Members Area Logout

In case you missed it: The FCC’s 3rd Journalism Conference – at a glance

By Enda Curran, Conference Convenor, Sue Brattle and Morgan M. Davis

This year’s journalism conference brought together some of the region’s leading correspondents and editors with a deliberate emphasis on gender diversity and a push to involve a broader sweep of news organisations.

Illustration by Avon Buddenbrock. Illustration by Avon Buddenbrock.

Speakers tackled key issues facing our industry from challenges for female journalists and how to avoid stereotypical reporting to dealing with authoritarian regimes.

A highlight was the keynote speakers Jean Lee and Maria Ressa, who addressed the conference via Skype. Both spoke with authority on North Korea and the Philippines and provided expert context and content.

Other panels included how to write a book, shoot video, deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, conduct investigative reporting, fight fake news and we had a rare gathering of some of Asia’s top editors on one panel.

Above all the event was a gathering of the FCC community in Hong Kong and beyond, of journalists and those who value the industry in these challenging times.

We’ll never claim it was a perfect event but the FCC remains committed to hosting the biggest speakers on the biggest issues in journalism and has already begun to plan for next year’s conference. We sincerely appreciated the support of the very large crowd on the day.

Here are short summaries of each of the day’s panels:

Meet the Editors

In sharp contrast to the panel on women in journalism, the “Meet the Editors” panel was dominated by white men, all wearing white shirts and blue jackets, joined by a single female editor, Gillian Wong, Greater China head for Associated Press. That lack of diversity ended up being much of the panel’s focus.

“It’s uncomfortable to be one of five guys in blue jackets up here,” said Kevin Krolicki, Asia Editor at Reuters. The editors agreed that diversity in hiring needs to encompass broader skills and backgrounds, be it gender or socioeconomic, to better round out reporting teams. “The more nationalism is rising in the world, the more we need diversity in the newsroom,” said Philippe Massonnet, Asia-Pacific director of Agence France Presse.

But as the panel turned to audience questions, the conversation became more pointed. While the editors were quick to say they’re all looking for the most driven, creative hires in the industry, there were very few tangibles given as to how diversity is being encouraged. Audience members expressed disappointment in what seemed to be flippant responses about the ability of anyone with a passion and skill to report and write to be hired as journalists, regardless of their background.

As each editor listed off the numbers or anecdotal evidence of gender gaps at their publications, it was clear that nearly every newsroom was lacking women in leadership positions. AFP was a rare exception, as Massonnet highlighted the company’s policy of having an even gender split on its board, as well as the nearly equal number of women running AFP bureaux globally.

“There should be more flexibility built into newsrooms,” acknowledged Wong. “It’s not always the loudest person in the room that has the best ideas.”

Gillian Wong, Associated Press; Philippe Massonnet, AFP; Kevin Krolicki, Reuters; Drew Dowell, The Wall Street Journal; Otis Bilodeau, Bloomberg News; Jamil Anderlini, Financial Times; moderator Natasha Khan, The Wall Street Journal Gillian Wong, Associated Press; Philippe Massonnet, AFP; Kevin Krolicki, Reuters; Drew Dowell, The Wall Street Journal; Otis Bilodeau, Bloomberg News; Jamil Anderlini, Financial Times; moderator Natasha Khan, The Wall Street Journal

Investigative Reporting

Investigative reporting comes in many shapes and sizes, as the panelists on the investigative panel confirmed. For some reporters it’s a deep dive into data and number crunching. For others it’s an accumulation of hours of personal conversations. But for both, reporters need the time and backing of their publications to submerge themselves in the depths of a story.

For reporters hoping to do their own investigative reporting, organisation is key, the panelists agreed. Stories come from conversations, names in documents, and data points that may have appeared months or weeks back.

Like other sensitive topics, investigative pieces may be targeted by local officials as a threat. “It always comes in the form of a whisper, what you can and can’t do,” said Selina Cheng, reporter at HK01. Cheng said the HK01 team had been told to back off of stories, or even had articles deleted from the website without notice. In that vein, Wenxin Fan, a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, assumes that phones are tapped when he coordinates for an article. Likewise, encryption is essential for sending messages and emails.

Shooting Video: Creating an Image-led Story under Pressure

How do you shoot something you’re not supposed to? Paolo Bosonin, Head of Video Apac for The Wall Street Journal, said: “You need to prepare as much as possible beforehand.” Filming in Xinjiang, China, and North Korea last year, he said: “In North Korea you don’t have freedom of movement, you go by their rules and put yourself in someone else’s hands. Do you pretend you’re in normal conditions? We made video and also ran a piece with no audio and almost no editing.”

Rebecca Wright, Field Producer, CNN International, said: “A lot of the challenges are logistical – make sure everyone is fed, you’ve got petrol, equipment etc. But how do you show a plane that is missing? The Grenfell Tower fire in London was easier; you film the tower, although it was hard having weeping relatives around us. Technology has made things easier; you can film on your iPhone and go live on Skype.” Paolo agreed: “Ten years ago we worked with 12 cameras in trucks. Things have moved on quickly.”

There are less restraints in digital, but how do you illustrate stories about crypto-currencies, which get spikes in reading figures?

How about pressures of making a subject attractive visually or filling in time waiting for something to happen?

Pamela Ambler, Digital Reporter for Forbes, said: “You need a plan ahead of time if you’re waiting for a court verdict to come in. There are less restraints in digital, but how do you illustrate stories about crypto-currencies, which get spikes in reading figures?”

Digital offers exciting possibilities, said Mat Booth, Head of Video at the South China Morning Post. “It is a myth that people’s attention spans are so short. It is nice to let the story run up to 8, 9, 10 minutes. You can make an emotional connection more obviously than with a text article.”

From left, Paolo Bosonin, Mat Booth, Pamela Ambler, Yvonne Man, Rebecca Wright From left, Paolo Bosonin, Mat Booth, Pamela Ambler, Yvonne Man, Rebecca Wright

Keynote Speaker – A conversation with Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler

Via video link, Maria opened her talk with a short film of her journalists talking about the many ways they had been threatened with death and rape because of their work for Rappler in the Philippines. “We combine investigative journalism with technology to build communities for action,” she said. Maria was targeted by President Duterte in his State of the Nation speech in July 2017. “The government doesn’t like us because we are truly independent. We accepted the mission of journalism. So we ask the difficult questions. Duterte was the first president to be elected using social media; after his election in May 2016, that became weaponised. If people questioned killings on Facebook, they got clobbered; the attacks were very personal. By October 2016, we exposed these attacks on social media. After that we got 90 hate messages per hour.”

Power has moved onto the platforms, journalists are no longer the gatekeepers.

In a social media-obsessed country where the median age is 23, Rappler is more popular than most traditional news outlets. In March this year, Duterte banned its journalists from the presidential palace in Manila. Next he banned them from any event outside the palace. Maria said: “Is he afraid of questions? I think it is alarming. Trump as leader of the U.S. has helped people who want to quash the media.”

“Power has moved onto the platforms, journalists are no longer the gatekeepers,” Maria said in answer to a question from Eric Wishart about Press freedom in Southeast Asia.

Maria Ressa, Rappler Maria Ressa, Rappler

Reporting Under Authoritarian Regimes

The panel highlighted the struggles of journalists reporting in countries where they, their colleagues and their sources face daily threats.

Expatriate journalists often find roadblocks to getting into an authoritarian-led country in the first place, as journalist visas are used as a tool to keep people out. But local journalists and sources face regular threats to the lives of their families, as well as themselves. “The real threat of getting sources arrested is something we think about every day,” said Emily Rauhala, China Correspondent at the Washington Post. Rauhala said that people who used to speak with her now won’t answer her calls. She said that she has to ask herself if a story is worth sending someone to jail.

Ben Bland, South China Correspondent at the Financial Times, spoke about his work in Vietnam, where he was required to have a local translator. The local assistants were required to report their work to the local police. As a reporter, such relationships take a lot of internal debates and negotiations, realising what local help should or should not be included on. At the same time, foreign journalists need to respect the local people they work with, and acknowledge that they are also doing work they are passionate about, regardless of the risks, the panelists said.

Megha Rajagopalan, China Bureau Chief & Asia Correspondent, Buzzfeed News; and Emily Rauhala, China Correspondent, The Washington Post Megha Rajagopalan, China Bureau Chief & Asia Correspondent, Buzzfeed News; and Emily Rauhala, China Correspondent, The Washington Post

Dealing with PTSD

Moderator Eric Wishart, AFP Global News Management, said post-traumatic stress disorder is a big deal among people dealing with graphic photographs, for example, going through a beheading frame by frame.

Patrick Baz, AFP photographer, suffered PTSD after 30 years of “photographing death”. “Now I want to photograph life and beauty,” he said in a video in which he described vividly the day his feet “turned to concrete” and he sat on his sofa for eight hours, unable to move.

Dr Tess Browne, a Clinical Psychologist specializing in trauma, said: “PTSD doesn’t have to be from a firsthand experience. Symptoms include nightmares, intrusive memories, flashbacks, avoiding anything that reminds a person of their experience, avoiding anything that led up to the trauma, a change in the way of thinking, poor sleep, no concentration, becoming more irritable or aggressive…”

Douglas Schorzman, Deputy Asia Editor at The New York Times, said: “After 9/11, then war in Afghanistan and Syria, we started to take PTSD seriously. Reporters now have to build a schedule before going to a problem area. They confront questions such as their risk of being kidnapped, will they see bodies, and so on. They must check in at a certain time; this is important because a first sign of stress can be a reporter missing this. The Rohingya camps are a one-stop shop for PTSD, the most senior reporters have come back shaken to the core. Editors have to be available to reporters in the field, and they must listen to them. You can make an outrageous situation seem normal enough that they can cope, just by talking to them. You have to make time.”

Freelancers must not go into areas that AFP, Reuters etc don’t send their staff into, and a coalition of media has stopped taking their copy.

Wishart described the old macho culture of reporters “having a few drinks” to cloak their stress, and Douglas said: “Reporters are as afraid of editors as bullets.”

However, Dr Browne said there are effective talking therapies available, and hostile environment training has been proven to protect people in the field from feeling helpless.

Wishart added: “Freelancers must not go into areas that AFP, Reuters etc don’t send their staff into, and a coalition of media has stopped taking their copy.”

As to interviewing someone for a story who has gone through a trauma, Dr Browne’s advice was: “Get detail, but not too much; and don’t insist on knowing how someone thinks or feels. Stick to the facts.”

From left, Dr Tess Browne, Eric Wishart, Douglas Schorzman From left, Dr Tess Browne, Eric Wishart, Douglas Schorzman

Women in Journalism

The only female dominated panel of the day, “Women in Journalism,” agreed experiences are varied, but sexism is very real. “In India, I’ve realised they don’t see journalists, they just see women,” said Agnès Bun, video coordinator for South Asia at AFP. In addition to the patronising comments of people doubting Bun’s abilities to carry her own equipment, Bun shared horror stories of being sexualized and groped while doing her job. “To me this is more traumatic than covering the war in Ukraine,” she said.

While women in the field face blatant examples of gender disparity, the women in the newsroom face a more subtle fight against the glass ceiling. In recent years there have been huge changes, with more women working in journalism in Asia and leading bureaus. But the gaps in newsrooms are often at the top, where white men still dominate. “You need people to identify women, and you need women willing to step up and take those positions,” said Serena Ng, Asia finance editor at The Wall Street Journal.

“Women need to aspire to do bigger things, better things,” agreed Anne Marie Roantree, Hong Kong bureau chief for Reuters.

“Women don’t aspire to senior positions and they need to.” The next steps for the industry will need to come from all fronts, as both men and women need to encourage women at all stages of their career.

From left, Agnès Bun, Jodi Schneider, Ann Marie Roantree From left, Agnès Bun, Jodi Schneider, Ann Marie Roantree

How to Write a Book

Three authors, all journalists, and one publisher made up the panel, with FCC President Florence de Changy kicking off with this observation from her experience of writing Flight MH370 Did Not Disappear: “A book is not just a series of chapters, it has to build. It is easy to keep people’s attention for a short story, but long formats are a real challenge.”

Ways of writing varied, from Victor Mallet (River of Life, River of Death: The Ganges and India’s Future) who likes an early-morning start to Tripti Lahiri (Maid in India) who said: “I had to trick myself into writing most days. I’d tell myself I would write for 5 minutes, then hours would pass.”

People don’t buy local fiction writers. I want the author to have a platform for promotional work. And don’t be shy about what you have written.

On research, Lahiri said: “People didn’t know what my role was in the villages I needed to visit. Things that you don’t expect will happen.” Mallet, on the other hand, said: “People in India are fantastically helpful and happy to talk. But, it was difficult to get data, and often it was made up.” De Changy caught a once-a-week ferry to get to an atoll in the Maldives where people said they saw Flight MH370 flying low before it disappeared. “I closed that story line off, but research was so complicated. It was hard work.”

Can you make money from writing a book? Lahiri: “I didn’t expect to make money but my book has been a worthwhile project. Very rewarding.” Mallet: “Perhaps 1% makes money, but it costs me money because I fly to book fairs and so on.” De Changy: “A typical contract gives the author 8-10% of the sales price, so it all becomes about numbers. Compared with freelance money, it’s not bad.”

The last word goes to publisher Pete Spurrier of Blacksmith Books, Hong Kong: “People don’t buy local fiction writers. I want the author to have a platform for promotional work. And don’t be shy about what you have written.”

Dateline Pyongyang, Insights & Anecdotes from 10 years of Reporting in North Korea

Jean H Lee described her almost 10 years as the Associated Press bureau chief for the Korean Peninsula as “the best assignment in the world” via video link from Italy, where it was 3.30am. She opened the Pyongyang bureau for AP and said “it takes many, many trips to North Korea and to be on the ground for a long time to see North Korea as a whole”.

“I had to learn to protect myself in an environment where I was under surveillance. I suffered a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. In the West we have no idea what it is like to work under duress and where you may be accused of espionage at any moment.” Lee, a second-generation Korean-American, said: “A deep hatred of America comes with the ideology of the country. Living day in, day out with my North Korean colleagues has helped me to see past the propaganda. North Korea is still actively engaged in war; its outlook is that they are still at war with the United States.”

I put my journalism above patriotism, and North Koreans can never do that.

South and North Korea have been under threat of war for decades, and although South Korea is not the target of the North’s missile testing, it is in harm’s way. “But journalism is a business and the story of North Korea as a threat plays well.”

She went on: “One of my objectives in opening the Pyongyang bureau was to be on the ground without relying on the government’s invitation. And where I pick and choose the people I interview. We are not seeing much coverage outside that which is controlled by the government.”

Of the future, Lee said: “I put my journalism above patriotism, and North Koreans can never do that. The younger South Korean generation doesn’t want unification. They don’t accept having to pay for unification. They’ve been separated for 70 years so this becomes harder and harder.”

Jean H Lee Jean H Lee

Confronting Stereotypes

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN International anchor, opened the panel with this observation: “We have to be really careful about the stories that we chose to put on air because of the power of journalism. It’s a cliché, but it is true.” Stereotypes discussed ranged from the political to gender, race, age, social issues and visual triggers.

Kris Cheng, a reporter with Hong Kong Free Press, said: “People in Hong Kong feel we have too much Joshua [Wong, student activist]. Can you name one of the 13 New Territories’ land protestors? We need to get to what common people are thinking, rather than just what the leaders are thinking. Caged homes are an issue but they are an extreme case; brownfield lands once used for industry that could be used for housing is an ignored issue. But of course, caged homes are photogenic.”

The only way not to be criticised is not to report anything.

So when issues are important but not appealing, how do we illustrate them?

Elaine To, photo editor at Bloomberg News, said: “This year, for the National People’s Congress in China, we used a male and a female photographer. We need to complement rather than just illustrate what the words are saying.”

Stereotyping attracts criticism, and Zheping Huang, a reporter with Quartz, said: “Working as a Chinese-speaking reporter on a Western publication, I get criticism in both languages.” To which Austin Ramzy of The New York Times retorted: “The only way not to be criticised is not to report anything.”

So how to achieve balanced journalism? Elaine To said: “I struggle to find women photographers in Hong Kong. I am not comfortable with balancing the numbers for the sake of it, and there is a lot of work to be done.”

Austin Ramzy and Zheping Huang confront stereotypes Austin Ramzy and Zheping Huang confront stereotypes

Fighting Fake News in Asia

“Fake news” is a phrase we hear all too often, but actual “fake news” exists and it is a threat to the integrity of journalism, as well as the people it targets. “[Fake news] gives an excuse to the government to tamp down on information flow,” said Masato Kajimoto, assistant professor at the journalism and media studies centre at the University of Hong Kong.

The challenge of fake news isn’t new, but the digitalisation of news has changed things. Programs like Photoshop can quickly alter images, others can even change videos to put new words in people’s mouths. But there’s no silver bullet to stopping fake news, the panelists agreed. The public needs a combination of media literacy, third party fact checking and technology to spot the lies.

As professionals we cannot avoid our own responsibility.

“People already don’t trust journalists,” said Iain Martin, Asia Pacific editor at Storyful. Consumers assume that journalists have agendas, and despite proof otherwise will put their faith in the wrong places. Part of the issue facing journalism is the lack of definition of “real media”, argued Cedric Alviani, East Asia representative of Reporters Without Borders.

Without an international standard for the industry, it’s easier for governments to challenge media companies and publications. Having an industry whitelist of acceptable and trustworthy media sources can go a long way. “As professionals we cannot avoid our own responsibility,” said Alviani.

From left, Masato Kajimoto, University of Hong Kong; moderator Eric Wishart, AFP; George Chen, Facebook’s Head of Public Policy, Hong Kong & Taiwan; and Cedric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders. From left, Masato Kajimoto, University of Hong Kong; moderator Eric Wishart, AFP; George Chen, Facebook’s Head of Public Policy, Hong Kong & Taiwan; and Cedric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders.

Finding the right thing to say is never easy…

Journalist Kevin Sinclair MBE, RTHK’s Man of the Year 2007, died 10 years ago. The anniversary prompted a friend of his to reflect on how we struggle to know what to say to someone as they near the end of their life. By Robby Nimmo.

Kevin Sinclair, journalist and raconteur, is fondly remembered by Robby Nimmo. Kevin Sinclair, journalist and raconteur, is fondly remembered by Robby Nimmo.

Kevin Sinclair, journalist and raconteur, battled cancer for more than 30 years. I first came across him in 1994 when we met as work colleagues, so the fight raged for longer than I knew him. Kevin was somewhat curt. He had the sort of disdain that you need to be really skilled at to pull off. He suffered fools the way the Queen may endure a boy-band concert.

Perhaps one of the reasons behind his occasional short fuse was that he had a tracheotomy more than 30 years before his final illness. Every sentence was uttered through a missing voice-box. Speaking at all was a physical strain. I can imagine how quickly this sort of affront to one’s lifestyle must pare entire paragraphs down to witty, pithy encapsulations.

Kevin’s love for his intelligent and incredible wife, Kit, and his family, together with a powerful dose of pragmatism and determination gave him the strength of 12 All Black teams.

It was through his lobbying and his belief in my ability to string a few words together that I achieved my first by-line in The
South China Morning Post.

Kevin Sinclair's memoir, Tell Me A Story. Kevin Sinclair’s memoir, Tell Me A Story.

This cleverly cussing Kiwi was a local at my local. In fact, he was a shareholder in it, and always surrounded by his cohorts in the bar. I remember one night when we were discussing a fellow journo mate. He penned me a quick note on the back of an envelope (the easiest way for him to speak at times was to write): “I must be drunk, she’s looking alright tonight.” I shot back at him, “I was thinking the same thing. Maybe I am too?” As she headed over to challenge our laughter, which she knew was jokingly at her expense, he picked up the note…and ate it.

If only eating one’s words were always so easy. But what do you do when someone is really ill? What do you say? How do you conduct yourself? As the number of people with cancer increases and we are all touched by their circumstances, how come we’ve still not figured out what to do or what to say? Some people with cancer say the worst thing for them is when people leave them alone and they end up feeling lonely, shunned and isolated. Others say they can’t stand everyone in their faces all the time. No matter how well-meaning people may be, they just want to close ranks and be with their closest family members.

There is no right or wrong, but I confess; I’m completely clueless on every occasion.

Kevin liked books, and so do I, but I’ve still not received any real enlightenment from them on this subject. As my search for that perfect book continues, I’m sure Kevin would agree with James Joyce’s favourite Groucho Marx quote: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

* A note from Kevin’s widow, Kit Sinclair: Kevin’s memoirs, Tell me a Story, were launched at the FCC two days before he died in December 2007. Most of his mates were there to see him off as they knew he was not long for this world! The book is available from [email protected] HKD220 (inc postage in Hong Kong). All proceeds to HK Cancer Foundation.

Robby Nimmo has freelanced for over 10 years for SCMP, as well as various other publications in the region. She was formerly an award-winning advertising writer and creative group head. She has a passion for writing about people, humour and the left field – often off the field – in sport.


Human Rights Press Awards: Bringing light to the darkest of stories

The Human Rights Press Awards are run by the FCC, Amnesty International Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Journalists Association. The 22nd annual awards attracted a record 414 entries and the awards ceremony was held at the Club on May 12. Reporting by Sue Brattle & Vicky Kung.

Winning lineup: Reporters and photographers who won awards, and the judges who reviewed their work Winning lineup: Reporters and photographers who won awards, and the judges who reviewed their work.

The Correspondent spoke to six winners about their work and what winning a Human Rights Press Award means to them:

Text & Print – Spot News (English)

Sam Jahan, a correspondent at Agence France Presse, is a member of the team that won for Unwanted in Myanmar, Unwelcome in Bangladesh:

“Every recognition is pleasant. I’m feeling simultaneously excited and emotional. I own the Rohingya crisis as a reporter following my years of intensified work on it. I was ill when violence erupted in Rakhine but I knew it was my call. I can’t thank my wife Jasmin and friend Emrul enough for watching my back in the danger zone. I went through different shades of emotions, saw deaths and signs of inhumane brutality. I truly want to believe that my works have brought at least some meaningful changes to the lives of the unfortunate and stateless human beings.”

Winner: Staring at death by Indranil Mukherjee Winner: Staring at death by Indranil Mukherjee.

Text & Print, Commentary (English)

Julia Wallace, a freelancer, won for her piece Cambodia’s Crackdown: What happens when an autocrat shutters a newspaper.

“Often, discussions of press freedom focus on journalists and their travails, but far more important are our sources. One of the most striking things about working in Cambodia is how willing people are to talk to the media and tell their stories. So far this still exists to an almost amazing extent, but the ongoing crackdown on political dissent and free expression has shown no signs of abating, and it’s unclear whether the gains of the past 25 years will be partially preserved or lost forever. For this reason, I’m very grateful for the Human Rights Press Awards for helping give this story wider exposure.”

Multimedia (English)

Clément Bürge, a member of the Wall Street Journal team that won for Twelve Days in Xinjiang: How China’s surveillance state overwhelms daily life:

“We wanted to see what it was like to live in a place where surveillance equipment was being widely deployed. What we discovered was so much more extensive than we’d imagined. Facial scanners and phone scanners were everywhere. The government and Chinese artificial-intelligence companies have turned the region into a laboratory. This award is special. Telling a strong story using photos, video and text is technically challenging, even more when you’re navigating armies of police and security cameras. We’ve heard the surveillance system continues to expand and be refined, and that the number of Uighurs being sent to so-called re-education camps has exploded. We’ve also heard the Chinese government is making it even harder for foreign media to work in Xinjiang since our story was published.”

Radio & Audio (Chinese)
Emily Chan Miu-ling of RTHK, a Hong Kong radio journalist based in Beijing, won for
Mainland to tighten grip on Protestant churches:

“I arrived one full hour before my interview with an elder of a family church in Beijing,” said Chan. “And the entrance was already surrounded by more than a dozen policemen, together with undercover agents and two police cars. I really didn’t expect this level of security.” Chan intends to continue reporting from mainland China.“Hong Kong journalists have less visa and reporting restrictions compared to our international and mainland counterparts,” she said. “If we step back when the authorities crack down on press freedom, who else can cover human rights issues on mainland China? I am really grateful that we have the Human Rights Press Awards to recognise what journalists are doing on the frontline. It encourages us and it keeps us going.”

Text & Print – Features (Chinese)
Olivia Cheng Tsz-yu, a
Ming Pao Weekly reporter, won for The invisible wall: Hong Kong’s refugees.

Cheng first came into contact with an immigration detainee – Mr. K – while working on a news assignment about refugees and torture claimants in Hong Kong. “There were two things I remember. First was Mr. K’s expression. He spoke with such intensity of emotion that I could see the blood vessels in his eyes. Second was how detainees started bellowing when they saw our drone hovering above the windows of their detention centre. They desperately want people from the outside to notice them.” She thanked the Human Rights Press Awards for giving her a pat on the back. “We have to step on other people’s suffering to give light to these stories. Hong Kong needs to look beyond people’s complexion to perceive their wounds.”

Text & Print – Spot News (Chinese)

Annie Zhang Jieping, Initium Media’s former editor-in-chief, won for Exclusive: Liu Xiabo’s final gift to wife Liu Xia – his last manuscript fully revealed.

“My feelings were mixed when I learnt that I was given the Human Rights Press Award,” said Annie Zhang, who broke the story about the last handwritten letter that Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo wrote to his wife Liu Xia on his deathbed.“I was just a middleman. This friend of Liu Xiaobo called me soon after Liu passed away and told me the full story to that letter.” What touched Zhang most about the letter was that Liu wrote it in his capacity of a “poet”, not a political figure. “It’s full of love. The letter was filled with emotions for a beloved.” Zhang thinks the letter reinstated Liu as a human. “It makes me angry that authorities would reduce him to mere flesh and bones. He’s not just a body.”

22nd Human Rights Press Awards winners

Text & Print – Spot News (English)


Unwanted in Myanmar, unwelcome in Bangladesh

Sam Jahan, Nick Perry, Redwan Ahmed and Claire Cozens of AFP


Chinese billionaire abducted from Hong Kong

Ben Bland, Jamil Anderlini, Gloria Cheung and Lucy Hornby of Financial Times

Blood flowed in the streets: Refugees from one Rohingya hamlet recount days of horror


Everyone has parents but us

Annie Gowen of The Washington Post

Text & Print – Features (English)


This is what a 21st century surveillance state looks like

Megha Rajagopalan of BuzzFeed News


China’s Uighurs

Gerry Shih of The Associated Press

Myanmar’s army is tormenting Muslims with a brutal rape campaign

Patrick Winn and Muktadir Rashid of Public Radio International

Text & Print – Commentary (English)


Cambodia’s Crackdown: What happens when an  autocrat shutters a newspaper

Julia Wallace of The Nation


A deepening crisis The value of a life

Repatriation not enough

Oliver Slow and Thomas Kean of Frontier Myanmar

Thailand’s monarchy: where does love end and dread begin?

Michael Peel of Financial Times

Multimedia (English)


Twelve Days in Xinjiang: How China’s surveillance state overwhelms daily life

Josh Chin, Clément Bürge and Giulia Marchi of The Wall Street Journal


Confiscation crusaders try to save Philippine paradise

Karl Malakunas of AFP

Television & Video (English)


Murder on campus

Secunder Kermani of BBC News, “Our World”


101 East: The Rohingya exodus

Drew Ambrose of Al Jazeera English

The Kill List

Aurora Almendral and Ed Ou of NBC Left Field

Radio & Audio (English)


How the United Nations in Myanmar failed the Rohingya

Jonah Fisher of BBC News

Photography – Spot News


Staring at Death

Indranil Mukherjee of AFP


Inside and outside the police car

Kyle Lam of HK01

Photography – Features


Rohingya Crisis

Tomas Munita of The New York Times


Mining in Myanmar

Adam Dean of TIME Magazine

Exchange health for economic miracle: Story of Samsung workers with cancer
Li Chak Tung of HK01

Tertiary – Text (English)


Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Fiona Chan, Angela Siu, Kristy Tong, Doris Yu, Crystal Wu, Elaine Ng, Marilyn Ma, Grace Liyang and Chloe Kwan of Varsity, CUHK

Text & Print – Spot News (Chinese)

Winner: Exclusive: Liu Xiaobo’s final gift to wife Liu Xia – his last manuscript fully revealed
Annie Zhang of Initium Media

Merit: [HK01 survey] Scholars shocked to find 33% primary school SEN students victims of bullying
Liu Kit Yin of HK01

Merit: Li Wangling speaks out five years after activist Li Wangyang’s death
Lin Ying of Ming Pao

Text & Print – Features (Chinese)

Winner: The invisible wall: Hong Kong’s refugees
Cheng Tsz Yu of Ming Pao Weekly

Merit: Lamentations of the homeless: The people without a place to be
Kim Chan Ping Ting of The News Lens

Merit: Covered wounds: Youth face sexual abuse in resettlement homes
Chien Yung Ta of The Reporter

Text & Print – Commentary (Chinese)

Winner: In the name of national security
To Yiu Ming of Ming Pao

Merit: European Journalist of the Year Can Dündar: A lifelong pursuit for truth
Chinghua Tsai of Opinions@CommonWealth

Merit: Joint checkpoints: How they are done under British and French law
Alvin Lum of CitizenNews

Multimedia (Chinese)

Winner: Legal Records of Civil Disobedience
Ng Yuen Ying of CitizenNews

Merit: Data visualized: The impact of Beijing’s eviction of the ‘low-end population’
Danielle Wang, Victoria Jin and Xu Xiaotong of Initium Media

Merit: One year into the Philippines’ war on drugs
Gary Lo of HK01

Television & Video (Chinese)

Winner: Sunday Report: Liu Xiaobo
Choi Chin Hung, Kris, Chiu Chun Ting and Diana Lin of Television Broadcasts Limited

Merit: The Redress
Wong Wai Yu, Jovy of Hong Kong i-CABLE News, China Desk

Merit:  The investment of sweat and blood
Cheng Sze Sze of Hong Kong Connection, RTHK

Radio & Audio (Chinese)

Winner: Mainland to tighten grip on protestant churches
Emily Chan Miu Ling of RTHK

Merit: Keeping the faith – Xu Zhiyong’s first interview after his release from prison
Lam Hon Shan of RTHK

Merit: “Miss You”— the second anniversary of the 709 incident
Lam Hon Shan of RTHK

Tertiary – Text (Chinese)

Winner: Elegy of the iPhone: Unions and management conspire against workers
He Ji Shu, Ko Chung Lai and Lo Wai Ting of U-Beat Magazine, CUHK

Merit: 28th Anniversary series for the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre
Chong Hiu Tung of CitizenNews

Merit: Popularising teaching in sign language: Let deaf students understand
Mok Wing Tung and Lui Wing Yiu of U-Beat Magazine, CUHK

Tertiary – Radio, Television & Video (Chinese)

Winner: Students stand in solidarity with the workers
Lam Sum Yi, Hui Lee Ha, Chan Tsz Ki and Liu Dicksa Isabelle of U-Beat Magazine, CUHK

Merit: Growing up with homosexual parents
LEE Tsz Ying and Lau Tsz Lam of Broadcast News Network, HKBU

Merit: The plight of the cleaners
Chan On Ki, Lam Oi Yee, Leung Yuk Man, Mak Tsun Ho and Mok Wing Tung of U-Beat Magazine, CUHK

History comes home: Late FCC member Walter Kent bequeaths memorabilia

When longtime FCC member Walter Kent saw a selection of illustrations, cartoons and posters of his long-time friend and FCC combatant the late Arthur Hacker hanging to be sold on the FCC Wall in 2015 he was apoplectic, writes John Batten. Walter repeatedly muttered, “These shouldn’t be sold, they are part of FCC history.” He duly bought some of the items, protecting them from the hands of non-believers and any hopeful speculators of Arthur’s work.

Arthur Hacker’s rendition of the chaos of “zoo night”, the FCC’s weekly Friday drinks night, shows an assortment of raconteurs, bellicose fly-ins and bar-hugger members slowing sliding off their Main Bar stools. Arthur Hacker’s rendition of the chaos of “zoo night”, the FCC’s weekly Friday drinks night, shows an assortment of raconteurs, bellicose fly-ins and bar-hugger members slowing sliding off their Main Bar stools.

After Walter died in 2016, his executors decided his large collection of vintage maps and travel and military posters would be donated to the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, complementing the university library’s map collection and as a memorial to Walter. Walter’s estate donated some of Arthur’s posters to the design collection holdings of the West Kowloon Cultural District’s new M+ Museum.

Two of Arthur Hacker’s graphic designs, previously featured in The Correspondent, will be donated to the FCC. Arthur’s rendition of the chaos of “zoo night”, the FCC’s weekly Friday drinks night, shows an assortment of raconteurs, bellicose fly-ins and bar-hugger members slowing sliding off their Main Bar stools. Walter was rarely one of them: he usually arrived later in the night to more-quietly chat with the (ma)lingerers.

Walter Kent’s Jaeger-LeCoultre clock, a 25th anniversary gift for working at Chase Manhattan Bank. Walter Kent’s Jaeger-LeCoultre clock, a 25th anniversary gift for working at Chase Manhattan Bank.

Unseen by some members, as it is prominently hung above the FCC male urinals, is a film still from the movie version of John le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy, filmed in the club’s former Sutherland House premises with its famous waterfront view. Arthur Hacker’s version may soon feature in the more public areas of the club, although the final position is still being discussed.

As his friends and FCC staff knew, Walter was a stickler for good time-keeping. Appropriately, Walter’s Jaeger-LeCoultre clock, a 25th anniversary gift for working at Chase Manhattan Bank, will be displayed near Walter’s Ice House Street-end Main Bar drinking spot. Unlike Walter, this perpetual time-piece will never require winding-up – nor need anything more liquid than the surrounding atmosphere in which to run. It is a fitting memorial for one of the FCC’s most loyal recent members.

Johnnie To, the quiet giant of Hong Kong cinema

In a sleek grey suit, polished brown loafers and carrying with him all manner of coolness, Hong Kong director Johnnie To Kei-fung cut a calm figure within the mad rush and clamour of the interview room. Here was a man at ease, leaning back into his seat as packs of journalists crowded around, shoving at him lights, recorders, phones and, in one instance, DVD covers of his films.

Hong Kong director Johnnie To Kei-fung Hong Kong director Johnnie To Kei-fung.

To is no stranger to media attention. Over 45 years in the film industry there have been more than 100 films he has either directed or produced. In also establishing Milkyway Image, one of Hong Kong’s most successful independent production companies, To has become a household name, and synonymous with innovation and style.

As To sat calmly answering questions during April’s 20th edition of the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, his humour and composure revealed a man not only humble about his work – and his successes – but also honest about his roots.

“Back when I entered the industry, I was doing it for money. I never thought I would be what I am today,” he said. “Forty or so years later, I am now doing it for the pursuit. Because now I understand movies, so I want to make something that I can be very proud of, that will influence future generations of filmmakers.”

Widely known for his support of young storytellers, To is the driving force behind the Fresh Wave Short Film Festival, which provides grants for aspiring Hong Kong filmmakers so they can create their first movie. Fresh Wave is currently in its 12th year and has supported dozens of young directors, to whom To refers as “the most precious resource”.

“Hong Kong people are good at forward thinking,” To said. “They’re always changing and interacting. Different generations will bring about different people who will create something new.”

To, 63, is known for his ability to insert his distinctive style into a wide variety of genres he’s worked in – from the dark, thrilling triad-themed Election series to his musical comedy Office, he has proven that versatility and individuality can come hand-in-hand. They are qualities that To hopes young filmmakers can pick up.

“I think everyone can make films that have their individual style,” he said. “But it’s how you put your thoughts, your life and your culture into it that makes it different. Don’t try to copy someone else.”

While FEFF relived To’s past – a remastered version of his martial arts action film Throw Down (2004) brought the festival to an end – for some fans, the big question was of course when To planned to release his next film. Or if he planned to shoot Election 3, and bring closure to the multi-award winning and politically-charged epic.

“In my mind I’ve already shot Election 3 several times.” To revealed. “But if I really made it, I may not be allowed back into China.”

To’s comment reflected the fact that local and international films have to navigate mainland regulations and censorship restrictions with caution if they are to make it onto the big screens of the world’s second largest movie market.

When pressed again about his future plans, To didn’t hesitate. It’s all about making more movies. “I hope after turning 65, I’ll let go of a lot of day-to-day operations at Milkyway Image,” he said. “I want to focus more time on being a director.”

Diana Chan is a video journalist based in Hong Kong, working for AFP. Her interests include politics, the environment and film. The FCC sponsored her flight to the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, where Diana took part in the FEFF Campus programme for aspiring journalists.


Book review: How to buy a house, or a love hotel, in Japan

Landed Japan by Christopher Dillon

Landed Japan by Christopher Dillon Landed Japan by Christopher Dillon

Among the real estate agency branches dotted around the Hong Kong neighbourhood where I live, there is one that advertises Japanese properties. Nothing else. And, if one can judge from the number of “Sold” stickers on the properties displayed in the front window, business isn’t bad. And one reason for that could be that the prices shown look eminently reasonable, at least compared with the mad, skyscraper-high ones in Hong Kong.

What’s the reality behind this tempting façade? Are there really bargains to be had in the land of the rising sun, which also happens to be the land of the sinking population, a rising number of whom are into their sunset years?

Anyone interested in taking a plunge, a punt, or at least dipping a toe, in the Japanese property market had best read a just-published book by FCC regular and all-round property guru Chris Dillon. It’s called Landed Japan, and it’s a fresh edition of a book on the same subject that Canadian Chris published in 2010.

But this is much more than a warmed-over update. This time Chris has tapped the expertise and experiences of architects, builders, agents and, crucially, foreigners – including himself – who have successfully bought, built or invested in homes in Japan.

This is not a quickie, how-to book. Its 348 pages delve into every aspect of such investments in every region of Japan – the procedures, problems, and pitfalls as well as the prizes. It’s a regular A-Z on the subject, dealing with everything from asbestos to zoning, in fact.

There’s a great deal of practical advice. For example if you inspect a property in Japan, take along a spirit level so you can check that everything is as level as it should be, a reminder that Japan is chronically earthquake-prone. A marble or ball bearing will help you identify sloping floors.

And it’s not just the physical structures that are sometimes less than level. Belying the country’s arrow-straight image, there are less than honourable practices lurking to beware of in Japan, much as anywhere else.

Christopher Dillon gave tips on real estate ownership at home and abroad. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Christopher Dillon gave tips on real estate ownership at home and abroad. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Inevitably, any study of a country’s real estate market reveals much about its social environment. For example, among the more improbable Japanese investment opportunities that Chris describes there are about 10,000 love hotels “where amorous couples can escape for a few hours of privacy”. We learn about the tempting revenues to be earned from such “well-managed” properties. But anyone interested should hurry. The number of love hotels has fast declined as demand diminishes from “an ageing, less frisky population”.

Chris does not shrink from revealing the complexities of investing in Japanese property. But his fascinating account of his own experience of buying an apartment in a Tokyo suburb shows how manageable it can be. At one point the negotiations over his purchase descended into comedy when the property’s agent said the sitting tenant, a retired civil servant, “had a problem with his waist”. After much circuitous to-ing and fro-ing it transpired the tenant had a severe case of haemorrhoids, which was why he had retired.

Whether the retiree, who is still the sitting tenant, is now sitting more comfortably, Chris doesn’t tell us. But he does say how much he himself is earning from his Japan punt. Want to know how much? Buy the book and find out.

There have already been buyers ahead of you – including from Japan, eloquently testifying to Chris’s expertise and judgment. The Nikkei Real Estate Market Report has licensed six chapters from the book for use on its website, and a large Japanese bank and the Japanese franchisee of a global real estate agency have ordered bulk copies.

By Jonathan Sharp

Landed Japan by Christopher Dillon

ISBN 978-14790-0-6

George has left the kitchen: Executive chef retires after 11 years at FCC

Changes are afoot in the FCC kitchen. After 11 years presiding over his culinary kingdom, George Cheng retired as executive chef of the FCC in mid-May, writes Morgan M. Davis.

George with his hard-working team in the club’s newly refurbished kitchen. George with his hard-working team in the club’s newly refurbished kitchen.

George’s retirement to Australia comes after years of cooking in kitchens around the city and the region, from beginning as a kitchen apprentice at 15 years old in Kowloon to creating gourmet dishes at top-tier Western hotels. George, who was trained in Western cooking, came to the FCC in 2007 after working as second chef at the Hong Kong Football Club for six years. The FCC, he says, has been a “very stimulating” experience as he and his team worked to constantly update the menu to meet the requests of the club’s members and catered to special events, while also maintaining the quality of the dishes the members love so much.

Keeping up with the dynamic tastes of the FCC’s diverse members was no easy feat. George attributes much of his success to his team of 26 that pack themselves into the FCC basement, whipping up everything from the FCC’s famous curries to the necessary local dishes to the special event pairings and thematic meals. “Some days I was like a chicken without a head in the kitchen,” he laughs. During busy days, the kitchen staff makes 300 lunches, while also planning for evening banquets with dishes to be perfectly timed in their presentation between speeches. Adding to the challenge is the relatively small size of the FCC’s kitchen, pushing staff nearly on top of each other as they balance different flavour combinations. And once the food is ready, the team has to rely on an old-fashioned dumbwaiter lift to deliver the food at what may seem like a glacial pace.

The challenge of the FCC’s constantly updated menu kept George on his toes. “As you’re growing up, you have to keep your eyes open,” he says of his ever-developing skills. “On days off, I would go out with my wife to taste Chinese food and see what they were cooking, and then give some comments to my Chinese chefs.”

George with club President Florence de Changy at his farewell party George with club President Florence de Changy at his farewell party.

George’s own tastes are eclectic. He favours local food like roast duck and Chinese soups, as well as pho and other Vietnamese dishes. With his son, who works in a hospital lab in Hong Kong, pizza is their go-to meal. But when he cooks,

George harps back to his training, tending toward Italian pastas, beef bourguignon, and hearty stews.

That kind of knowledge, once you learn it, no one can take away

While the FCC will certainly miss the innovative foods and pairings George has helped bring to the Club, the chef is optimistic that the time is right for a successor and new blood to mix things up further. “My energy is gone,” George says.

“I tell myself, you’re getting old, you’re getting slow.”

George is ready to take a pause from the long, late hours required to run top-notch kitchens. “Working in hospitality is working day and night,” he says. “When you’ve worked more than 50 years in hospitality, it’s physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.” After spending so much time working away from his family, George is ready for his sons, now 27 and 28 years old, to see more of him. “Sometimes I feel guilty,” he says. “When my boys were younger I did not have the time to see them grow up.”

But George doesn’t regret the opportunities he was afforded working his way up in Hong Kong’s kitchens. When he started as a pot washer to help support his family in the late 1960s, George couldn’t speak English or peel a potato. “Then a Chinese chef pulled me over and said, OK, learn something, try to peel a potato, try to peel an onion,” he recalls.

The eager George was a quick learner, filling his brief breaks from the kitchen with English lessons, while progressing in his cooking skills. “That kind of knowledge, once you learn it, no one can take away,” he says.

Even in retirement, the 65-year-old doesn’t plan to stop. He is hoping to find volunteer work to keep him busy in Sydney. But, he laughs, “I don’t think I’ll be going back to a hot kitchen!”

Morgan M. Davis is a finance reporter at Euromoney’s GlobalCapital. The Illinois-transplant moved to Hong Kong two years ago by way of New York City, 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.

Fake news laws: How Asia’s governments are turning to statute books to silence journalists

Governments in Asia are increasingly turning to the law to stifle bothersome journalists. New laws that critics decry as impeding free speech are making their way to the statute books in record time. Prosecutors in the region meanwhile are flexing their legal muscle in more innovative ways.

In Malaysia and Singapore, “fake news” laws have been enacted or are close to fruition. While the laws appear to have social media in their sights, journalists are wary. In Singapore, where the media already faces significant government control, an impending fake news law is viewed as potentially curbing the final frontier of free speech.

“The internet is where the government has the least control compared to the mainstream media,’’ explains Singapore journalist Kirsten Han. Han was invited to attend a select committee on deliberate online falsehoods in March this year. During five hours of testimony, she noted, not once did lawmakers define what a deliberate online falsehood would be. Regardless, the law is expected to receive legislative assent this summer.

In Malaysia, the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 has a very wide definition of “any news or information which is wholly or partly false”. Punishable with up to 6 years in jail and timed to coincide with the recent election, it took just three weeks for prosecutors to make use of the law. This came after it had taken only two weeks from its first reading for the bill to receive royal assent and be gazetted, much to the concern of the Malaysian Bar Council.

Journalists in the Philippines saw libel laws reconfigured in September to include a provision on false news, although again it is a grey area as to what actually constitutes such a falsehood.

Kirsten Han, editor-in-chief of Singaporean news website, New Naratif, has been accused of publishing political material. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Kirsten Han, editor-in-chief of Singaporean news website, New Naratif, has been accused of publishing political material. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

In Indonesia, the controversial 2014 Legislative Law, known as the MD3 law, was revised in March and puts journalists at risk for any comments which “disrespect the dignity of the House (of Parliament) and its members”. Indonesia’s National Press Council has called for a reversal of the law.

The Philippine government meanwhile has been making novel use of its constitution to rein in critical journalists. The popular Rappler website was found to have flouted a clause in the constitution which limits media ownership to Philippine nationals. Rappler, which has been openly critical of President Rodrigo Duterte, was shut down earlier this year after the Securities and Exchange Commission found it to have two US investors. It is still operating, despite other attempts to close it down, including allegations of tax evasion.

An antiquated secrecy law in Myanmar put two journalists in the dock in January: Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been charged under the Official Secrets Act for allegedly possessing secret government papers. The Act, which dates to 1923, carries a maximum jail term of 14 years.

It may not bode well for journalists in Hong Kong that its legislation carries provisions long deleted from the statute books in other jurisdictions: criminal defamation, seditious libel and blasphemous libel remain potential tools for prosecutors. Criminal libel laws were repealed in the UK in 2009.

In Thailand, journalists faced with already-strict media laws are seeing enhanced legal efforts to regulate the industry. The Bill on the Protection and Promotion of Media Rights, Freedom, Ethics and Professional Standards has drawn ire from more than 30 media groups in the country as a move by the government to further curtail journalists’ reporting.

A government-appointed panel will require licensing of journalists, with non-adherence liable to put culprits in jail for up to three years.

The law comes against the backdrop of a 2017 warning by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) that legal means had become the “main mechanism to suppress the media” in Thailand.

Jane Moir was admitted as a barrister in 2012. She previously worked as a news and business journalist in the UK and Hong Kong, including 11 years at the South China Morning Post.

Goodbye Gilbert: The FCC bids farewell to its very memorable general manager

General Manager Gilbert Cheng is retiring in August and for many the club will never be quite the same. Sue Brattle went along for a chat.

Gilbert Cheng. Photo: Gilbert Cheng. Photo:

The FCC will lose its memory this summer as it says goodbye to General Manager Gilbert “Tiger” Cheng, who is retiring after working at the club for 46 years.

For a man whose recall of names, faces, places and even membership numbers is legendary, getting information out of Gilbert isn’t easy. The blend of modesty and discretion that has made him such a great asset at the club all these years means he is uncomfortable when the spotlight is turned on him.

However, his trademark broad grin and explosive laugh soon shone through as he chatted about his childhood in Kowloon Tong and I innocently asked him whether he was a born-and-bred Hongkonger. “I am absolutely a Hong Kong boy,” he said. “School in Oxford Road, Kowloon Tong, a Boy Scout leader and influenced by my teacher, Tiger Wong.”

The young Gilbert aspired to be a policeman until someone pointed out that perhaps his personality wouldn’t suit the job. He tried his hand at several jobs before a neighbourhood friend, Mr Teddy Lai, introduced him to the FCC in 1972.

“Mr Lai had become the floor manager at the FCC in 1969. I started as a busboy as a summer job and never thought I would stay for decades. It was difficult to get a good job; everyone wanted to work in European hotels, but there weren’t so many of them then. My first bar manager and trainer was Papa Liao who made sure that I was taught housekeeping, stock control, purchasing, and so on. I also spent hours in a local supermarket to learn what things like tomato ketchup were – and to know that ketchup is different from sauce!

[sliderpro id=”4″]

“My first 10 years were a happy time. It was a happy atmosphere, more like a big family. Senior staff and club members taught me everything. I also spent two years studying at night school, one year full-time at Caritas College of Careers, and four years part-time at Poly U.”

Gilbert moved from busboy to waiter, bartender, restaurant manager and kept moving upwards “just working hard” as presidents came and went. In fact, climbing the career ladder to become General Manager in 2000 rates as one of his best memories.

A simple question – Who gave you the best career advice ever? – triggered a long list of colleagues, friends and FCC members. “They all brightened my career goals and broadened my mind.”

Going back to his phenomenal memory, Gilbert said: “That came from the years when I was serving people in person; I knew their names and membership numbers because I was interacting with them. In recent years, I have spent most of my time in the back rooms.” Also the club has grown, with membership doubling since 2000 and a workforce now of 96 full-time and 10 casual staff.

He recalled wild Friday nights at the FCC, when the default was to call 999 to break up a fight. “When I was a bartender there could be 200 men around the bar, four or five deep. Members used to drink more.” However, if you like gossip, Gilbert is not the man for you. “I never ask members personal questions, I don’t ask what they do or where they live,” he said.

As for his favourite moment looking back, Gilbert listed “the extraordinary excitement and emotions of the 1997 Handover Party led by [then club manager] Bob Sanders”. He added: “That week, journalists from practically all over the world descended upon the FCC.” And his worst moment? “The thought of having to leave my job at the FCC, which has been my life for the last 46 years.”

However, this summer sees the start of a new chapter in Gilbert’s life. He is contemplating going back to “school” – “just to keep the brain working”. What would he say to his successor? “Trust the Board to make the right decisions as they only want what is best for the club and, most of all, treat and respect the FCC as your home. Every day is a new day; enjoy and have fun while giving your best.”

Gilbert gets talking about work

“The FCC team was one of the best in town, hardworking, loyal, friendly and willing to learn. However, the labour market is changing and shifting. People don’t mind quitting their job now. They are not wrong; the world has changed and young people can’t pay their rent on the wages they earn. This is a social problem and it creates the current job-hopping and labour shortages. You can see ‘job vacancy’ stickers everywhere. However, at the FCC we still have members of staff who have a good spirit and good sense of teamwork; they are sincere and accept challenges. If you work at a club like the FCC you have to learn its culture. I was so lucky to have had the chance to work with them and learn from them.”

Tiger Tributes

When The Correspondent asked for tributes to Gilbert Cheng, they came pouring in. So here are a few quotes.

Gilbert Cheng: Photo:

Gilbert has been an essential part of the Club for decades, pre- and post-handover. His bonhomie and his talent as a team leader will be equally missed by members and staff.

FCC President Florence de Changy

Gilbert will forever guide our way as he has all the years at the Club. We have ensured it. His voice, after all, is enshrined in an audio file link on the “Contact Us” page on our FCC website, where he tells Hong Kong taxi drivers where the correspondent expat sitting in their backseat is trying to tell them to go. It was the one brilliant thing we did updating the FCC website. One click of the blue box “Click here to hear location in Chinese” — and the dulcet tones of Gilbert Cheng will lead one and all to FCC. Forever.

Angie Lau, member since 2011

Over the more than 50 years I have been a member, we have recruited a large number of people to attend to various operations of the Club. Among them, only Gilbert can claim the distinction of reaching the pinnacle of his career—starting as a junior waiter and finishing as general manager. That is something which both he and the Club can be proud of. There is an adage in my native tongue, Malayalam: “A performer should retire after the best performance”. Gilbert has long been the best performer as our manager. Gilbert, like his mentor Mr Liao, is a Club legend, too good to let go easily.

Viswa Nathan

When things got tough, the Tiger side of Gilbert’s personality came through. One of the most memorable times was the controversial decision taken by the board while I was president: Redo the main bar.

Gilbert felt that the bar should run across the width of the room rather than its location along the left wall. A small but vocal portion of the membership threatened to “come with baseball bats” to defend their bar staying put.

That is when Tiger showed his stripes: Renovation works started a week earlier than announced, with the old bar gone one Sunday before anyone could protest. To ease the pain, Gilbert diplomatically distributed souvenir slices of wood from the old bar.

Former President Tom Crampton

I first met Gilbert on his third night at Sutherland House where the Club had set up after moving out of the Hilton Hotel. He had a mass of jet-black hair and a broad ready smile as he worked under the watchful eye of Papa Liao, the FCC’s bar manager from Chongqing days. Liao Chien-Ping, famed for his phenomenal memory of members’ names, likes and dislikes, was not to be disappointed. Gilbert proved a worthy protégé and had apparently done his research on members. Unasked, he poured me a glass of my favourite ginger beer. My respect for him has increased over the years and not too many are aware of the Good Samaritan in our midst: Gilbert is known to have helped out not a few who found themselves in difficult straits.

CP Ho (Member 00025)

Tiger quickly became Gilbert as he stepped into the shoes of the General Manager in 2000. He was the first local GM of the Club. The Club was experiencing a downturn and difficult decisions had to be made – increasing the subscription – as well as a successful membership drive was launched. With the improved finances, Gilbert then had the foresight to propose and complete a plan to purchase the Club’s Accounts Office in Universal Trade Centre – a sorely needed office space that turned out to be a tremendous investment! His tireless work in managing the Club, accepting the sometimes-questionable decisions of governors stoically, and improving the quality of the F&B outlets have now led to a demand for membership with a waiting list of over 3 years. We will miss Tiger’s smiles and laughter, as well as his growls.

Steve Ushiyama

As treasurer of the FCC for five years there were a number of occasions on which I found myself biting my nails about some decision I had made, realising that I had probably got it wrong, that there was no obvious way out of my dilemma and no way to avoid looking a fool or worse. But there was a remedy. I would go to Gilbert’s office, close the door, and say, “Gilbert, I’ve got a problem. Help!” And he always did. Invariably he came up with a way out. Thank you, Gilbert. I shall miss his presence in the Club, his cheery greetings to me at the Club table in the morning, his great knowledge of the Club’s affairs, his thorough organisation of its operations, his wide acquaintance with the members, his ways of diffusing tensions and his evident joy in his work.

Jake van der Kamp

The late Hugh Van Es and I were at the bar at the FCC on Gilbert’s first day of work, 46 years ago, and we watched him grow with the Club and advance up the FCC management ladder. Hugh was one of several Board members who recommended Gilbert as GM. The regulars were his family and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for them. Gilbert instilled through example a great sense of care and loyalty among the staff. A feeble member needed assistance to get home? You needed something fixed at home? You needed assistance in some other personal matter? Ask Gilbert, and he will find something or someone to help. When Hugh was in a coma, Gilbert visited him every night and the day he died, I saw him tearfully and reverently hanging up his portrait at the Main Bar.

Annie Van Es

I had the privilege to work with Mr Cheng for 15 years. He is no ordinary general manger, in a way that he gave not only guidelines to achieve tasks at work, but also tutorials on becoming a responsible person in the family, as well as a better person as a whole. In the 1990s, while handwriting chits were commonly used in the F&B industry, he saw the trend of data digitization hence introduced computerized Point of Sales (POS) system to the FCC. It made the FCC the first private club in HK adopting POS. I witnessed numerous occasions when he took the lead to care about the members. He offered comfort when it was required; he cheered up members when they were at downturns; he quietly encouraged members by preparing their favourite dishes or drinks in advance. Mr Cheng, no one will argue that your retirement marks a loss of a dear friend and a remarkable leader. I wish you happy retirement and all the best when you turn your book of life to another chapter.

Hoi Lo Chan, ex-Office Manager

One Saturday in 1997 I was enjoying a liquid lunch at a somewhat quiet main bar when an elderly couple came into the Club. I saw Gilbert checking out the couple, and you could tell he was thinking to himself he might know them. After a few minutes, he walked over and said, “Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, it’s been a long time, how are you?” The couple looked somewhat stunned; as I overheard in their conversation, it had been something like 20 years since they had been at the club. Gilbert promptly ordered the couple’s favourite drinks that he had remembered for 20 years. The Club will never be the same without him.

Matt Driskill, 2004-2005 President

All of us know Gilbert is a tough and smart guy, who has high expectations of daily operations and service standards. Every morning when he arrived at the office, he had already checked up various markets from Kowloon, Central and Wanchai. One of his habits was to walk around the Club a dozen times daily, from the roof to the members’ facilities, kitchens and linen room. Even though some say he has a quick temper, Gilbert is the most considerate person I have ever known. He could remember the birthdays of most staff including every little detail of our family circumstances. He always went extra mile to help out, never asked for anything in return. I am still impressed that he attended the funerals of my grandparents within his busy schedule. Not one boss has ever cared about my family like that. This does mark the end of an era. I sincerely wish Gilbert a happy retirement and do always come back to the FCC. We will miss you lots!

Rosalia Ho, ex-Office Manager

When fresh out of Vietnam, I joined the FCC at Sutherland House in the 1970s, and Gilbert was already there. A quiet presence, just setting out on his path to make the Club a better place: an essential home for hundreds of reporters either covering war or Mao across the border. With the move to Ice House Street, it seemed to me, the biggest challenge of an FCC general manager was dealing with the many over-the-top personalities that either drank at the Club, served on the board, or both. I won’t embarrass any of my esteemed colleagues by naming names, but Gilbert was always effective in diffusing the most cantankerous among us. Although a relative old timer, I never called Gilbert “Tiger” – but that nickname certainly made clear the tenacity and dedication that Gilbert devoted to the Club over 46 years. I have not returned to the Club often in recent years as I am usually travelling. But when I have, Gilbert was always there with the kind of greeting that always made me feel very much at home. So General Manager Cheng – wherever your next adventure takes you, you must know that we will miss you and your dedicated service. We wish you well.

Jim Laurie, President 2001-2002

In the next issue, we meet Gilbert’s successor, Didier Saugy. If you have a question you’d like to ask him, send it to the Editor at [email protected]


Introducing… FCC new members July 2018

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

Alan Yu

A genuine jack of all trades, I have built a career in advertising, marketing and general management across several industries, including consumer finance, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and agriculture. From humble beginnings as a student of philosophy and relief announcer for RTHK Radio 4, I progressed to become “king of napkins” as Asian head of women’s sanitary protection for a US multinational. I’ve come down to earth of late, managing, among other things, vineyards with total area equivalent to 80% of Hong Kong Island. In the last few years I have also been a concert reviewer for the website Bachtrack ( My peripatetic occupation has taken me to concerts by famous orchestras at equally renowned concert halls around the world.

Alice Truong

I like to tell people that I moved to Hong Kong a few days after the US elections in 2016. My intention wasn’t to escape Trump’s America, but the timing just worked out that way. This is the second time around these parts for me, having worked as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal covering Hong Kong real estate from 2010 to 2011. In between, I was in San Francisco, reporting on technology before joining the Fast Company and then Quartz, where I still work. I’m a ham radio operator (licensed by the other FCC, the Federal Communications Commission), student of Morse, SCUBA enthusiast, and avid boat watcher.

Christina Lau

Made in HK, an ordinary Chinese girl, we migrated to Sweden when I was 10 as my parents wanted a better life and future. Equipped with Cantonese and English as my mother tongue, I learned Swedish and French, the former for mere survival and the latter for pure pleasure so by the time I had finished my studies, I embarked onto the school of life ready to communicate and connect with all sorts of walks of life. Having slipped onto a banana skin into the world of luxury retail and worked for more than 20 years for several leading European brands where my passion for art, entrepreneurship and team building flourished, I have recently added a new skill, Bio-resonance (complementary healthcare to traditional medicine), onto my profile. So, FCC is the obvious choice, a club where you can relax, meet, eat, aspire and be inspired. Thank you for welcoming me as a new member!

Dr Victoria Elegant

I was born and brought up in Hong Kong and remember visiting the FCC as a child when it was in the Hilton at the bottom of Garden Road. My father, a past president, and brother are both journalists and absent members. I followed a different path and studied medicine. I practised for many years, including in Hong Kong several times, before moving into research and development for the biotechnology industry. I moved back to Hong Kong, for the 8th time, last year. I have 3 adult children, 2 labradors, I ski, and have taken up sailing again recently. I am involved in a number of women’s leadership initiatives and charities to support women and children’s access to education and health. I am looking forward to contributing to the FCC.

Harry Harding

I began as a university professor, teaching mainly at Stanford, and then became a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. I’ve been a university administrator, holding two deanships. Now I’m a university professor again, most recently at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the University of Hong Kong. The common denominator in all this is my interest in China and U.S.-China relations. I’ve never been a journalist, but I’ve been a source for some and have admired the work of even more.

Philip Law

I was born in Hong Kong in the early days of the Baby Boomer period. I received my education in Hong Kong and then started my career in the “rag” trade in the 1970s and am still working in the same field now. I started my own business, Union Apparel International, 20 years ago and have customers from all over the world, which has opened my eyes a lot. I have travelled quite a bit for work and play to different places. However, I believe there’s no place like home – Hong Kong!


Sharon Lam

I am currently at Reuters Breakingviews as the Asia Editorial Assistant. Before choosing to pursue my (relatively short!) career in journalism, I worked for Mirae Asset in product development and marketing, as well as HSBC Private Bank. I’ve also had a brief stint working in the startup space and Forbes Asia. I graduated from Tufts University with a bachelor’s in international relations and political science, where I wrote for The Tufts Daily and edited for Hemispheres, an international relations journal. I’ve lived in Vancouver, Boston, and Madrid, but ultimately consider Hong Kong to be my home.

Ambassador Kuninori Matsuda

When I was a child, I dreamt of being an anchorman. Time flies and as it turned out I entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and started my career. I was dispatched to work in America twice, Russia twice, Israel once, and had the experience of serving as a Specialist in the Soviet Union for Japan. Thus, I was given an opportunity to further improve my language proficiency in English and Russian. However, as both my grandfather and father were experts in China studies, I wondered if I could work in any areas of China. Since then, my dream has come true and I have been working as Ambassador and Consul-General of Japan in Hong Kong since 2015.

Chuck Pang

I am an Online News Reporter at The Standard, covering local and business news. Prior to becoming a journalist, I was a private tutor. I have been a full-time reporter since January 2017, following an editorial internship at the Financial Times in Hong Kong. Outside of reporting, I love history, yoga, running, tennis and travelling. I also play and write music, was the lead singer in a rock band and have performed solo at open mic nights. Born in London and raised in Hong Kong, I graduated with a physics degree from The University of Manchester.

Paklee Ho

I’ve been creating art and painting with Chinese ink for almost 60 years. From being a student, to becoming a professional artist, from sketching, to 30 years of Christies’s auctions, I have seen how “creations” have inspired others and that “change” allows me to to keep artistic interests fresh among those who appreciate my art. I have created various series of artworks; my signature Fishing Boat series of Hong Kong; Colours of Canada during my 20-odd years in Ontario; Elegant Landscapes of mainland China and the latest Dawning of Hope series. At the turn of the century, I decided to reconnect with my roots in Hong Kong. I spend my time in Zizai Xian, my studio in Lan Kwei Fong, with my wife Brenda, or chatting with friends in Luk Yu Chinese Tea House, or having coffee in FCC, leading a retired yet working daily life as any 70 year-old man should. My philosophy: Art is for possessing, creation is for appreciating.

Kai Tao Pang

I was born and bred in Hong Kong but have been away in the United Kingdom for a significant period of time for my secondary and tertiary education. I am a solicitor by profession and am admitted as a solicitor in both Hong Kong and England & Wales. For the past 15 years or so, I have been the in-house lawyer for a number of multi-national organisations with either their regional or global headquarters based in Hong Kong. In addition, I am a Rotary Club member as well being an officer of the Hong Kong Air Cadet Corps on a voluntary basis.

Alexandra Stevenson

I’m a reporter for the New York Times and I’ve been in Hong Kong for eight months. I’m originally from Canada but this isn’t my first time in Asia. As a kid, I spent time in Bangkok, Thailand and as an adult I’ve lived in China (Dalian and Beijing) and Singapore. I guess you could say that I was inspired by my father’s experience in Asia. He was a foreign correspondent here in Hong Kong in the 1950s and 60s covering some of the most exciting moments in this region’s recent history. He was one of the first foreign correspondents into “Red China” in 1954, traveling across the country to chronicle, as he later described it, “the Communist battle for men’s minds.” Ask me about it if you see me in the club.

Feliz Solomon

Just shy of two years ago, I moved to Hong Kong to join TIME, where I was auspiciously tasked with reporting on Southeast Asia. That’s where I had started my career, after all, sub-editing news reported by Burmese journalists exiled to northern Thailand. I moved to Yangon in 2014, not long after censorship was lifted in Myanmar, and since then I’ve written about a dramatic election, a civil war, and a humanitarian crisis. Needless to say, there have been lots of surprises on the path that somehow got me all the way from a cattle ranch in East Texas to a correspondents’ club on Lower Albert Road. I’m still a little stunned myself, but I do love a good plot twist.

Clark Ainsworth

I moved to Hong Kong from the UK just under two years ago after working as a digital journalist at the BBC in London and south east England for 16 years. I’d always wanted to live in this magnificent city, so when the South China Morning Post announced its digital expansion plans I knew exactly where I needed to be. When I’m not curating content as part of the Post’s digital team, I love exploring Hong Kong on my classic Vespa scooter, going to gigs and taking photos. I also spend quite a bit of time trying, and generally failing, to get to grips with Cantonese.

Selina Cheng

I’m an investigative reporter at HK01. I grew up here. Over the past eight years I’ve lived in Paris, Abu Dhabi, and New York. My investigations have led me to corrupt Chinese officials who claim political asylum in the US, Harvey Weinstein’s movie partner in HK, and prominent Buddhist monks who embezzle charitable funds. It is a thrilling job. I’d say my rarest skill is to flip interviewees – having them call back, after hanging up on me the day before. Outside of work, I have a cat and a dog who live in peaceful mutual indifference.


We measure site performance with cookies to improve performance.