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July/Aug 2016

Wong and Law urge self-determination

FCC_JW_4382JW_FCC_4385CFCC_JW_4368Student activist and founder of the new party Demosistō Joshua Wong says he believes the use of violence will not help Hong Kong achieve a higher level of democracy.

Wong, who is Secretary General of Demosistō, was speaking at an FCC lunch on June 27, along with fellow student activist Nathan Law, formerly the secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and now chairman of Demosistō.

Wong said he believes the society should engage in more discussion over the city’s future, and decide through a referendum how it should be governed after 2047. He said only through “self-determination” can Hong Kong people have a real say.

“Compare the results of ‘Fish Ball Revolution’ and ‘Umbrella Movement’, it already explained that it’s not the problem that whether you’re radical or not. Don’t think that using violence can ensure you can reach the goal, because no matter you’re from the side of the localists or you’re from the side of the pan-dems, actually the most serious limitation that we face is we don’t have enough bargaining power”, he said.

The number of Tiananmen candlelight vigil participants dropped this year as many “localists” boycotted the event to show their disappointment at the pan-democrats’ pan-Chinese idealism. Wong wasn’t one of them. He emphasised Demosistō’s support of human rights movements in China, contrary to many localist groups. “We fight for self-determination [of Hong Kong], but we won’t forget about human rights in China,” Wong said.

“People employed violence but they achieved nothing: the chief executive is still going to be elected by the 1,200-member election committee,” he said. “So we at Demosistō decided to advocate for self-determination in order to bring people together in a consensus.”

Demosistō has proposed to start a deliberation process for Hong Kong’s future by 2030 at the latest. “In light of the difficulties currently faced by the opposition, we put forward the self-determination movement in hope of provoking Hong Kong people to examine the Hong Kong political system and decide on their future post-2047,” Law said. He also believes that another non-violent civil disobedience movement would come soon.

While earlier, Demosistō said on its official website that it had raised HK$395,200, 20% of their target, Law said that the 20% referred only to the online donations, the party actually received around HK$900,000 to HK$1 million in total. “But there is still a long way to go. We will seek for more funding during the 1 July demonstration,” Law stated. “So far, we have been avoiding huge donations from a single source.”

Wong’s judicial review application to lower the age threshold for candidacy for Legco from 21 to 18 has been rejected by the High Court. This means that Law and Oscar Lai Man-lok might be the only Demosistō members to stand in September’s election.

Numbers game

Tens of thousands took to the streets of Hong Kong for the annual July 1 protest march as the city marked the 19th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule, but fears of orchestrated violence by breakaway radicals proved unfounded.

The Civil Human Rights Front, the organiser of the annual mass rally, put the turnout at 110,000, compared with last year’s 48,000. Police said the number of marchers peaked at 19,300, compared with 19,650 last year. While Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, a statistician from HKU, estimated 26,600 people joined the march. The university’s public opinion poll, conducted separately, put the figure at 26,000.

Covering news in the era of digital disruption

FCC_JC23042016_0783LFCC_JC_23042016_1150LThe FCC’s first Journalism Conference saw a packed house in the Main Dining Room and Verandah as panelists of senior editors and reporters talked about the issues confronting journalists in the era of digital disruption.

Although Paul Beckett, Asia Editor for The Wall Street Journal, did not see it as digital disruption, rather that it was the “most creative – and best – era for journalists”.

The first session really got to the meat of it: kickstarting your journalism career. The panel of senior editors, moderated by Tara Joseph, Chief Correspondent Asia for Reuters TV, spoke about what they thought were the key qualities for aspiring journalists.

David Merritt, Executive Editor, Asia for Bloomberg News: “Passion for news.”

Anne-Marie Roantree, Hong Kong Bureau Chief for Reuters: “Curiosity and perseverance.”

Beckett: “All journalists should be digital journalists.”

Phil Pan, Asia Editor for the New York Times: “Someone who stands out in their reporting and writing.”

You might expect financial news reporting to require financial expertise. While such experience can be an advantage, Merritt says Bloomberg doesn’t require detailed financial knowledge. “Most of this stuff can be taught on the job through our big training team,” he said. “Passion and curiosity are more important.”

Merritt, who noted that he had a degree in English literature, said they do subject job candidates to a three-hour writing test which not only tests writing ability, but as importantly news judgement.

Merritt said Bloomberg has a policy of moving people around into different roles, many of which they could be
completely unaware of initially. “However, a strong newsroom has a mixture of those with a financial background and those with other kinds of backgrounds – you need diversity to make a newsroom vibrant.”

Language skills seem to be essential for Hong Kong-based reporters.

“In Hong Kong at the moment, a lot of our reporters are trilingual, which is a necessity at this time,” said Roantree. “However, I don’t agree that a reporter has to be a fabulous writer.

“We have a number of brilliant reporters who are not the best writers – that’s why we have editors.”

Besides languages, should everyone be also experts in some of the tech areas?

“We have people who do great video or graphics or video editing,” said Beckett. “But ideally, as an editor you bring all the elements of a story together – from beginning to end using all the available talent in the newsroom. I don’t need you to know how it is done, but I need you to be aware what the possibilities of the various media are.”

Beckett said when he interviews someone he always asks, “Do you have any questions?” So when he gets the the common reply of, ‘no, I think you have covered everything’, it’s not the answer he wants to hear. “As a journalist your job is to ask questions, so come up with some – even if you can’t think of anything relevant – to show what you can do.”

It is a very competitive landscape for people aspiring to New York Times jobs.

“Job candidates – or even NYT staff – should be thinking about what they want to be doing in five years’ time,” said Pan. “Then make sure you are doing the jobs and learning the skills that will help to achieve those goals.

“If you are thinking of applying for NYT, then you should be doing the jobs that you think the NYT might be looking for.”

Following the money: the document dive
FCCJC_2390LIMG_1438LThe next session covered how to find, access and interpret documents to build paper trails for companies and individuals.

The panel included Michael Forsythe, Reporter, The New York Times, Ben Richardson, Freelance Editor and Tom Wright, Reporter, The Wall Street Journal. The moderator was Natasha Khan, Reporter, Bloomberg News.

Khan, Richardson and Forsythe were part of an award-winning Bloomberg News team that produced “Revolution to Riches” in 2012, a series that uncovered the financial holdings of China’s ruling families. Tom Wright was involved in uncovering the story of Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal.

For Michael Forsythe, “document diving changed my whole journalistic career, thanks in part to Bo Xilai”.

When he was at Bloomberg the team was trying to get ahead of the story that had seen the Wall Street Journal produce a series of scoops about Bo Xilai. “We started writing about the Bo family fortune. There was so much noise in the Chinese journalism world you didn’t know whether to believe it or not. However, when you attach on-the-ground reporting to documentation it becomes clearer. It’s not rocket science but you need a lot of patience.”

For Ben Richardson, document diving “was a revelation for me, how much you could prove and how independent it made you, no longer relying on sources except for confirmation”.

It was during the Xi Jinping story (links to the favoured wealthy families) “that we came up with rabbit-holing where you spend hours and hours a day going through, say, registry filings, and you end up following this trail of coincidental things that eventually turns into an investigation.”

However, to do that “it’s incredibly important at the outset to set up a spreadsheet with the appropriate parameters and fields so you can track the details – whether it’s nominees, corporate secretaries or addresses”. It helps that all financial documents are basically the same language, whether you look up filings in London, Hong Kong or Singapore, they all have common fields.

“All this needs to be inputted at the start otherwise you can end up six months down the line scrabbling through piles of documents to find some vague reference you remember that is now crucial to the story.”

Tom Wright said you should not start with the documents before the reporting as you will be dealing with a mountain of stuff without a clear direction to go. “So you need to match your traditional bootstrap reporting with the documents.

“You are going to need to go to local reporters, talk to people and find the rumours and then you can find the documents to back up what you are trying to prove.

“In our case it was a rumour that 1MDB was overpaying for assets and then those people who were overpaid were donating the funds to charities. And we were able to prove that by looking at things like intangible assets in corporate filings. This is extremely tedious, but we found what we needed.”

News in the digital and mobile era
FCC_JC23042016_0881LIMG_1780LThe next session discussed the evolving digital landscape for news and its relevance to reporters of any medium.

The panelists included Austin Ramzy, Reporter, The New York Times; Anjali Kapoor, Head of Digital Asia Pacific, Bloomberg Media; and Heather Timmons, Senior Asia Correspondent, Quartz. The moderator was Angie Lau, Anchor of “First Up”. Bloomberg TV.

Austin Ramzy said that when presenting news on mobile devices the writing needs to be tighter and faster. “So at the NYT we find that long stories and investigations can also work well on mobile devices. We also try to do a lot of stories with graphic elements, like incorporating people’s Tweets and video.

“This is the main way we try to capture a mobile audience.”

Anjali Kapoor said that with mobile devices you are talking about engaging the attention of someone who can flip off in a second, “so it’s very important how you engage people on the small screen”.

“You need to use the headline, image, caption…the experience…to draw them in so they want to read on. This works whether it’s short or long-form. In fact, long-form stories are popular on mobile devices.

“When you think about mobile tech – it’s the next generation from what the PC was and what websites were many years ago.

“With the small screen you want readers to stay. It makes you think about your journalism and the way you tell a story and the way you present it to keep them engaged and make them want to go on to your website or publication.”

One of the most engaging aspects of mobile devices are the mobile alerts. “People actually love mobile alerts. Putting together a mobile alert strategy takes some thought given the different time zones, markets opening and closing times, and which countries you are aiming for.”

Heather Timmons said that Quartz did research on what people read on mobile devices. Quartz then came up with something called the Quartz Curve which determines the length of a story. “As it gets longer – say in the 600 words bracket – people stop reading. So everything we now do is under 500 words or it is long and investigative – so we cut the 600-1,000 word trough.”

With regard to making a story engaging to keep readers, Timmons gave as an example the story Quartz did when Tsai Ing-wen was elected Taiwan’s president. “In the headline we said she was a cat lover and the story had amazing pick-up. We saw through the analytics that people had read through the whole story.”

It seemed to gain traction in Taiwan as well: for her Christmas message the president put out a video of her with cats.

“People came for cats and stayed for Taiwan’s history… it was a wonderful moment.”

The following were some of the other workshops and panel discussions.

FCC_JC23042016_0900LFCCJC_2070LIMG_2479LIMG_1994LFCCJC_2259LFCCJC_2108LFCCJC_1905LFCCJC_1612L

Sourcing through social media
The potential and perils of reporting in the age of Weibo and Twitter. How to find trustworthy sources and verify online information. The panelists were Iain Martin, Asia Editor, Storyful; David Bardurski, China Media Project Editor; and Sam Dubberley, Co-founder, EyeWitness Media Hub.

Challenging authority
Reporters are not there just to take notes – a conversation about how to challenge sources at the very highest levels of officialdom. The speaker was David Schlesinger, former Editor-in-Chief of Thomson Reuters in conversation with Juliana Liu, BBC Correspondent.

Cybersecurity
How to protect your digital devices – and your source – in the era of government surveillance and rampant online hacking. The moderator was Nan-Hie In, Freelance Journalist. The panelists were Ewen MacAskill, Defence and Intelligence Correspondent, The Guardian (via skype); and Leonard Weese, President, Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong.

The art of long form: feature writing
In the era of listicles and mobile readership the demand for compelling long reads is still strong – but keeping the reader’s attention is the key. Learn how to build rich narratives with strong characters, great anecdotes and the biggest context. The speakers were SK Witcher, Deputy News Editor, The International New York Times; and Phred Dvorak, Asia Money and Investment Editor, WSJ.

Covering conflict and disaster
From covering the civil war in Syria to violence in the streets of Hong Kong, a discussion of how journalists should prepare themselves for working in hostile environments. The moderator was Eric Wishart, AFP Global News Management; Speakers were Roger Clark, VP Asia Pacific and Hong Kong Bureau Chief, CNN; Ivan Watson, Senior International Correspondent, CNN; and Marc Lavine, Editor-in-chief Asia Pacific, AFP.

Front page photographs with your smartphone
Tips and tricks on getting maximum impact for your news photography. The speakers were Pedro Ugarte, Photo Director Asia Pacific, AFP; and Palani Mohan, Freelance Photographer.

The future of journalism
The moderator Richard Salamat, Anchor, Bloomberg TV. The panelists were, Jamil Anderlini, Asia Editor, Financial Times; Phiippe Massonnet, Regional Director, AFP; Ying Chan, Founding Director, HKU’s Journalism & Media Studies Centre; and Kristie Lu Stout, Anchor and Correspondent, CNN.

Photos by: Terry Duckham/Asiapix Studios

How a news story freed Ambon slaves

By Joyce Lau

HKHRPA31-Bridgette-HallThe Human Rights Press Awards celebrated its 20th birthday at the Maritime Museum on May 6, with a standing-room-only crowd of 170 participants, supporters and guests.
For the first time, grand-prize winners were given the chance to speak to the audience directly about their experiences. Several flew in from overseas to do so.

Esther Htusan, who recently became the first Burmese to win a Pulitzer Prize, caught a 1:30 a.m. flight from Yangon early that day to make the event on Friday night – after securing a last-minute visa from the Chinese Embassy. After a much-needed cappuccino at the FCC, she went on to the Maritime Museum to make a heartfelt speech about how the Associated Press’s coverage of abuses in the seafood industry resulted in the freeing of 2,000 modern-day slaves. Her work – created with three other women from AP – won the HRPA’s grand prize in English-language news coverage.

“For many, many years, it was an open secret to many people – but nobody ever interviewed the slaves on Ambon in East Indonesia,” Htusan said. “We finished up interviewing hundreds of slaves; and followed the cargo ships that sent the seafood to supermarkets and dinner tables.
“Right after we reported our stories, more than 2,000 slaves were freed – many from my own country, Myanmar, and some from Cambodia and Laos.

“I’m really honoured by this recognition, but the real heroes were the people who talked to us, who risked their lives to tell us their private stories. I’m honoured to receive this award. I’m mostly honoured and happy that these people are back home.”

HKFPA5CAl Jazeera’s Chan Tau Chou, who won the grand prize in English-language broadcasting with “The Invisible Children of Sabah, Malaysia”, dedicated his prize to the world’s stateless people.

“It’s a big encouragement to the team who worked very hard on a day-to-day basis to tell these stories,” Chan said. “In this day of relentless news feeds, where attention spans are diverted by the latest cat video, we are very thankful for this very important stage to once again raise attention and highlight the issues in our film”.

“The sad fact is that many of these issues have been around for decades. The problems faced by stateless people – the lack of equal rights, basic rights, like health care and education – have become more aggravated over the past five to 10 years.

“Now a generation of their children are growing up facing even more aggravated problems; they are even more vulnerable.

“This prize needs to be dedicated to the people and communities we had come across among stateless people, in the hope that, one day, there will be no more reason for any journalists to go do a film about Sabah’s invisible grandchildren.”

Acclaimed photographer Sim Chi Yin could not make it from Beijing to attend the HRPA ceremony in Hong Kong. However, speaking by video, she explained how she spent four years investigating the deadly lung diseases caused by China’s gold mining industry. “Dying to Breathe” won the grand prize in photography. She wanted to honor Mr He, the main character in her photojournalism series, who has since died of his work-related illness.

The event also allowed the HRPA’s founders to have their first official reunion in two decades. Robyn Kilpatrick, who was Amnesty International Hong Kong’s chairperson in the mid-90s, flew in from Australia to speak about the importance of keeping projects like the HRPA alive. She was joined by co-founder Francis Moriarty and Angela Lee, a HRPA photo judge who was been with the organisation from the very beginning.

“Hong Kong press, despite working under sometimes quite difficult situations… should be proud of the work,” Kilpatrick said.

The HRPA could not survive without financial support, and so flowers and a special trophy designed by Henry Steiner – who also designed HRPA’s logo – were given to Anne Marden, who has donated to the Awards since their very first year in 1996.

For full winners list and more information, go to HumanRightsPressAwards.org.

Future of young democratic politicians

MartinLee_3896MartinLee_3893Martin Lee, QC, founding chairman of The Democratic Party and former Legco member, has been a regular FCC guest speaker since the early 1990s. Always an articulate straight-shooter and clear thinker, Lee focused on the rise of young democrats at a lunch on June 16. He also wondered why the FCC would you ask one of Hong Kong’s oldest politicians about the future of young democratic politicians

Many have doubts about Hong Kong’s young democratic politicians, but Lee isn’t one of them. Lee, one of Hong Kong’s first ever elected legislators, said there is nothing to worry about, Indeed, he believes we should be proud of them. As for their mistakes, Lee asked: “Did we not make mistakes?”

Joshua Wong and his colleagues from Scholarism have set up there own party – although he is too young to stand for Legco, according to the courts. So is Wong a worthy democratic leader?

“I was so impressed, when Joshua Wong said at the beginning stages of Occupy Central: ‘I am fighting for democracy for my generation and the next generation’. He was 17. And who here has come across such a young leader in your country, who has already made the cover of TIME magazine.

“So I thought, why do I need to worry about the future of Hong Kong?”

Lee said he had been in close contact with Wong when they both, along with Professor Benny Tai, were invited to make speeches by Freedom House in Washington about six months ago. “So, if you like, there were three generations: me the grandfather, Benny the father and Joshua,” he said.

“I think Joshua is good, but the one criticism I have is his choice of party name: Demosisto (roughly the ‘people stand’]

“All the rest I am in agreement with him, including what his party wants for Hong Kong in 2047 – self-determination. And Beijing was not happy with that because self-determination normally means independence. Of course, in Hong Kong, constitutionally, there cannot be independence.

“Our young citizens were born into a Hong Kong that was supposed to have a high degree of autonomy. However, seeing the daily interference by the Central Government’s Liaison Office, as well as seeing that Beijing has kept delaying democracy, although it promised us… how can we blame them for not wanting to accept one country, two systems.

“If the young people had stayed with the status quo and accepted the interference, then Hong Kong would have no future.

“However, are they right to ask for self-determination. How can we say they are wrong? When you think of young Joshua Wong and his colleagues whose future is determined by what happens during the next 30 years you can’t blame them asking: ‘why can’t we decide for ourselves; why can’t we have a say?’”

MartinLee_3880Lee said that on one extreme you have the demands for independence on the other you have “one country, one system” in 2047, where Hong Kong becomes just another Chinese city.

“What about somewhere in the middle? What about a continuation of the one country, two systems?

“My son asked me when he was about 10 why was it 50 years of one country, two systems… ‘its long enough for you, but not for me’. At the time I didn’t have an answer.

“Not long after during the drafting of the Basic Law I was in Beijing in 1987 negotiating when suddenly the proceedings were stopped because we had been summonsed by Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping. He said, among other things, ‘if 50 years should prove not to be enough, you can have another 50’.

“Later I looked back at the early 80s when China had just opened up for foreign investment and I imagine Deng would have looked at Hong Kong – a Chinese city, stable, prosperous, rule of law, level playing field operating under a capitalist system – and was already thinking of leading China down the same road. A capitalist road, not a socialist road (with Chinese characteristics) and let the rest of China follow.

“He still wanted Hong Kong and Taiwan back, but was prepared to be patient until China was ready.

“If you remember China had started its four modernisations and he needed Hong Kong to keep what it had as an example as he thought it would take China 50 years to catch up. If it didn’t catch up in 50 years then rather than take Hong Kong down, China would give another 50 years.”

Martin Chu Ming Lee is the founding chairman (1994-2002) of the Democratic Party and believes that Hong Kong must develop democratic institutions and preserve freedom, human rights and the rule of law if the territory is to continue to prosper as part of China. Lee was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 1979 and was chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association from 1980-1983. He was first elected to the Legco in 1985. He served from 1985-89 as a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, the body appointed by Beijing to draft Hong Kong’s post-1997 constitution, until his expulsion following the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

Social media can have powerful influence on elections

Facebook has been under attack in recent months by US conservatives – worried that Facebook could influence the outcome of the presidential election – for “suppressing conservative news”. While these claims are somewhat overblown, there is no getting away from the fact that Facebook undoubtedly has tremendous power, with some 200 million Americans spending around 30% of their Internet time on Facebook and its properties (WhatsApp, Instagram).

A 2014 study determined that some 340,000 people probably turned up to vote in the 2010 US Congressional elections because of a message they saw on Facebook. However, Facebook has never directed these efforts at any party or candidate… although they could. Of course users can say what they like about policies, parties and candidates. In fact, President Obama’s two election campaigns were very heavily invested in using social media – often at targeted individuals – to gain votes.

In Hong Kong Facebook’s dominance of the social media is particularly intense: 4.4 million or more than 50% of the population are Facebook users. Of these, 3.1 million log on to Facebook every day and spend an average of 30 minutes each time. Clearly, if politically active users were to engage in supporting election candidates it would be a powerful tool.

However, this will not be happening in Hong Kong except within defined boundaries, according to the Electoral Affairs Comission (EAC).

When the EAC chairman Justice Barnabas Fung Wah, said in May that “messages posted by Internet users intended to promote or prejudice the election of a candidate may be regarded as election advertisements… and an offence may have been committed”.

This statement was made at the end of the public consultation period about the Legislative Council’s election guidelines at the end of April. Subsequently, Fung’s comments have been fully endorsed by EAC, although wide areas of confusion remain.

Fung was asked by reporters whether changing profile pictures on Facebook or adding hashtags to support a candidate would be counted as election advertising.

“Urging people to vote for someone – like a candidate – saying ‘I am very good, please vote for me’, and not giving reasons or commenting on if things are right or wrong – these would highly likely be counted as election advertisements,” Fung said, according to Ming Pao.

Commentary exempt

Fung said that election campaign commentaries would not be counted as election advertisements. “If members of the public merely share or forward candidates’ election campaigns through Internet platforms for expression of views, and do not intend to promote or prejudice the elections of any candidates, such sharing or forwarding will not normally be construed as publishing election advertisements,” Fung said.

Fung said that the existing definition of an election advertisement under the law was “very wide”, but “the legal definition has been there all along and has not been amended”.

He added that Internet users may cause an offence if messages intended to promote or prejudice the election were not first approved by the relevant candidates.

Under the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance, a person – other than a candidate or a candidate’s election expense agent – is considered to be engaging in illegal conduct during an election if they incur election expenses at, or in connection with the election. Offenders may be sentenced to a maximum of seven years in prison with fines of up to HK$500,000.

Commenting on the law, IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok joked that people have to include “#personalcomment” in posts in order not to break the law, Hong Kong Free Press reported.

“Who decides whether changing profile pictures, amending and making photos are intentional [to promote or prejudice the election]?” he asked on Facebook. “It is another example of the law lagging behind the development of the Internet.”

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