Members Area

Meet John Ma, FCC Bar Manager

With more than 30 years of bartending experience, John Ma makes you feel right at home at the FCC.

John Ma

Tell us about your career!
John Ma: My first bartending job was about 30 years ago. I worked at a really local bar in Tsim Sha Tsui, where I learned how to make classic cocktails like gin and tonics, martinis, Negronis, and boulevardiers.

When did you join the FCC?
JM: A long time ago, in 1992. I almost always work the late shift – and I love it. I actually left the FCC for about two years to go work at a yacht club, but it wasn’t for me. It was too quiet, too calm, too empty… I really missed the FCC atmosphere and all of the members.

How has the FCC changed over time?
JM: We have seen many members come and go. Staff, too. It changes all the time, but I love meeting and talking with our new members. Often, we become very good friends. Of course, when members move away, it can be hard – I really miss them.

What do you love so much about the FCC bar?
JM: The bar is an important place for the community, for friends, for relaxing. I love the energy here – it is a special place.

What’s new at the bar?
JM: We are always working on new cocktails, experimenting with techniques, and adding wines and beers to the menu. We just bought a smoking machine, which we’re using to create new cocktails downstairs at Bert’s. We also introduced beautiful rocks to serve with our premium Scotch and whisky.

So which drinks should we try on our next visit?
JM: Our new smoky cocktails downstairs! For wine drinkers, our House Champagne is well-balanced and delicious. I would also suggest our Headline beer, an FCC signature. And for a cocktail, I’d say our espresso martini. That’s a good choice if you need extra energy after a long week.

What’s your go-to drink on a night off?
JM: A classic gin martini with a lemon twist – it is very elegant and refreshing. In general, I am obsessed with gin. My favourite type is Bombay, because it has a distinct aroma of spice and citrus.

What’s a fun fact about you?
JM: My first job was as a barber. I still have all of my tools. But don’t ask me for a haircut now! It has been way too long… I really loved working with hair, but it was too hard on my hands. That’s when I became a bartender. It was a perfect fit: Just like being a barber, I get to make new friends, create new things, and make people happy.

How Headline Pilsner Became the FCC’s New Signature Beer

Amid the many challenges the club faced last year, one stood out: Choosing the FCC’s new signature beer, Headline Pilsner. Richard Macauley, who was instrumental in bringing the beer to life, spills the story.

Headline Pilsner FCC Bar A pint of Headline Pilsner being poured at the FCC’s Main Bar.

Beer is the single-most popular drink at the FCC’s Main Bar – which sold upwards of 4,000 draughts and bottles a month pre-pandemic – so it felt only natural to introduce an exclusive FCC beer. Early last year, the F&B Committee set to work, pouring ourselves into Hong Kong’s craft brew scene to find the perfect beer for FCC members.

We quickly identified its ideal brewing partner: Young Master Brewery. Founded in 2013, Young Master is one of Hong Kong’s most successful craft breweries, standing out from the pack with its creativity, consistency and commitment to the city.

We knew the FCC’s signature beer had to be refreshing, flavourful and versatile, plus pair well with the club’s food. And as tempting as it was to experiment with more avant-garde brews, we ultimately selected a beer that would speak to the majority of FCC members.

After tasting dozens of beers, we narrowed it down to a pale ale or a Pilsner, essentially a classic Czech style of pale lager. During one of the tasting sessions, Young Master introduced us to a contemporary take on a Pilsner that ticked all of our boxes: a bold yet approachable flavour, crisp and clean finish, mild and tangy hops, and an all-weather quality that stands up in winter and summer.

As a final touch, we needed a catchy name fitting of a correspondents’ club. Enter Headline Pilsner – a beer so good, you’ll never need to read the full beer menu again. Since its launch, Headline has been one of the club’s top-selling draught beers, which is a testament to its easy-drinking style and compatibility with everything from spicy Indian curries to salads, Asian noodles or simply some peanuts and crisps.

If you haven’t tried a pint of Headline yet, there’s plenty of time to change that. Next time you’re at the Club, sip a draught with your favourite meal or just savour it solo. And take pleasure, if you like, that you’ll not only enjoy a great pint but that you’ll also be supporting one of Hong Kong’s best young businesses.

Introducing the FCC’s New Members: November 2020

The Membership Committee is always impressed by the diversity, experience and talents of FCC applicants. Join us in welcoming our latest batch of new members.

Howard Chang

I am a Hong Kong native currently working as a tax director at a technology firm. Most people think taxes are painful, but I actually find the topic very enjoyable, especially when it comes to participating in policy work, such as representing industry groups in front of LegCo, or OECD tax policy working groups. Recently, I have taken the opportunity to try new indoor activities, like online learning and some serious cooking — well beyond mere sustenance! I look forward to being part of the FCC community and meeting new people!

 


Dr. Francis Neoton Cheung

I am an urban designer and development consultant by profession, a property developer in my own time, the convenor of urban development think tank Doctoral Exchange, and a champion of the Marine Enclave developments. Born and bred in Hong Kong, I studied at Queen’s College, then graduated with distinctions from the University of Hong Kong. I have served on the HKSAR’s first Election Committee, as well as the Land and Building Advisory Committee and the Town Planning Appeal Board. In my free time, I am a contemporary porcelain artist and I like hiking, reading and playing mahjong.

 


Yoon Kueen Chong

Apa khabar? That’s “How are you?” in Bahasa. I am Y. K., a Malaysian with two lovely daughters who has lived in Hong Kong for over a decade. I work in international real estate and am now the Managing Director of Artana Asia Limited. Besides work, I enjoy reading, bowling, golfing, boating, and travelling – my ability to speak and write in five languages has made many journeys extra memorable. The FCC was the first club I visited when I landed in Hong Kong, and I’m grateful to become a member today.

 


Kevin Ding

I was born in Wuhan, but I grew up in Shenzhen where my height and exceptionally large feet drew the attention of national swimming coaches. I almost made a career of it, but I prefer drinking red wine to spending hours underwater. After moving to Hong Kong 15 years ago, I earned a finance degree and two master’s degrees in economics and international relations. I’m now working for Hang Lung Properties Limited. But the truth is, I still prefer the wine. I’m happy to discuss/debate the latest seasonal Beaujolais, or maybe even some politics.

 


Peter Paul de Groote

I arrived in Hong Kong last May, and to say that it has been interesting so far would be an understatement. Before Hong Kong, I spent 26 years with Médecins Sans Frontières and have lived and worked in many places, from Zaire and Ethiopia to Myanmar, South Sudan, Nepal, India, and a few more. Currently, I’m the director of the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation. The combination of dynamic city life and the outdoors makes Hong Kong ideal for me. Mingling with the wonderful (and sometimes eccentric) FCC crowd only adds to the experience.

 


Susan Latimer

I was born in South Africa and moved to Hong Kong in 2001. I derive enormous pleasure from running my business, Jetfresh Foods. We import and distribute microgreens and edible flowers to restaurants and hotels in Hong Kong and Macao. I like to keep busy and have a broad range of interests and creative pursuits. In the summer, I enjoy travelling to new places and always go back to visit my daughters in South Africa. I love to soak up the rural, untamed beauty of the Eastern Cape coastline, where we have a family home.

 


Billie Lau

I’ve covered banking and finance for more than 25 years, and I am currently working as the deputy news editor of the Business section at Apple Daily. Amid Hong Kong’s darkest hour, I am honoured to be a member of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

 


Fran Lebowitz

I’m Fran Lebowitz — no, not that Fran Lebowitz! Funnily enough, however, I too, was in the book business in New York City, where I once worked as a literary agent and editor at Writers House and William Morris Agency. I’ve lived in Asia for years but there was a time at the start of 2020, a time of flying, of congregation, when I thought I would resume life in New York. Alas, that has not been the case. After a stint in Singapore, I am now in Hong Kong, and keen to be part of the conversation at the FCC.

 


Tiffany Liang

I am a freelance reporter at The Washington Post, focusing on social issues in Hong Kong. Born and raised in mainland China, I came to Hong Kong three years ago to pursue a master’s degree in international journalism. I cover public affairs and international insights, as well as human-interest stories in mainland China and Hong Kong. Currently, I am also exploring financial journalism. Outside of work, I love hiking, art exhibitions and trying new restaurants. I am really excited to become an FCC member! 

 


Natasha Marks

I’m an architect at Aedas Architects, and I moved to Hong Kong in September 2019 with my husband Richard. I am British but I lived in Kuwait for a couple of years when I was young and spent a year in Hong Kong during university. I recently started my own practice here called NK3 Ltd, which specialises in commercial architecture. I’ve travelled extensively in Africa and the Middle East both for work and pleasure, and when not at my desk, I can usually be found hiking or paddle-boarding in Stanley with my dogs.

 


Rahul Mehta

I am a solicitor at Slaughter and May. I came to Hong Kong in 2016, supposedly on a two-year secondment from the corporate law firm I was working for in London at the time. But, as is tradition, I am still here almost five years on! Off-duty, I’m partial to a game of squash or golf, a hike, a beer or a decent bottle of wine, and wish I understood the intricacies of mahjong. As amusing exploits go, I once accidentally won a Russian verse-speaking competition. Do ask me about it at the bar sometime…

 


Win Pang

Hello! I was born and raised in Hong Kong, though my family is Indonesian-Chinese, from an island named Belitung. I love my job in equity sales at UBS AG, because it allows me to meet great people and stay up-to-date with global news. Aside from work, I liked to travel and hang out with friends pre-pandemic. Now I enjoy reading, meditation, jogging, yoga, watching NBA games and the occasional Zoom chat. I am also taking psychotherapy classes and a children’s coding course, taught by my 8-year-old niece, who taught herself to code during the lockdown.

 


Benjamin Qiu

As a capital market and intellectual property lawyer, I often split my time working and travelling between Asian cities. In my free time, I also volunteer on the Board of the Shanghai FCC. I studied and worked in Silicon Valley prior to returning to Asia, and I grew up in Beijing where, to my knowledge, I was the first kid to have a skateboard! 

 


Bill Rigby

I’m the Spot Enterprise Editor at Reuters. I moved to Hong Kong last December to edit some of the longer-form stories Reuters produces in the Asia region, ranging from local unrest to street protests in Thailand. I grew up in Manchester, England, went to university in London and started my career at Reuters there in the late 1990s. I spent the last 20 years working for the agency in New York and Seattle, writing and editing news about finance, markets, aerospace and technology. When I’m not working, I like to ride my bicycle up and down the Peak.

 


Neville Sarony

I’m an Anglo-Irish, ex-Gurkha, ex-Foreign Service member who has been a practicing barrister in Hong Kong since 1986. Before that, in the 1960s, I practiced in London and Kathmandu. A Queen’s Counsel, I’m a specialist in professional negligence and complex crime, author of the Max Devlin novels (including the forthcoming The Chakrata Incident), and a contributor to online news platforms EJ Insight and Asia Times. Besides that, I am also a political satirist, jazz pianist and singer, an after-dinner speaker, and sometimes an actor. Joining the FCC is a high quantum of solace for me.

Why Fact-Checking Is More Crucial Than Ever

By Marianna Cerini

With misinformation on the rise, AFP Fact Check’s Cat Barton says fact-checking is fast becoming an essential public service. 

Cat Barton has been with Agence France-Presse (AFP) for more than a decade. Her career has taken her across Asia, from Dhaka to Hanoi to Hong Kong, where she now heads up AFP Fact Check, the international news agency’s content verification operation. 

Fact-checking is more crucial than ever. Not only has the pandemic fuelled an ‘infodemic’ of fake news, but social media companies are also struggling to vet an onslaught of deceptive and divisive content from politicians and hate groups. It’s an uphill battle, but Barton and her team are working hard to combat deliberately incorrect, doctored, or otherwise misleading information.

Cat Barton Cat Barton reporting in Bangladesh in 2009. PHOTO: Cat Barton

How did you get into fact-checking? 

Cat Barton: I moved to Hong Kong to work on the Asia-Pacific editing desk, when AFP started this new programme called AFP Fact Check, back in 2018. Interested, I got involved early on. We started fact-checking reports from four countries: India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. 

Every day, a handful of reporters would look for deliberately misleading online information and find ways to debunk it. The department has grown rapidly since then. Today, we cover 12 countries in Asia, have more than a dozen reporters on the fact-checking team, and publish in multiple languages. AFP sees fact-checking as a key pillar of a news agency’s role in the 21st century, because misinformation is pervasive in the digital media landscape. 

 

What surprised you the most about misinformation? 

CB: At first, I was really surprised by how misinformation is exactly the same in different languages. The same message just crops up across local markets with a few clever tweaks – maybe the name of a city has been changed, or the name of the health minister – but it’s still shared with the same images, the same claims, the same editing, and wording taken out of context, the same memes, and graphics. We often have situations where our fact-checker in Jakarta, for instance, would say, ‘Hey, you know that misinformation from Buenos Aires? We just found it here too.’

 

What’s one of your top fake news-busting moments? 

CB: One of my all-time favourites was during the 2019 Indian general election. Rahul Gandhi, an Indian politician who was the opposition leader at the time, gave a funny speech about how Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been promising to gift farmers fields on the moon. 

However, online purveyors of misinformation edited the video of Gandhi’s speech to make it look like he was the one who was making those promises. It was such a simple, clever piece of misinformation because they made it seem so plausible. It would have fooled most people. That was very satisfying to unpick and debunk. 

 

What’s been your focus so far this year? 

CB: My team has done some amazing work debunking coronavirus misinformation. As an example: Early on in Hong Kong, when people were panicking about face mask shortages, a suggestion began circulating online that, if you steamed your face mask, you could reuse it up to five times. We did a deep dive into the subject. 

We broke down the videos making that claim, talked to experts and Hong Kong health authorities, and discovered where the original message originated. We demonstrated with real forensic accuracy that the whole thing was misconstrued on Weibo, then amplified by a Hong Kong politician on Facebook. 

 

Why is fact-checking so important right now? 

CB: The media industry has been upended over the last decade or so. We’re no longer the gatekeepers of information – anyone with an internet connection and a Facebook account can freely publish whatever they please. As a consequence, misinformation has swelled. Across the countries we work in, we see different motivations – political or financial – and it’s so important that we push back. Otherwise, it can be hard for the general public to discern the truth. That’s all the more important in places like India, for instance, where the literacy rate is quite low. 

 

It’s a lot of responsibility. Does it take a toll on you?

CB: Fact-checking is obviously a difficult task. It can feel dispiriting when you’re fact-checking pernicious misinformation that’s designed to confuse or mislead people, or that could have real, serious repercussions. But AFP sees it as an important public service, so we are very proud of the work we do. 

 

Looking ahead, how do you expect the role of fact checkers to evolve? 

CB: As an organisation, we have always ensured that the information we publish is correct. But that’s no longer enough. Now, it’s part of our mission to actively find inaccurate misinformation and correct it. We’re now using a good chunk of our journalistic resources to debunk misinformation, and I think that’s going to become even more essential as the media landscape evolves. 

Looking forward, I also think traditional and legacy media will work more closely with tech companies to combat misinformation. We anticipate misinformation to continue to proliferate online and become more sophisticated and hard to detect, for example, the use of ‘deep fakes’ [sophisticated fake videos or audio that replicate a person’s likeness using special effects and artificial intelligence]. 

Learn more about AFP Fact Check: factcheck.afp.com

Cat’s Toolkit

Stockpile your fact-checking arsenal with these free online resources:

TinEye
Helpful for reverse-image searches. Also a great way for photographers and creatives to catch copyright infringement. bit.ly/3kZkmbu 

InVID/WeVerify
Verifies videos. Can breakdown videos into keyframes for reverse image search. Also useful for checking metadata. bit.ly/319trXj 

Carbon Dating The Web
Used to verify the date a webpage was created to confirm or debunk the legitimacy of a source. carbondate.cs.odu.edu 

WolframAlpha
A weather-checking resource. You can prove a video wasn’t taken at the time it claims if the weather doesn’t match. Wolframalpha.com

YouTube DataViewer
Provides the upload time of a YouTube video. Used to verify if an incident happened at the time or place claimed. citizenevidence.amnestyusa.org

‘100 Filipinos’ Puts Outstanding Filipinos in Focus

FCC member Noel de Guzman’s new book celebrates illustrious Filipinos, from Jollibee’s founder to fashion moguls and tech wunderkinds.

In 2018, graphic designer and illustrator Noel de Guzman stumbled upon a Google doodle of Fe del Mundo, the first Filipino woman admitted to Harvard Medical School and the first person to establish a paediatric hospital in the Philippines. 

Fe del Mundo Fe del Mundo, the mother of Philippine pediatrics.

But this was the first time de Guzman, a native Filipino, had heard of her. “When I learned about del Mundo, I was in awe. At the same time, I felt a little ashamed for not knowing who she was, so that inspired me to research more notable people from the Philippines,” says de Guzman. Determined to learn more about his country’s history, de Guzman began compiling information on a Google spreadsheet, amassing research on more than 500 notable personalities. 

Tony Tan Caktiong, the face of Jollibee.

Fast forward two years later, and de Guzman has transformed that research into a new book, 100 Filipinos: A Collection of Biographies of Remarkable Men and Women of the Philippines. The 212-page compilation highlights inspiring success stories, from the inventor of banana ketchup to a “computer genius who rocked Silicon Valley” and the first Filipino fashion mogul. An accomplished illustrator, de Guzman pairs each profile with colourful portraits, making this book a joy to read. 

Dado Banatao, the rock star of Silicon Valley.

“We should learn from the people who really matter – people who are leaders, pioneers, and mavericks,” says de Guzman. “This book is my contribution to the country. It aims to inspire and educate. I hope one day, the book will be in every Filipino home.” 

Order your copy here: 100filipinos.com

A New Biography of Hong Kong’s Controversial Eighth Governor, John Pope Hennessy

Jonathan Sharp dives into ‘A Stormy Petrel: The Life and Times of John Pope Hennessy,’ by FCC member P. Kevin MacKeown.

Anyone wishing to divert their attention away from the actions of the Government House incumbent would do well to dip into a fascinating new book about a past – and equally controversial – holder of the city’s highest office. 

A Stormy Petrel: The Life and Times of John Pope Hennessy chronicles the remarkable life of Hong Kong’s eighth governor who, as author P. Kevin MacKeown puts it, “seldom evoked indifference.” That’s putting it mildly. An Irish Catholic born in 1834, Pope Hennessy courted controversy almost everywhere he went throughout his career, which was mostly spent running Britain’s smaller colonies. 

Initially, the need to shore up shaky finances (a suggested alternative title to MacKeown’s book was A Mick on the Make, an informal way of saying “an Irishman intent on personal gain”) drove his career choice, because he could earn more overseas than at home. 

On the personal front, he also raised eyebrows by marrying a Eurasian, Kitty, in a match almost unheard of among UK’s colonial administrators. He made a veritable Cook’s tour of the more far-flung of Britain’s colonies, starting as governor of Labuan, off Borneo, then taking in West Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean as well as Hong Kong, where he served as Governor from 1877 to 1882. 

John Pope Hennessy

Though he was liberal-leaning man of considerable charm, Pope Hennessy had a volatile temperament and High Dudgeon in High Places Jonathan Sharp dives into ‘A Stormy Petrel: The Life and Times of John Pope Hennessy,’ by FCC member P. Kevin MacKeown. was widely accused of inefficiency. Still, he had ideas and policies ahead of his time, including the advancement of the local populations he governed. He inevitably ran up against conservative vested interests among his fellow colonials and his reform record is short. 

A particularly hostile adversary in Hong Kong was Jardine’s William Keswick (another family name inseparable from the city’s history), who opposed most of his lenient policies. Especially egregious, according to his detractors, was Pope Hennessy’s efforts to install – perish the thought! – a Chinese representative, Ng Choy, in the Legislative Council. An incident perhaps most remembered about Pope Hennessy’s tenure had a whiff of scandal about it. Suspecting that lawyer Thomas Hayllar was having an affair with his wife Kitty, Pope Hennessy struck Hayllar with an umbrella near Mountain Lodge, the governor’s Peak summer home. Hayllar had the weapon mounted with a plaque inscribed “A Memento of the Battle of Mountain Lodge.” 

As the author concedes, readers may be baffled by the myriad emotions aroused by Pope Hennessy, and MacKeown lists no fewer than 236 adjectives, for and against, to describe him. One that is missing could perhaps apply to both Hennessy, as well as the present resident of Government House. That word is “polarising”. 

Pick up a copy at the FCC.

Meet Our New Clare Hollingworth Fellows

The FCC is delighted to introduce this year’s Clare Hollingworth Fellows, Tiffany Liang and Jennifer Creery. Marianna Cerini caught up with these ambitious young journalists to learn more about their accomplishments and aspirations.

The late Clare Hollingworth had the scoop of the century. At 27 years old, the intrepid journalist broke the story of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 while working for British newspaper The Daily Telegraph

A remarkable career unfolded from there, taking her from Eastern Europe during World War II to the Balkans and North Africa, the battlefields of the Greek and Algerian civil wars to the Vietnam War. In the early 1980s, she retired to Hong Kong, where she lived for the next few decades. Hollingworth, who was a club member for more than 40 years, died in 2017 at 105 years old. 

In honour of her legacy, in 2019 the FCC established the annual Clare Hollingworth Fellowship, which aims to cultivate the talents of early career journalists and current journalism students in Hong Kong. 

This August, the FCC announced the second pair of fellows: Tiffany Liang and Jennifer Creery. Both young journalists, who share a strong interest in social issues and political reporting, have made impressive strides since they began their careers, at The Washington Post and Hong Kong Free Press, respectively. Here, they share their personal stories, proudest moments and plans for the future.

 

Tiffany Liang: ‘I love how journalism challenges you’

Tiffany Liang Tiffany Liang, one of the FCC’s new Clare Hollingworth Fellows. Photo: Tiffany Liang

Born and bred in Guangzhou, Tiffany Liang took an interest in journalism from a young age. As a child, she recalls pretending to be a news broadcaster in her living room, using a remote control as a microphone and role-playing scenes. As an undergraduate at Guangzhou University, she studied broadcasting and TV, spending a semester in Taipei. She pursued trainee programmes at every opportunity, and honed her writing and reporting skills at news organisations like Southern Metropolis Daily and RTHK Putonghua Radio. 

In 2018, Liang relocated to Hong Kong where she earned a Master of Arts in International Journalism Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. Fresh out of university, she landed a junior reporter role on the investigative reporting team at online news portal HK01. 

“As cliché as it sounds, I’d always wanted to be a journalist,” says the 25-year-old. “Coming to Hong Kong was an obvious decision to ensure I could really achieve that, given the press freedom constraints we have in mainland China.” 

Keen to learn more about Hong Kong, Liang turned her focus to government policy to better familiarise herself with the inner workings of the city. “I love a challenge and learning new things,” she explains, “so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to me.” 

In June 2019, she left HK01 and soon landed a translation gig at The Washington Post. “I guess Shibani Mahtani [The Post’s Southeast Asia and Hong Kong bureau chief] had noticed my name in the past. One day, she got in touch to ask if I could help with a translation. I did, and well, here I am today.” 

Tiffany Liang Liang interviews a magician for a journalism school project in February 2018. Photo: Tiffany Liang

Now a freelance reporter for The Post, Liang attends press conferences, monitors live stream events, conducts interviews, writes articles and translates – the job provides a lot of variety, she says. 

During last year’s protests, Liang covered the turmoil engulfing the city with longer feature writing. “The switch has been nothing short of amazing in terms of my professional growth,” she says. “I am thrilled to be working on longer, in-depth human-interest stories that shine light on people and social issues. The Post has offered me immense mentorship in that sense.” 

Among the features she’s most proud of, Liang names an investigative reporting piece on police brutality, which won the award for investigative feature writing at the 24th Human Rights Press Awards 2020. The feature exposed leaked law enforcement manuals containing guidelines that had been ignored by police during confrontations with protesters. 

“I spent a lot of time on [this story], and was particularly proud of the impact it had – not just among our [international] readers but Hong Kong society at large.” 

“Both the award and the Clare Hollingworth Fellowship still seem so surreal to me,” Liang says. “To have my work recognised this way – I would have never dreamed of it.” Looking ahead, Liang hopes to continue uncovering important social issues, but she’s also exploring other areas of specialisation. “I’ve started taking a course on financial journalism,” she says. “It’s good to keep options open, especially as things are changing so fast here.”

 

Jennifer Creery: ‘I am extremely proud of the work we do’

Jennifer Creery Jennifer Creery, one of the FCC’s new Clare Hollingworth Fellows. Photo: Supplied

Born in Hong Kong and raised in the UK, Jennifer Creery started her journalistic career in Taiwan – her first stop after graduating with a degree in English literature from King’s College London. 

“I initially went to Taiwan to study Mandarin at National Taiwan University on a Huayu Enrichment Scholarship,” she recalls, “but my end goal was always to become a journalist in Asia.” 

Upon completing her language course, she set out to do just that. Creery started freelancing in Taipei and soon connected with Tom Grundy, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He hired her as a production editor, bringing Creery back to Hong Kong in 2018. 

“I’d always been interested in the geopolitics of the region, and Hong Kong in particular,” says the 25-year-old. “The move felt like the next natural step in my career.” 

About a year later, in December 2019, Grundy promoted her to managing editor. “It’s been a truly formative journey,” she says. “And I’ve been lucky in that I was provided with a lot of support and training from the start. The team showed me the ropes, which has helped me grow as a reporter and editor. I’m grateful for that.” 

Jennifer Creery Creery files a story amid clashes outside LegCo in 2019. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP

Since joining Hong Kong Free Press, Creery has reported on the city’s anti-extradition law protests, the coronavirus outbreak and ongoing political developments. “I’ve also had the opportunity to cover local issues and minority rights, which are [two things] I’m very passionate about,” she says. 

In her new role, Creery writes, assigns and edits articles, as well as manages the site’s daily operations. “We’re a small media room, so everyone handles different things at once,” she explains. “That makes the job all the more varied and interesting.” 

Creery points to Hong Kong Free Press’s coverage of the 2019 protests as an example. “We took shifts on the ground, particularly during the Polytechnic University siege, producing videos, investigative work and multimedia features. I’m in awe of what we achieved considering the size of the team.” A deep-rooted desire to report on social issues and verify stories, particularly in the age of rampant fake news, drives Creery every day. 

“I strongly believe in freedom of information, and the public’s right to know. [Quality journalism] enables people to make informed decisions on how they wish to run society and their government, and hold those in power accountable,” she says. “When [society] can’t change policies through civic action, our reporting can at the very least act as a historical record of those efforts. Through my work, I hope to do my part in that.”

The Growing Dangers of Reporting in Conflict-Torn Kashmir

It’s never been easy to report in conflict-torn Kashmir. But the past year has seen more press suppression and interference than ever. Words and photos by Sharafat Ali, in Kashmir.

A security officer walks past protesters in Srinagar, Kashmir. Photo: Sharafat Ali

On a Monday morning in mid-April, Masrat Zahra was scrolling through Twitter during a COVID-19 lockdown in Kashmir when she came across multiple tweets about a female Kashmiri photojournalist who had been charged for terror-related activities. 

Scanning the platform for more details, Zahra was shocked to discover that she was the journalist in question. The police accused the 26-year-old freelance photojournalist, who has worked with The Washington Post and Al Jazeera, of uploading “anti-national posts [on Facebook] with criminal intentions to induce the youth to promote offences against public tranquility” – a crime that carries a seven-year prison sentence.

The grounds were unprecedented. In 2018, Zahra had shared a photo of children holding the banner of a slain militant commander. The banner – and subsequently Zahra’s photo caption – read “Shaheed,” the Urdu word for martyr. Under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act [UAPA], amended in 2019 to include special terrorism-related procedures, such language is considered grounds for treason when used to describe insurgents and armed rebels. 

Relatives mourn the death of 18-year-old rebel Shahid Ahmad, who was killed in a gunfight with Indian forces. Photo: Sharafat Ali

Two days later, the police summoned Zahra to a station in Srinagar, the largest city in India-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). They released her after questioning but the charges remained. 

A chill lingered in the air, particularly since Zahra’s case is far from unique in Kashmir, where India and Pakistan have vied for control for decades. 

My own experiences with harassment include an incident in March of last year. While on assignment in Kupwara, a northern district in J&K, near the de facto border separating India from Pakistan, my local guide and I were detained without explanation for several hours. 

I had pulled out my camera to capture a beautiful scene of horses running through the village’s deserted streets when several armoured vehicles pulled up. 

Source: The Express Tribune

Army personnel surrounded us, guns pointed at our heads, as I struggled to comprehend what was happening. I complied when asked for ID, explaining that we were on assignment for a freelance project. 

They took us to a police station, where an officer slapped me across the face and hurled abusive remarks at us. I pleaded with them to check my work online and contact my senior colleagues to verify my identity. The situation only improved once they learned that my friend was the son of the village head. After almost seven hours, they let us go.

I have covered Kashmir for the last seven years and, like almost every journalist in the region, I’ve faced harassment many times. But the situation has worsened in the past year – harassment, suppression and surveillance have grown increasingly common as the conflict between India and Pakistan escalates. 

Often called the most militarised zone on Earth, Kashmir has been hotly contested since India’s independence in 1947. At that time, the British partitioned the region into predominantly Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-majority India, leaving the princely state of J&K independent. A tribal insurgency, however, pushed J&K to ask India for help. India agreed, so long as J&K joined the country in exchange. 

While covering a 2016 protest in Srinagar, Kashmir-based photojournalist Xuhaib Maqbool Humza lost vision in his left eye after a J&K police officer fired a pellet gun at his face. Photo: Sharafat Ali

Conflicts between India and Pakistan continued, leading to increased terrorist activity by militant groups who oppose Indian rule, as well as civilian calls for self-determination. Today, hostilities could potentially escalate into nuclear war. 

The region has long held a special semiautonomous status within India, based on Article 370 of the Indian constitution. This included its own constitution, flag, and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defense, and communications. 

But on 5 August 2019, the Indian government revoked Article 370 and permanently incorporated the territory into the rest of India. In the lead up to the announcement, the J&K administration cut off telephone networks and internet services, banned public gatherings, and deployed thousands of Indian troops to thwart protests and enforce a curfew. 

The government-imposed curfew lasted almost four months. Then came a self-imposed public shutdown to protest the presence of thousands of military personnel, followed by a countrywide lockdown due to COVID-19. 

Residents wander through the rubble in Srinagar. Photo: Sharafat Ali

Amid the crises, journalists scrambled to share the news with the world. But without stable internet connections, news agencies could not print daily papers, live stream broadcasts nor disseminate dispatches to their international desks. Farooq Javed Khan, a veteran photojournalist and president of the Kashmir Press Photographers Association, calls last year’s restrictions unprecedented. “Without communication [during the lockdown], it was difficult to work and get around,” he says.“We could not report a lot of stories.” 

A government-run kiosk in Srinagar offered more than 100 journalists just four computers and a painfully slow internet connection. This chokehold on the flow of information effectively ensured sensitive photos and videos would not leave Kashmir. In June, the new administration released a new “Media Policy” and introduced an Information Department. As a de facto watchdog, the department has the right to “examine the content of the print, electronic, and other media for fake news, plagiarism and unethical or anti-national activities”, and may also take legal action should they deem any reports detrimental to national interest. 

In addition, “there shall be no release of advertisements to any media which incite or tend to incite violence, question sovereignty and integrity of India or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behaviour.” 

Paramilitary forces deployed at the birthplace of young rebel Sajad Gilkar, who was killed in a gunfight with Indian forces. Photo: Sharafat Ali

Under these conditions, the territory’s already precarious press freedoms have hit a new low, with reports of journalist detainments and arrests on the rise. 

In April this year, police booked senior journalist Gowhar Geelani for “unlawful” and “anti-national activities” on social media. Similarly, police summoned Peerzada Ashiq, a journalist with The Hindu, over a story about an armed conflict between militants and security forces which contradicted police statements. 

In July 2019, police detained Qazi Shibli, the editor of Kashmir-based news website The Kashmiriyat, for nine months for reporting on the military presence in the Kashmir Valley. They arrested Shibli again on 31 July this year without any charges; he was released after 18 days. 

In another high-profile case, police arrested Asif Sultan in 2018 for writing a profile of a rebel commander whose death inspired several youths to pick up arms. Charged with aiding insurgents and terrorism-related activities, the journalist has been in jail for more than two years. 

Kashmir is rich with stories – of tragedies, shattered dreams, resilience and, just as importantly, hope. And despite the persecution and danger that journalists regularly face, I hope one day, we can share all of these stories without fear. 

Relatives mourn the death of a rebel commander, who was killed in a gunfight with Indian forces. Photo: Sharafat Ali

Key Events

August 1947
India gains independence, partition creates India and Pakistan 

October 1947
J&K joins India to combat Pakistan-supported insurgency 

1949
First Kashmir War ends after two years, India holds 65% of Kashmir, Pakistan holds remainder 

1950
Article 370 in India’s Constitution secures “special status” of J&K 

1965
India and Pakistan fight second Kashmir war, which ends in stalemate 

1971
Third war begins 

1972
India and Pakistan formalise ceasefire lines 

1980s
Rise in militant groups, deaths 

1990s
Discontent over Indian rule incurs protests, separatists, terrorism, nuclear weapons testing 

2000s
Terrorist activity, militant attacks continue, thousands more die 

2010
Anti-India protests erupt in Kashmir, following death of a young militant 

2016
More protests erupt over youth deaths 

2018
India declares central rule in Kashmir, terrorism continues 

2019
India deploys troops to Kashmir, blocks internet, revokes “special status” 

2020
Government increases media controls, military and civilian killings continue 

Obituary: Remembering FCC Member Noel Parrott

By Pat Malone

In one of the last messages Noel sent to me, just two days before he died, he wrote: “Before they made me, they broke the mould and tossed it.” 

No one who knew Noel Parrott would argue with that. Kind, funny, warm and original, Noel was his own man. He preferred harmony but was no push-over, and woe betide the writer of a sloppy story or purple press release. 

Noel graduated with a journalism degree from Melbourne University in 1969. Right out of school, The Herald Sun threw him into the deep end. Noel cut his teeth doing police rounds, court work, and theatre and film reviews. 

Noel Parrott and friend Pat Malone at the FCC. Photo: Supplied

In 1971, Noel moved to Hong Kong to work for the territory’s first tabloid, The Star, founded by fellow Australian Graham Jenkins. After his three-year contract expired, Noel joined the South China Morning Post. He lived in a house in Shek O, where he hosted legendary Sunday Scrabblethons. He freelanced under eccentric names and once acted in a Tiger beer ad, both testaments to his great sense of humour. 

Later, he shifted into public relations – and that is how we met. I worked with him at Hill+Knowlton PR company in the World Trade Centre, opposite the Noonday Gun in Causeway Bay. The firing of the gun signaled it was time for the first beer of the day. 

At Hill+Knowlton, Noel managed an international team of disparate talents, keeping them motivated and entertained. Following the topping-out ceremony for Exchange Square in 1985, someone brought a construction helmet back to the office. Without a moment’s hesitation, Noel put it on and burst into the YMCA dance routine. 

When Aussie John Cardenzana set up Gavin Anderson’s Hong Kong PR office, Noel left H&K to join him, and I soon followed. After all, Gavin Anderson’s office on Ice House Street was much nearer to the FCC. At Friday lunch hour, we were a fixture at the bar for years.

 In 2001, Noel moved to Chiang Mai, where he indulged in interests like physics – he once tried to explain a “quark” to me – gardening and antiques. In typical Noel fashion, he built a beautiful home with a guest wing so friends could stay. Last February, when I visited him, Noel told me that he still listened for the Noonday Gun every day, remembering our office ritual. 

At the time of his death from throat cancer, he had just finished building an antique shop and a few flats to let. He had also completed a draft of what would have been his debut science-fiction novel, The Inventor of Impossible Things. Flamboyant and sensitive, Noel was one of a kind and we all miss him desperately. 

Noel Parrot Noel Parrott (16 March 1942–23 August 2020). Photo: Supplied

Noel Parrott is survived by his sister Denise, who requests any donations in his memory be made to the Hong Kong Cancer Fund (www.cancer-fund.org).

The Future of Visas for Foreign Journalists in Hong Kong

As the visa situation for foreign journalists in Hong Kong grows murkier, Morgan M. Davis looks for precedents across the border.

U.S. China flags

Hong Kong has long been viewed as a welcoming place for foreign journalists and news agencies. Visa rejections are rare, so long as the applicant in question has the skills and experience to do the job. But Article 54 in the new national security law, which seeks to manage “organs of foreign countries and international organisations”, has raised concerns about potential visa restrictions. 

Simultaneously, both the US and China have weaponised journalist visas amid souring relations. On 6 August, the FCC released a statement on the issue. “The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong is aware of recent examples of delays involving the issuing of visas to foreign journalists in Hong Kong, as well as suggestions by the Chinese government that more foreign journalists could face repercussions in response to US actions,” wrote the FCC. 

“The FCC calls on the Trump administration to lift its restrictions on Chinese media working in the US, and on Hong Kong and China’s governments to refrain from retribution in targeting US media and journalists working in Hong Kong.” This “downward spiral of retaliatory actions” not only puts journalists at risk yet also fails the public “that needs accurate, professionally produced information now more than ever,” the statement continued. 

In response to the FCC’s statement, the Commissioner’s Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement, saying “if the US is bent on going down the wrong path, China will be compelled to take necessary and just reactions to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests. It is the US that has caused the situation and should be solely responsible for it.” 

Later that month, the Immigration Department rejected a visa transfer for Aaron Mc Nicholas – an incoming editor of Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) – after a six-month wait, despite the Irish journalist having been granted prior visas to work in Hong Kong for Bloomberg and Storyful. The department did not provide an explanation to HKFP. 

When The Correspondent inquired, the department declined to comment on specifics. A spokesperson responded: “Hong Kong has always adopted a pragmatic and open policy on the employment of professionals… including journalistic work.” In the absence of further information, such developments are troubling. “It’s an evolving situation and it involves a maddening degree of uncertainty for everybody,” says Steven Butler, Asia programme coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). 

“You have to assume it’s because [the government doesn’t] like what HKFP is doing, and honestly, why would they?” says Butler of Mc Nicholas’s visa rejection. “There’s a lot of coverage that is critical of the Hong Kong government and China.” 

Lingling Wei Lingling Wei at a press conference during the 2018 National People’s Congress. Photo: Supplied

Insights from the Mainland

Many foreign journalists working in China have been directly impacted by rising US–China tensions. In March, the central government effectively expelled 13 foreign journalists – all of whom worked for American publications. 

In most cases, the government abruptly rescinded the journalists’ press accreditations and instructed them to leave the country within as little as five days. According to statements by the Chinese government, the move was a direct response to US restrictions on Chinese journalists. Just days earlier, the US had forced 60 Chinese nationals who worked at state media outlets to vacate the US or secure an appropriate visa to stay. 

In early September, Chinese authorities informed several journalists at American news outlets that their press credential applications were being processed, rather than automatically renewed, as is routine. 

The visas of foreign journalists are tied to their press accreditation, and both are usually renewed on an annual basis. This time, journalists received temporary extensions of just two months, with a clear warning that they may be revoked any time. 

Within the same week, two Australian correspondents – Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Bill Birtles and Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith – rushed to leave the country after Chinese police visited their homes about a national security investigation. Their departures came just days after the central government confirmed the arrest of Cheng Lei, an Australian working for China’s state media. 

In the case of Australian journalists, the turmoil can be attributed to fragile relations between the two countries and critical China coverage by Australian media over the past two years. According to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, this year’s series of forced departures of foreign journalists from China are thought to be the first outright expulsions since 1998.

Bill Birtles On 8 September 2020, Bill Birtles arrives in Sydney after rushing out of China. PHOTO: AFP / TARYN SOUTHCOMBE / ABC NEWS

‘Pawns in the bigger struggle’ 

Lingling Wei, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was among those forced to leave China this year. Born in China, Wei moved to the US as a young adult and became an American citizen in 2010. The journalist returned to China in 2011 to write for The Wall Street Journal in Beijing.

“For me, going back to China to practice independent reporting was the kind of career I [had always] wanted,” says Wei, calling the experience a “dream come true”. Over the past nine years, Wei focused on the internationalisation of China’s renminbi and the US–China trade war. But in March, she became collateral damage in the economic battle she was reporting on. The government rescinded Wei’s press credentials, effectively banning her from working as a journalist in China, Hong Kong or Macao. 

“We were experiencing many more challenges getting access to people, be it business [executives] or officials,” Wei says of the reporting situation in China prior to her forced departure. Even so, Wei never expected to leave this way. “It broke my heart,” she says. 

Gerry Shih, a China correspondent for The Washington Post who had worked in Beijing for five years, including at The Associated Press, was expelled around the same time. He called the experience “surreal” when he spoke at the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) 2020 awards on 26 August. 

Though disappointed by the decision, Shih says the “writing was on the wall” for some time. “These [expelled] diplomats and journalists are pawns in the bigger struggle,” he said of the US–China fight. Many in the cull were journalists who had lived and worked in China for more than a decade. They love China and their lives there, adds Wei. Among them, Australian Chris Buckley, who had been based in mainland China for The New York Times and Reuters since 1998, was expelled in May. 

Likewise, Canadian Ian Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times, lived in China for more than 20 years before the government stripped his press credentials in March. Johnson, who learned of his expulsion via email while in London, wrote about the consequences of fraying China–US relations in an opinion piece for The New York Times

“Taken individually, stories of severed friendships and strained family ties seem insignificant – certainly they do when you talk to a true believer who thinks that the US policy toward China is necessary to make the world safe for democracy.” “Yet cumulatively these small wounds change how all of us experience the world, forming a collective trauma over the loss of an optimistic era dating back several decades, when the world seemed to be opening up, however imperfectly.”

Gerry Shih Gerry Shih discusses his departure from China at The SOPA 2020 Awards on 26 August. PHOTO: SOPA

Finding a future in journalism

For Wei, the last six months have felt more like a decade. She moved back to New York City in May at the height of the pandemic, with her husband and seven-year-old following later. She says The Wall Street Journal has been supportive, giving her the option to move anywhere. 

The Chinese government also allowed her to stay two extra months in China to be with her sick mother and pack up her life, she notes. “I will always be grateful for those officials who helped me,” she says. “I really have no complaints. It is what it is.”

Meanwhile, Shih has relocated to Seoul where he continues to cover China. In May, he won the 2020 Osborn Elliott Prize for Excellence in Journalism on Asia for his extensive China reporting. Buckley is also reporting on China, though his location is unclear, and he did not respond to our interview request. 

Unfortunately, journalists have few options if a government chooses to quash press freedoms, says Wei. If media suppression escalates in Hong Kong, she says journalists may face difficult decisions. 

“In my situation, I still believe in what I’m doing,” says Wei, who continues to report on China from New York City. If journalists are concerned about their visas or safety, she says, they should consider their priorities and mental well-being. 

There is no shame in leaving the industry if that is what’s right for you, she says. It’s something she contemplated doing herself, in order to stay in China. 

In the end, Wei’s passion for journalism overcame her doubts. “When things like this happen, it really makes you question whether [journalism] is something you should keep doing,” she says. 

Wei’s mother also encouraged her daughter to persevere, since Wei has a wealth of China expertise that is valuable, regardless of where she is based. “That kind of knowledge and insight cannot be easily taken away,” says Wei.

PRESS FREEDOM: ASIA IN FOCUS

Every year, Reporters Without Borders ranks 180 destinations in its World Press Freedom Index. Here’s how countries across the region stack up: 

Press Freedom in Asia Source: Reporters Without Borders
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