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Why joining the FCC was written in the stars for jazz singer Elaine Liu

Elaine Liu. Photo: Elaine Liu. Photo:

Photographer, singer and musician Elaine Liu has been an FCC member for almost 20 years, but she might never have dropped in had we not been the Fringe Club’s neighbour.

“I’d just come back from the States, where I’d studied arts, and then gone into the family business. I didn’t know any arts people in Hong Kong, so I was hanging out in the Fringe Club a lot,” she recalls.

“They offered me the chance to do a photography exhibition, and Bob Davis and Hugh Van Es came. That was in 1999. They befriended me and I started hanging out at the FCC. I got the masters’ advice. There were people coming in the whole time with camera gear, and you could discuss photography and art with them. I really cherish those days and those friendships.”

At the photographers’ prompting Elaine applied for membership shortly after being introduced to the club – “I’ve seen a few changes, I remember the bar being the other way round” – and the FCC has since loomed large in both her professional and social life.

She still likes to meet fellow photographers at the club, and her work has been exhibited in the Main Bar. She has also been a frequently featured musical performer here – recently with her own big band, the Starlight Elan Orchestra, and over the years with many other ensembles, large and small.

There is also an FCC link to the beginning of Elaine’s career as a jazz singer, which started in a bar owned by another longstanding FCC member. She was a regular at Jon Benn’s Rickshaw Club.

“I was minding my own business as a customer, and then I got asked to get up and sing with [trumpeter] Mark Henderson and [guitarist] Guy Le Claire,” she recalls.

Henderson and Le Claire, both of whom went on to play often in Bert’s, were impressed with her talent, and she began doing gigs, forming a particularly strong association with the musicians who played once a month on a Saturday night at the Fringe Club.

She became the featured vocalist with the Saturday Night Jazz Orchestra, and many FCC members would migrate between the neighbouring venues to catch the band’s performances, often finishing up the evening with the singer and a few band members back in the Main Bar.

She is still in touch with Jon Benn, who now lives in Kentucky.

Becoming immersed in Hong Kong’s jazz world also inspired her as a photographer – musicians and the natural world are the most regularly recurring themes of her work – and as an instrumentalist. Still, perhaps, best known as a singer, she is also a capable performer on several instruments, including double bass and guitar.

“I just picked up the instruments and tried to play,” she says.

In 2013 Elaine  held a joint exhibition at the FCC with Terry Duckham of photographs of jazz musicians, entitled “Perfect Pitch”, and in 2015 participated in another joint exhibition at the Fringe Club entitled “Five Elemetnts”, with Terry, Carsten Schael, Roy Lee and John Fung.

Also in 2015 The Starlight Elan Orchestra went on the road to Singapore for an event entitled “Swing it by the Bay”, with Carsten taking the photographs, and me covering it for the SCMP.

“It was Singapore’s National Day. We were playing outside at the Esplanade, and after we finished a song the fireworks started and it was so beautiful. A really unforgettable moment,” she remembers.

She continues to photograph Hong Kong’s jazz musicians, as she has been doing since 1999, and musically she remains very active. A recent high profile gig was with the Happy-Go-Lucky Big Band, at City Hall in June, for the Hong Kong Big Band Jazz Federation’s annual summer jazz festival.

Her “Green In Black and White” photographs of trees were exhibited at the Fine Art Asia 2017 show, and she is currently working on more nature photography, using a large format 4 x 5 camera.

She is also performing regularly.

“I took a bit of a break from small groups, but I’m getting more active doing that again – playing bass, guitar, and singing. As a photographer I’m just going with the flow. I’m very lucky that I can concentrate on fine art photography,” she says.

Book review: Reporting War – How Foreign Correspondents Risked Capture, Torture and Death to Cover World War II

Reporting War - How Foreign Correspondents Risked Capture, Torture and Death to Cover World War II, by Ray Moseley Reporting War – How Foreign Correspondents Risked Capture, Torture and Death to Cover World War II, by Ray Moseley

When the bullets start flying, foreign correspondents become war correspondents. It’s a career shift relished by some but fills others with utter dread. A new book about journalists who covered World War II chronicles the conflict that shot some newly minted war correspondents to stardom, blitzed the reputation of others, scared the hell out of most, and killed scores. Occasional war correspondent Jonathan Sharp – scared but unscathed – reports.

Long-time foreign correspondent Ray Moseley says he wrote his thoroughly engaging book “Reporting War – How Foreign Correspondents Risked Capture, Torture and Death to Cover World War II” to give a perspective not often covered by conventional histories, namely the hack’s-eye-view of war. It pays due tribute to the brilliant reporting and scoops achieved in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties. But it also comments – often critically – on the wildly varying quality of what journalists filed. There were multiple failings along with the triumphs.

Memorably, we also hear the personal feelings of the reporters, what they feared most and the revulsion they felt in the face of the horrors of war. These included the scenes in liberated concentration camps which, as can be imagined, stretched the journalists who saw them to their professional and personal limits.

A pre-internet world without satellite phones sounds hopelessly remote to today’s war correspondents. But in other respects the problems faced by the 1939-45 reporters including censorship, the difficulty of finding facts in the fog of war, and – not least – the sheer danger are still very much issues for their 21st century heirs.

There may be other parallels, including the camaraderie and even shameless collaboration that can flourish when competing, hard-pressed reporters gather in one place. But perhaps the heavy carousing and endless cigarette smoking that Moseley speaks of in those bygone days may not be so pervasive today.

In his exhaustive but by no means exhausting book that includes dispatches on most of the war’s main campaigns, Moseley starts by reminding us that the history of war reporting of the kind familiar now is short. Amazingly in 1815 when London alone had 50 newspapers, not one sent a reporter to cover one of the century’s biggest news stories, the Battle of Waterloo.

From this motley brigade emerged figures who became post-war household names: Edward Murrow and Walter Cronkite in the United States, Clare Hollingworth and Richard Dimbleby in Britain, and Australia’s Alan Moorehead.

By contrast about 1,800 correspondents were accredited to Allied forces in World War II. The ranks of the reporters who happily signed up, or were abruptly summoned, to put themselves in harm’s way included well-known authors – Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck among them. But many were complete neophytes, fresh to the field of battle or even to the mysteries of a foreign country. While there were some swashbuckling, larger than life types (several even brought along their pet dogs) most were a far cry from the macho sort depicted in movies. “A fear of death or serious injury hung over many for years at a stretch and most did not resort to any pretence of bravado.”

From this motley brigade emerged figures who became post-war household names: Edward Murrow and Walter Cronkite in the United States, Clare Hollingworth and Richard Dimbleby in Britain, and Australia’s Alan Moorehead. (Another Australian featured in the book, Noel Monks, father of the FCC’s very own Sarah Monks, had already won his war correspondent’s spurs and renown before 1939.)

Of the reporters covering the Allied campaign, 69 met death on the battlefield, in accidents or from disease. Of American reporters, 2.2 per cent of them were killed and 6.8 per cent wounded, compared with 2.5 per cent and 4.2 per cent for the American military. Moseley says no figure for Soviet correspondents is available but 16 working for just one newspaper, Red Star, died between June 1941 and spring 1944.

Moseley says German and Japanese correspondents were excluded from his book because no independent reporting was possible in those countries. But he also raises the point: just how “independent” were the correspondents on the Allied side of the lines? After all, many made no effort to hide whose side they were on. Far from it. Their dispatches made them sound like cheerleaders for the Allies rather than dispassionate observers. And this bias was not only accepted but applauded by their employers, by many readers and not least by the Allied commanders and governments. So Germans were Nazis, Jerries, Huns, Krauts or Heinies. Japanese were Japs or Nips. (My war correspondent father Richard Sharp, after covering the Burma campaign in 1944-45 for the BBC gave a broadcast for children in UK. It was entitled “Fighting the Jap”.)

It’s humiliating to look back at what we wrote during the war. It was crap… We were a propaganda arm of our governments.

The supposed independence of Reuters, my former employer, could also be questioned. In 1941 Reuters created its Trust Principles – still very much part of the agency’s credo – which call upon its employees to act at all times with integrity, independence and freedom from bias. It’s a fine-sounding call for journalistic rectitude, but hard to square with the British Foreign Office reportedly paying part or all of the salaries of Reuters’ war-time correspondents.

One Reuters correspondent, Canadian Frank Lynch, frankly admitted the lack of impartiality. He wrote after the war: “It’s humiliating to look back at what we wrote during the war. It was crap… We were a propaganda arm of our governments.”

But sometimes it was crap not because it was propaganda but because some correspondents resorted to making up, or at least over-dramatising, what was happening. Hemingway comes off badly in this respect. The book calls him a “self-aggrandising boor” who earned the ire of his fellow correspondents. One of them wrote that Hemingway, draped with pistols, seemed like a small boy playing at soldiers. One of Hemingway’s biographers is quoted as saying that none of his dispatches from Normandy was completely accurate.

One of the greatest frustrations facing war correspondents then, but to a lesser extent now as a result of modern communications, is censorship. This was often enforced by untrained people clueless about what they were doing. One egregious example involved John Gunther of the Chicago Daily News who asked for a copy of a leaflet the British had dropped over Germany. He was told he could not have it because publication “might give the enemy vital information”. This ignored the fact that the enemy already possessed the vital information because two million copies of the leaflet had been dropped on Germany.

But uppermost in the minds of most war correspondents, as with the troops with whom they shared foxholes, was the real possibility of death or mutilation. Many reporters cited in the book are movingly candid about being gripped, even paralysed, by terror. Not a few quite understandably preferred to stay in the comparative safety of command posts rather than venture to the front lines. As ever in time of war, while there was much intrepid derring-do, there was also derring-don’t.

Maybe one should also be reminded that it is not just in times of war that journalists make the ultimate sacrifice. Mexico, not at war with anyone, is now recognised as one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist, falling between war-torn Afghanistan and failed state Somalia. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 66 reporters have died violently in Mexico since 2007. One of the finest, Javier Valdez, was murdered by unknown assassins on May 15.

Reporting War – How Foreign Correspondents Risked Capture, Torture and Death to Cover World War II

by Ray Moseley

Yale University Press

ISBN 978-0-300-22466-5

Member profile: Mark Pinkstone – a long way from Cootamundra

Mark at RTHK. Mark at RTHK.

Club life member, Mark Pinkstone is about to celebrate 50 years working and living in Hong Kong. As Stephen Marshall writes, a lot can happen in a lifetime when you move from Cootamundra to Hong Kong in the wake of the 1967 riots.

It should have been the happiest of occasions. After a newsroom romance at the South China Morning Post Mark and his beautiful bride Tammy set out for their honeymoon cruise.

“During the aftermath of the 1967 riots we took an old river boat from Western District in Hong Kong to Taiwan. Going on board the boat, people on the pier abused Tammy left, right and centre for marrying a gweilo and they were throwing live cigarette butts in my face, there was pushing and shoving. Back then Western was very much a communist held area. We didn’t realise until we got there how serious it was. Some way to start a honeymoon,” said Mark Pinkstone.

Mark’s journey to Hong Kong was far less frightening.

A fourth generation journalist who hailed from his family’s rural newspaper, the Cootamundra Herald, in regional New South Wales, Mark had the travel bug after stints at the New Guinea Times-Courier, Melbourne’s Truth newspaper, and the Daily Telegraph in Sydney.

“There was an editor at the Illawarra Daily Mercury in Wollongong, south of Sydney (where I went during a newspaper strike in Sydney) we all hated, and after several beers one night at the local watering hole, six of us decided we’d quit the Mercury the next day, which we did. Someone then suggested Hong Kong would be a good place to go.”

True to their word, all six ventured to the British enclave. John Carroll eventually joined RTHK where he stayed until retirement, Brian Blackwell ended up at the China Mail, Hilary Alexander also joined the Mail before becoming Fashion Editor of London’s Telegraph, while Don Rudd and another joined Mark at the Post.

“Everything was corrupt back in those days. I decided to do an investigative piece from a Westerner’s perspective on what it was like to attend a traditional Chinese funeral, only to find out that widows had to bribe the gravediggers or a sod would never be turned.”

The article caused a fuss at the Urban Council. “At the time, the graveyards were run by the Urban Council, and shortly after the article was run on the front page of the Post, I was invited to lunch by an Urban Councillor. A colleague advised that towards the end of lunch I should leave my jacket on the back of my chair, go to the bathroom, and on my return, check to see if a red ‘pay off’ packet had been put in my jacket pocket to settle the matter, and if it had, to get up and leave. It was 1970 and Mark declined the lunch invitation and left the Post instead.

“In those days (after the riots) it was so corrupt a fireman wouldn’t turn on a hose unless he was slipped a bribe.”

Mark spent the next seven years as News Editor at Asia Travel Trade publications, Deputy Publisher, Far East Trade Press and at Asiaweek, the new start-up that rivalled the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Come 1977 Hong Kong was gearing up for the Joint Declaration and for Mark, the “dark side“ beckoned. “I joined the Government Information Service and was seconded to the Agricultural and Fisheries Department to head up the publicity drive for the new Country Park Authority. Governor Murray MacLehose had given the department one year to win the public over to his parks plan, or he’d hand the land to developers.”

History shows Mark and his team did a great job, and after returning to the GIS, he helped prepare the White Paper on electoral process and assisted in the research during the Handover negotiations. He rose through the ranks to become the number one PR man at the seat of power – the Chief Information Officer for the Government Secretariat.

Mark on the campaign trail with Regina Ip. Photo: Hong Kong Free Press Mark on the campaign trail with Regina Ip. Photo: Hong Kong Free Press

“It was virtually a one-man show handling all policy secretaries from the Chief Secretary down. The Governor, we are now talking the Youde period, was handled by his own press secretary, and I looked after all the others. I had myself and three other people running the whole show. Every morning at 8 o’clock, I’d get my briefing notes of what the papers had been saying and then go to each of the Secretaries and brief them on what was going on and what would affect them. I would then make up the lines to indicate what they should say if necessary. Every day was a drama.” None more so than “Black Monday”, October 19, 1987, when Hong Kong sparked a global stock market crash.

“I was in my office early morning, listening to RTHK when they announced the Hong Kong stock market had closed, no trading for the day. I thought ‘Jesus Christ’, so I called the Financial Secretary, Sir Piers Jacobs, and said ‘did you know the stock market had just closed?’. He said he had spoken to Ronald Li – the infamous Ronald Li who was then chairman of the stock exchange and who subsequently finished up in jail for corruption – at four o’clock in the morning and they’d agreed to keep the market open, to keep stability.

“Ronald Li apparently panicked, closed the market, and didn’t tell the Financial Secretary. By the time Jacobs found out about it, it was too late and it was a major, major disaster, absolutely, talk about crisis management!” Many more dramas were to follow.

“I never believed I’d go to the dark side having been a journalist for about 10 years, and once a journo you never trusted the government. But once I joined the government you could see a great deal of the other side of the story, in particular to see how policy was formulated, how much work goes into policy and how much consultation is involved. A lot of people don’t realise this and that’s why it takes so long for bills to get approval. For example, another job I had as Chief Information Officer was to look after the Executive Council. I was privy to all the Exco papers and I was asked to comment on every aspect of every paper that went to the Executive Council. The papers were actually kept in a safe in my office because they were so confidential. When I took over the job, the bloke that I succeeded refused to give me the combination to the safe. In the end, I had to get it from the Director.

“There are always leaks in government, doesn’t matter where you are, and we were always suspected of leaking all the stories to the press. We were the obvious target, so much so, the clerk of the Executive Council would sit in my office every morning pretending to read the newspaper so that he could listen to our phone calls!. All of these experiences were very enriching. Although it wasn’t always fun and games; the media didn’t always behave well.

“One of the most bizarre was the BBC, I’ll never forgive them for it. What they did one day, was hire about 20 actors, dressed them up in PLA uniforms and marched them down Chater Road early in the morning, saying that the PLA was going to take over Hong Kong.

“People from around the world were calling their relatives in Hong Kong saying what’s this about the PLA taking over Hong Kong? The BBC’s defence was that they blurred the pictures a bit and that people would know it was not real.

“Another famous one was a Fortune Magazine cover story about the death of Hong Kong, which affected all our investors.

Mark meets the press during the recent CE elections. Mark meets the press during the recent CE elections.

“But on the whole, the job was great and being chief of ‘overseas’ I got to travel a bit as well. I got into the White House, Number 10 and the State Department and many of the reporters and photographers from then are still good friends today, such as Jody Cobb and Steve Raymer of National Geographic. I enjoyed working with sensible people like that, when you see the pros at work you are honoured just being in their presence and you learn a lot from them.”

When Mark retired from the Government in 1995, the FCC bestowed upon him Honorary Life Correspondent Membership for his contribution to foreign correspondents in Hong Kong and Beijing.

Come the Handover, Mark decided it was time for a new challenge, one that involved still living in Hong Kong but working outside, as Director of Corporate Affairs for the Kuala Lumpur listed, Datuk Keramat Holdings (DHK) Bhd Group of Companies. He was to handle bank acquisitions and sales, retail supermarkets, department stores, pharmacies and head up corporate affairs for the largest film studios in Europe, Leavesden Studios, host to James Bond’s GoldenEye, Mortal Kombat Annihilation and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, as well as handling a bank acquisition in Geneva.

By the millennium Mark had largely moved to running his own show, the Beijing Olympics being a highlight when he headed up press operations and media services for the Hong Kong based equestrian events for the 2008 games.

Two months ago Mark turned full circle and moved from decades behind the headlines to creating them once again, when, as the former Chief Information Officer for Regina Ip’s Chief Executive campaign, he called the whole election process a “farce.”

“Unfortunately, Regina lost the race early in the game. But I wrote an exposé about the role China’s Liaison Office (CLO) had in swaying the elections.

However, I was criticized for not publishing the story before the elections.  But that is not right. I submitted the story to the South China Morning Post Op Ed Editor on March 21, one week before the elections, but it was rejected on the grounds there was ‘no space.’ A copy had also been sent to the Post’s Political Editor.

Mark was head of press and media services for the Hong Kong based equestrian events for the 2008 Olympic Games. Mark was head of press and media services for the Hong Kong based equestrian events for the 2008 Olympic Games.

After the rejection, I posted the story on my Facebook page and this was picked up, in part, by Reuters. Still seeking to publish the full story, I gave it to Tom Grundy at Hong Kong Free Press and from there it went viral in the Chinese media. The Post then realised it had missed a good story (even though it was given to them two weeks beforehand) and decided to run it with a few follow-up questions. But lo and behold the headline blasted that I had apologised to the Liaison Office. What! Me apologise to the Chinese Liaison Office? Never! A good libel case could have followed but I rang an editor instead, who promised a retraction. And as Nury Vittachi said in a FB post, the heading didn’t match the story. Well, there was a weak new headline, so I let it go.

“The Post was once one of the leading English-language newspapers in the world. Today it is not. To paraphrase Donald Trump: ‘sad, so sad, so very, very sad…’,” said Mark.

Which shows 50 years on, he and his lovely partner in life Tammy, are still up for the good fight.

Allan Zeman: C.Y. Leung’s ‘divisive’ personality alienated Hong Kong’s politically active young

Allan Zeman spoke about his life and business at a recent lunch. Allan Zeman spoke about his life and business at a recent lunch.

Prominent business leader, long-time Hong Kong resident and Chinese citizen Allan Zeman was guest speaker at a Club luncheon where he discussed his views on the political, economic and commercial future of Hong Kong.

Allan Zeman, Chairman of the Lan Kwai Fong Group, thinks Hong Kong has a ‘rosy’ future under the governance of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and believes the territory will be stronger if it works with China rather than against it.

Zeman, speaking at a Club lunch on May 25, discussed his views on the political, economic and commercial future of Hong Kong as well as musing over his unusual status as a Chinese citizen. Zeman has lived in Hong Kong for over 45 years and feels more at home here than in his native Canada. “I honestly feel I belong here, I don’t have another home… my roots are in Hong Kong.”

Victor Mallet (Financial Times Asia News Editor) who chaired the lunch began by asking Zeman his views on how and why, after a relatively stable 15 years post-handover, Hongkongers had suddenly become politically active. Zeman said that during the first 10 years the initial two chief executives (CE) primarily sought to emphasise stability. However, CY Leung, the third CE, had “definite ideas” but “unfortunately a divisive personality” which resulted in him often handling things badly – especially with the younger generation. Leung, Zeman suggested, failed to inspire them and left them with a sense of helplessness, especially when it came to getting on the property ladder. As Zeman put it: “All the people in the property market are in a boat in the middle of the sea. Those that are not on the boat are swimming trying to catch the boat to get on, but every time they get close, the boat goes further away”.

“If you’re happy…everything’s good, but if you’re unhappy you begin to look for alternatives,” he said. This, Zeman believes, is how the Pan-Democrats in Legco were able to “rouse the young” ultimately resulting in the Occupy Central movement. Zeman is loath to criticise China’s involvement after Mallet suggested Beijing could perhaps have “played a slightly more hands-off role and been a little more diplomatic”. Zeman’s contention is that the Occupy movement was the unintended consequence of outdated policing methods meeting modern technology. He elaborated by noting that the initial and relatively minor demonstration was badly handled by police, whose every move was being recorded and uploaded instantly to social media platforms. This in turn encouraged thousands of other mainly students to join in the burgeoning protest, leading the police to abandon their planned ‘small crowd peaceful solution’ and call for reinforcements – and then pepper spray.

The last five years have been difficult for everyone…hopefully Carrie will have a new beginning, if she’s given a chance – and the only way she can have a chance is if people get behind her.

Technology, Zeman stressed throughout the lunch, is the future and Hong Kong had fallen “way, way behind China” while slowly attempting to catch up. Too slowly for some. FCC member Lynn Grebstad asked Zeman why every major project in Hong Kong takes so long from conception to completion and, again, his answer was technology. Government departments remain ponderous and have been slow to move forward, for example still demanding all documentation in triplicate. China’s infrastructure projects, by contrast, are coming along apace and will impact Hong Kong “whether we like it or not”.  High-speed rail links between Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, for example, will make cross-border commuting feasible. “The borders will, eventually, evaporate” he said, as residents move to cheaper housing in China while still working in Hong Kong.

Zeman went on to discuss his relationship with Carrie Lam, who he has worked with for many years. They were colleagues on the board at Ocean Park and on the West Kowloon Cultural District board, where Lam’s decision regarding the Palace Museum has caused considerable controversy. “Whether the process was right or wrong, I look at the end result – what’s good for Hong Kong? Will Hong Kong benefit? How it’s done – sometimes you have to go into a grey area…”

Victor Mallet, (2nd left) asks Allan Zeman about his views on Hong Kong’s new leadership. Victor Mallet, (2nd left) asks Allan Zeman about his views on Hong Kong’s new leadership.

When Lam announced her candidacy late last year Zeman switched his support from Regina Ip to Lam as he believed that she was in a better position to get things done. He also acknowledged that while Lam has clear goals and the will to see them through, she will nevertheless meet a lot of resistance. Lam is already facing difficulties assembling her cabinet after many of those she approached turned down the offer of a political post. Zeman remarked that “no one wants to go into government because it’s difficult, it’s a tough job.” Society remains polarised and it will be an uphill struggle to repair the damage. “The last five years have been difficult for everyone,” Zeman said, adding that “hopefully Carrie will have a new beginning, if she’s given a chance – and the only way she can have a chance is if people get behind her.”

A self-declared optimist, Zeman said he always sees the glass half full. While he also acknowledges that neither Hong Kong nor China are perfect, he stands by the “rosy vision” he predicted in a South China Morning Post article more than ten years ago. Although he admitted he failed to predict the current high degree of polarisation he said he remains confident Hongkongers will come together once again as “it’s important for Hong Kong people to really start to understand that our future lies with China.”


The flavours of Spain and Germany – check out our tasty summer food promotions

Monthly food promotions are part of the FCC dining experience with Chef George coming up with ever more creative dishes to tempt members and their guests. Occasionally there is a guest chef and more often than not there is a complementary wine or beer promotion to fully appreciate the chosen cuisine.

Whether it is Indian, German, Portuguese, Argentinean or French you can be sure a lot of thought and planning has gone into the menu. This September Chef George is planning some light and tasty bites with Spanish tapas. Tapas are perfect for the hot summer months and will go perfectly with a bottle of chilled white wine or cava. October will see a selection of hearty Oktoberfest fare to be washed down with your choice of premium German beers.

Click on the images to enlarge them.

FCC backs Asian-American journalists’ association get-together

Keith Richburg, Director, Media Studies Centre (JMSC). Aira Fernando/Asiapix Keith Richburg, Director, Media Studies Centre (JMSC). Aira Fernando/Asiapix

The FCC co-organised a lively panel discussion and hosted a gala dinner to help mark the return to Hong Kong of New.Now.Next Media Conference – the flagship event of the Asian-American Journalists’ Association’s Asia Chapter.

Known as N3Con, the FCC partnered with the Journalism and Media Studies Centre (JMSC) at the University of Hong Kong for the AAJA event.

In his opening remarks, JMSC Director Keith Richburg noted that journalism is under attack like never before. “Cries of ‘fake news’ are being used to drown out legitimate investigative work,” he said. Meanwhile, technology was changing the profession with new platforms and tools emerging almost too fast to keep track. “I can’t think of a better time for a gathering of what’s new, now and next in our industry,” Richburg said, “and we [in Hong Kong] want to be at the centre of that conversation.”

The panel discussion marked the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China by bringing together reporters who were here in 1997. Richburg, who was then the Hong Kong bureau chief for The Washington Post, joined correspondents from CNN, The Independent, The New York Times and The Straits
to reflect on international coverage and what lessons can be drawn from their experiences in reporting on Hong Kong today.

N3Con attracted nearly 200 participants to the three-day event which was held in Hong Kong for the first time since 2014. Participants attended workshops and panel discussions focusing on timely issues such as analysing data. “Our mission at N3Con is to keep growing our members with issue-based panels and digital workshops on the latest tools,” said AAJA Asia President Angie Lau, FCC member and Bloomberg TV anchor. At the end of the event there was a gala dinner where Joshua Wong of Demosisto was the keynote speaker.

The programming of the event and other AAJA activities in the region is often customised to the locale, said Lau. “In Hong Kong, we are a resource for students who can play an active part in growing their career alongside mid- to senior-level executives and journalists who join to keep on top of the changing aspects of our industry and to stay ahead of the curve.”

The Club is likely to partner with AAJA, JMSC and Lau for next year’s event. “We want to continue to bring in top speakers in our industry,” Lau said. “We also want to expand our footprint in the journalism community to include the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association among our attendees.”

Beyond fake news: An in-depth look at the FCC Journalism Conference

Panelists discuss Covering China. Left to right: Jamil Anderlini, Financial Times; Erika Kinetz, Associated Press; Keith Richburg, Director JMSC; Paul Mozur, The New York Times; Miguel Toran, Freelance Cameraman, Al Jazeera; and moderator, Juliana Liu, BBC News. Photo: Asiapix Panelists discuss Covering China. Left to right: Jamil Anderlini, Financial Times; Erika Kinetz, Associated Press; Keith Richburg, Director JMSC; Paul Mozur, The New York Times; Miguel Toran, Freelance Cameraman, Al Jazeera; and moderator, Juliana Liu, BBC News. Photo: Asiapix

The second annual FCC Journalism Conference took place at the Club on April 29. George W. Russell offers a roundup of the presentations from guests, major issues covered in the discussion panels, instructive takeaways from workshops and useful feedback from attendees.

The second annual FCC Journalism Conference might have been titled “Journalism in the Era of Fake News and Tweeting Presidents” but the all-day programme covered a much wider range of topics that affect the profession in Hong Kong and beyond.

The April 29 event was packed full of experienced and informative international and local speakers, lively panel discussions and useful workshops. The aim of the conference is to provide working journalists at every stage of their career with up-to-date, usable information they can implement in this era of transformation.

Delivering the opening address, then FCC President Eric Wishart reminded the audience that the inaugural conference in 2016 had digital disruption as its theme.  “Looking back, it seemed a gentler, kinder time when all we had to worry about was coping with technological upheavals.”

Today, he noted, the media is fighting an even tougher battle against politicians who brand their negative coverage as “fake news”. Wishart lamented an environment in which “some of the finest and most respected institutions in the world have been labelled enemies of the people by the president of the United States.” This was especially difficult, he added, when “journalists have never been more at risk, physically and otherwise, in carrying out their mission around the world.”

Wishart went on to say that there were lessons for Hong Kong, given that the FCC is a “staunch defender of press freedom and freedom of speech, which has never been more important as Hong Kong reaches the 20th anniversary of the handover amid mounting concerns over the future of media freedom in the city.”

The view from Washington

To open the day’s proceedings, Wishart interviewed special guest Evan Osnos of The New
via Skype video link from his home in Washington, DC, grilling him about the toxic media environment in the United States since the accession of Donald Trump to the nation’s presidency.

Osnos, who covered China for the Chicago Tribune and The New Yorker between 2006 and 2014 drew parallels between Beijing’s control of information and Trump’s desire to taint existing media as purveyors of lies.

“From my training in China, if you want a fact you don’t call the relevant [government] department,” he said, adding that the US experience is becoming similar.

Journalists who face taunts of “fake news” should just continue what they were doing. Again he compared the US with China, where, he says, “People have a deep faith in ascertainable facts. There is no such thing as alternative facts. Countries must be held accountable to their constitutions whether the US or China.

It wasn’t all bad news, though. Osnos believed the leaky administration of President Donald Trump was encouraging a revival of old school reporting. He described the joy of heading out into the chilly mornings at 5am because there was yet another hot political story coming out of the Trump White House. Journalists like him in the US capital feel an “extraordinary amount of purpose” these days, he said.

Given the amount of hacking of computer systems – by state and non-state actors – reporters have an even greater obligation to protect their sources of information. So the new political journalism in the US is built on traditional technology.

“It’s old style shoe leather reporting [done in an] unspectacular, unglamorous way,” he said. “It’s very face to face. “There’re notebooks and pens and a lot [of information] is not making its way into the computer.”

The fake news challenge

The main discussion of the morning, a panel entitled “News Judgment and the Challenges of Fake News,” attempted to define the term fake news and address its challenges, especially in the United States where the Trump administration has spent so much time attacking the media.

Yumiko Ono, Asia Digital Editor, The Wall Street Journal. Photo: Wyng Chow Yumiko Ono, Asia Digital Editor, The Wall Street Journal. Photo: Wyng Chow

Yumiko Ono of The Wall Street Journal noted the emergence of Twitter and other digital platforms as an important vector of news, real and fake. “People have an emotional connection to social media,” she said.

Ono added that news organisations using social media must figure out what readers want versus what the newsrooms think is important. “And there are differences between social media platforms,” she pointed out, causing the Journal to do “a lot of soul-searching” about the issues.

Gerry Mullany of The New York Times observed that not only has The New York Times been portrayed by the political fringe as biased and partisan, it has unwittingly been a victim of the Trump administration’s own misinformation campaign.

“We are the biggest distributors of fake news, according to Donald Trump,” he said, citing the Times’ own reports of a US aircraft carrier sailing towards North Korea. “We said the Carl Vinson was heading to the Korean peninsula. It was not true but [the story] was out there for two weeks.”

Bloomberg’s Jodi Fern Schneider noted that fake news was not a new phenomenon, recalling US vice-president Spiro Agnew’s declamation of the “nattering nabobs of negativity” back in 1969. Barack Obama, she added, often bypassed media, and both Bill and Hillary Clinton were wary of the press.

The panellists observed that the best counter-attack to accusations of fake news is publishing accurate reports. “We have a team of people overseeing facts,” said Simon Gardner of Reuters.

The audience appeared to enjoy the panel’s observations. “I thought it was a great insight into the fake news phenomenon,” said Tony Sabine, a producer and presenter at TVB in Hong Kong. “I’m interested in how different media see the issue and get to grips with it.” 

Nuts and bolts advice

The conference also addressed many practical issues for current and aspiring journalists, such as a writing workshop hosted by former Club president Neil Western, Asia business editor at The Wall
Street Journal, 
and Carlos Tejada, Asia business editor at The New York Times.

Entitled “Writing Well at Any Length”, the workshop attempted to apply broad strategies to almost all forms of news writing. Tejada urged journalists to “write with the audience in mind”.

He distilled the basic structure of a story to “a declarative sentence, make points to support it, and explain why it is important,” adding: “The best stories are about conflict,” he added, or where “the stated intent or purpose goes horribly awry.”

Attendees said they found the workshop useful. Vivian Lin, a recent University of Melbourne graduate and Agence France-Presse intern in Hong Kong, said Neil and Carlos offered some good tips about writing leads and structuring stories. “Especially what to leave out,” she said. “Not everyone needs to see your homework.”

At the same time Bert’s hosted another well-attended workshop, “Graphics and Data: Facts in Numbers, featuring John Saeki of Agence France-Presse and Richard Frost of Bloomberg.  “We are looking into how to better present data,” said TVB’s Sabine.

John Saeki, AFP. Photo: Wyng Chow John Saeki, AFP. Photo: Wyng Chow

Infographics should not be seen as standalone design devices, Frost noted, but an integral part of the newsgathering process. “By using data in aggregate, we can see a trend that’s going to break, whether election results, property prices, or currencies.”

Saeki said presentation of graphics was as important as the data points.

“You have to hone in on what matters. If you’re looking at the ‘mother of all bombs’ strike in Afghanistan, landscape is important, as is proximity to Pakistan. If it’s about the UK nobody needs to know where its borders are.”

Meanwhile freelance members Vaudine England and Kate Whitehead joined Cedar Communications editorial director Mark Jones and Nikkei Asian Weekly’s Zach Coleman to discuss freelancing. “As a freelancer you should have a website and pay attention to your LinkedIn account,” said Whitehead, who added that she often uses the social network to find potential story leads.

England advised freelancers to “go to places where there aren’t staff correspondents [such as] Laos [and] Vietnam.

Thomas di Fonzo of The Wall Street Journal and Irene Jay Liu of Google examined developments in new media, while Alan Wong of The New York Times and Anne Kruger of the University of Hong Kong looked at the role of social media.

Hong Kong stories

The Hong Kong component of the conference was eagerly awaited. As an international financial centre, attendees said, Hong Kong ought to have a cosmopolitan, sophisticated media.

“We aim to report about Hong Kong in English and have an international readership of stories that are truly local,” said Elson Tong, a reporter with the Hong Kong Free Press.

Tong joined a standing-room-only audience to hear South China Morning Post Holdings Chief Executive Officer Gary Liu talk about positioning the Hong Kong daily for the future.

Keynote speaker Gary Liu, CEO, South China Morning Post, discusses News Consumption in a Fragmented Digital World. Photo: Asiapix Keynote speaker Gary Liu, CEO, South China Morning Post, discusses News Consumption in a Fragmented Digital World. Photo: Asiapix

News publishing will see articles primarily shared through messaging applications, Liu forecast. Previously CEO of aggregate news site Digg, Liu outlined the struggles facing news organisations as advertising and print revenues decline and social media sites like Facebook become primary sources of news for so many.

“People are now going to fewer sources. Right now Facebook is a leader in that,” he said, adding that news organisations needed to think about content delivery differently: “Publishers have to think about two different types of platform: discovery and consumption.”

Western moderated a panel of correspondents from Associated Press, Bloomberg, the Financial TimesThe Guardian, Reuters and the Journal to look at how the Hong Kong story is reported around the world.

Benjamin Haas of The Guardian said Hong Kong had appeal globally because “there’s a lot of drama in Hong Kong that you don’t get in stories on Mainland China”.

Anne Marie Roantree, Hong Kong bureau chief at Reuters, said that during Occupy Central in 2014, her team used spot news to tell a wider story about the protests, bringing those stories together for a special report on Beijing tracking down activists.

Mainland manoeuvres

Hong Kong remains the most important gateway to China with many correspondents based here spending a considerable amount of their time reporting from the Mainland.

Being a China correspondent is not just about reporting on the opaque Communist Party governance. Chinese society is not immune to change and rapidly evolving technology is having a major impact on every aspect of daily lives, from jobs and finance to leisure and social behaviour.

Panelists discuss Covering China. Left to right: Jamil Anderlini, Financial Times; Erika Kinetz, Associated Press; Keith Richburg, Director JMSC; Paul Mozur, The New York Times; Miguel Toran, Freelance Cameraman, Al Jazeera; and moderator, Juliana Liu, BBC News. Photo: Asiapix Panelists discuss Covering China. Left to right: Jamil Anderlini, Financial Times; Erika Kinetz, Associated Press; Keith Richburg, Director JMSC; Paul Mozur, The New York Times; Miguel Toran, Freelance Cameraman, Al Jazeera; and moderator, Juliana Liu, BBC News. Photo: Asiapix

Before lunch, a panel of correspondents – Ben Richardson of Asia Times, Juro Osawa of The Information, Josh Horwitz of Quartz and Li Yuan of The Wall Street Journal – took a hard look at technology reporting in China.

Li warned against succumbing to the hype in China. “We are very sceptical,”  she said of the tech media in the Mainland. However, she said Chinese companies had undoubted strengths. “The Chinese
are good at monetisation of live-streaming”. Osawa talked about the changing balance of funding. “China is a source of capital for Silicon Valley,” he noted.

The closing panel – “Covering China” – looked at the Mainland as a whole. Jamil Anderlini, Asia editor of the Financial Times, talked about the work he put in to gain the trust of government authorities and other contacts. “But there is no negotiating, you tell them you’re going to commit journalism to the best of your abilities.”

The correspondents discussed the issue that their work could put their contacts in danger of arrest or worse. “My stories have been used as evidence of state subversion,” Anderlini warned.

One aspect of the difficulties in working in the Mainland is the reluctance or refusal of government agencies to respond to questions or give out basic information requested by journalists. However, noted Keith Richburg, a former correspondent for The Washington Post, it was important to attempt to get the government’s side. Erika Kinetz, Shanghai correspondent for The Associated Press, said it was important to cultivate proactive officials. “There are officials in their 40s and 50s who are more open-minded,” she said. “There is dissent within departments.”

Freelancing and You - (right to left) Kate Whitehead, Freelance Journalist; Vaudine England, Freelance Writer; Mark Jones, Editorial Director, Cedar Hong Kong; Zach Coleman, Deputy Editor, Nikkei Asian Review; and Moderator, Nan-Hie In, Freelance Journalist. Photo: Asiapix Freelancing and You – (right to left) Kate Whitehead, Freelance Journalist; Vaudine England, Freelance Writer; Mark Jones, Editorial Director, Cedar Hong Kong; Zach Coleman, Deputy Editor, Nikkei Asian Review; and Moderator, Nan-Hie In, Freelance Journalist. Photo: Asiapix

Even if there was no direct response, official views could be found on ministry and city government websites, Richburg said. However, Paul Mozur of The New York Times noted that official information should be checked. “There are many lies and things that are misconstrued in state media.”

Panellists took issue with one questioner’s suggestion that China’s system of a politically restrictive surveillance state combined with efficient stewardship of the economy could become the global template. “We can have this debate here [in Hong Kong] but we couldn’t in Shanghai or Beijing,” said Anderlini. “Freedom of speech and expression of ideas does not exist in China.”

With that, attendees gathered downstairs for refreshments and considered the day’s proceedings. “I like the idea of the profession’s self-reflection,” said Hannamina Tanninen, the Helsinki correspondent for the business publication, Kauppaleht.

Life after the Hong Kong Handover: Hopes, fears and disappointment underline FCC debate

Photo: Asiapix

Shortly before the 1997 handover, Fortune magazine brazenly predicted “The Death of Hong Kong”: the dark hand of Beijing was poised to send capital, businesses and expatriates fleeing as the People’s Liberation Army strolled the streets.

Twenty years after the transfer of sovereignty, the expectations and reality of the handover are again in the spotlight. Aspirations, assumptions and wild prophecies that flew off the editorial pages in 1997 have been put to the test.

It wasn’t just Fortune magazine that missed the mark. Other news sources said Hong Kong would change China; that ‘One country, two systems’ would ensure Hong Kong’s autonomy; and Hong Kong people don’t care about politics. There were also themes that emerged that the media never anticipated. Growing patriotism. A new generation of democracy activists. The ‘mainland-isation’ of Hong Kong.

At a recent FCC panel event, “Looking back at the Hong Kong handover coverage 20 years on’’, panelist Keith Richburg, director of Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre, conceded, “there are a lot of myths that have been shattered over the last 20 years.’’ At the time of the handover, Richburg was bureau chief for Hong Kong and Southeast Asia at the Washington Post.

One of the more popular themes at the time in the Post was how Hong Kong would spread liberalisation and democracy across the border. “Hong Kong was going to change China more than China was going to change Hong Kong,’’ Richburg recalled. “The word they were using at the time was convergence.”

Steve Vines, who in 1997 was a correspondent with Britain’s Independent newspaper, referred to an “era of immense optimism,’’ although admitting at that time his publication was sceptical. British readers were more interested in the end of Colonialism than the possibility of reform within the Communist Party.

One development which seemed to eclipse the foreign media at the time, he noted, was the growing sense of political awareness. The events of Tianamen were still relatively fresh in people’s minds. A large immigrant society was forming political views. A host of civic organisations was growing. “That was missing in the coverage,’’ he said.

The mainland-isation of Hong Kong is something I never anticipated.

It is an opinion shared by the new generation of journalists in Hong Kong. Karen Cheung, a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, believes a fixation on how Hong Kong could change China was not unreasonable, but lingered too long. “Perhaps we wished things could be a bit more aggressive, going in the right direction, rather than hanging on to the hope that Hong Kong was going to change China.’’ Cheung was four years old at the time of the handover.

An affront to Hong Kong’s autonomy was the trigger that shifted this focus, according to Adam White, a freelance journalist who was almost 10 at the time of the handover. “I remember telling people Hong Kong was a testing ground for democracy in China,’’ Adam White recalls. “But when people started asking me if anything had changed, I always gave a standard response: ‘not really.’ The flag’s a different colour, but that’s all really.’’

The controversy over Article 23 legislation changed this perception, he explains. “Article 23 was a sea change in the way Hong Kong sees itself. It was the first time I realised or thought about the potential impact [of Beijing on Hong Kong affairs] and realised there was a large proportion of the city that wasn’t happy.’’

The idea that Hong Kong people don’t care about politics was another myth debunked, according to Richburg. “The idea that this was not a political city was something that was shattered.’’ Vines disagrees: “There was more politics going on than most of us reported,’’ he said, pointing out that political confrontation today is less than it was 50 years ago.

My view is that they are on the wrong side of history. This is what worries me.

Dominic Ziegler of The Economist – who also covered Hong Kong for that publication during the handover – stressed that the general political balance has not shifted post-97. Those fighting for a more democratic approach are still up against the entrenched establishment. However, Ziegler continued, one thing that has changed is the growth of Hong Kong patriotism. “I don’t think Beijing understands Hong Kong’s people’s sense of their own identity,” a problem Beijing is going to continue to have.

Vines agreed, citing an ‘enormous swell’ of goodwill and patriotic fervour  around 1997. “I remember on the night of the handover, going to the border and people standing in the pouring rain cheering the PLA coming in,’’ he said. “Now you have to mobilise them, give them meal tickets. They pissed away an enormous swell of patriotic pride.”

Another unforeseen trend has been the growth of the Mainland population in Hong Kong. “The mainland-isation of Hong Kong is something I never anticipated,’’ Richburg said. This presence has also grown within the Liaison Office and Beijing’s activities in Hong Kong, according to Ziegler. “They now run deep. Not just in politics but in society.’’

Vines likewise referred to a window of opportunity that probably closed within five years of the handover “when we could talk to the leftist camp. Even China officials were quite chatty.’’ He believes “practically all of that has been switched off.’’ Ziegler laments the loss of access to government and mainland officials. “We had all the intimacy of a small community government…and we could go from top to bottom in a day.” At the same time, he notes, journalists were also dealing with weighty issues about a return to authoritarian power.

Jeff Pao, China editor at Asia Times, believes the Liaison Office makes its opinions known nevertheless. Pao, who was at university at the time of the handover, describes the Liaison Office as being active in the local media. “The Liaison Office will make contact directly with some local media and tell them their stance. It’s not illegal. It’s not improper. But it’s something journalists need to consider more.’’ In general, he notes, the closer the publication is to government, the greater access they get. “If you are a friend of the government officials, you will get a lot of information,’’ he said.

As for the future, the next 20 years in Hong Kong will inevitably be about China, according to the panel. “Will Hong Kong suffer more under powerful, arrogant but comfortable China leaders in power, or more from a Chinese leadership that feels deeply insecure? I think the latter,’’ said Ziegler.

This was echoed by Steve Vines. “My view is that they are on the wrong side of history. This is what worries me. I think if something terrible happens in China the vulnerable parts will be the bits around the periphery. Hong Kong is around the periphery.” Keith Richburg likewise does not anticipate China loosening its grip. “We just keep hoping, hoping against hope, one day we will get a new generation of leaders who will change things.”

For the current generation of journalists, the next 20 years provides a unique story. “I think a lot of people in my generation have this feeling that we are counting down in a way,’’ says Cheung. The promises made by the Western world in 1997 seem a distant dream, international support today is lacking. “And we’re almost at the half-way mark.” Cheung ended by saying, “As a journalist, it’s a very exciting time. Because of all the uncertainty, all the political conflict. It’s a very special time to be documenting our history.’’

Hong Kong Handover 20 years on: Mixed mood as city marked anniversary

The Club marked the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China with an evocative display of images curated by the Wall Committee, rounded off with a video display of the SCMP’s signature images of the past 20 years and a gathering of members and visiting media on the night that reflected a bittersweet occasion for some, no doubt matched by others as a moment of patriotic pride.

This mixed mood within 2 Lower Albert Road mirrored that of Hong Kong’s millions of residents as the anniversary encouraged the contemplation of the past two decades and the prospects for the now less than 30 years to come. If the past is said to be another country, then the future, at least in Hong Kong’s context, looks increasingly like another system.

For the Club’s members, but notably those remaining correspondents and journalists who had covered the events of 1997, the anniversary brought forth – as anniversaries are meant to do – old ‘war stories’ and shared camaraderie. For those new to Hong Kong and the Club it was a good excuse to celebrate and share those memories, as well as look towards Hong Kong’s future.

It was good to see a number of old friends returning for the occasion, others no longer with us remembered and the company of new friends enjoyed.

July/Aug 2017

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