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Finland may have slipped in press freedom rankings, but all is not lost

Two incidents in recent years have seen Finland slip from first to fourth place in the world rankings for freedom of the press. Here FCC member Hannamiina Tanninen takes a look at this “public disgrace”.

Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä gives a joint press conference with the French President (not in picture) in Helsinki, Finland, on August 30, 2018. Photo: AFP / Ludovic MARIN Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä. Photo: AFP / Ludovic MARIN

For many years, the Republic of Finland was the poster country for press freedom in the world. Every year since 2010 Reporters Without Borders (RFS) ranked Finland as the Number One country in its annual evaluation of press freedom in 180 different countries. However, due to incidents in 2016 involving the Finnish national broadcaster YLE and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, Finland slipped to third place in the 2017 ranking.

The national broadcaster YLE did not report accurately the ownership structure of a company run by the Prime Minister’s relatives – and the PM put pressure on YLE not to report the connection. The editor-in-chief of YLE denied that the integrity of the reporting was compromised due to pressure from the Prime Minister.

In the aftermath of the story, three senior journalists from YLE resigned citing differences in opinion regarding freedom of speech as one of their reasons. Interestingly, the main reason that caused the drop in the 2017 press freedom index was the reaction from the national board that evaluates press integrity in Finland, rather than the story itself.

A further drop to fourth place followed in the 2018 ranking after police confiscated materials from a journalist who was investigating a Finnish military communications centre.

The independent national board for press integrity consists of experienced journalists and evaluates the integrity of journalism in the country, not the quality of it. The national board does not monitor the press regularly but if an incident regarding integrity is considered a serious one, the board will discuss it.

The board imposed sanctions on YLE for its handling of the incident. Also, the Prime Minister was given a serious warning. This was a very unusual decision since the board does not give such verdicts lightly, especially when they involve people who are not journalists.

For most countries, being ranked as the third or fourth best environment in the world for the press to operate in would be impossible to imagine. In Finland, the drops in the ranking and the incidents leading to them caused a nationwide debate, as press freedom is highly valued in the country. Most media outlets considered the incident a public disgrace, something that would harm the reputation of Finland abroad.

So far it seems that not all is lost regarding press freedom in Finland. When compared to Hong Kong, working from our newsroom in Finland is like the difference between night and day. In Finland, civil servants are easy to reach. They mainly understand the importance of and fulfill the obligation of, providing accurate information to the press. And they usually do so in the most polite and timely manner.

In most cases, politicians do reply to interview requests, at least from the main media outlets. Even from junior journalists like myself. In Finland, if a politician is “not available for comment” it is not regarded as business as usual, but as something suspicious and worth investigating. It also does not take much effort from the journalists to reach politicians in the first place, as they are usually just a phone call away.

Based on the latest polls, the Prime Minister involved in the 2016 incident is set to lose the election and join the ranks of the opposition after the country goes to vote in 2019. It will be interesting to see how many media outlets are willing to report his alternative policy ideas once he no longer holds the office of the number one politician in the country. Number one spot or no, it would seem that the press still holds significant power in Finland.

 

New media award aims to bring sensitivity to reporting suicides

Mind HK is helping journalists to approach the topic of mental health in a new way. Olivia Parker reports.

Leslie Cheung Leslie Cheung

In the days following the death of the singer Leslie Cheung, who committed suicide in 2003, researchers were alarmed to notice a sharp rise in the number of people who took their own lives in the same manner. It became clear that coverage of Cheung’s death – front page features with colour photographs and much “sensational and emotional” detail, according to Professor Paul Yip, director of Hong Kong’s Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention (CSRP) – had unintentionally triggered a series of copycat suicides.

The CSRP released the city’s first set of recommendations on suicide reporting the following year and updated them in 2010 to reflect new World Health Organisation guidelines. Now, Mind HK, a charitable initiative launched last year with the aim to ensure “no one in Hong Kong faces a mental health problem alone”, is seeking to bring mental health journalistic best practice further into the open with the first Mind HK Media Awards, taking place next month.

“Positive reporting of mental health topics has been shown in other countries to have a powerful role in destigmatising mental health problems,” says Dr Hannah Reidy, CEO of Mind HK. “Normalising conversations about mental health by exposing people to the topic in well-written media articles will allow Hong Kongers to speak about it more, support one another and realise that they are not alone.”

The media’s approach to mental health here is still far from perfect. According to Professor Yip, who will help judge more than 100 pieces of work submitted to the awards, local reporters are typically more “assertive”, even “aggressive”, when covering suicide deaths compared to journalists in the West. In Australia, just 3 percent of suicides are reported; in Hong Kong the figure is 30-40 percent.

Publishing fewer stories is not the solution. But they must be written with more sensitivity to their potential impact, says Dr King-wa Fu, associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre, who has spent almost two decades researching health and the media. Just as stigma and stereotypes still surround subjects like depression or anxiety in the community, they also abound in the press, he says.

Reporters frequently link violent incidents to mental health problems, for example. While there may sometimes be a link between these two factors, in truth mental health patients are rarely violent and over-emphasising the connection risks unfairly influencing perceptions.

Overgeneralising the factors that lead a person to commit suicide by associating the death with one specific event, such as a failed exam, is another problem. “As we know, mental health or suicide cases are caused by very complex, interrelated factors so usually not one or two simple reasons,” states Fu.

Dr Hannah Reidy, CEO of Mind HK Dr Hannah Reidy, CEO of Mind HK

Fu and Yip agree that in recent years, mental health reporting has improved in both the Chinese and English language media in Hong Kong. Coverage of suicides will usually be inside papers rather than splashed across the front page; most articles include help-seeking information and the CSRP now receives more calls from journalists seeking a professional viewpoint. The younger generation may also bring a fresh outlook: Professor Keith Richburg, director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at HKU, says he’s learnt a lot from current students who have been particularly willing to tackle the complexities of mental health in their stories.

These developments are encouraging, but challenges remain. High staff turnover in Hong Kong’s media means ongoing attempts to raise awareness are needed. Fu also suggests that stigma around mental health likely still exists in some newsrooms, which may prevent journalists from communicating their own mental health history to supervisors, and he questions whether there is enough psychological support for reporters who have to cover disturbing events.

Mind HK’s Reidy hopes the Media Awards will help, and will also bring mental health coverage further in line with the way the media reports on physical health, by ensuring that articles offer context, provide a range of perspectives and capture “the recovery and successes of individuals” as well as stories with negative connotations. “We often see that very victimising, stigmatising language is used alongside mental health in the media, which only serves to perpetuate the narrative that this subject matter is in some way taboo, rather than seeing mental health as something that we all experience.”

Entry to the Mind HK Media Awards is now closed but for information about tickets and sponsorship for the event, visit mindhkmediaawards.com

Olivia Parker joined the FCC in July. Currently deputy editor of Campaign Asia-Pacific, she moved to Hong Kong in January 2017 from the Telegraph in London. A board member of Mind HK, she feels strongly about improving mental health care and awareness and recently dyed her hair blue for a fundraising event.

‘This may cause some discomfort’: Overcoming prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is among the most common forms of cancer affecting men. Yet confusion and controversy still reign over how best to diagnose and treat the often fatal disease. Jonathan Sharp recalls his own encounter with this cancer – and the successful outcome.

Jonathan Sharp Jonathan Sharp

It took just one fairly innocuous word from the kindly, smiling doctor to confirm my worst fear.

He was talking me through the battery of tests I had undergone since a routine medical check-up had turned up something suspicious in my prostate gland.

Then he said the word: “Unfortunately,” and I knew that yes, I had cancer.

That was a major downer, inevitably, but it proved to be the low point. Thereafter came better news: the disease was at an early stage, was a non-aggressive type and had not spread. The doctor made this particular malignancy sound almost wimp-ish.

Moreover, while it was a serious condition, it was eminently treatable. “Don’t worry,” was the phrase I came to hear often during the subsequent treatment.

It’s now been 11 years since I was first given that assurance, and indeed I have not had much to worry about.

My saga with a happy ending began with a PSA test. PSA stands for prostate-specific antigen, a protein in the prostate. An elevated level can indicate cancer before the appearance of any symptoms, of which I had none. (However, in recent years many experts have warned that PSA tests are unreliable and even harmful – see below).

My PSA levels were a bit high, so the next test was an ultrasound, conducted with a probe inserted into the rectum, which is the easiest access to the awkwardly located, walnut-sized prostate. “This may cause some discomfort,” said the doctor. It was the first of many times that I heard this mild-sounding warning, which I came increasingly to regard as euphemistic.

The inconclusive ultrasound test was followed by a biopsy – more “discomfort” – and then the diagnosis.

Of the various treatments available, the recommended one, which I accepted, was radical prostatectomy: taking the damn thing out. Next decision: shall I go private or public for the operation? To help decide, my wife Betty and I saw a specialist at the private, and expensive, Hong Kong Sanatorium in Happy Valley who was keen to use the latest robotic surgery equipment. Asked how much it would cost, he said that “packages” – making them sound rather like a tourism promotion – for the procedure started at HK$200,000. While I had insurance cover, I opted instead to go public at Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam.

There the robot-less operation, lasting from 9am to 3pm (this being Hong Kong, I couldn’t help wondering afterwards whether anybody involved in the surgery had taken a lunch break), was not only successful, but free. Two weeks of hospital treatment, part on a voluntary part-time basis in a semi-private ward, cost token amounts.

While in hospital I became particularly attached, literally, to a bedside pain-relieving apparatus with which I could self-dispense morphine into my arm at five-minute intervals. I made such enthusiastic use of this brilliant machine, not because I was in pain but simply because I could, that nurses took it away well before the usual cut-off time.

After the hospital stay, there followed more weeks attached to a catheter, with a tube clamped to my leg with sticking plaster. This bore the rather unnecessary injunction “Do not pull” written in both of Hong Kong’s official languages (although curiously, the Cantonese version added an exclamation mark).

I was supremely relieved when the catheter was removed (again, more “discomfort”), above all when I discovered that I had none of the dreaded side-effects that I had been warned about.

For follow-up, I go to Queen Mary once a year for a blood test. When I go again for the results I am told that all is good, my PSA levels are at next-to-nothing levels. Come back next year.

This annual “consultation” takes about 30 seconds flat. If that seems a bit abrupt, I don’t mind in the slightest. At least nobody says, “This may cause some discomfort.”

Treatments galore – or just watch and wait

Prostate cancer has recorded the largest increase in incidence rate among the common male cancers in Hong Kong during the past two decades. In 2015, prostate cancer was the third most common cancer in men, with 1,831 men diagnosed with the disease.

Those are the bald figures provided by the Hong Kong Department of Health in July this year. Far less cut and dried, according to headlines appearing around the world in recent months, are the views of experts on how best to diagnose and treat this increasingly prevalent malignancy.

The PSA test, once a routine part of male health care and which gave me the first sign that I had something nasty wrong with me, is now widely called into question. “Does as much harm as good”, “imperfect”, “poor”, “fraught with uncertainty” are some of the verdicts commonly seen. Far better screening, according to Prostate Cancer UK, is provided by multiparametric MRI scans.

Treatment options are equally plentiful. They include surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, biological therapy, bisphosphonate therapy and something called watchful waiting. A new technique called a high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) procedure is being used in clinical trials in the U.S.

There is a huge difference between aggressive prostate cancer, which British actor Stephen Fry described as “an aggressive little bugger” when he recently announced he had the disease, and the less virulent version. This can remain harmless for decades, and it is often said that men are more likely to die with prostate cancer than of it.

The trouble is that the difference between a potentially lethal aggressive prostate cancer and the less harmful version is often unclear. And aggressive treatment, including removal of the prostate gland or radiation treatment, can result in impotence or incontinence.

Not surprisingly, an increasing proportion of men, especially ones with low-grade tumours, are choosing watchful waiting – regular monitoring – over radical treatment.

Jonathan Sharp joined Reuters after studying Chinese at university. That degree served him well, leading to two spells in Beijing. And it did not restrict him. A 30-year career also took him to North America, Middle East and South Africa, covering everything from wars to the Olympics. His favourite posting was Hong Kong, where he freelances.

 

On The Wall: Derek Maitland’s Vietnam

Images by Derek Maitland

I was born in England in 1943—my family emigrated to Australia in 1956 and, at age 18, I entered journalism straight from high school at ATN Channel 7 News in Sydney. Five years later I shipped out to Hong Kong, embarking upon an incredible 50-year global odyssey.

I remember the excitement that filled me when I first set eyes on the bustling Kowloon waterfront. “I’m 23 and I can now say with absolute joy that my life has just now truly begun,” I wrote at the time.

Photo: Derek Maitland Photo: Derek Maitland

But the British Crown Colony soon became my jumping off point for where and what I really wanted to be at that time—a war correspondent in Vietnam. I spent nearly two years there as a one-man bureau for the U.S. news feature service, Copley.

My role as a journalist became increasingly investigative and in all respects more hazardous as the U.S. military manpower build-up burgeoned through the half-million mark in 1967 and it became more and more apparent how far the Pentagon was willing to go to crush communism in Asia.

Photo: Derek Maitland Photo: Derek Maitland

Two major military operations that I covered reflected how deeply I was willing to go at that time: on one I tried to track a unit of French, Australian and U.S. mercenaries which was deploying military gas along the Cambodian border north of Tay Ninh. I was detained and held incommunicado by the U.S. Special Forces command, flown to a “Fighting A-Camp” at Prek Lok and put through a week of interrogation and weapon proficiency tests to see if I was an enemy agent.

In the second incident, British photographer Nik Wheeler and I found ourselves on the scene of one of the war’s most violent attacks on U.S. military personnel—a nine-hour ambush and fierce overnight battle near Dak To in the Central Highlands in which a hardened regiment of North Vietnamese troops wiped out nearly 80 troops of the 173rd Airborne Battalion, then attacked again as a rescue unit that we accompanied deep into the jungle was working to retrieve the bodies.

Photo: Derek Maitland Photo: Derek Maitland
Photo: Derek Maitland Photo: Derek Maitland

In that incident I picked up a discarded M–16 carbine, somehow unlocked it and took my place lying among a perimeter of men facing off the attackers. I then suffered the worst fear I’ve ever in my life experienced— paralysed by gripping terror and PTSD that took me all of 15 years to fully recover from.

Two more combat incidents that I covered, one in the massive Tet Offensive of April 1968, convinced me my luck might be running out. I flew to London where I worked with BBCTV News, and wrote The Only War We’ve Got, my first novel and one of the earliest books that portrayed the insanity of the American military mission in Southeast Asia.

My war was over until a few years ago when I rediscovered these photos. They speak to my feelings about my time “in country”. I hope they speak to your understanding of the “American War”.

– Derek Maitland, September 2018, Canowindra, New South Wales, Australia.

On The Wall: The Central Police Station Compound

Images by Leong Ka Tai

The Central Police Station, the Central Magistrates Court, and the Victoria Prison, built in the 19th Century, formed a complete system for law enforcement. The facilities were gradually replaced as the population grew and the buildings in the compound were declared heritage monuments in 1995. After the buildings were decommissioned in 2006, Leong Ka Tai photographed the compound. For his book of the same title as the exhibition, he also interviewed the policemen, correctional officers, and an inmate who spent their years there, thus compiling a record of the collective memory of the compound. The book reflects the feeling of working, living, and being incarcerated there.

Leong Ka Tai has been a professional photographer for over 30 years. He has published 11 books of his personal work and 10 more in collaboration with other photographers. He is a founding member and the chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Professional Photographers (1992-4), and a founding member and chairman of the Hong Kong Photographic Culture Association. Visit his website at www.camera22.com

Photo: Leong Ka Tai Photo: Leong Ka Tai
Photo: Leong Ka Tai Photo: Leong Ka Tai
Photo: Leong Ka Tai Photo: Leong Ka Tai
Photo: Leong Ka Tai Photo: Leong Ka Tai
Photo: Leong Ka Tai Photo: Leong Ka Tai
Photo: Leong Ka Tai Photo: Leong Ka Tai
Photo: Leong Ka Tai Photo: Leong Ka Tai

Hong Kong Literary Festival: Feeding a hunger for words

There were some authors wandering around the FCC in early November, taking a break from appearing at this year’s Hong Kong International Literary Festival which has a new permanent home just a stone’s throw from the Club.

Writer Geoff Dyer - no, not that one - talked about his work at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Writer Geoff Dyer – no, not that one – talked about his work at the FCC and also appeared at the Hong Kong Literary Festival. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

The 18th festival ran from 2 to 11 November at the recently opened Tai Kwun Centre, the old police and prison compound on Hollywood Road, Central.

One of the oldest and largest literary festivals in the Asia-Pacific region, the Festival doubled its programming and audience from 2015 to 2017 and was predicted to reach a projected 10,000 people this year.

FCC had two talks with visiting authors scheduled at the Club: British author Geoff Dyer answered questions about his vast experience as a travel writer at “Not a Reporter: A Lunch with Writer Geoff Dyer” on November 1; and British TV Channel 4’s Jonathan Miller talked about his new book, Duterte: Fire and Fury in the Philippines at a lunch on November 5.

At the time of going to press, the Club had also slotted the evening of November 8 for a “meet the authors” event, and was considering again issuing 20 temporary membership cards to authors who want to use the FCC facilities during their stay in Hong Kong, as it did last year.

The broad themes of the 2018 Festival were feminism, inspired by the #MeToo movement, LGBTQ+, and travel writing.

Memoirist and novelist Cheryl Strayed headlined this year’s Festival Gala Dinner at the China Club, where she spoke about female voices in literature. Psychotherapist Susie Orbach spoke about her seminal book Fat is a Feminist Issue – which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year – over lunch at Tai Kwun’s Old Bailey restaurant.

In “LGBTQ+ and Inclusivity in the Arts”, Australian poet Jesse Oliver and Canadian artist Ivan Coyote discussed the state of LGBTQ+ representation in today’s international literary scene.

Other highlights included Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh discussing Dead Men’s Trousers, his latest addition to the Trainspotting universe, and exiled author Ma Jian speaking about his latest novel, China Dream, a satirical portrait of Xi Jinping’s China.

Writers Dung Kai Cheung, Ng Mei Kwan, Tammy Ho Lai Ming and Mithu Storoni, among others, represented Hong Kong’s literary scene. The city has hundreds of book clubs and many literary and spoken word groups and the Festival partnered with Hong Kong Stories, Women in Publishing and the Peel Street Poets this year.

There was also a series of small workshops to help people who are starting out on writing careers or who want to see where their talents lie. These included “Start Your Own Podcast Workshop” with Jarrod Watt and Mercedes Hutton of the South China Morning Post, and “Why Editors Don’t Reply: Pitching Workshop” with former CNN Travel editor James Durston.

Festival director Philippa Milne said: “Over the last year the festival has undergone some important changes – an expanded board of directors, new branding and a new home. We are delighted to be holding all of our events, excluding the annual gala dinner, under one roof.

“Now on my fourth year at the festival’s helm, I’m encouraged by Hong Kong’s hunger for the written word. In these somewhat complicated times literature is more necessary than ever. Not only does it provide a gateway to cultural exchange, but it allows us to absorb the importance of empathy required to build better societies.”

Two FCC members honoured for their decades of service

SK Witcher and Florence de Changy receive prestigious honours. Morgan M. Davis tells their stories.

SK Witcher, a long-time FCC member and veteran journalist, was awarded the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism on October 16. The honour has been given annually since 1930 by the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

SK Witcher at the 2017 SOPA Awards. SK Witcher at the 2017 SOPA Awards.

“I am thrilled to share this honour with legendary journalists like Christiane Amanpour, and past greats including broadcaster Walter Cronkite and even Sir Winston Churchill,” said Witcher. “I am gratified that Asia is firmly on the university’s radar and the faculty recognises the importance of encouraging journalistic excellence in the region.”

Witcher, who has been an FCC member since she first arrived in Hong Kong in 1977, has led a prestigious career as a reporter and editor around the world, for The Wall Street Journal, South China Morning Post, and The New York Times, in addition to being a tutor for graduate journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Now Witcher is taking a break from the grind of daily news to set up her own pan-Asian freelance consultancy for editing and journalism training. She also remains active with the Hong Kong-based Society of Publishers in Asia as the immediate past chair of the editorial committee and will continue to serve as a judge for the group’s annual awards.

Witcher is a graduate of the University of Missouri, and attributes her international journalism career to her Missouri start. She chose to attend the university, which has the oldest journalism school in the U.S., in part because of its option for master’s degree candidates to go abroad.

The timing was perfect for Witcher, as around the same time The Wall Street Journal made its first move into international publishing with an Asian edition based in Hong Kong. Witcher seized an opportunity to intern at the paper’s Asian start-up, and ended up working for the newspaper for 33 years.

Over her four decades working as a global reporter, Witcher covered a variety of stories including the Latin American debt crisis in the 1980s. Witcher, along with a team of reporters, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the crisis and its threat to banking systems around the world. Reporting on a gold rush in the highlands of Papua New Guinea and hitchhiking her way there was a particularly memorable experience for Witcher. “The gold-laced terrain was full of sinkholes that locals could best sense, so I ended up being carried like a notebook-toting Cleopatra across the fields perched on the forearm of a muscular guide, conducting interviews along the way,” she recalled.

“There had just been an incident that sparked a tribal war so all the prospectors were armed to the teeth with machetes and bows and arrows and hot tempers. But I got my story.”

FCC President Florence de Changy was awarded the honour of Knight of l’Ordre National du Mérite in July by the then consul general of France Eric Berti in recognition of her contributions to the French community and for her work as a journalist. The award is one of the highest French honours, given since 1963 to recognise exceptional contributions in any field.

De Changy, who has lived in Hong Kong since 2007 and been an FCC member for nearly as long, has worked as a correspondent at Le Monde for nearly 30 years, in addition to her work for Radio France, RFI, TV5 and France 24, spanning cities in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Taiwan. She has also been an active part of the French community in Hong Kong, working as chair of the executive committee of the French International School.

Over the years, de Changy has reported on stories globally, from the first-ever political meeting in Antarctica at the ministerial level, and writing about the ghosts there, to covering the 1998 tsunami in a remote part of Papua New Guinea.

She witnessed the end of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest and got the first-hand tale of 1989’s Yellowbird Operation – which helped Chinese dissidents from Tiananmen Square escape arrest – 25 years later from the former French deputy consul in Hong Kong.

“What other jobs in the world give you access to almost anyone, anywhere, and make you learn new things every day?” asked de Changy. She added; “I hope I have not written my best story yet.”

Eric Berti, Florence de Changy, her husband Philippe Grelon, and their youngest son Côme Grelon after the ceremony, Eric Berti, Florence de Changy, her husband Philippe Grelon, and their youngest son Côme Grelon after the ceremony.

 

Press clubs and the art of treading a fine line

Police shut down an event at the FCC Thailand for the sixth time recently. Michael Mackey was there and reports on the Club’s trials and triumphs.

Chaturon Chaisang being led away.

On Monday, September 10, members of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand turned up at their club in the early evening for a scheduled discussion about a United Nations backed report on alleged war crimes in neighbouring Myanmar.

They were met by uniformed and plain-clothes police officers under orders from Thai officials to shut down the event.

Inside some people were eating in the dining area as if nothing was happening, and some were at the bar. There were also plain-clothed police and lots of local journalists milling around. Clustered in a corner were, among others, Club president Dominic Faulder in talks with senior officers.

Eventually, FCCT First Vice-President Tassanee Vejpongsa, who works for the Associated Press, read out the cancellation order, which arrived just 20 minutes before the programme was due to start. With over 20 Bangkok police in the room, there was no alternative but to comply.

Chaturon Chaisang speaks at the FCCT in 2014 after being ousted from office... and is arrested during his talk and led away. Chaturon Chaisang speaks at the FCCT in 2014 after being ousted from office… and is arrested during his talk and led away.

Faulder then added a statement. It was polite but firm, sticking to the facts: this was the sixth event the Thai authorities had stepped in to stop. Four of these were not organised by the Club itself but outside groups; two were on Human Rights, and two were on Vietnam.

Events on Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines have all gone ahead and criticisms made, but Vietnam lobbies the Thai authorities to prevent certain topics being discussed.

“There was not a complaint from the Burmese embassy as far as we are aware,” Faulder said in his brief statement. The incident was reported by hundreds of news organisations around the world, including in the U.S. by both Fox News and The New York Times.

The police, some of whom were Special Branch, apparently didn’t know who was responsible – just that the order came from somewhere higher up.

The same day, the FCC Hong Kong issued a statement of support for the Bangkok club, including: “In a letter ordering the FCCT to cancel the event, the Thai police stated that the discussion might be used by ‘third parties’ to cause unrest and endanger national security. There are no grounds whatever for such suspicions. The club has regularly held orderly and informative panel discussions on current affairs for over 62 years, and these have never led to any unrest or subversion.”

Despite incidents such as this, the FCCT remains a place of open debate – while facing the same problems as many other media clubs.

Given the strictures put in place when Thailand’s military took power back in May 2014, which come on top of some already onerous laws about how some topics can be reported, the FCCT has continued to put on good and varied programmes that are frequently topical and challenging.

“This is quite a prickly government – particularly at the beginning,” Faulder, the FCCT’s president for the past two years, said in an interview four days before the events of September 10.

Things did not get off to a good start four years ago with the military arriving en masse to arrest Chaturon Chaisang, then the just-ousted education minister, technically a fugitive, as he spoke at the FCCT’s central Bangkok premises. However, there was – as Faulder noted – “genuine media interest,” in what Chaisang would say.

Although the club has good relations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and problems a few years ago with media visas have largely been resolved, relations with the cabinet have been “close to non-existent”, as Faulder put it. There has been no attempt to close the Club, but the cold shoulder it gets from the top is obvious.

Only two ministers have come to speak in four years – a drought compared to previous years. There has been no prime minister’s dinner, a fixture in most Thai premierships over the past 40 or so years. Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra came twice, and former PM and Leader of the Democrat Party Abhisit Vejjajiva three times. Of Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Faulder said: “He hasn’t shown the slightest interest in talking to us.”

Plenty of other speakers have, though, allowing the FCCT to put on events allowing some serious issues to be discussed. These are usually panel discussions with as many as five members, but usually three or four, allowing different views to be heard and politely probed.

They are also firmly moderated, with Faulder, a burly, imposing figure, leading a style of chairing best described as no-nonsense but essentially fair. This also extends to writing the flyers for events.

Dominic Faulder (right) with Club Manager Richard Holt on his left and retired diplomat Kobsak Chutikul negotiate with police. Dominic Faulder (right) with Club Manager Richard Holt on his left and retired diplomat Kobsak Chutikul negotiate with police.

“One of the things I lectured everyone on was not writing inflammatory blurbs. We want balance,” said Faulder. The FCCT, he stressed, is not an activist organisation, and does not belong to either the Red or Yellow side of the Thai political spectrum. Neutrality has enabled it to carry on doing events about Thailand and the region.

One good example of panel topics is Thailand’s road safety – it’s appalling. One on “Thai-ness” was lighter in tone but swung a light across the issue of Thai identity, what it means and what it implies.

Panels have also trodden on serious ground. One of the more recent of these was up-and-coming politicians discussing how they saw future developments. This packed them in; around 260 people attended well ahead of the ban on politics being lifted.

“There was no effort to stop that topic. I think everybody was interested in having an opportunity to hear what these people have to say,” said Faulder, who works for Nikkei Asian Review.

He also organised some crackers: a lengthy and illuminating discussion of the events of October 1976, a crunch time in Thailand’s turbulent history, was one. A fascinating programme on the Chinese in Thailand squeezed in seven speakers, and could have gone on all night. Indeed, the FCCT has not lacked for stimulation during what could have been a very fallow period.

Members and guests at FCCT watch as the planned talk on Myanmar is cancelled 20 minutes before it was due to begin on September 10. Members and guests at FCCT watch as the planned talk on Myanmar is cancelled 20 minutes before it was due to begin on September 10.

So there has been a steady stream of panels and regular documentary nights that deserve honourable mention that have kept debate alive, and on occasion added to it. Some, however, have hit the wall.

One of these was about a historic bronze plaque that went missing from Royal Plaza in the old part of town. This small piece of metal, marking the spot where the end of absolute monarchy was announced after a coup in 1932, disappeared under circumstances best described as unusual and still needing proper explanation.

Although the programme was ordered off by the police on instructions from much higher up, there was enough warning for an event on press freedom to be substituted.

Michael Mackey is an Absent Member of the FCC Hong Kong

Flak jackets, visas and the age issue

Like all press and media clubs, the FCCT has many pressures to contend with. Whilst correspondent numbers at the Club have remained fairly constant at around 85, there has been a major loss in the journalist category, from about 130 to about 70. Freelancers are also noticeably diminished from a decade ago.

A reclassification by the Thai authorities of many photographers and videographers hasn’t helped membership. They were no longer accepted for accreditation as journalists, and told to get business visas. Discussions with the FCCT’s professional committee helped sort out some of the problems, and the foreign ministry’s online accreditation system is greatly improved. Problems with regard to the legal importation of flak jackets, however, continue.

Within the membership, there has been a slight shift from Western journalists and a rise in Asian journalists. Nikkei and other Japanese news organisations have a growing presence, as increasingly do the Chinese media. Among traditional media, there is also a rebalancing away from youth towards more mature individuals. “We have a problem with an ageing membership demographic,” acknowledged president Dominic Faulder. He is keen to make the club more attractive to younger members. Two years ago it was starting to look a bit tired and weary. Some changes were made – new air-conditioning, new tables, new floor coverings, a spruced-up outdoor terrace, and a revamp of F&B including Thai craft beers, excellent Thai fare, and an all-day cooked breakfast.

“It’s a much more pleasant place to visit now,” said Faulder. “Everybody notices. The thing we have to do now is encourage people to make the effort – and not use traffic or heavy rain as excuses to stay at home.”

 

Want to write a book? Here’s all you need to know from a do-it-yourself superstar author

A few weeks ago I gave a talk about my latest book at the Eslite bookstore in Hong Kong. What I found interesting was that during the Q&A session after my speech, many of the questions were actually not about the content of the book but about how to do self-publishing. And I’m more than happy to share my experience about why and how.

Johan Nylander with his book, Shenzhen Superstars – How China’s smartest city is challenging Silicon Valley Johan Nylander with his book, Shenzhen Superstars – How China’s smartest city is challenging Silicon Valley

About a half year ago I launched a short-read titled Shenzhen Superstars – How China’s smartest city is challenging Silicon
Valley
on Amazon. After just a few days it became the Number 1 bestseller in its China section, and bubbled in the Top 5 in the section for books on innovation. In short, self-publishing is the most fun and challenging thing I’ve done in a long time. And, believe me or not, it has been surprisingly profitable. But hey, I’m a journo and used to being paid as one.

Why did I decide to do self-publishing? I’ll give you two explanations.

Some 10 years ago I wrote a management book titled Simplify! which was published by one of Sweden’s biggest publishing houses. I was naturally honoured to be published by such a prestigious company, but it turned out to be quite a disappointing experience. In short, I did all the work and they took the money. Although I managed to get really good media coverage and even won an award for it, the publisher didn’t distribute the book to the most important bookstores. I could go on.

Secondly, for a long time I’ve been trying to figure out how to make money as a writer in today’s media industry. If you’re a fellow writer you probably recognise this scenario: You do a feature story for an international media outlet, spending time travelling, researching and writing, and in the end getting paid breadcrumbs. And the day after the story is published online, dozens of other websites might have unlawfully copied it. It’s not the best business model.

So I was thinking, what if I write the story longer, and yet a bit longer, and again longer. Instead of 1,000 words I write 10,000 words, or 15,000 words. I write it so long that it suddenly turns in to a short book. And if it’s a short book, I can publish it on Amazon. If it’s published on Amazon, as an e-book and paperback, I can sell it globally to anyone, possibly for years. Amazon gives you 70 per cent commission on the consumer price, which is about 10 times higher than traditional publishing companies.

Sounds easy? Well, it is. And fun.

JOHAN’S TOP TIPS ON SELF-PUBLISHING

1

Find a topic that includes these two ingredients: You enjoy writing it and the readers will buy it. Either you have an idea that you believe many people will want to read, or you scan through the categories on Amazon till you find a gap in the market that you think you can fill. I had luck with my book about Shenzhen; high demand (many people searching on Amazon) but limited supply.

2

Cover design and title are key. To stand out against the competition, the cover and title have to stick out and be search engine friendly. My subtitle is jam-packed with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) boosting keywords: “China”, “smart city”, “Silicon Valley”, and “challenging” to add some drama.


3

Writing and designing is only half the job. The second half is marketing. To successfully launch your book you need to first figure out a plan how to drive traffic to your Amazon page and get people to pay. Try to get buzz on social media before launch and notify friends and colleagues.

4 

The first week is crucial. Amazon’s algorithm loves newly-released books that draw attention and if you manage to get good sales and reviews, the system will promote you. There are several tricks and tips, some quite cheeky. One is to set the price at US$0.99 during launch week, and then increase it later.

5

I also printed 2,000 copies at a local printer in Hong Kong, and the book is now for sale in most bookstores here. I’m grateful for all my friends and 11-year-old son who have helped me to carry heavy boxes across town, sometimes with taxi drivers swearing and shouting when we fill the trunk and backseat with books. Self-publishing is not always glamorous, but it is always fun.

Johan Nylander is an award-winning author and freelance China and Asia correspondent. He is frequently published by CNN, Forbes and Sweden’s leading business daily, Dagens Industri. He has penned bestseller Shenzhen Superstars – How China’s smartest city is challenging Silicon Valley, and plans to launch several more self-published books.

Read more about Johan here.

 

Partners in Wine: Why the FCC’s wine dinners are a learning experience

Winemakers are working with the Club kitchen to create this autumn’s wine dinners, as House/Food and Beverage committee co-convenor Jennifer Jett explains.

The wine dinners are highly social and educational evenings during which guests can get to know the winemakers and ask questions about their products. The wine dinners are highly social and educational evenings during which guests can get to know the winemakers and ask questions about their products.

Unsure which wine to order with dinner? Or are you an oenophile looking for a new favourite? No matter your level of expertise, everyone can learn something at the FCC wine dinners this autumn.

The dinners are organised together with some of the world’s most distinguished winemakers. They work with the club’s executive chef, Johnny Ma, and the beverage manager, Michael Chan, to choose dishes that best complement the wines’ characteristics. Because after all, no one knows them better than the winemakers themselves.

I think it’s pretty enjoyable getting an idea of the reaction of the public to the wines that you make.

The wine dinners are highly social and educational evenings during which guests can get to know the winemakers and ask questions about their products. And if you like what you’re drinking you can buy it on the spot. Guests can also provide suggestions for future dinners.

The first dinner was held on September 17 in conjunction with McWilliam’s, a family-owned winemaker in Australia. Host Scott McWilliam, part of the family’s sixth generation, presided over a fully booked event in the Main Dining Room.

“It’s a delight for the senses to be able to have good wine matched with good food in a lovely setting like this,” he said in an interview at the dinner. “And then it’s a little bit of the icing on the cake to have someone talk about the wine, someone who’s made it.”

Like any good wine dinner, it began and ended with cheese. In between, guests dined on tuna loin and crab meat timbales, spiced duck breast and charred beef mignon, paired with Sémillon and Shiraz.

“I appreciate all the effort that goes into these dinners,” said Andrea Morrow, comparing it favourably to other wine dinners in Hong Kong. “It’s a rarity to come to such a well-organised event.”

But if you missed the first dinner, it’s not too late. The next one, on October 30, will be hosted by Mariano Di Paola of Rutini Wines. Located in Mendoza Province, Argentina, Rutini was founded in 1885 and in 1925 became the first winery to plant vines in the Uco Valley. Di Paola has more than 30 years of experience and is Rutini’s head oenologist.

The final dinner will be held a week later on November 6, with Peter Dillon of Handpicked Wines presenting wines from Australia and Italy. Handpicked offers a “global portfolio” of wines from 21 wine regions and five countries.

As director of winemaking, Dillon travels frequently for Handpicked, sometimes visiting three or four regions in the same week.

“I think it’s pretty enjoyable getting an idea of the reaction of the public to the wines that you make,” Dillon says in a video on the Handpicked website. “As a winemaker, sometimes you can be living in your little bubble, but it’s good to share that with people and see how someone who hasn’t had any contact with that reacts.”

“Some of the time it’s the same as what you’re thinking, and other times it’s completely different, so it can be pretty funny,” he adds.

The October 30 wine dinner is priced at $588 per person, and the November 6 dinner is $598 per person. To reserve your spot, please call the FCC Concierge at 2521 1511, or email [email protected]

In other wine news, five red and five white wines are now available for home delivery in partnership with Watson’s Wine, in a special offer exclusive to FCC members. The three Australian wines – the Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2010, Evans & Tate Metricup Road Cabernet Merlot 2015 and McWilliam’s McW660 Reserve Canberra Syrah 2016 – come from McWilliam’s, the host of the September 17 wine dinner. Others include the Beringer Main & Vine Chardonnay 2017 from California and the Babich East Coast Pinot Noir 2016 from New Zealand.

Prices range from $100 to $148 per bottle, and the offer is valid until November 15. The total bill will be charged to the member’s account. The minimum order is 18 bottles, which can be a combination of different wines. To submit your order, call 2151 0754 or email [email protected] (Free delivery within seven working days is available to Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. Orders below the minimum quantity can be picked up at the Main Bar).

Details are for reference only and are subject to change.

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