by state agencies, bogus criminal charges, and tax assessments, imprisonment, and physical attacks.

“Next year promises to be just as bad or worse, as the government assault on the media expands to using overbroad cybercrimes laws to go after free expression on the Internet.”

Vietnam welcomed in 2019 by introducing a new cybersecurity law, which criminalises criticising the government online and requires internet providers to give authorities user data when asked.

As the country’s Association of Journalists published a code of conduct banning reporters from posting information that could “run counter” to the state on social media, RSF’s Daniel Bastard called the measures “a totalitarian model of information control”.

Matthew Bugher of Article 19 . Matthew Bugher of Article 19 .

So are there any bright spots in the gloom? Article 19’s Matthew Bugher thinks there are: “In Malaysia, the Pakatan Harapan [Alliance of Hope] coalition, which ran on a platform that included legislative reform to promote freedom of expression, won a shock election victory in May. Although progress on human rights commitments has been limited to date, hopes remain high that the Government will live up to its reformist credentials.

“Moreover, in Hong Kong, Myanmar, the Philippines, and elsewhere throughout the region, journalists and activists are coming up with new, innovative ways to combat propaganda and censorship.

“In the coming year, digital spaces will increasingly become the forum for fights over expression and information. Look for governments throughout the region to continue to seek ways to control and surveil online content, while media and civil society will develop new initiatives to enable quality independent journalism and combat hate speech and misinformation.

“Peace campaigners in Myanmar, environmental human rights defenders in Cambodia and LGBT activists in Malaysia, among others, will take their activities to social media and develop new tools and technologies to defend marginalised and vulnerable communities.”

 

ENTRIES FOR HUMAN RIGHTS PRESS AWARDS 2019

The closing date for submissions to the Human Rights Press Awards 2019 is February 12. The awards, now in their 23rd year, are organised by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong, Amnesty International, and the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association.

Showcasing this work has become more important than ever as governments around the region step up threats to basic freedoms, whether it be locking up journalists, carrying out arbitrary detentions or silencing political opponents.

Submissions must have been reported from the Asia region, including Central Asia, but excluding the Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand, and been published or broadcast between January 1 and December 31, 2018. Entries must be in either English or Chinese, and there is no entry fee.

Categories include Breaking News, Features, Multimedia, Video, Audio, and Photography. This year the Features category will be split into two awards – Investigative Feature Writing and Explanatory Feature Writing. All entries must be related to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Each entry must cite the specific article that the work seeks to address.

For further details and to enter, click here.

 

 

Journalist visas: Reporting on a country that won’t let you in

The Maldives has suffered a turbulent year, with a state of emergency, protests on the streets of the capital, and a hotly-contested presidential election. Riazat Butt, former Editor-in-Chief at the Maldives Independent, spent 11 months working ‘under the radar’ from hotel rooms outside the country after her work visa was refused.

Supporters of former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed gather for a mass rally Supporters of former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed gather for a mass rally. Photo: AFP / ADAM SIREII (Photo by ADAM SIREII / AFP)

Sometime in the afternoon of September 24, 2018, I learned that Abdulla Yameen had conceded defeat in the Maldives presidential election. I updated the Maldives Independent live blog. Then I cried. I was in a Sri Lanka hotel room and had been awake for almost two days, working through a cyber-attack lasting almost as long, to keep publishing news about an election that could lead the country towards a dictatorship or return it to democracy.

After 12 months, 11 of them not in the Maldives because my visa application was rejected, my time as editor-in-chief was over. The election result indicated a brighter future for press freedom, and gave me a chance to return to the country. But I had little desire to work there again.

I had dealt with blackmail, extortion, suspicions of money laundering, a state of emergency, funding crises, cyber-attacks, isolation and insecurity, in addition to my everyday responsibilities. I deserved a cry, I told myself.

But whatever I did attracted attention because I was female, alone and clearly not Maldivian.

I initially entered the Maldives on a 30-day tourist visa, staying with someone’s relatives to avoid putting my name on a hotel or apartment booking. My SIM was registered to someone else. I met nobody outside the workplace, bar two trusted contacts, while I was in the Maldives. My route to and from work changed every few days because newsrooms were under such scrutiny. I dressed modestly, even slipping on an abaya to cover my gym kit of t-shirt and leggings.

But whatever I did attracted attention because I was female, alone and clearly not Maldivian. The daily street harassment, noise, pollution, heat and crowds of the capital Malé, were so intense I was relieved about heading to Colombo for a short business trip.

The visa application was submitted in my absence and authorities had all the documents specified in immigration rules. The rejection came a few weeks later. It shocked me. At no stage of the recruitment process had I been warned that I might be unsuccessful, that I might have to work remotely. No reason was given for the refusal.

I had been so sure about getting a visa I had left most of my things in the Maldives. But my name had been flagged, according to a police source, and I risked being deported on arrival if I tried to get in again.

I considered marrying a Maldivian to get a visa. A reporter volunteered, but wanted a pay bump to match. I told him we didn’t have that kind of money.

I resisted calls to appeal the rejection because there was nothing to be gained by drawing attention to myself or the website. Also, as one senior NGO figure put it, it was the Maldives’ sovereign prerogative to grant or deny visas. I was not entitled to one simply because I was a journalist, I thought.

Besides, I didn’t want to become the story and there was work to be done: exposing wrongdoing, holding power to account and tackling under-reported issues.

But I didn’t know how to run a newsroom, let alone do it from thousands of miles away, and had no idea where I was supposed to go for the rest of my contract.

I flitted around Asia and even Europe, leading the team from different time zones, directing our coverage and setting the agenda.

I was pushy, single-minded and vocal as I bashed reporters into shape and sent them out on assignment. Messages pinged back and forth about who was doing what, why, how, where and when.

We ran stories on subjects considered taboo in the conservative and autocratic country – the perils of removing the hijab, recreational drug use, mental health, election rigging, unsolved murders, sexual harassment, sexual abuse – and exposed government lies about loans, statistics and development projects. Reporters revealed environmental destruction on islands, and the rifts in the opposition alliance and the trials of being a court reporter in the Maldives.

I often worked up to 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, and kept hearing how brilliantly I was doing and how fantastic the website looked. I was proud we were the only news website in the Maldives to come under attack during the state of emergency, although I hated not being able to publish.

Editor-in-Chief Riazat Butt during a rare meeting with her team in Colombo. Editor-in-Chief Riazat Butt during a rare meeting with her team in Colombo.

I wasn’t just working remotely, I was under the radar. There were no media appearances. There was no byline for me at the Maldives Independent and I never wrote for anyone else. I had no LinkedIn profile. Sure I tweeted about the Maldives, but I also tweeted about puppies and Brexit.

But among the successes there was frustration and exhaustion: attempting to explain what needed to be done and why — all day, every day, to reporters – or hearing they had no ideas or didn’t know what questions to ask when calling someone on a story. A lot of energy was spent getting the reporters to do the basics. The team was young and mostly inexperienced. I normally thrived in adversity but, at times, the scale of the challenge overwhelmed me.

I told people I worked in admin or that I sold stationery as I felt this would be more believable than the truth.

I also felt guilty that I wasn’t in the Maldives with the reporters. I couldn’t mentor them or help them develop. I felt I was letting them down by not being more patient, stronger, more creative and was devastated at my failure to do any of the things I had promised to do when I was hired: build the brand, get more money, hire more people, do video, graphics and interactives.

I met the team twice after my visa was rejected, once in December 2017 and then in August 2018. I didn’t see them after that, not even when I returned to the Maldives as a legitimate tourist for a holiday after I left my job and the new president had taken power.

The Maldives was a huge part of my life for 12 months. It was my life for 12 months. I knew everything about it, but didn’t share this information with other holidaymakers. They didn’t know about the extremism, the corruption, the backstabbing and cronyism, the pitiful transparency and my role in documenting all of it. I told people I worked in admin or that I sold stationery as I felt this would be more believable than the truth.

As the seaplane puttered over the Indian Ocean on my last departure I could name the islands coming into view, the lawmakers who represented them in parliament, the tycoons who owned the swanky resorts fanning across the water.

While this job is one of the most rewarding I’ve had in my career, it has also been one of the most bizarre. I had been reporting on a country I wasn’t allowed into and, when I was allowed in, I was no longer reporting on it.

Riazat Butt has worked at The Guardian, Al Jazeera English and AFP. She has lived in the Gulf, Asia and travelled widely on assignment. She was Editor-in-Chief at the Maldives Independent from September 2017 until October 2018.

POLITICS AND A MISSING JOURNALIST

Last year the Maldives ranked 120 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.

Rights groups criticised Abdulla Yameen, who was president from 2013 until 2018, for leading a crackdown on free speech that saw the country slide down the RSF index during his time in office.

An anti-defamation law and pro-government media watchdogs engendered a hostile reporting climate. Journalists said they were forced to practise self-censorship to avoid crippling fines and lawsuits.

Reporters were also threatened, imprisoned, assaulted, even fleeing the country for their safety while Yameen was in power.

Maldives Independent reporter Ahmed Rilwan was abducted in 2014. The two men charged over his disappearance were acquitted last August and Rilwan remains missing.

Background checks, introduced in 2016 after an Al Jazeera exposé of massive state corruption, meant foreign journalists had to submit extensive documentation as part of their visa application, including a medical report, police certificate, two-year travel history, and bank statements.

The Ministry of Home Affairs barred foreigners from being editors of Maldivian news outlets. It also said only degree holders could be editors, but this regulation was later changed after it was pointed out that just several hundred people from the general population were graduates.

Yameen lost the September 2018 presidential election. The anti-defamation law was repealed in November.

The Correspondent, Jan-Mar 2019

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