Members Area

Introducing the FCC’s New Members: January 2021

The FCC Membership Committee meets regularly to vet applications and is always impressed by the diversity, experience and talents of FCC candidates. Join us in welcoming our latest batch of members!

 

Jonathan Robert Breen

I went unwittingly into financial journalism but was rewarded with the chance to move to Hong Kong and cover one of the most exciting and important capital markets. I spend much of my free time hiking or researching which bars have the best beers and comfiest stools. Previously, I worked for a newspaper in South Korea, where I spent some of my earlier years and still have family. I’m trying to master a few languages and have just about managed English. Tips are welcome.


Sumeet Chatterjee

I have been with Reuters for more than 14 years, and in my current role as acting Asia finance editor, I oversee the coverage of banks, deals, and regulatory developments in the region. Before moving to Hong Kong in 2016, I worked in India, where I covered the country’s technology and financial sector, as well as the pharmaceutical industry. However, my first foray into journalism was in fashion. Given that I probably won’t get front-row seats at events at this stage of my career, I don’t imagine going back to that beat in this life.


David Matheson Cave

Originally from Northampton, England, I left school at 15 and got my first job as a casino trainee croupier at only 17. I must have been the world’s youngest five-card stud poker dealer! Through the years, I’ve DJ’ed and worked in radio, toured with music acts and made a name as a record buyer in Indonesia, China and South America. I eventually started my own toy company, Dragon-i Toys, in Hong Kong in 2009. I also wrote my autobiography, From Disco’s to Dino’s, and I look forward to telling you more about it at the FCC.


Christine Chan Chiu

I’m an independent art advisor and freelance writer, who is now brewing up a very interesting art startup. A proud Hongkonger, I studied art history and languages while developing a passion for music, history and culture. This is one of the reasons why my husband and I are very excited to join the FCC family; we love the historical significance of the Old Dairy Farm Depot as well as the cosy, intellectual atmosphere of the club – and we can’t wait till jazz nights resume at Bert’s!


David Fenn

I am a practising solicitor, who set up my own law firm this year focusing on litigation and corporate practice. I am also a non-executive director of three Hong Kong-listed companies, and have been serving on the HKICPA Disciplinary Panel and HKSAR Housing Appeal Panel advocating public interest. Born and bred in Hong Kong, I studied both here and in the UK. In my free time, I love hiking, swimming, cars, watches and having a good glass of wine – and I look forward to meeting fellow members at the Lounge!


Jason Colin Gotch

I’m the Regional Director of Security for Bloomberg, having relocated from Singapore in May 2019. My first visit to Hong Kong was actually in 1994, as an aspiring stuntman/actor. I spent three months living in Kowloon auditioning (badly) and eating with Jackie Chan’s stunt guys at Jack in the Box. Needless to say, my career did not exactly take off. However, my current role offers me plenty of ‘action’, given the city’s fair share of geopolitical intrigue. In my spare time, I’m a Master’s student of International Relations at SOAS, and I’m studying German for my grand plan of a Swiss retirement.


Jarna Johanna Karanko

I am the Consul-General of Finland in Hong Kong and Macao, and have been a Finnish career diplomat for a long time. I have worked on sustainable development and climate policy, UN development affairs, World Bank relations and relations with several European countries. Before moving here, I was part of the UN Representations in New York and Geneva and at the Finnish Embassy both in Paris and Caracas. I speak a number of languages – English, French, Spanish, Swedish and Finnish – and enjoy hiking, sailing, photography and design.


Clement Ka-chi Lai

I am the founder and CEO of Clement Shield Ltd, a company that specialises in security and event planning, rescue solutions for both public and private clients and anti-counter terrorism, among other things. Prior to establishing my company, I worked with the Specialist Units of the Hong Kong Police Force for 22 years.

 


Kevin Ho-por Lam

I am a Hongkonger, born and bred, and spent most of my childhood here until I was sent to the UK for my studies. I worked as an economist covering the UK and European economies until 2014, when the Umbrella Movement inspired me to return home, with the hope I could contribute to the democratisation process here. Walking out of my comfort zone, I worked in various sell-side institutions covering China and Hong Kong. In 2019, I stepped in to replace activist Joshua Wong and won my seat as a local councillor for South Horizons.


Dieter Lamlé

I am the German Consul General for Hong Kong and Macao, and moved to Hong Kong with my wife three years ago. I have been active in the German diplomatic service for over 30 years on postings in Rwanda, Indonesia, New York, Peru and Erbil in Iraq. During our last stay in Berlin, I was Chief of Protocol of the Senate of Berlin and just before coming to Hong Kong the Director for Latin America at the German Foreign Ministry. I am happy to join the FCC and am looking forward to interesting meetings and discussions.


Clara Ferreira Marques

I’m a columnist for the Opinion team at Bloomberg, where I am lucky enough to cover commodities, climate and a handful of emerging markets including Russia. It’s a wonderfully varied portfolio, and every day is different. I joined Bloomberg from Reuters, where I spent almost two decades as a reporter and editor in Moscow, Milan, London, Mumbai, Singapore and, finally, here in Hong Kong. My husband and I have three boys and enjoy tiring them out on Hong Kong’s hiking trails and beaches at the weekend.


Cathy Morris

I’m Cathy Morris, a Tasmanian who has lived and worked in Hong Kong since 2010. I originally arrived on a six-week work assignment and fell in love with the place. Hong Kong is an exciting city to live in, with access to a wonderful array of hiking trails. I enjoy playing mahjong and love travelling around the region (Covid-19 permitting) for both work and pleasure. I work for AXA as the Director for Technology & Operations for Asia. I am very happy to be joining a number of friends as a member of the FCC.


Newley Reid Purnell

I’m a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, which I joined in 2014. My wife Anasuya Sanyal and I moved here earlier this year from New Delhi with our rescue dog Ginger. I love my beat, which involves digging into what global technology firms are up to across Asia. I grew up in two very different parts of the US: rural Eastern Oregon and South Carolina Lowcountry. I am a lifetime soccer player, having played as a goalkeeper for my university team, and on many Sunday league teams since then. I’m excited to join the FCC and meet fellow members.


William Iain Ridgers

I am The Economist’s new(ish) Asia Digital Editor, overseeing our regional news desk here in Hong Kong. I’ve been working at the newspaper – in more guises than I can remember – for nearly 25 years, but this is my first role overseas. I moved the family from locked-down London in April and, despite the odd homesick pang, it has so far proved a wonderful place to live. Mind-bogglingly expensive, even for a Londoner, but wonderful. Best of all, what with it being so quiet on the news front in Hong Kong this year, it has been nice to be able to ease gently into the job. Oh, hold on.


Kaushik Roy

My family and I hail from London and moved to Hong Kong a few years back. I am a manager at LNG Shipping, and I am deeply connected with the maritime community in the city and beyond. I am also the first Chartered Master Mariner in Southeast Asia, including China/Hong Kong. Occasionally, I write articles about the industry in newspapers and trade magazines. My wife and I love travelling, eating, socialising, organising events and mingling with people, which is why we’re happy to become part of FCC and its name, culture, and heritage.


Sherlin Hsie-lien Tung

I’m a partner in the litigation and arbitration group at international law firm Withersworldwide. Born in Taiwan, I grew up in California, and have worked on three continents (North America, Europe, and Asia). I’m always open to new opportunities, whether professional or personal, and enjoy spending time with my husband, cat, and good friends. Prior to these unique times, I loved to travel and try the local delicacies of the countries I visited. To date, my most memorable trip was a one-week adventure in Cinque Terre, Italy, eating home-made seafood pasta next to the sea.


Tommy Walker

I’m originally from the UK but I’ve been in Hong Kong for three years. Prior to that, I’ve had stints in Bangkok, Melbourne, and Auckland. I’m a freelance journalist, photographer and travel writer, and I also operate a social media marketing business for travel companies worldwide. In my spare time, I enjoy socialising in bars (and now at the FCC), going on hikes and getting some island time in. Cheers to the FCC for having me here. I’m keen to be part of the conversation both now and in the future.


Lee Stephen Williamson

In 2009, on a bit of a whim, I packed a bag to travel to Asia for a year. I ended up in Beijing, where I sat in the editor’s chair at Time Out Beijing, met a girl and started a family. I landed in Hong Kong three years ago, and I’m now head of content at Generation T, Tatler Asia’s content and events platform for the leaders of tomorrow. This year, I was honoured to be selected for WAN-IFRA’s inaugural Young Media Leaders Fellowship.


Vicky Wong

I’m a web producer at RTHK English News. I was born in the UK to Hong Kong parents, so in 2014, I decided to trace my roots and moved here to pursue a Master of Journalism at the University of Hong Kong. I arrived just one month before the Umbrella Movement kicked off, and it has been an adventure, to say the least. My work has appeared on CNN International, MSNBC and Coconuts Hong Kong, for which I covered last year’s anti-government protests. When I’m off-duty I enjoy reading, music, films, photography and knitting.


Catherine Wong

I am really excited to be joining the big family of the FCC! I enjoy relaxing at the end of a long workday with a drink in the Lounge, and love the music performances, exhibitions and various activities held at the club – they’re all extremely engaging. I would love to share my boring legal experience with my fellow colleagues and look forward to getting to know more of you.


Kan Zheng

I was born in China and educated both there and in the UK. My career started in London, where I managed money for institutional clients such as central banks, sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies and pension funds. After 15 years there, I moved to Hong Kong three years ago. I discovered the FCC through a close friend, and have found it a great place to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures. My personal interests are politics, business, social issues, arts and fitness. Since joining the FCC, I have made a few friends and I look forward to making even more in the years to come.


Yinou Zhou

Born in China, I moved to the UK when I was 15. I completed an MA in International Journalism (Broadcast) at City, University of London, then came to Hong Kong to work as a news anchor. I also hosted and produced a talk show on Tencent Video that received over 1.5 billion hits. I am an adventurous person who’s always looking to tick things off my bucket list, like attempting the Polar Plunge in Antarctica and even persuading my mum to do it! I love being outdoors so I used to travel a lot before the pandemic. Now I quench my wanderlust with wake surfing and hiking.

 

How Podcasting Pushes the Boundaries of Traditional Storytelling

Jarrod Watt, SCMP’s specialist digital production editor, explains it all. By Marianna Cerini

There’s nothing ‘new’ about new media for Jarrod Watt. For the past two decades, the SCMP’s specialist digital production editor has been working across video, text, sound, and digital as a multi-platform reporter and editor in both his native Australia and Hong Kong. Today, he produces some of the publication’s most popular podcasts – including “Inside China”, “Eat Drink Asia”, “Behind the Story” and “Asia Briefing” – and continues to push the boundaries of traditional storytelling.

 

 

How did you get into multimedia journalism?

Jarrod Watt: I studied journalism at RMIT University in Melbourne, and got my first job in community radio at a station called 3RRR. My first time reading the news was to announce the end of communism – I still remember the speech by [then Soviet politician] Mikhail Gorbachev. That job fuelled my interest in 21st-century media – that’s where I learned how to multitask as a journalist and cover different roles.

After that first stint in the recording studio, I spent the 1990s working in newspapers and magazines in Melbourne. Then, in 2000, I joined the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) as a multimedia reporter. I shot videos, ran the website, and produced radio stories. I spent 11 years at ABC, working my way up from field reporter to state editor.

SCMP’s Podcasts page.

At what point did you join the SCMP?

JW: In 2015, I moved to Hong Kong and joined the SCMP as deputy online editor. Eventually, I was asked to head the Special Digital Production unit, working on 360-degree projects including podcasts, which we started 2.5 years ago.

Initially, we found people around the office and asked them to come and read their stories [for the podcast]. We wanted to see if there was an audience for long-form audio features. Turns out, there was. We then started training people and grew from there, developing new podcast concepts and trying different formats.

 

Podcasts have become immensely popular. Why do you think that is?

JW: Podcasts have opened up this idea that you can access information without having to physically hold a paper or scroll a website. You could be driving, working out, running errands, and still be able to listen to stories and deep-dives without any interruption. They offer a seamless approach to media consumption and modern-day storytelling.

Field recording in Macau with Bernice Chan and Alkira Reinfrank.

What do you think makes your podcasts different?

JW: The diversity we showcase. Instead of your typical radio voices, the SCMP’s podcasts really sound like Hong Kong – we have people and accents from all over and we reflect the city’s multiculturalism. I am also proud of the fact that we cover Asia so extensively, and across so many different perspectives. It’s not something many other podcasts do.

Our hosts are predominantly women, which I think gives us a real edge in the sector. We have Bernice Chan and Alkira Reinfrank at “Eat Drink Asia”, Mimi Lau and Kinling Lo at “Inside China” – it’s a real point of pride and difference.

 

Which audio stories have really challenged you?

JW: An interview we did with a construction worker in Shenzhen who was dying of silicosis [a type of lung disease] is one of the most confronting and emotional recordings I have ever listened to. Editing it in a way we could do justice to his story was an intense, compelling process.

We also did a series on the [US-China] trade war last year, which was tough but rewarding. Tariffs are boring, and we really wanted to create something more engaging. So we approached the issue through six items – bicycles, washing machines, solar cells, trucks, handbags and salad spinners – examining what they could tell us about the state of trade.

With Denise Tsang, Kinling Lo, and Mimi Lau.

What’s fueling multimedia in journalism?

JW: The advent of the iPhone has perhaps been the greatest game-changer in terms of multimedia journalism. Then of course social media and live streaming. Things like Facebook Live have revolutionised the way we do radio, broadcast and produce audio stories.

Podcasts have brought a new dimension to newsrooms, and I think that’s only going to keep expanding. I think audio will keep reaching new standards, as will the way we tell stories, blending VR, videos, and digital technologies. It’ll be interesting to see how AI could fit within the field – if, say, someone developed an AI system that could do live translations… that could be another game-changer.


JARROD’S TOOLKIT

Podtail Masterclass
This 14-episode series covers all the basics of starting a podcast.
podtail.com

 

 

 

ccMixter
A one-stop-shop for sourcing copyright-free tones, theme songs and instrumental music.
dig.ccmixter.org

 

 

 

Audacity
The best free, open-source programme for multi-track audio editing.
audacityteam.org

 

 

 

Libsyn
A popular podcast-publishing platform, used by amateurs and pros alike.
libsyn.com

What Happens When the World’s Two Largest Economies Break Up?

In his new book, ‘The Epic Split – Why ‘Made in China’ is Going out of Style’, FCC Member Johan Nylander clearly and concisely unpacks one of the most pressing issues of the day. By Jonathan Sharp 

Of the many characterisations used to describe the global rivalry centred on the US-China feud, one of the more apocalyptic is in the new book by award-winning author and freelance Asia correspondent Johan Nylander. The first sentence in his introduction reads: “This book is about the greatest break-up the world has ever seen.”

A touch over the top? Perhaps. But the Swedish author forcefully argues the claim in his self-published The Epic Split – Why ‘Made in China’ is Going out of Style.

It’s written in a punchy, mince-no-words approach that is typical of Nylander’s work and might seem a bit light-touch for such a heavy subject. However, this book is by no means lightweight in its content. It’s a slim volume that manages to cover all the bases of what is going pear-shaped in US-China relations and the repercussions for the rest of the world.

Nylander hastens to add that his book is not about the world going up in flames. It is, however, about a conflict dominating the global landscape for many years to come. As he puts it: “The fight has just begun.” 

The question of whether the new cold war could turn hot is a valid one. “A tremendous degree of military tension has been building over the last few years,” Nylander writes, citing China’s acceptance of conflict on multiple fronts. 

Nylander doesn’t take sides: “The case against China has been well-rehearsed. But is it fair to blame only one side for the conflict? Of course not.”

In bite-sized chapters, he charts the many facets of this “epic split”, starting with the rise of China and what he calls the bare-knuckled approach of President Xi Jinping, who “bows to no one”, towards the US. 

Ever ready with the neatly turned phrase, Nylander notes that the “era for cheap and cheerful manufacturing in China is over. It’s no longer cheap, and it’s certainly not cheerful.”

Among the many topics he explores is the phenomenon of “one company, two systems” whereby foreign firms in China set up parallel structures outside the country to navigate a world split into two camps, China and non-China. 

Nylander mocks those bending over backwards to avoid offending China for fear of Beijing’s ire. “It’s incredibly embarrassing to see how Western brands and politicians over and over again kowtow to China for the most minor perceived wrongdoings.”

The book is peppered with anecdotes and quotes from Nylander’s myriad sources, first- and second-hand. He is sufficiently well-connected to be able to sit down for an interview with Ren Zhengfei, founder of the telecom giant Huawei, which has become such a target for the US on the high-tech battleground. 

Nylander refrains from making detailed predictions about how the global struggle will pan out – a wise choice, given the spotty record of China crystal ball-gazing. Remember those forecasts about the coming collapse of Chinese communism?

But he does suggest a scenario about countries and companies decoupling from China. “If the past 40 years were characterised by globalisation, the next 40 may well be about decoupling.”

Nylander recounts how he has personally been caught in the crossfire of East-West rivalry. Beijing’s embassy in Stockholm took exception to a piece he wrote about Chinese disinformation campaigns. When trying to distance itself from the Covid-19 pandemic, the country spread various conspiracy theories, including one claiming the virus was planted in Wuhan by the US military. “The Chinese embassy called me ‘unscientific’, which I found quite comical.”

Less amusing, he then writes, is the Chinese propaganda machine. It’s not to be underestimated. “When it comes to disinformation, Beijing has borrowed directly from the KGB cookbook.”

Expanding the FCC Community: How We Vet Membership Applicants

The FCC is one of the most popular clubs in Hong Kong, but not just anyone can become a member. How do we vet applicants? Membership Committee Co-Convenor Kristine Servando takes us behind the scenes.

Walk into the Foreign Correspondents’ Club on any given evening, and you’ll find members of various backgrounds, professions, countries and creeds. This diversity is thanks in part to the Membership Committee, which has long been working to ensure a steady cohort of remarkable people join the club, enjoy the atmosphere, partake in events, and join our efforts to support press freedom.

Helmed by governors and assisted by former board governors, the committee meets once a month to carefully assess applications and determine if the individual would be a good fit for the club. The committee also assigns applicants to the appropriate category – Journalist, Correspondent, Associate, Diplomatic or Corporate – as these determine not just joining fees but also members’ voting rights when it comes to new articles of association, policies and board members. 

Correspondent members are those who work for international news outlets and organisations, while Journalist members work for local media. Freelancers can belong to either category, so long as it comprises the bulk of their income. Meanwhile, Associates – the club’s largest contingent – include those who do not work for the press, such as lawyers, businesspeople, public-relations executives, finance professionals, doctors and nurses, educators, NGO leaders and more.

The committee admits those in the diplomatic corps as Diplomatic members. Companies with operations in Hong Kong can apply for a Corporate membership, which is transferable among employees. A firm typically nominates at least three members to join the club.

Once they’ve vetted applications, the Membership Committee presents the names of candidates to the Board of Governors for approval. The FCC then sends newly accepted members a welcome letter with instructions for picking up their member card along with an invitation to an induction ceremony, which is a great chance to meet fellow members and board governors when social-distancing restrictions allow.

New members are in good company: As of November 2020, the club boasts about 2,000 active members in Hong Kong and just as many absent members who have left the city but can temporarily reactivate their account if and when they visit.

Related: How to Become a Member

Silver membership is granted to those who have reached age 65 and have been members in good standing for at least 30 years. They enjoy lifetime membership and no longer need to pay monthly subscription fees.

The Committee also has the option of nominating honorary members, subject to board approval. Former governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten, British Formula One racing legend Sir John Young “Jackie” Stewart, and Indonesian journalist Veby Mega Indah are among our honorary members.

Over the past few years, the committee has endeavoured to further diversify the club by inviting more women and early-career journalists to join.

Recruitment drives, mainly by word of mouth, are essential to the club’s growth. FCC President Jodi Schneider, who attends every Membership Committee meeting and has been one of the most active recruiters in recent years, says the best tools for attracting new people are the members themselves.

“When I see someone bring in a guest, I ask them if they’ve suggested they apply,” she says, adding that she keeps application forms at the ready. “Much of it is really just awareness.”

Club Treasurer Tim Huxley, another enthusiastic recruiter, says it is “surprisingly easy” to encourage people to join once they experience the club, meet a few other members and “see that they can be part of this incredible institution.”

“Once people realise that they would be welcome and that it’s a very open, informal and friendly place, it’s difficult to argue against joining,” he says. “And that’s before you get them to sample the food and beverages.”

Schneider cites access to potential sources, networking and strong press-freedom advocacy as top draws for Journalist and Correspondent members. Meanwhile, Associates appreciate the atmosphere, the restaurants and bar, as well as exclusive events, such as club panels and photo exhibits.

“For everyone [the attraction is] the food, drinks, terrific staff and great vibe,” Schneider says. “Bringing people to the club is key – once there, the place sells itself.”


Absent Member Perks

Just because you’re called away from Hong Kong, doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to the FCC. If you’ve been a member for more than a year, you qualify for an Absent membership.

How it works: After paying a one-time HK$2,000 set-up fee, you can reactivate your membership up to three times a year, for two weeks each time, during which you will be charged a pro-rated subscription fee. If you need more time at the FCC, simply top up with seven-day increments up to four times per year.

“During my reporting days in Hong Kong, I found the club lunch sessions useful,” says Beh Lih Yi. Based in Malaysia, the Southeast Asia correspondent for the Thomson Reuters Foundation set up her Absent membership in 2013. “Outside work, I enjoyed exchanging stories with other journalists over a few drinks or a bowl of salt and pepper tofu.”

Elana Beiser, editorial director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, became an absent member in 2011 after moving to New York. “The FCC is such a relaxing gathering place … and it has an air of history about it,” she says. “I had to put Hong Kong behind me, but I’m not really leaving because I’m still a member of the FCC, and I can come back anytime.”

Hong Kong Student Journalists React to New Media Landscape

Given recent arrests and accreditation restrictions, would you pursue a journalism career in Hong Kong? Marianna Cerini catches up with three students at the University of Hong Kong to hear their thoughts. 

On 22 September 2020, Kenneth Kwok Ka-chuen, the chief superintendent of the Hong Kong Police Force, sent a letter to four of the city’s news associations, including the FCC. In the letter, Kwok laid out plans to amend the “definition of ‘media representatives’ under the Police General Orders”.

The new definition recognises journalists who have registered with the Government News and Media Information Service or who work at “internationally recognised and reputable” foreign media outlets.

According to police, the policy targets “self-proclaimed reporters” who have allegedly “obstructed police work, and even assaulted police officers”; however, it excludes freelance and student journalists, independent media outlets, and those accredited by local press assocations, effectively establishing a subjective accreditation system.

The FCC released a statement in opposition to the decision on 23 September, stating: “This move is another step in the erosion of Hong Kong’s once cherished press freedom as it would give the police – rather than reporters and editors – the power to determine who covers the police … The policy would be a serious blow for freelancers and student reporters – two groups of journalists who have provided some of the most compelling reporting from last year’s protests and police actions.”

Given the increasingly controlled atmosphere for professional and student journalists alike, what is running through the minds of the next generation of reporters? We asked undergraduate and master’s students from the University of Hong Kong about their observations, concerns and plans for the future.

 

Meet the Students

HKU Journalism Students From left to right: William Langley, Lauren Faith Lau and Julianna Louise Untiveros Barcela.

William Langley, 24, Master of Journalism 2021 | Lauren Faith Lau, 20, Bachelor of Journalism 2022 | Julianna Louise Untiveros Barcela, 18, Bachelor of Journalism 2024

 

What inspired you to study journalism?

William Langley (WL): I am originally from the UK. I studied Chinese at university, then moved to Guangzhou to work as a researcher at a Chinese genealogy startup where I helped Chinese migrants trace their roots.

I started freelancing and translating on the side, then decided to switch to journalism full-time. In March 2020, I had a job lined up at The Myanmar Times, but that fell through due to the pandemic. So I applied to the HKU Master of Journalism programme as another way of getting into journalism full-time. I arrived here in August 2020, so the national security law was already in place.

Lauren Faith Lau (LFL): My interest in journalism started when I was in high school. The 2016 Hong Kong Legislative Council Election, in particular, ignited my passion for reporting on public affairs. I saw the power of media – how it can engage people and act as a public service.

Julianna Louise Untiveros Barcela (JLUB): During high school, I didn’t see the point of news. But my perspective shifted in early 2020, when I took my DSE (Diploma of Secondary Education). My class graduated in the wake of Hong Kong’s protest movement and the beginning of the pandemic. It was that series of events that made me realise the impact that journalism can have.

 

What type of journalism do you plan to pursue?

WL: In Guangzhou, I focused on less-sensitive cultural features since I didn’t have a journalism visa. Now that I am in Hong Kong, I hope to get into more timely stories and deep dives on current affairs, politics and investigations.

I will write whatever I can get my hands on in relation to China, but I am particularly interested in politics and the intersection with religion, immigration and culture.

LFL: So far, I have done a lot of hard news internships – I would like to be a correspondent abroad or explore investigative journalism. I love asking questions and talking to people, so I’d like to integrate that into my work.

JLUB: I don’t know yet, as I am just starting my journalism programme. Perhaps longform features, because I am passionate about writing.

 

William Langley Langley researching a story in Guangdong in March 2019.

How has the national security law affected you?

WL: The law only underscores the importance of journalism as an essential public service. If you have been living and working in Hong Kong, I can see how earth-shattering the law must be.

But as a foreign journalist hoping to work in China, it doesn’t change much for me. Compared with Guangdong, it’s still freer and easier to report here.

LFL: My approach to journalism has changed. Before the protests, I never realised the role videos and photography play in storytelling.

So recently, I’ve found a new appreciation for different types of visual and multimedia journalism. I’ve also paid more attention to citizen journalism – and how it can be crucial, if done properly, to disseminate news.

JLUB: It has only further amplified how important journalism is to the public, and to me.

 

What about the police ban on student journalists?

WL: It has not impacted me directly, but it is a shame. Coming from China, I was looking forward to working openly as a freelancer in Hong Kong. These accreditation changes make me wonder if the government will introduce journalism visas next.

That said, a friend of mine went to a protest as a student journalist after the announcement. He wore an HKU Faculty of Journalism press pass and the police let him report. For me, that is a sign that there is a bit more leeway than what you’d see in China. But maybe he was just lucky.

LFL: I’m practicing journalism with a news agency right now, so I am not so affected by the accreditation problem. But for university online media and student reporters, it is extremely unfair.

As students, we all want to gain on-the-ground experience. These restrictions hold us back. What student journalists offered to the world in terms of reporting in 2019 was irreplaceable. They are in a unique position of being able to communicate with students and youth.

Students also understand how the [movement] uses social media and how young people in Hong Kong think. I know many of them found so much meaning through their work last year; it is sad to see this right ripped away.

 

Lauren Faith Lau Lau doing a standup report for i-Cable News Channel during a 2020 internship.

Have your lecturers had to adapt any lessons?

WL: If anything, I’ve been surprised by how outspoken they have been about the situation. My lecturers have been adamant that they are not going to compromise on news values – they are going to keep doing what they do. That’s really inspiring.

JLUB: Just last week [in November 2020] in one of my classes on press freedom, our teachers had to hold back a slide, because of potential repercussions. But that is the only instance I have seen.

LFL: I’ve been taking a public affairs reporting course, and our professor has been encouraging us to continue as normal. Support from journalists before me makes me believe there is still a role for me to play in this world. It’s a great time to be a journalist because there are so many important stories to tell.

 

Do you plan to stay in Hong Kong after you graduate?

WL: Yeah, I would really like to work here for a couple of years then move to China, or perhaps Myanmar, where there are many micro examples of ‘China in the world’ type stories, be that Belt and Road investments, drug trafficking rings, or casino towns sprouting up.

This winter, I am doing an internship at the SCMP on the China desk. I would love to get back to mainland China eventually and work as a China correspondent.

LFL: I don’t think Hong Kong will be a good place to develop as a young journalist. Of course, I am eager to seize as many opportunities as possible to hone my skills and grow professionally here. This is my home, and the Hong Kong story is one I really want to tell. I would love to be a part of that. I just don’t know how feasible it will be.

JLUB: I also don’t think Hong Kong will be the best place to pursue a career in journalism, especially as we don’t know what’s going to happen over the next five or 10 years. I don’t have a set path yet, however, I am open to going overseas for work.

WL: I would disagree with the idea that Hong Kong isn’t a great place to learn, but I have a different perspective. I grew up in Norfolk, England – I love it, but it’s a rural backwater. There’s one newspaper and little interest in what goes on there outside of the local community.

By contrast, Hong Kong’s media landscape is well developed and it’s a huge city in the middle of Asia – people all over the world care about what happens here. There are so many stories to cover, and I think Hong Kong is a great place to learn and work.

 

Julianna Louise Untiveros Barcela Barcela will graduate from HKU in 2024.

What is your hope for journalism in Hong Kong?

WL: I think journalists will be in a difficult position in the mid- and long-term. Although, even in the strictest of places, like Myanmar and China, journalists are still doing excellent reporting, exposing corruption and criticising the governments. They can still produce great journalism – and I hope they persevere.

LFL: I hope they do the best they can. Things have been happening unexpectedly and quickly, what we can do is remember why we pursued journalism in the first place. This is what motivates us to push forward with our jobs.

JLUB: The future of media organisations in Hong Kong seems to be heading down a dark pathway, but I hope that the passion of journalists doesn’t falter under such dire circumstances.


Marianna CeriniMarianna Cerini is a freelance journalist writing about culture, travel and lifestyle. In Asia since 2010, her work has been published by CNN Style, Al Jazeera and The Daily Beast among others

 

The Correspondent, January – March 2021

Can RTHK Retain Its Independence?

Over the past year, RTHK has faced increasing government pressure to promote national unity and axe controversial programmes. Tiffany Liang asks: Can the public broadcaster retain its independence?

RTHK (Illustration: Noel de Guzman)

Without fear or favour”; “Journalism is not a crime”; “Who wants the public kept in the dark?” read protesters’ placards outside the Fanling Magistrates’ Courts on 10 November 2020 as Bao Choy Yuk-ling exited the courtroom. A week earlier, on 3 November, police had arrested the Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) freelance producer on suspicion of violating the Road Traffic Ordinance.

According to police, Choy allegedly made “false statements” while using the government’s vehicle registration database to conduct research for an RTHK documentary called “Hong Kong Connection”. The politically sensitive documentary, which aired on 13 July 2020, investigated the police’s delayed response to the 2019 Yuen Long attacks on pro-democracy protesters.

While searching the database, Choy allegedly marked “traffic and transport-related matters” as the purpose of her search. In the past, journalists had an option to select “other reasons”; however, the government removed the choice in January 2020, as reported by Now TV.

At the time of publication, Choy’s trial has been adjourned until January 2021. If found guilty, she could face six months in prison and a fine of up to HK$5,000.

“I understand this incident is no longer a personal matter, but a matter related to public interest and press freedom in Hong Kong,” Choy, 37, told journalists and supporters as she left the courtroom on 10 November. “I truly believe I will not walk alone.”

Choy’s arrest is the latest in a string of government attacks on RTHK last year. In April 2020, Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau accused RTHK of “breaching the One-China principle” following a March incident, in which a reporter asked the WHO whether it would reconsider Taiwan’s membership in light of the pandemic. 

Just weeks later, on 20 April, the Communications Authority (CA) issued a “serious warning” to RTHK about a November 2019 episode of “Pentaprism. According to the CA, the opinion show contained “baseless, misleading, biased and partial, and defamed and incited hatred against the government/police”.

In May, RTHK indefinitely suspended long-running satirical show “Headliner” after the CA issued another warning for a February episode that “denigrated” and “insulted” the police. And in September, RTHK extended the probation of Nabela Qoser, who is under investigation following complaints about her direct, confrontational style of questioning during the 2019 protests.

Several news organisations, media scholars, human rights watchdogs and lawmakers have condemned governmental intervention in RTHK, including Choy’s arrest. Some have argued that the government targeted Choy for political reasons, using a technicality to suppress investigative journalism. Others questioned what a government-controlled RTHK would mean for the city’s press freedom.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), for example, expressed “shock and anger” over the arrest in a joint statement with seven other media associations and press unions. “Many reports involving major public interests have been conducted through searches of the registry, including license plate searches,” read the statement, which was released on 3 November. “Now police abuse of the ‘Road Traffic Ordinance’ to suppress normal journalistic pursuits, will have a chilling effect and in turn undermine freedom of the press.” 

According to Chris Yeung, the chairman of the HKJA, Choy’s arrest signals a move to step up regulation and supervision of the media. “The government started imposing a ban on disclosure of information, including vehicle and marriage registrations, for journalists in 2019,” Yeung tells The Correspondent, adding that such research is common and necessary in journalism.

Keith Richburg, an FCC Correspondent Member Governor and the director of the HKU Journalism and Media Studies Centre, agrees: “The RTHK reporter was just doing her job. I am worried that [the government] is trying to undercut critical reporting.”

A police spokesman denied claims that the arrest qualifies as an attack on the media, stating that the Hong Kong police respects “press freedom” and “journalists’ right to report” on Commercial Radio’s “On a Clear Day” programme on 4 November.

Two days later, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a press conference that Choy’s arrest does not indicate a crackdown on press freedoms. “Please rest assured that press freedom is protected under the Basic Law,” said Lam. “We do not suppress journalism but, of course, journalists must obey the law.”

In response to The Correspondent’s enquiry, a police spokesperson wrote: “Police have all along respected press freedom and the media’s right of reporting. … All arrest actions taken by Police are strictly based on the evidence collected and in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong, regardless of the background and political stance of an individual.”

When The Correspondent reached out to RTHK and the government, both declined to comment on Choy’s case. However an Information Services Department (ISD) spokesperson provided the following comment:

“The Hong Kong SAR Government is firmly committed to protecting and respecting the freedom of the press, which is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Basic Law. … The background or occupation of the arrestee was not a factor for consideration. As the judicial proceedings of the case concerned are on-going, it is not appropriate for us to comment further.”

RTHK freelance producer Bao Choy Yuk-ling (centre) arrives at the Fanling Magistrates’ Courts in Hong Kong on 10 November 2020. (Photo credit: Peter Parks / AFP)

RTHK under review

The combination of government warnings, cancelled programmes, the national security law and, most recently, Choy’s arrest, has rattled RTHK staff. “We were in a panic when we learned Bao was arrested, busy backing up our files and records in the office. We felt depressed that she was accused of a crime while doing a routine task as a reporter,” says an RTHK reporter, who spoke to The Correspondent on the condition of anonymity.

“The fear comes from the lack of legal help for journalists – RTHK could not help Bao because she is a contract worker. RTHK can offer legal help for government workers, but they would need to seek assistance from the Department of Justice (DoJ). However, the DoJ is charging journalists. So what will happen then? How can we defend our rights?”

In response, an ISD spokesperson said civil servants “may apply for legal assistance from the Civil Service Bureau” if they are “charged with a criminal offence (other than corruption or corruption-related offences)” in the course of carrying out his or her duties. “The Government will consider each application on its own merits,” the spokesperson continued.

 RTHK Director of Broadcasting Leung Ka-wing has also expressed concern about the news organisation’s future. “We are worried [about] whether we can continue the way we produce accurate news as before,” said Leung hours after Choy’s arrest, adding that RTHK will not alter its editorial principles or cease to conduct investigative journalism.

It may not be so easy to resist pressure, however, given that the Hong Kong government fully funds RTHK’s annual operational budget of roughly HK$1 billion. By comparison, most public broadcasters around the world receive some form of government funding, but it’s seldom the only source of revenue.

For instance, the BBC in the UK earns revenue through programme licensing fees and advertising, while NPR in the US relies on a mixture of government funding, corporate sponsorships and donations.

What’s more, the Hong Kong government is conducting a review of RTHK’s “administration, including financial control, human resources management and procurement matters” to address “wide public concern” over the broadcaster’s programming and ensure RTHK abides by its charter, according to a government statement. At publication, the review was scheduled to finish in 2020.

 The charter calls upon the broadcaster to promote “one country, two systems” and cultivate a “sense of citizenship and national identity”. At the same time, the charter stipulates editorial independence, as well as “accurate and impartial news, information, perspectives and analyses”.

When asked about RTHK’s role as a public broadcaster, an ISD spokesperson said: “In fulfilling its public purposes and mission as set out in the Charter, RTHK should abide by the relevant codes of practices issued by the Communications Authority, and give due weight and consideration to the advice provided by the Board of Advisors appointed by the Chief Executive to advise the Director of Broadcasting on the services of RTHK.”

RTHK suspended “Headliner”, a satirical show that has been on the air since 1989, in May following complaints about its portrayal of Hong Kong police. (Source: RTHK)

What’s at stake

Established in 1928, RTHK has long been a respected voice in Hong Kong. A series of “Public Evaluation on Media Credibility” surveys conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Communication and Public Opinion between 1997 and 2019 show that respondents considered RTHK to be the most credible local electronic media source until 2016. In the subsequent survey, in 2019, RTHK dropped to second place behind Now TV.

“After the handover, clearly RTHK made real efforts to try and be dispassionate and objective in the way it covered, let’s say, last year’s disruptions and the government and the protesters,” said former New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson, who served as the BBC’s Director-General from 2004 to 2012, in an online talk with the FCC on 25 November 2020. “It feels like they’re under more pressure.”

That same independent streak has drawn complaints from pro-Beijing lawmakers over the past few years. During a legislative panel in March 2019, for example, Executive Councillor Regina Ip questioned the necessity of the broadcaster’s news department.

Last year, pro-Beijing Hong Kong lawmaker Junius Ho argued that RTHK should not attack the government while receiving government funding at a Legislative Council meeting on 6 May 2020. Ho also suggested merging the public broadcaster with the ISD, which serves as a public relations office for the government.

“The government thinks public broadcasters should toe the government’s line, since they are government-funded,” says Richburg. “That’s what is happening at RTHK … But the whole point of journalism is to be critical of the government, holding the government to account.”

If the government attempts to control RTHK’s content or transforms the broadcaster into a state media outlet, as some journalism watchdogs and associations fear, the city has much to lose.

“RTHK’s role has been important in view of the growing concerns that media outlets with close political and commercial ties to mainland authorities will lose their independence,” says Yeung.

“The editorial independence of RTHK is under threat from the government and the pro-Beijing camp. Press freedom will be severely weakened if the Hong Kong government replaces RTHK with state-owned media.”

According to a 2001 UNESCO report entitled “Public broadcasting: Why? How?”, public service broadcasters are an important part of the news ecosystem. “Public broadcasters encourage access to and participation in public life. They develop knowledge, broaden horizons and enable people to better understand themselves by better understanding the world and others,” states the report.

Furthermore, a 2017 white paper by the Knight Foundation outlined the many benefits of public broadcasters. According to the report, research has shown that people “exposed to news on public television are better-informed than those exposed to news on private TV”.

Public broadcasters also tend to minimise knowledge gaps between different socioeconomic groups, contribute to higher levels of social trust, and can reduce the risk of extremist political views, the report states.

The impact of public service journalism, however, depends on the news organisation’s ability to operate independently, explore diverse ideas, hold authorities accountable, and remain free from political influence and commercial pressures.

“Although some people are trying to combine RTHK with the Information Services Department under the government, Hong Kong people need an independent RTHK,” says Richburg.

“A public broadcaster’s role is to provide real news, not be a mouthpiece for [the] government. Right now, RTHK has credibility because it reports independently and critically. But the government is trying to shut down the voice of criticism, which only makes the role of journalism more essential.”


Born and raised in mainland China, Tiffany Liang came to Hong Kong in 2017 to start her career as a journalist. Having worked with HK01, The Washington Post and The Atlantic, Liang hopes to pursue human-interest stories and explore the business world.

Why Journalists Can’t Quit Twitter

Glued to Twitter for breaking news and announcements, some reporters can’t avoid the platform – even if they want to. Morgan Davis explores the pros and cons.

Twitter Illustration

Popularised for its fast-paced, bite-size approach to sharing and discussion, Twitter has become a polarising topic in the media world. For some journalists, it’s a network of real-time news, potential sources and story ideas, as well as a powerful way to find jobs and develop a following. Others find an emotionally taxing blackhole of trolls, cyber harassment, cancel culture, and misinformation.

Like it or not, many journalists find the platform to be integral to their work, especially with so many influential voices breaking news through tweets. Take outgoing US President Donald Trump as one example. For the past four years, Trump has tweeted White House hirings, firings and policy changes. And in November 2019, his Twitter antics reached a crescendo with the administration’s disinformation campaign to undermine the election results.

“Trump fires his officials on Twitter seemingly every other month. And, of course, he has said things that moved markets or were otherwise consequential to America’s relations with other countries,” says Alan Wong, managing editor of VICE News in Asia. And if journalists aren’t on Twitter, they may miss the news.

Likewise, many celebrities, politicians and pundits have avoided mainstream channels, making crucial announcements on the platform. Among them are Chinese officials and diplomats, such as Chinese Foreign Ministry representatives Hua Chunying and Lijian Zhao, says Wong, who tweet frequently about China and geopolitics.

“[The platform] is an important source for news and opinions, especially during turbulent times,” says Johan Nylander, the Asia Correspondent for Swedish business daily Dagens Industri and author of The Epic Split. “But Twitter also makes me feel sick. Everyone is shouting; no one is listening. When I open the Twitter app, my stress level shoots up.”

Twitter An editor checks the official Twitter account of outgoing US President Donald Trump. (Photo credit: AFP)

Though it can be frustrating and stressful, Twitter clearly has value for journalists. In addition to major announcements, the platform has proved itself indispensable for citizen journalism and real-time events, such as Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests in 2019.

“It was impossible to be everywhere with protests dispersed across the city,” says freelance journalist Timothy McLaughlin, who contributes to The Atlantic, WIRED and The Washington Post, among other publications. “It was helpful to be able to check Twitter and see where people were posting from, where big events were happening and where I should head next to report.”

Nylander agrees: “When covering demonstrations and similar fast-moving events, Twitter is great. It gives instant updates on breaking news and where things are moving. But one has to be careful. Twitter is full of lies, exaggerations, misunderstandings and fake accounts.”

In 2019, a California-based nonprofit think tank, the Institute for the Future, surveyed 1,018 American journalists on the topic. Among them, 80 percent admitted to falling for false information online. Meanwhile, fewer than 15 percent of respondents said they received guidelines for when and how to report on false information to avoid “giving it oxygen”.But, if you learn to navigate trolls and disinformation campaigns, McLaughlin says Twitter can open up a world of new sources and story ideas. “I’m constantly trying to expand the pool of people I’m speaking to – Twitter can be helpful in finding people with new or different views, ideas and research that they are eager to talk about,” says McLaughlin.


TWITTER TIPS

It is hard but not impossible to make Twitter work for you. 

1. Set up a system. Stay organised with a social media manager to schedule tweets, monitor hashtags, and manage your accounts.

2. Quality over quantity. Follow accounts that benefit your work and interests – then axe the rest.

3. Avoid Twitter fights. No matter how frustrated you feel, sort out disagreements offline. Angry or aggressive tweets could backfire.

4. Fact-check everything. While Twitter has introduced fact-checking labels, journalists must vet information and sources.

5. Don’t feed the trolls. If a troll harasses you, resist the urge to engage. Block and report the account.


The American journalist says Twitter has enabled some of his most impactful reporting. He’s particularly proud of an article published by The Washington Postin December 2019. The story, “In Hong Kong crackdown, police repeatedly broke their own rules – and faced no consequences,” took a hard look at the use of force by police during the 2019 protests.

The reporters who worked on the story used a video archive of 65 use-of-force incidents by police, verified by University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law students, as the foundation of their investigation. The story wouldn’t have been possible without Twitter, he says, as the reporting team relied on open-source, or publicly available, videos to verify police tactics used.

“If you look at some of the open-source reporting that has been impactful in recent years, you see that [journalists] draw a lot of it from people posting on Twitter, sharing things they have recorded or witnessed,” says McLaughlin. “It takes a lot of work to sift through all of the information that is flooding the platform, to fact-check it, to verify it. … but if journalists take the proper steps, it can provide a good trove of information.”

Unlike McLaughlin, Wong, of Vice Asia, uses the network sparingly when it comes to finding sources or experts. If someone is firing off 280-character opinions with abandon, they will most likely be willing to talk with journalists, he says, but Twitter represents just one small cross-section of the world.

According to the Pew Research Center, 22 percent of American adults who use Twitter tend to be younger, wealthier and more educated than the wider population. “If you sit back and let software dictate what you see, it’s easy to forget that,” says Wong. “People who don’t tweet deserve to be heard, too.”

Wong has learned to optimise his Twitter account over the years. He follows diverse voices and local experts, assigns alerts to important accounts, and mutes trolls and distracting threads.

To ensure Twitter is making your work easier – not harder – Wong suggests the counterintuitive approach of using the platform less. Setting up alerts, he says, is the best way to prioritise key users while minimising the noise and negativity.

For some journalists, it simply takes too much energy to cull and maintain their Twitter feed. Nylander admits that he has deleted the app from his phone several times, only to reinstall it later when he needs it for reporting. Ironically, it’s the anti-social nature of the social media platform that bothers Nylander the most.

“It’s not a forum for dialogue – quite the opposite. Checking my Twitter feed is like opening the door to a room full of people screaming hysterically,” he says. “There’s so much hate there. So much angst and horror. At the end of the day, could I live without Twitter? Yes, gladly.”


Morgan M. Davis is a finance reporter at Euromoney’s GlobalCapital. The Illinois transplant moved to Hong Kong in 2016, accompanied by her trusty sidekick Gizmo the Yorkie. Morgan has reported on multiple sectors of finance and holds a master’s degree from Columbia University.

How Press Clubs Across Asia-Pacific Have Adapted to Covid-19

Katie Forster checks on press clubs around the region to learn how they’ve pivoted during the pandemic, from introducing virtual panels to new content strategies, healthcare and career support.

The pandemic has upended lives and business around the world, including the operations of press clubs across Asia-Pacific. Travel restrictions have left some correspondents stuck abroad for months, while ever-changing social-distancing requirements and evolving member needs have kept clubs on their toes.

Just as we at the FCC in Hong Kong have adjusted – and have had a very successful series of Zoom talks – so have others in our region. From Manila to Melbourne, journalist associations have upgraded their technological capabilities, experimented with online content, introduced helpful Covid-19 support, developed new partnerships and held successful fundraisers.

A member gets her temperature checked at the FCCJ in Tokyo. A member gets her temperature checked at the FCCJ in Tokyo.

Offline to Online

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok is one of the few press clubs in Asia with its own bar – usually a buzzy spot for reporters to discuss politics, story ideas and travel plans. But in March until mid-June, Southeast Asia’s oldest club for foreign journalists had to close its doors due to Covid-19 restrictions.

With operations on hold, the organisation quickly shifted its focus from offline to online services. First, the club expanded the coverage of its weekly FCCT Bulletin, incorporating articles about coronavirus relief efforts as well as interviews with members, political figures and Thai residents about life under lockdown.

It was a resounding success: by the end of the lockdown period, subscribers to the free email newsletter jumped by around 500, from roughly 3,200 to 3,700, mainly through word of mouth and social media marketing.

The publication also enabled the club to hold a fundraising campaign. “When we were locked down for more than two months, club revenues fell off a cliff,” says Club President Gwen Robinson. Through a donation drive, the FCCT managed to raise roughly US$15,000, enough to cover one month of salaries, rent and utility bills, she adds.

Related: How to Support Asia’s Press Clubs

Bangkok’s restrictions gradually eased over the summer; however, the club continues to cap gatherings at 60 people as a safeguard. Robinson says demand for panels, discussion and interviews skyrocketed in 2020, driven in part by the international interest in the youth-led, anti-government protest movement that erupted in the Thai capital.

“There was a real regeneration [for the club],” says Robinson. “People were reminded that this is one of the only spaces left in Thailand for open debate and discussion unless it’s on the streets.”

As a result, members have started coming in for drinks, dinner and events more often. “We’ve been having two to three events a week, as opposed to about once a week before,” she adds, which helps offset the revenue lost from reduced audience numbers.

The FCCT upgraded its audio-visual equipment in 2019 and 2020 to produce high-quality virtual events. The FCCT upgraded its audio-visual equipment in 2019 and 2020 to produce high-quality virtual events. (Photo: Jonathan Head/FCCT)

For those who can’t attend in person, the club also live-streams all of its events – a shift also made by other journalism associations in the region, including the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) in Tokyo. Switching to online events has enabled the FCCJ to host international guests, broadening the scope of its coverage and conversations.

In July, the FCCJ streamed a press conference by Taiwan’s 39-year-old Digital Minister Audrey Tang, the youngest person to serve as a government minister in Taiwan. Tang has been instrumental in tackling the pandemic with data- and technology-driven solutions.

Being able to feature speakers like Tang has been “great”, says FCCJ President Isabel Reynolds, but she acknowledges that online events can’t match in-person experiences. “There’s an atmosphere you get from everyone gathering and seeing the person – and being able to ask a question in person and see how they react – that is not quite the same,” she says.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) in Manila has also embraced online platforms to host talks and press conferences. Previously, the club held events at hotels and other venues around the city since it does not have a physical location.

“Because of the ease of getting people together online, we’ve actually been able to hold a lot more media forums this year,” says FOCAP Treasurer Barnaby Lo.

“It’s a little harder staying afloat financially during a pandemic, but we are managing well because the expenses are also lower,” he says, noting that in-person events are more costly to host. The club is mainly funded by membership fees, while sponsorships cover major annual events and a magazine.

Given the ease of running events virtually, Lo adds, FOCAP anticipates staying online for “some time to come, even beyond the pandemic”, but hopes to reintroduce in-person events by the middle of 2021.

In September 2020, the Melbourne Press Club hosted “The Edit: Multicultural Media and COVID-19”, a panel discussion on the need for diverse, multilingual coverage. In September 2020, the Melbourne Press Club hosted “The Edit: Multicultural Media and COVID-19”, a panel discussion on the need for diverse, multilingual coverage. (Photo: MPC)

New ways to support members

The Philippines has been one of the hardest-hit countries in Asia, with the country reporting roughly 473,000 total Covid-19 cases and 9,200 deaths as of 30 December 2020. To help members who may be at risk of contracting the virus on the job, FOCAP provides personal protective equipment and testing when possible as part of an agreement with the Philippine Red Cross.

“Other than that, we’ve given small financial assistance [to members in need] but we don’t really have the financial capability to provide more help. We wish we did,” Lo says.

In Melbourne, residents have endured several waves of strict lockdowns with the most recent ending in October 2020. At the same time, unemployment has surged across the city and many journalists have faced a rash of redundancies, says Cathy Bryson, CEO of the Melbourne Press Club (MPC).

“People are just being let go,” she explains, noting that many smaller titles have closed down completely. To support out-of-work members, the club began organising career management events in 2020.

The MPC has suffered losses of its own, including two major sponsors in the hard-hit airline and university sectors. Despite obstacles posed by the pandemic, Bryson has reason to feel optimistic.

So far, the club has retained its membership base and strengthened its relationship with research institutes, says Bryson. For example, the MPC has teamed up with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma to share mental health resources with journalists.

In Indonesia, which has reported more than 735,000 coronavirus cases and 21,900 deaths as of 30 December, correspondents must face a difficult decision: Should they stay, or should they go?

At the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club (JFCC), five out of the eight members on the club’s organising committee have relocated due to a variety of factors: reporting difficulties, healthcare worries, visa delays, family reasons, and temporary postings elsewhere.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of Thailand’s Progressive Movement, speaks at the FCCT in early 2020. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of Thailand’s Progressive Movement, speaks at the FCCT in early 2020. (Photo: Jonathan Head/FCCT)

JFCC President Ed Davies, who has been working in Sydney since April 2020, says his team now relies heavily on social media to communicate, as well as organise online events and keep the club running.

“The number of foreign correspondents in Indonesia has fallen anyway, because of the general pressures on the media … so I think [the pandemic] has accelerated some changes that were already happening,” he says. “It’s concerning. That’s why we’re all trying to work as hard as we can to keep the JFCC events going.”

The JFCC has been able to cover its operating costs this year thanks to changes made before the pandemic. In the two years prior, the club had already closed its permanent office space and reduced full-time staff members due to budget constraints.

The club has also secured funding from new sponsors. “We managed to get fresh sponsorship in some new areas such as startups in the digital economy,” he says, adding that they are also exploring possibilities of working with fellow press clubs in the region.

“Any collaboration with other clubs – particularly in terms of sharing ideas on how to support a free media in the region – is welcome. Also, reciprocal membership arrangements are something that is useful for members, who may be based in one country but often covering a string of countries in the region.”


Katie ForsterKatie Forster is an editor for Agence France-Presse in Tokyo. She moved to Japan in 2020 after three years in Hong Kong. Before relocating, she was a correspondent governor at the FCC. 

How to Support Asia’s Press Clubs

We asked press clubs around the region what they need most. Here’s what they said: 

Melbourne Press Club

“We need to rebuild our corporate sponsorship revenue. What the network of sister clubs may be able to assist with are contacts into multi-national organisations that already understand the benefit of alignment with a press club.” – Cathy Bryson 

Reach out: melbournepressclub.com 

Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club

“We would welcome expertise on promoting the club and help on training local journalists, since we have some scholarship funds. Given there are fewer foreign correspondents than there used to be, this type of collaboration should take on greater importance.” – Ed Davies 

Reach out: jfcc.info 

Philippines Vice President Leni Robredo spoke at FOCAP in January 2020. Philippines Vice President Leni Robredo spoke at FOCAP in January 2020. (Photo: FOCAP)

Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan

“What we need more than anything is for more young people to join the club and bring a new perspective. It would also be interesting to try collaborating to stage online events with our sister clubs.” – Isabel Reynolds 

Reach out: fccj.or.jp 

Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand

“We finished our official campaign for donations after lockdown lifted, but we still welcome donations. Our FCCT Bulletin includes all of the details for bank account and credit card payments.” – Gwen Robinson 

Reach out: fccthai.com 

Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines

“It would be great to be able to collaborate with other FCCs on regional projects. Any way [FCC Hong Kong members] can help us with tips on how to get more funding would be awesome, too.” – Barnaby Lo 

Reach out: focap.ph 

Related: How Press Clubs Across Asia-Pacific Have Adapted to Covid-19

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