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FCC’s new executive chef Johnny Ma arrives bursting with fresh ideas

For executive chef Johnny Ma, working at the FCC is a dream come true. “It’s my cup of tea!” laughed Ma at the main bar one recent Saturday morning. For Ma, who seems to have a permanent smile on his face and a ready laugh, the FCC has it all, from a Western kitchen where he can make classic European dishes, to the colonial design of the building itself. As an added benefit, the FCC kitchen work schedule allows Ma his Sundays off, finally giving him time to attend church, as he was so rarely able to do in past jobs.

Johnny Ma joined the FCC this summer, following the retirement of executive chef George Cheng. Photo: Johnny Ma joined the FCC this summer, following the retirement of executive chef George Cheng. Photo:

Hong Kong born and bred, Ma began his FCC career this summer, following the retirement of executive chef George Cheng. He has spent his 40-year career around the city, beginning in a Chinese restaurant as a teenager, and later working for some of Hong Kong’s top hotels. “Since I was a child, I liked cooking,” said Ma.

At age 12, Ma began preparing meals for his family at home, readily encouraged by his mother to take over in the kitchen. Just about two years later, with only a primary school education, he was in a restaurant, learning under a strict chef who would deliver a swat for any mistake Ma made. “Because they were tough, I learned a lot,” said Ma, who sees himself as a much gentler cooking coach.

Ma has developed a speciality in, and a preference for, French cuisine. Photo: Ma has developed a speciality in, and a preference for, French cuisine. Photo:

It’s hard to imagine the 56-year-old Ma as a tough teacher. With a happy laugh and soft features, the bespectacled Ma is truly someone who sees his career as both an art and a lifestyle. He approaches a dish with purpose, curious about its history, conscious of cooking it to perfection, and with an added eye to its presentation. “I’m always interested to know behind the dish, what is the story,” said Ma, before launching into a tale of dried sausages and their historic use by European soldiers.

While he lauds the creativity of “New Age” chefs, Ma is often skeptical of their approach to so-called fusion dishes. Often, he said, the chefs don’t understand the base foods they are combining, or why certain flavours should go together.

Ma has developed a speciality in, and a preference for, French cuisine. The chef has even – nearly, he may say – perfected lobster bisque, and his recipe is now the standard at his former employer, the Shangri-La Hotel in Hong Kong. Tricky dishes are more fun for Ma, like seafood, which requires an exact approach to cooking time so as not to ruin it. “Cooking is an art,” he said. “You really have to concentrate on each step as you cook it.”

Ma is excited about the opportunities the FCC presents and looks forward to creating some exciting changes in the club’s menus. For instance, Ma envisions more differences between the dining venues at the FCC, and hopes to create more distinction in the type of dining members can enjoy on each floor. “I want each floor to have its own character,” he said. The formality of the upper floor would serve well for more traditional European, for instance, while the main bar is suited for casual pub grub.

Additionally, Ma plans to do four or five food promotions during the year, with themes such as Shanghainese food in February, and, his personal favourite, a French May. A Sichuan guest chef will be visiting the FCC kitchen later this year, teaching the staff some new dishes. The FCC menu has seen limited change in recent years, so Ma is ready to spice things up a bit – while, of course, leaving classics like the Indian menu untouched.

FCC members should rest assured that as executive chef, Ma will be dedicated to the kitchen. His career demands 95 percent of his concentration, leaving only 5 percent for his wife, he said with a laugh. But he has the energy to keep going, and doesn’t expect to quit the kitchen life any time soon. Even holidays leave him missing the bustle and heat of the kitchen.

“If one day I retire, I will die!”

Didier Saugy on why managing the FCC has him going back to his roots

Swiss-born Didier Saugy is the FCC’s first new General Manager for 18 years. Sue Brattle went to see how he’s settling in.

Didier Saugy. Photo: Didier Saugy. Photo:

If a club such as the FCC can be run with military precision, then the new General Manager Didier Saugy is the right man for the job. Didier, who took over from Gilbert Cheng in August, is a Sergeant Major in the Swiss Army when he’s not working in the hospitality industry that he loves.

He comes to the Club from the Regal Airport Hotel, at Hong Kong International Airport. There he was director of food and beverage responsible for 170 staff, ballroom banquets for 1,000 diners, six restaurants, two bars and almost 1,200 rooms. So when asked how he feels about his new job so far it’s hardly surprising that he says: “Every time I come to work it is like fresh air to me.”

Didier and Gilbert worked together for a month in the transition period before Gilbert’s retirement, and Didier says: “He was very open during the changeover, we always had friendly conversation as if we’d known each other for 10 years. Even now, I just pick up the phone and call him if there’s something I need to ask. He has left the club in good shape, and was a very hands-on manager.”

I want us to make the effort, we are not green at the moment.

So far, what challenges has he faced as the new GM? He says: “My challenges are stuff like where to put the speakers in the upstairs dining room! This is an old building and it cannot support some of the equipment we need to install. “

The kitchen team in Jinan. The kitchen team in Jinan.

He is also passionate about turning the FCC green. “I want us to make the effort, we are not green at the moment,” he says. “We are consulting organizations for advice, trying to get away from paper. We are talking about designing an app for the committees to use, and then members who are travelling can join in meetings wherever they are. I’d also like a digital wall as you walk into the main bar, but that costs money.”

Didier has never worked at a private club before, but he did own and run an auberge in Switzerland for four years near the beginning of his career. “It felt like a club, I built up a group of 300 or more regular customers and we were like a big family.”

He then spent a very happy six years as a chef in New Zealand, where he took citizenship and cooked for the Rolling Stones when they stayed at The Regent Hotel in Auckland, and for Joan Collins, Buzz Aldrin and The Eagles (“very nice humble men”) at the Centra Hotel in the city. He cooked for the Red Hot Chili Peppers too, even though they flew in their own chef from California. “He cooked one dish then disappeared,” Didier said.

I can’t remember the members’ names yet, but I do remember faces. The names will come later.

The more bizarre period of his career took place when he was Operations Manager for Zoos Victoria, responsible for feeding humans visiting their three establishments in the Australian state. This meant anything from catering a barbecue for 5,000 on the lawns of Melbourne Zoo, organizing a wedding in the seal enclosure, or serving VIP cocktails at the monkey house.

Meeting and greeting at the Sofitel Jinan. Meeting and greeting at the Sofitel Jinan.

Before his zoo adventure, Didier opened the Novotel Glen Waverley in Melbourne as executive chef, and after nine years in Oz left with Australian citizenship. Getting closer to Hong Kong, he worked at the Sofitel Silver Plaza in Jinan, then the Crowne Plaza Ma’anshan before coming here to work for the Novotel Century.

Glamming it up at a staff party in Hong Kong. Glamming it up at a staff party in Hong Kong.

Didier and his wife, Summer Wu, have one son, Quentin, who has spent his entire three-and-a-half years living two minutes from the airport while his Dad worked at the Regal. On the day we meet for this interview it is Quentin’s first day at school. “My son was born in Hong Kong and I have lived here for nine years,” Didier says. “We have an apartment in Qingdao, which is a very nice city, and I go home to Switzerland once a year. But I love living here.”

Didier’s 100-day report was due to be presented to the board of governors as this magazine went to press. “It is a summary of what I have seen, who I have met, and what I would like to do,” he says.

So what are his first impressions of the FCC? “I find it very enjoyable to work here. In large hotels you become focused on marketing, but coming to this club is like going back to my roots, back to hospitality. I can’t remember the members’ names yet, but I do remember faces. The names will come later.”

Didier on teamwork and accountability

Since arriving at FCC, Didier has appointed Johnny Ma as the new executive chef and is now looking for an assistant banqueting manager to work alongside operations manager Anthony Ong and beverage manager Michael Chan. Of the new executive chef, he says: “He is used to big volume and fine dining. He knows the suppliers in Hong Kong, is flexible, and will bring new ideas to the Club.”

There will also be a marketing and communications person joining the Club. Didier says: “The team here is very good and they work well together. I like to empower people at work so they are accountable and have a good understanding of how they all fit together. I like to tell people that experience is the name we give to our mistakes.

“We have 100 staff now,” Didier says. “Twenty-seven are in the kitchen, 45 in service, and the rest are housekeeping and admin.” The housekeeping staff are the most difficult to recruit. “We need to be flexible with them,” Didier says. “If they are looking after grandchildren, then we need to make their hours work for them and us. We need them very early in the morning, so if they want to start at 5am, they should be able to; waiters and chefs are different, they need to be on duty when the members are here.”

Didier talks to a class of MBA students in Jinan Didier talks to a class of MBA students in Jinan.

FCC adopts charity that helps asylum-seekers get their children into kindergarten

The FCC has adopted K3 as its charity for the next two years, helping refugees and asylum-seekers to get their children into kindergarten – and stay there. Joyce Lau reports.

Best of friends. Best of friends.

Early education is tough in Hong Kong, where there are high expectations for children to start formal learning at age two or three, but where mandatory public schooling only begins in primary at around age six.

It is even more difficult for the approximately 13,000 refugees and asylum-seekers who live legally in the city but are barred from paid employment. Poverty, plus language and cultural barriers, keep many children out of kindergarten – depriving the city’s most vulnerable youngsters of essential learning opportunities and social interaction. By the time they start formal schooling, they could be years behind their peers in language and other skills.

K3 is the only sponsorship programme for refugee and asylum seeker children in Hong Kong. It started in 2014 by helping twin boys whose mother showed up holding a school acceptance letter, but no way to pay the fees. K3 helped 43 children in 2017, and currently 47 in 2018. It is an initiative of Branches of Hope (formerly The Vine Community Services Ltd), which has been serving marginalised communities since 2005.

The best camper. The best camper.

Aline Ruzzon, a Brazil native and Branches of Hope’s education administrator, described some of the challenges she faces as she works closely with these families.

“A single mom came into the office crying because she thought she’d have to take her kids out of school,” Ruzzon said of a typical encounter. “There was a delay in a government payment to her, and she couldn’t afford tuition.”

“The first thing I do is calm the mother down. I sort out their paperwork. I figure out who is missing what. Sometimes they need a referral letter or a call to a government department. Sometimes it’s just good to have someone to talk problems with – someone who’s listening, someone who can calm them down. It’s holistic support for the whole family.”

As every Hong Kong parent knows, the kindergarten application process involves arduous paperwork, interviews, as well as advance fees for books, uniforms, activities and transportation.

Refugees in Hong Kong receive basic financial and educational support from the government, e.g. a rental subsidy of HK$1,500 per adult and HK$750 per child. It is not enough to offset the reality of being unemployed in a very expensive city. “They have no access to cash – the government pays the landlord directly and issues a food card,” Ruzzon explained. “I’ve heard of moms selling food cards to cover urgent bills to keep children in school.”

The charity pays HK$800 per child to cover extra educational costs. But K3 does more than hand out funds. Each month, Ruzzon meets personally with scores of families, checking on school attendance, academic performance and domestic situations. “There has been more than one child we’ve referred for special education. We follow them very closely. I know I can make their daily life in Hong Kong a little bit better.”

Asylum seekers come from all over the world, particularly from Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Many are fleeing violence or persecution in their homelands, and seek temporary refuge in Hong Kong as they await resettlement in a third nation such as Canada. But this “temporary” situation can drag on for years. For young families, that may mean seeing an infant grow into a toddler, and then a schoolchild.


Ruzzon lights up when she talks about the transformation she has seen in K3 children. “Some kids might not be speaking very much when they arrive – and we may be concerned that they have special needs. But in fact, it turns out that it was simply a lack of school – a lack of interaction and social skills,” she said.

“Without a little funding, they would have no access to education, to Chinese- or English-language skills they need to get into primary.” But once they are in school, “they develop a lot”.

“It’s beautiful to see children who then turn around to teach their parents to speak or read Chinese or English,” Ruzzon said. “Some of the girls have won Chinese-speaking competitions. They have become completely integrated, but that would have been impossible without early education.”

How can you help?

Forms are available at the FCC Front Desk for those interested in helping a K3 child. A donation of HK$9,600 (HK$800 a month) will keep one student in kindergarten for one year; $28,800 will cover a child’s entire three-year kindergarten schooling. Donors will be given updates and photos of the children they are sponsoring.

For further information, go to:

About the Charity Committee

The FCC Charity Committee, set up in 2016, sponsors one charity every two years. The chosen organisation must benefit the local community in at least one of three fields: Early education, special needs education or elderly support. The Committee aims to help smaller non-profits which may fall between the cracks in terms of funding.

The Committee’s first beneficiary was The China Coast Community, a home for the aged in Kowloon. Funds were raised during the Hong Kong Remembers party in March 2017. Events such as readings and visits continue to take place, including a planned tea at the FCC on Thursday, October 25. The next fundraising party, to benefit K3, is currently scheduled for March 2019.

Joyce Lau is a former New York Times writer and editor, now working at the University of Hong Kong. A long-time FCC member, she has served on the press freedom, communications and charity committees, and previously coordinated the Human Rights Press Awards. She is the mother of two girls, and writes book reviews in her spare time.

Journalists on trying to stay safe in dangerous places

However much support journalists are given in conflict zones, they are still the ones who come face-to-face with danger on a daily basis. A freelancer and a bureau chief tell The Correspondent how they live with risk.

Rebel fighters attempt to identify the dead near the frontline between Ajdabiya and Marsa Brega, Libya, on April 1, 2011. Rebel fighters attempt to identify the dead near the frontline between Ajdabiya and Marsa Brega, Libya, on April 1, 2011.

If anybody has had first-hand experience of the risks involved in working in danger zones it is Hong Kong-born Nicole Tung, the recipient of this year’s James Foley Award for Conflict Reporting.

Her first experience of conflict reporting was during the 2011 Libyan revolution that overthrew President Muammar Gaddafi. “I just ran in with a camera and a pen, and I think that is what a lot of freelancers did,” she told The

She was in the Libyan town of Misrata when photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed in a mortar strike and “it was from that that people realised we really needed to be better at training journalists with first aid”.

Nicole Tung is a freelance photojournalist born and raised in Hong Kong. Nicole Tung is a freelance photojournalist born and raised in Hong Kong.

The result was the creation of Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues, a non-profit that offers free medical training to freelance journalists.

After Libya, Tung focused on the civil war in Syria, where she went on around a dozen reporting missions with James Foley in 2012. She missed his last, fateful trip into Syria in November of that year because she stayed back to get her cameras repaired.

Foley went into Syria with British photographer James Cantlie and they were kidnapped on the road back to the Turkish border after filing from an internet café. Foley was murdered by ISIS two years later, and Cantlie’s fate is still not known.

Like so many things, safety comes down to money, and for Tung, their kidnapping could partly be blamed on a lack of resources.

“If they had had the appropriate financial means they would have had a trusted driver, you don’t know who the taxi driver is or if you can trust them.”

As a freelance, she said, “we are so at the mercy of these publications who don’t pay or pay late”.

She lists three essentials for freelancers in danger zones:

  • Insurance for accidental death or injury;
  • Advance payments for expenses – freelancers often get paid late and are out of pocket;
  • A security consultant who can check in with you at least once a day.

News organisations that use a particular freelance on a regular basis should provide gear and training, she said.

“Having a trusted and knowledgeable fixer/translator is one of the most key aspects of working safely,” Tung said.

“Secondary to that is having a good system of communication with people keeping an eye out for your whereabouts and ensuring you do check-ins regularly, and on time. I’ve also made sure that I have the essentials in order, including a flak jacket and helmet if needed, and first aid kit which I take on all assignments whether I expect violence or not.

“As a freelancer, the support system I have is certainly not comparable to those who work on staff with big organisations behind them, including security consultants and larger budgets. I create my own system of reporting back when I’m in the field, usually to fellow journalists who are going to be in one place with reliable communications for the duration of my trip and who I give all necessary contacts to.

“They also are connected with the editors for whom I’m working on the story in any given country. Most outlets do take work from freelancers, although some have decided to not take work at all from areas of high risk as they do not want to be held accountable in the event something goes wrong.

“I’ve had many different experiences that have all changed the way I work, not necessarily near misses (though yes, I have had too many of those, too). I’d say the increased targeting of journalists around the world makes this profession much more difficult, and I have either had to stop working in one place or go about it in a different way – Syria was one example of that.”

For details on free medical training for freelance journalists, go to

Nicole Tung is a freelance photojournalist born and raised in Hong Kong. She graduated from New York University in 2009 and freelances for international publications and NGOs, primarily covering the Middle East. Her work often explores those most affected by conflict and war. She is based in Istanbul, Turkey.

‘If the threat level is high, staff are told to stay at home’

Allison Jackson is Afghanistan bureau chief for AFP. She lost her chief photographer and office driver in bomb blasts this year. Here she describes how her staff cope with the dangers of living in Kabul.

After our chief photographer Shah Marai and eight other journalists were killed in a twin bomb attack in Kabul on April 30 that appeared to deliberately target the media, AFP took the decision to stop sending photo and video journalists to the scenes of suicide bombings. For other types of security incidents, we make an assessment on a case-by-case basis.

AFP's Kabul Bureau Chief, Allison Jackson. AFP’s Kabul Bureau Chief, Allison Jackson.

While coordinated double-bomb attacks have not been a feature of the Afghan conflict, they do happen. We saw it again on September 5 when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a wrestling club in Kabul. After journalists and first responders rushed to the scene, a car bomb exploded. A total of 26 people were killed in the twin blasts, including two Afghan journalists.

Kabul is a dangerous city and the constant challenge for us is to minimise the risks we face on a daily basis. We do that by taking precautions, such as not going out at certain times of the day; avoiding locations that are considered high risk; ensuring colleagues know exactly where we are going, who we are planning to see and what time we expect to be back at the office; not creating patterns in our movements; and staying in contact with colleagues on the office WhatsApp group.

If we believe the threat level in the city is particularly high, staff are told to stay home.

The deaths of Marai and Mohammad Akhtar, our office driver, have been devastating for the bureau. Fortunately, the team has managed to pull together and support one another. It is a sad fact that my Afghan colleagues have experienced painful loss many times in their lives and they have developed a resilience that enables them to carry on. Mental health professionals are scarce in Afghanistan and most people have never consulted one. While AFP has given everyone in the bureau the opportunity to talk to a psychologist, people here are more familiar with faith, family and friends to help them cope with loss.

Allison Jackson joined AFP in 2009 as economics correspondent in China. An Australian who speaks Mandarin, she spent nearly three years in Beijing then left the Agency in 2012 to spend time in Mexico. She rejoined AFP in 2016 as an editor in Hong Kong and became Kabul bureau chief in July 2017.

Introducing… FCC new members, October 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.

Vesa MakipaaVesa Makipaa

Unofficially nominated as the Indoor Air Quality Ambassador from Finland, I have lived in Hong Kong since 2009, where we have an office and warehouse for global online sales. To achieve good Indoor Air Quality is often hard and the topic is the passion of my life. My wife describes it as the most unsexy business in the world – maybe she is right, but anyway I’m the father of eight kids. I like fishing and social life, especially chats in bars and the FCC provides an excellent environment for meeting old and new friends.


Emma DaleEmma Dale

My name is Emma Macintosh but most people know me by my work name, Emma Dale. I am the co-founder of Prospect, a global recruitment business specialising in PR and Communications. Initially I set up Prospect in London. In 2009 I came to Hong Kong with my husband and two kids to set up Prospect’s Asia operation, here and in Singapore. I am also a certified coach and the founder of Transform Executive Coaching. I also love hiking in Big Wave Bay, practising yoga and drinking red wine or champagne.


Cassi ZarzykaCassi Zarzyka

I am a new Associate Member and writer/producer in my startup company, ChinaWest Films. After being an Asia specialist for my whole writing career, I am now a content creator for the China market. I started as an allrounder journalist/editor and Hong Kong correspondent in Tokyo working for newspapers and magazines, and also as a scriptwriter for NHK news. The script work always followed me as I grew up in Hollywood. Now as a full-time screenwriter and script developer, I am focused on telling the stories of China.


Olga BoltenkoOlga Boltenko

I am a disputes partner in the Hong Kong office of a Chinese law firm, Fangda Partners. I also teach a postgraduate degree in dispute resolution at the University of Hong Kong. By virtue of my profession and practice, I am presumed to be disputatious. I have it on record that a number of FCC members would describe me as polite, perhaps with a slight penchant for a friendly debate – especially on a Friday night at Bert’s after a few glasses of wine. I had my first article published when I was 24, about a bar fight in Bangkok. I have written about disputes since then.


John BerryJohn Berry

Born and schooled in Ballarat, Australia, I worked as a civil engineer in Melbourne before taking a year off travelling across Asia and Europe, then working in London and Abu Dhabi, and further travelling in and around South America. Work was resumed in Melbourne, only to be sent to Saudi Arabia. The latter experience clearly warranted another year off, mainly spent in sailing around the China Sea/West Philippine Sea. I first encountered FCC member Peter Miles on my boat, and he later introduced me to the Club. Hong Kong beckoned in 1982. I met and married Natalie, and HK is our home. We have two children, Tom and Lizzie.


Erin HaleErin Hale

I am the Hong Kong correspondent for Deutsche Presse-Agentur. Prior to moving to Hong Kong last year, for a second time, I was living in Cambodia for three years where I also worked for dpa and freelanced. During that time I learned how to drive a motorcycle through monsoon rain, communicate with Khmer spirits, and where to find the best barbecued rat meat. While I do miss the excitement of Cambodia and the (sometimes) strange efficiency of petty corruption, I now get my kicks from outdoor activities like hiking and running. I am also a well-known cat enthusiast and fan of all things satirical.


Ching Fang HuChing Fang Hu

My friends call me Lolita – a provocative name I picked up working in magazine media in my 20s. I am a Chinese-language writer. I was born in Taipei and have lived in Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, Shanghai, Beijing and Paris. My writings fall into two categories: novels and essays. I was always told that, if you are a writer in Hong Kong, you should join the FCC – so here I am. My day job is head of Taiwan’s cultural office in Hong Kong, known as Kwang Hwa. We organise cultural events like concerts and art exhibitions. Taiwan has a flourishing arts community, which you are invited to share.


Kurt LinKurt Lin
Prior to reporting around Asia for Monocle, I was mostly keeping my eyes on stock tickers and the quarter end performance bonus, as most portfolio managers do. Those who have the habit of picking up some local press might have come across my commentary on the topics of affairs, travel stories and book reviews in Chinese — or even, once, my portrait on the cover of the city’s popular weekend tabloid. Wake boarding in the New Territories is the fun I miss most when I am abroad.


Josephine LiJosephine Li

I was born, raised and educated in Hong Kong. By chance, I joined the exclusive agent representing Carlsberg Beer as an intern when I left school. Little did I know back then this would lead to fulfilling my dream of a career in the commercial sector. A high point of my career was presenting a bouquet to the Queen of Denmark, Margrethe II, during the opening of our brewery in Tai Po. To complete my story, my husband Alex was the first European-trained Master Brewer who brewed the first batch of Carlsberg beer in Hong Kong. We are still serving the industry together up to this very day.


Jerome TaylorJerome Taylor

This is the second time I’ve been in Hong Kong. When my wife and I moved in 2014 for a posting in Thailand we both felt we were leaving the fragrant harbour too soon. I’ve been a journalist for 15 years, initially blundering my way around India as an enthusiastic but largely clueless post-graduate freelancer, before joining The Independent newspaper for seven years. I moved to Asia in 2012 for AFP, first on the Asia-Pacific desk, then three years as Southeast Asia correspondent in Bangkok, before returning once more to the regional editing hub late last year. I was a board member of the FCC Thailand for two years.


Jon Jensen

Jon Jensen

I’m a senior producer for CNN based in Hong Kong. I work mostly on long-form feature stories, covering everything from sports to arts and culture. This is my first stint in Asia. Before moving here, I spent over a decade in the Middle East, first in Cairo and then in Abu Dhabi. Before joining CNN, I covered the Arab uprisings from Tunisia to Libya to Tahrir Square. I was also a producer at National Geographic in Washington, D.C. I received a Master’s degree from the journalism school at the University of Florida. When I’m not on the road for work, my wife and I are either hiking or searching for the best roast goose restaurants in Hong Kong.


Vinod MahtaniVinod Mahtani

Born in Hong Kong, I am the third generation of an Indian family that arrived here in 1952. My wife’s family, also Indian, has roots in Canton dating back to 1929. Having left Hong Kong in 1968, I returned back to live here only in 2005. That is my excuse for no longer being totally fluent in Cantonese! Educated in the UK, I joined the family import and export business after having graduated at Manchester University. I set up my own arm of the trading business in 1985 and then spent nine years living in Nigeria, which was a true life lesson in street smart survival. I am currently an Honorary Consul for the Republic of Niger.


Scott HarrisonScott Harrison

I grew up in Sydney and qualified as an organisational psychologist before embarking on a career in recruitment. My first three years was a steep learning curve in a start-up before I moved overseas. I landed in Hong Kong just after SARS and managed to find a role recruiting lawyers. I developed a network across the city and, in time, the region. With the Lehman collapse, I felt it was the perfect time to begin a recruitment company and, with my business partner, formed Aquis Search 10 years ago. I married a fantastic Hong Kong lady, but I am still learning the language.


Finbarr BerminghamFinbarr Bermingham

I have been in Hong Kong for four years, after moving from London to become Asia Editor of Global Trade Review, a magazine about trade and trade finance. I come from Ireland and have previously lived in South Korea, where I somehow managed to hold down a slot on local radio, despite a strong Irish accent which shows no sign of diminishing. I’m currently training for marathon number five and turn out for the illustrious Hong Kong Dragons Gaelic football team (second string). I love exploring the Hong Kong trails with my fiancée Colleen, and trying out my questionable Cantonese in local restaurants.


Vega Hall-MartinVega Hall-Martin

I was fortunate to grow up in the famous Kruger National Park of South Africa, so my passion for wildlife conservation began at an early age. After attending university in Stellenbosch, I began a career in investment banking in London. After 12 fabulous years, I followed my soon-to-be husband to Hong Kong where we both began our careers anew. I now work for African Parks where my role is to raise the profile of African conservation in Asia while simultaneously tapping the region’s extraordinary wealth to help sustain the work we do in Africa. My Canadian husband and I have a lovely little boy.

Gary Liu SongnanGary Liu Songnan

I’m currently running an investment fund covering the Greater China area. The FCC is a place that provides different voices on all topics, so the two years waiting has been worth it for me to get membership. I travel a lot, and run marathons if there is one being hosted in the city that I visit; sometimes I visit because of the marathon. Japan and Italy are among my favourite countries so I have studied Japanese and a little Italian. Learning Italian helped my Italian cooking, as it’s my favourite food.


Tamsyn BurgmannTamsyn Burgmann

An experience isn’t an adventure until you don’t know that you’ll make it out alive. Since leaving Canada for Hong Kong, my journalistic pursuits across Asia have delivered roti snacks with rebel soldiers, shipwrecks to scuba dive and motorbike rides with Muay Thai fighters. In 2016, I departed The Canadian Press after ten years. I have since earned a master’s degree at HKU and joined the International Opinion desk of The New York Times. My survival skills are poised for whatever comes next.

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Heading into harm’s way: How news organisations prepare staff for covering war zones

News organisations are getting better at preparing journalists, photographers and support staff for working in dangerous situations and gone are the days when advice stopped at “Keep clear of windows”. Eric Wishart reports.

Life in Kabul is punctuated by bombings, meaning journalists need to be trained for working in hostile environments. Life in Kabul is punctuated by bombings, meaning journalists need to be trained for working in hostile environments.

When ISIS murdered American journalist James Foley in 2014 his death not only triggered revulsion in newsrooms, it also provoked serious soul-searching.

The horrific video of his killing showed how the risks faced by journalists had changed and raised the key question: What exactly is the duty of care that a news organisation owes to its reporters, including freelance contributors?

James Foley was filing for my news agency Agence France-Presse and the online U.S. outlet GlobalPost when he was kidnapped in Syria in November 2012.

AFP stopped sending its foreign staff to cover rebel-held areas of Syria the following August, and in the wake of Foley’s death made an important decision – it would no longer accept content from foreign stringers working in areas judged too dangerous for its own staff.

It is a rule that is now enshrined in the new AFP ethics code that I drew up in 2016, and we make no exceptions – even if we are offered a world exclusive from a freelance reporter in the field.

American journalist James Foley. American journalist James Foley in Aleppo.

Not all freelances agreed with the decision, saying that it was not up to AFP to decide where and how they should work. But as a former AFP editor-in-chief who has sent dozens of reporters into dangerous situations and seen too many colleagues killed or injured, I believe it was the right decision.

If a major news organisation like AFP – with all its experience of conflict reporting and all its resources – decides that an area is too dangerous to cover, then you should not be there, and we will not encourage you to take that risk.

Freelance journalists, often working on shoestring budgets, are particularly vulnerable in war zones where they often do not have the same safety backup enjoyed by staff employed by the big news outlets.

Following the murders of James Foley and Steve Sotloff in Syria, a coalition of news outlets and journalism organisations signed up to a code of safety standards for freelancers under the umbrella of the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong, which has long been a defender of freedom of the press, is one of the signatories.

AFP's Kabul Bureau Chief, Allison Jackson. AFP’s Kabul Bureau Chief, Allison Jackson.

One of the guiding principles is that when it comes to safety, all categories of staff – foreign, local or freelance – should receive the same protection. And above all, there is one basic principle we all must remember – no story is worth dying for.

So, what are the responsibilities of news organisations towards staff in hostile environments?

Dr Courtney C. Radsch, advocacy director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said that these responsibilities include “ensuring they are properly trained and resourced, have done a risk assessment and planned accordingly, and take precautions to ensure the physical and digital security of their journalists”.

In an email reply to questions from The Correspondent, she said that the risks to journalists have evolved.

“Given the centrality of the internet and mobile devices to contemporary journalism, journalists need to consider how to protect themselves and their sources on and offline,” she said. “Online harassment has become increasingly common, and many women and minority journalists in particular say that this is now a routine part of their jobs. There is also increasing awareness about trauma and needing to address this as part of a holistic approach to journalist safety.”

She added that the vast majority of journalists killed and imprisoned around the world are local journalists.

There are of course more local than international journalists, which means inevitably that the statistics will be higher. But autocratic governments and other bad actors also think they can act with impunity when it comes to local journalists, while attacking international staff can provoke a diplomatic backlash that they would rather avoid.

The recent jailing of the Burmese Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for seven years is a case in point, although they have received widespread international support. AFP has seen its local journalists in Afghanistan targeted in the past four years, with reporter Sardar Ahmad and his wife and two of his children killed by the Taliban in April 2014, chief photographer Shah Marai killed along with eight other journalists in a twin bomb attack in Kabul in April 2018, and office driver Mohammad Akhtar killed in a suicide bombing at the entrance to Kabul’s international airport, along with more than 20 other people, on his way to work.

AFP’s Asia-Pacific director Philippe Massonnet says that all journalists sent to conflict zones undergo training designed for the kinds of risks they will face.

“Local journalists and our regular stringers undergo this training, with photographers and video journalists given priority because they are the most exposed,” he said.

“It is also important to underline that hostile environment training should not just be for journalists – in some circumstances drivers and office managers should also be trained.”

Protective gear is deployed in all the agency’s bureaux depending on their profiles. All regular stringers are provided with protective gear and covered by insurance.

“The main challenge is not so much in providing the equipment but in ensuring that reporters wear their protective vests and helmets – some refuse to wear them or forget to take them with them when they go out on jobs.

“Bureau chiefs and news editors have the responsibility of applying the rules and protocols, but unfortunately some journalists are still too imprudent.”

The Correspondent, October – December 2018

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