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Share Your Favourite FCC Memories With Us

Get ready for a very special issue of The Correspondent to mark the club’s 40th anniversary on Lower Albert Road – and we’re hoping that members will take part. Did you hear an inspirational speaker at the club? Find a mentor? Make lifelong friendships? Share your favourite memories with us!

We plan to feature the most colourful anecdotes in this commemorative issue. Share your memories ([email protected]) by 31 January for a chance to be included.

Capturing the Black Lives Matter Movement in Black and White

Ed Peters peers through the lens of FCC absent member Robert Gerhardt, who has been documenting the social justice movement for the past seven years. 

New Yorker Robert Gerhardt’s photographs have been published around the world, as has his writing on press freedom and human rights. But for the past seven years his work’s particular leitmotif has been the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. 

Black Lives Matter One of Eric Garner’s relatives shouts at police in Staten Island on 17 July 2019, the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death.

BLM sprang up in July 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot dead Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teen in Florida. Gerhardt picked up the story the following year, after the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in similar circumstances. Since then, Gerhardt has been concentrating on photographing demonstrations on his home turf with manual Nikon F cameras and Ilford HP5 film – a piquant rarity in the age of digital dominance. Dubbed “Mic Check” after the protestors’ rallying cry, his project represents a significant body of work. 

Black Lives Matter Protestors assemble in Columbus Circle, 28 March, 2018.

“Some protests were wall-to-wall people, sometimes it would be just a few dozen,” says Gerhardt. “Sometimes I was the only photographer there. And sometimes it was every news outlet with every camera they could get their hands on. But it always kept moving.”

Black Lives Matter Protestors march past the New York Public Library on 42nd Street on 18 April, 2016.

For a long time, the fact that the protests were going on around the country and nothing was changing weighed on people, he says. “They, and myself, found it hard to fathom how police officers were not held accountable when the evidence seemed so stacked against them.” 

Black Lives Matter Demonstrators confront police officers on the fifth anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Times Square on 9 August, 2019.

“But it was this same outrage – that the killings kept happening and that no matter how many protests took place very little changed as a result – that seemed to drive people into the streets to protest time and time again.”

Black Lives Matter A Black Lives Matter protest on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem on 20 March, 2017.

Despite having taken thousands of images at BLM protests, one in particular sticks in Gerhardt’s mind. It’s not simply the lighting and composition that make it remarkable, it’s also because one of the subjects is holding up a sign that reads: “We Will Not Be Silent”.

Black Lives Matter BLM protestors urge police to ‘Stop Killing Our Children’ in Crown Heights on 19 June, 2020.

“I shot it in Union Square in November 2014. The sentiment on that sign has never left the BLM movement, which continues to be driven by anger and frustration,” he explains.

Black Lives Matter Police trying to keep protestors from leaving Union Square Park Area, New York City on 13 August, 2017.

Gerhardt’s photographs have met with near universal acclaim, but as one very well-known American once pointed out, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time”.

“Feisty is one way to put some Far Right reactions,” he says. “But I do seem to have been spared the worst of the really horrible things that have been said online about other journalists. So far, anyway.” 

Rob Gerhardt Rob Gerhardt is an absent FCC member and a freelance photographer based in New York.

Journalist Arrests on the Rise in China

In December, journalism advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued “The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China”, an 80-page report cataloguing the assault on press freedom across the country.

In the foreword, RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire contends that President Xi Jinping had “restored a media culture worthy of the Maoist era, in which freely accessing information has become a crime and to provide information an even greater crime.” 

“The Great Leap Backwards” recalls the 1990s-2000s when mainland China authorities regarded foreign correspondents as a “necessary evil” that “fulfilled the essential role of informing the world on the economic and social development of China”. It then outlines numerous examples of journalists who have faced grave consequences for their frank reportage in recent years. As of 1 January, RSF estimates that as many as 127 journalists are currently detained in Greater China, more than any other country. The cites examples such as Haze Fan, a Bloomberg news assistant who remains in detention after being arrested for “endangering national security” in December 2020. 

It also notes Sun Wenguang, a retired university professor who police snatched in the middle of an interview with Voice of America in August 2018, and ousted Australian journalists Bill Birtles and Michael Smith. Both sought sanctuary in their country’s embassy in September 2020 after drawing ire for investigating the disappearance of Chinese-Australian CGTN TV presenter Cheng Lei. 

After holding Lei in “residential surveillance at a designated location” for several months, authorities formally charged Lei with “supplying state secrets overseas” in February 2021. The journalist has yet to be sent for trial as of 1 January.

In the section devoted to Hong Kong, entitled “Hong Kong: Press Freedom in Free Fall”, the RSF report chronicles a rapid decline of journalistic freedom, from the shuttering of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and jailing of its founder Jimmy Lai to the gradual neutering of RTHK, once highly respected for its outspoken coverage. The RSF report also notes police violence aimed at Hong Kong journalists and the weaponisation of visas. 

After Sue-Lin Wong of The Economist was denied a visa in November, the club issued a statement that ended: “We again call on the government to provide concrete assurances that applications for employment visas and visa extensions will be handled in a timely manner with clearly stated requirements and procedures and that the visa process for journalists will not be politicised or weaponised.”

Chinese state media outlet Global Times has rejected previous RSF reports, including the group’s annual World Press Freedom Index, and accused RSF of bias and political subversion under the guise of press freedom. 

After the RSF report came out, more than 200 officers raided the newsroom of Stand News on 29 December and arrested seven people linked to the publication. The outlet ceased operations hours later. Following the closure of Stand News, the online portal Citizen News announced it had shut down to “ensure everyone is safe in this time of crisis”. Citizen News is considered the last independent Chinese-language news site in Hong Kong.

“These actions are a further blow to press freedom in Hong Kong and will continue to chill the media environment in the city following a difficult year for the city’s news outlets,” the FCC wrote in a statement regarding Stand News. 

In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote: “Those who engage in activities that endanger national security and undermine the rule of law and public order under the cover of journalism are the black sheep tarnishing the press freedom and will be held accountable in accordance with law … Since the implementation of the National Security Law, Hong Kong has returned to the right track, and the press freedom has been better protected in a more secure, stable and law-based environment.”

Year of the Tiger: Time to Heal

Feng shui practitioner Priya Subberwal sees a time of growth, healing and – glory be! – more travel in the year ahead. She gives Morgan M Davis a primer on how to activate our best energy in work and life.

FCC member Priya Subberwal trained as an interior designer but later studied Chinese metaphysics across Asia, tying her penchant for design to her knowledge of feng shui (the art of arranging spaces to achieve harmony in daily life). 

Today she runs Hong Kong-based Disha Consulting, offering clients guidance on how to improve feng shui in their homes and offices. Through “destiny readings” (an analysis of personal factors, such as time and date of birth), Subberwal also helps clients tap into their unique personal strengths and choose dates for important events, such as corporate launches, moving offices or buying a new home. 

With the Year of the Tiger starting on 1 February, The Correspondent spoke with Subberwal to catch a glimpse of what 2022 has in store and how feng shui could bring out the best of the year. Take heart, it looks like more travel could, maybe, possibly be on the horizon! 


What led you to pursue feng shui as a career?
Priya Subberwal: I’m a qualified interior designer. When I was in Mumbai, I came across a coffee table book about feng shui. At that point, I thought it would add to my interior design skillset and support my clients with more insights. 

When I moved to Southeast Asia in 2007, I had more resources and studied quite extensively in Singapore, Taiwan, China and Malaysia. 

I started including feng shui practices in my own house and saw a change. From there, friends and family asked me to help them. I also worked a lot with expatriates in Hong Kong – a constantly moving population. Every time someone comes and chooses a new home, feng shui becomes relevant. Eventually, after being in Hong Kong for some time, I began consulting with more businesses and started my company.


What’s the overarching purpose of feng shui?
PS: Feng shui helps people tap into the best energies from the environment and align them with their goals. The whole purpose is to enhance your life; it’s like Wi-Fi. You want to have a strong connection, so you choose the best location and direction to boost positive energy for that. Whatever objective you have in life, you can enhance it with feng shui.


What are your clients generally looking for?
PS: When it’s for an office, they look for career- and wealth-related advice. Since feng shui is goal-oriented, we want to activate the best areas to enhance business opportunities and ease any hurdles with their staff, bosses or relationships. For the home, there are so many other things we keep in mind – health, relationships, education, and more.


How do consultations work?
PS: Initially, I ask for two things – date and time of birth – because I need to establish a destiny chart, a personal dynamic energy (or Qi) map. Many people think it’s just about their year of birth, but it’s not that simple. 

Actually, there’s a cosmic trinity: the first item in the trinity is your destiny chart, which is written in stone. That’s your parents, your upbringing. The second is the feng shui, tapping into the environment to boost energies and help you achieve goals. The last one is “man luck”, essentially, what you do with the optimised energies. 

Everybody has four animal signs in their natal chart. The four animal signs represent one of the five elements – water, fire, metal, earth and wood – in their yin or yang form. The elements form combinations, clashes, harmonies or punishments, which play out in different aspects of our life: relationships, career, wealth and health. 

Priya Subberwal FCC member Priya Subberwal

What do most people get wrong about feng shui?
PS: Many people have a misguided notion that if they put a fish tank in one corner and a red vase in another, they’ve done feng shui. It is not that easy. You have to put in the work along with the feng shui to achieve your goal. The most basic yet effective ‘work’ would be to use the locations in a home or office with the highest vibrational energy of the year and avoid negative areas.


What do we need to know about 2022?
PS: Every year brings a new energy form. For example, 2022 is a Water-Tiger Year and will affect each person differently based on their destiny chart. Tiger is a wood element, which relates to growth, healing and medicine. The tiger is also a travelling star. It’s a more optimistic time coming up – a time of moving forward. 


What does this mean for FCC members?
PS: The southernmost space in your home or office is one of the most auspicious areas for the Year of the Tiger. Set up your desk there, if possible, and maybe light a candle daily. Another option would be to simply sit with your back to the south, even if it’s just for 10 minutes, strategise your thoughts and make a few work-related calls and emails.

Rest and relaxation are crucial for good health, so avoid sleeping in the southwest room or area of your home; the ‘Sickness Star No. 2’ resides there for 2022. If you don’t have this option, ensure that your bed’s headrest is not facing southwest.

If you’re in marketing, make your pitches from the west of the house or building. For 2022, that’s the area where you will have the most confidence and oratory skills.

Learn more about Priya Subberwal’s work:


Priya’s Toolkit

Tap into your best energy with these sources.

Mastery Academy of Chinese Metaphysics
Plot your destiny chart online for free with this handy resource.


Stories and Lessons on Feng Shui
Author, feng shui master and astrology expert Joey Yap debunks myths and modernises the practice.

FCC Recipe: Beef & Guinness Pie

Hearty? For sure! Bursting with flavour? Most definitely! Learn to make the mother of all pies at home this winter season.


For the Pastry: 

200g All-purpose flour
1 pinch Kosher salt
110g Butter and lard, mixed
45g Cold water 

For the Pie Filling 

1kg Beef, cut into 2cm cubes
25g All-purpose flour
30g Unsalted butter
15g Vegetable oil
400g Sliced onion
400g Carrot, cut into 2cm slices
10g Tomato paste
10g Worcestershire sauce
500ml Guinness
300ml Beef stock
10g Granulated sugar
30ml Water
1 pc Egg, beaten
To taste Freshly ground black pepper
To taste Kosher salt 


Instructions for Pastry 

  1. Gather flour, salt and butter in a large bowl, kneading the mixture by hand (or with a blender) until it is crumbly. Note: Mix as quickly as possible to avoid warming the dough. 
  2. Add 30ml of very cold water. Form dough into a ball using the blender. Note: a cold knife may be used instead of a blender. Add more water if the dough feels too dry. 
  3. Cover the ball of dough in plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for 15-30 minutes. 

Instructions for Pie 

  1. Season the beef cubes with salt and pepper, add flour and toss until evenly coated. 
  2. Melt butter and oil in a pre-heated pan. Roast the beef cubes for 1 minute or until golden brown. Remove the beef cubes and set aside. 
  3. Add onions and carrots to the pan. Fry gently for about 2 minutes. 
  4. Return meat to the pan. Add the Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, Guinness, beef stock and sugar. 
  5. Grind in plenty of black pepper and a little salt. Stir well and bring to a boil. 
  6. Cover the pan, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook slowly for about 90 minutes or until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened with a glossy sheen. 
  7. Remove from heat, place into a 1.5-litre deep pie dish. Leave to cool completely. 
  8. Heat oven to 200°C (400°F). Roll out pastry dough to 3mm thick. 
  9. Cut a 2cm strip from the rolled-out pastry. 
  10. Brush the rim of the pie dish with water and place the pastry strip around the rim, pressing it down. 
  11. Cut out the remaining pastry about 2cm larger than the pie dish. 
  12. Place a pie funnel in the centre of the filling. Note: This will support the pastry and keep it from sinking into the filling and becoming soggy. 
  13. Place pastry lid over the top. Press down on the edges and seal. Trim off any excess pastry and crimp edges with a fork. 
  14. Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg. Make a hole in the centre to reveal the pie funnel. 
  15. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden brown. 

Meet Benny Kwok Chi-ming, FCC IT Manager

Heading up the FCC’s computer department, Benny Kwok works behind the scenes to keep the club’s tech on track. 

You’re the FCC’s IT manager – is this a field that’s always interested you?
Benny Kwok: Remember Atari? It led the video games market back in the 1970s and ‘80s. Growing up in Hong Kong, I was fascinated by this game, and I’ve been interested in IT and computers ever since.


When did you join the FCC?
BK: 2015. I’ve been in the IT industry for 30 years. When this job came up, I jumped at the opportunity.


What do you like about it?
BK: The challenge! Every club event is a big event for me. The most exciting recently was introducing the Zoom sessions in 2020. They were a brand-new concept and quite a challenge to accomplish during the pandemic. Thanks to the trust of the Board and the General Manager, we’ve built up the system to host speakers from all over the world. 

The new FCC website is another fascinating project. As we continue to roll out new features, the site will provide more innovative functions for members and improve overall performance.


What do you do day-to-day?
BK: I’ll set up the computer and audiovisual system at FCC events, then supervise video production and editing. I’m also responsible for the FCC website content management, EDM preparation and distribution, computer programming, and monitoring and maintaining the club’s computer facilities. There are just two other people in the department, so we’re a close-knit team.


How about your family and downtime?
BK: I am married with one son, who is now 17. From the looks of things, he is going to do well in business. But – and I have to chuckle – he’s not the least bit interested in IT. 

In my free time, I’m very keen on photography, and specialise in landscapes with my Nikon D810. Before the pandemic, I used to go to Japan twice a year, usually to Hokkaido. I love the food and the scenery. I don’t speak much Japanese, but that’s where Google Translate comes in.


Benny Hill, Benny Goodman, Benny and the Jets – who do you relate to most?
BK: Actually, I think Benny Chan Muk-Sing, who directed the “New Police Story”, among other classic Hong Kong films. He worked behind the scenes; I work behind the computer.

A Deal for Junior Journalists

The FCC affords members access to the best talks in town, mouthwatering meals, rewarding connections, live music and an oasis in the heart of the city. To help early-career journalists and those whose income has been impacted by the pandemic, the club is pleased to introduce its “Special Promotion” for new Correspondent and Journalist members. Each month, the Membership Committee will review applications on a case-by-case basis. 

  • 1st year: HK$250 per month + annual staff bonus HK$250* 
  • 2nd year: HK$500 per month + annual staff bonus HK$500* 
  • 3rd year: HK$750 per month + annual staff bonus HK$750* 
  • 4th year: HK$1,100 per month + annual staff bonus HK$1,100*

*Gratuity payable 50 percent in June & 50 percent in December. 

Note: Minimum spend applies. 

From the President: The FCC’s Long History in Hong Kong

Dear FCC Members,

Once, while wandering the picturesque paths above the University of Hong Kong, I came across a small, white brick and granite coach house with oversized doors. It’s called “Stone House,” and a plaque outside describes it as the original home of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong. 

Built in 1923, the heritage building serves as a reminder of the FCC’s long narrative in the city. Ever since the club relocated from Shanghai to Hong Kong at the end of China’s civil war in 1949, it has been woven into the city’s history and psyche.

The club has moved around over the years. From Stone House, it shifted to a mansion on Conduit Road and quite famously became the set of 1955 romantic drama, “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing”. It’s fitting, since the film’s male lead, Mark Elliott (played by William Holden), is an American reporter based in Hong Kong who dashes off to cover the Korean War. 

That wasn’t the only time the FCC appeared in popular culture. John le Carré’s celebrated 1977 spy novel, The Honourable Schoolboy, features the FCC, as does the 1997 film “Chinese Box” starring Jeremy Irons and Gong Li.

For years, foreign correspondents across the region treated Hong Kong more as a rest and recreation station than a story in its own right. When the Vietnam War broke out, Hong Kong provided a convenient, calm colonial backwater and vacation haven for reporters and photographers stationed in Saigon.

Hong Kong maintained its role as a key correspondents’ base during some of the region’s most dramatic news events. A large contingent of reporters, photographers and camera operators flew from Hong Kong to the Philippines to cover the 1986 “People Power Revolution” – which toppled the regime of Ferdinand Marcos – and ended up staging their own occupation of the Manila Hotel. 

I also used Hong Kong as my base as a Washington Post correspondent in the 1990s when I covered the fall of the Suharto regime in Indonesia, Hun Sen’s coup in Cambodia, and the arrest and trial of Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia.

Many stories have unfolded in Hong Kong, too: the Communist-led riots of 1967, the flight of the Vietnamese boat people at the end of the Vietnam War, the arrival of dissidents smuggled from China after the Tiananmen Square uprising as part of “Operation Yellowbird” in 1989 and, of course, the Handover to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. 

Since then, we’ve had avian flu, SARS, the 2014 Occupy movement and the 2019 unrest. And now, Hong Kong’s political makeover is well underway with the new National Security Law and recent changes to the electoral system.

One constant has been the central role of the Hong Kong-based press corps and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club; in its many iterations, the club has always been the main gathering point. It’s long been a truism that when less hospitable countries expelled correspondents, they would relocate to media-friendly Hong Kong, where freedom of the press was respected.

Since 1982, the FCC’s home has been the Old Dairy Farm Depot at 2 Lower Albert Road. So in 2022, we will be celebrating 40 years in our current location and 70 years since we first established “The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong”. We plan to stage a few commemorative events, and publish a bumper issue of The Correspondent in April, so stay tuned.

Our press club has quite a rich legacy. And it all began in that little white granite house at 15 Kotewall Road at the close of the Chinese civil war. If you’re in the neighbourhood, pay a visit to this opening paragraph of FCC history.

Keith Richburg
Hong Kong
17 December 2021

A Deep Downward Spiral: The State of Press Freedom in Southeast Asia

Since Maria Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize this autumn, press freedom in Asia has come under scrutiny. FCC Fellow Amy Sood surveys a fraught situation.

In October, Maria Ressa – one of the Philippines’ most famous journalists – and Dmitry Muratov from Russia jointly won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. Both have come under fire for “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace,” wrote the The Norwegian Nobel Committee in its selection announcement.  

Ressa, the first Filipina Nobel laureate, is the co-founder and chief executive of Rappler news site. Since president Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, Ressa has faced at least 10 arrest warrants and seven court cases over the outlet’s coverage of Duterte’s lethal “war on drugs”. Despite her Nobel prize, Ressa continues to face an onslaught of legal cases ranging from tax evasion to defamation, and at the time of writing, is out on bail while appealing a six-year prison sentence for libel.  

“I don’t know where [the prize] will lead,” Ressa told the Associated Press. “But I know that if we keep doing our task, staying on mission, holding the line, that there’s a better chance that our democracy not only survives, but that I also stay out of jail. Because I’ve done nothing wrong except be a journalist. That is the price we have to pay.”  

For journalists and media observers, Ressa’s Nobel prize serves as a call to action in the face of increasing censorship, harassment and restrictions in Southeast Asia, where most countries languish in the bottom half of the World Press Freedom Index. 

According to Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, press freedom is on a “deep downward spiral” across the region. “Leaders across the board in Southeast Asia are attempting to marginalise the media in any way that they can,” he says. 

“These governments are not afraid to criminalise reporting they see as being against their policies and their priorities. It’s doing a massive disservice to the people of Southeast Asia, who deserve access to quality media with independent views that are prepared to speak truth rather than parrot the line of the various governments.” 

Phil Robertson Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division.

‘We could still be killed’

In the Philippines, which ranks 138 out of 180 countries and territories in the World Press Freedom Index, Jonathan de Santos, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), laments the state of press freedom. 

“In terms of recognition, [Ressa’s Nobel prize] is good. It sends a message that the world is watching,” he says. “But in terms of actual attitude on the ground, I’m not sure how much it will change. Journalists are still under threat and we could still be killed.” 

Robertson agrees, pointing to the Duterte administration’s steady efforts to control the press and the internet. For instance, in May 2020, the government declined to renew the licence of the Philippines’ largest broadcast network, ABS-CBN, which often covered “the war on drugs”. A statement by the NUJP said this shutdown denied millions of people access to essential information during the pandemic and “proves how the tyrant fears truth-tellers.” 

At least 22 journalists have died since Duterte took power in June 2016 and he has declared he would like to “kill journalism” in the Philippines, referring to reporters as “spies”, “vultures” and “lowlifes”.    

On 9 December, Jesus “Jess” Malabanan – a journalist involved in the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by Reuters into Duterte’s “war on drugs” – became the 22nd Filipino journalist killed in recent years. He was shot in the head by unknown gunmen on the central island of Samar. 

De Santos says the dangers of reporting have led journalists to self-censor when writing about government affairs, in fear of cyber-attacks or of being “red-tagged” – labelled as communists or terrorists – often without evidence. “This is part of a trend in the region,” he says. “I’ve been talking to colleagues from Indonesia and Malaysia, and they’re facing similar situations so it’s hard for us to get courage from each other.” 

Jonathan de Santos Jonathan de Santos (left) chairs the Philippines’ Union of Journalists.

Indonesia, which sits at 113th on the Index, has also seen troubling patterns of media suppression, says Indonesian investigative journalist Febriana Firdaus. The reporter, who recently moved to Bali because she felt unsafe in Jakarta, covers sensitive topics, such as West Papuan independence and LGBTI+ discrimination. Firdaus fears violence against reporters and their family members.  

For Firdaus, a recent explosion at the home of the parents of Indonesian social justice lawyer Veronica Koman – who frequently speaks up about human rights abuses in West Papua – made the possibility of violence feel probable, if not inevitable. “That was a warning for me, that perhaps it’s no longer safe for me to stay in my country if I want to report on these issues,” says Firdaus.  

There’s good reason to worry. Mara Salem Harahap, the chief editor of a local news outlet in North Sumatra, was shot dead in June. His family said that they believe Harahap’s murder was related to his work, citing past incidents of harassment and violence linked to his reporting on organised crime and drug-dealers. 

Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), an organisation defending press freedom, recorded 84 cases of violence against journalists in the country in 2020 – the highest number reported since the group started collecting data in 2006. Since 2018, AJI has ranked the police as the top perpetrators of violence against journalists. In 2020, the police accounted for 55 of the 84 cases, which led AJI to denounce law enforcement as the “enemy of press freedom”.  

As in the Philippines, the message seems to come from the top. According to Firdaus, President Joko Widodo’s government likens “good journalism” to the strategies employed by “public relations professionals”, and expects reporters to spin a positive image of the country or face consequences. These range from fines and online harassment to potential prison time or physical violence. 

Indonesia has also renewed attempts to suppress press freedom during the COVID-19 pandemic through legal means. In April 2020, the Indonesian National Police issued law-enforcement guidelines banning journalists from publishing false information related to the pandemic or deemed hostile to the government. Furthermore, the country has increasingly used another law, the Electronic Information and Transactions Law (UUITE), to threaten journalists with prosecution. Under the UUITE, journalists could face up to six years in prison if found guilty.  

In addition, the government has blocked journalists from transmitting information from remote regions during emergencies. For example, in August 2019, it shut down internet access amid violent protests in West Papua “to accelerate government efforts to restore order”. However, the move also effectively silenced journalists trying to share news during the crisis. 

Febriana Firdaus Journalist Febriana Firdaus covers social justice issues in Indonesia.

Clamp-down on independent media

Singapore, which ranks 160th on the Index, has deployed similar legal and regulatory tactics. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), introduced the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act and the broadly worded Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act in 2021.  

Robertson of Human Rights Watch says that PAP has deployed a “scorched earth’’ policy against independent media outlets like New Naratif and The Online Citizen with a goal to “wipe them out.” 

Historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin is the managing director of New Naratif, an independent current affairs website covering Southeast Asia. Thum, one of three Singaporeans who established the publication, says PAP implemented these laws to stifle critical or alternative voices. “It’s very important to recognise that the main way in which these laws suppress media freedom is not so much in the letter of the law, but in its ability to scare Singaporeans into self-censoring,” he says. As long as reporters live in fear of conducting journalism, there is no freedom of the press, he adds. 

Although current press freedom trends around the region indicate a clamp-down on independent media outlets, Thum believes some publications will endure because humans have historically resisted suppression and fought for the right to speak, write and live freely.   

For example, Malaysian independent news site Malaysiakini has persisted despite enduring hostility from the government in the form of police raids, criminal charges and prosecutions over the years. Earlier this year,  the Federal Court of Malaysia found the publication guilty of contempt over online comments from readers – claiming they undermined public confidence in the judiciary.  

However, multiple independent outlets across Asia have shut down despite initial resistance. Within a year of Hong Kong’s National Security Law coming into effect, authorities arrested Next Digital founder Jimmy Lai and other top executives, forcing Apple Daily to print its last edition in June 2021. Since then, Lai has been convicted of organising an illegal rally and inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly. In December, authorities filed new charges of conspiracy to “print, publish, sell, offer for sale, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications” against Lai and other former Next Digital executives.  

Dr Thum Ping Tjin Dr Thum Ping Tjin, managing director of independent news outlet New Naratif. (Photo: Thum Ping Tjin / New Naratif)


In Singapore, the government permanently cancelled the licence of local political blog The Online Citizen in October, because it refused to reveal its funding sources and “did not fully comply” with legal obligations.  

Robertson believes the region’s future will depend on whether countries around the world help fight for press freedom or just turn a blind eye. “The international community has to step in and also throw some elbows [push back] against these governments, demanding press freedom be upheld,” he urges.  

Despite the high-stakes atmosphere in Indonesia, Firdaus chooses to press on, saying she feels a responsibility to tell the stories of the people she meets in conflict zones. “The fear I feel is not greater than my moral responsibility to these people as a journalist,” she says. 

Ressa, who was unavailable for comment, has publicly vowed to carry on as well. In her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo on 10 December, Ressa condemned authoritarian governments and social media giants for spreading misinformation and sowing discord. 

“[Technology] has allowed a virus of lies to infect each of us, pitting us against each other, bringing out our fears, anger, hate, and setting the stage for the rise of authoritarians and dictators around the world,” she said.  

Ressa also expressed concern about the upcoming elections in the Philippines, due to be held in May 2022. “I’ve said this repeatedly over the last five years: without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. Without trust, we have no shared reality, no democracy, and it becomes impossible to deal with the existential problems of our times: climate, coronavirus, now, the battle for truth. How can you have election integrity if you don’t have integrity of facts?”   

Though much remains uncertain, Ressa shared her vision for peace, trust and empathy. “Every day, I live with the real threat of spending the rest of my life in jail because I’m a journalist,” she said. “I have no idea what the future holds, but it’s worth the risk. The destruction has happened. Now it’s time to build – to create the world we want.”

Amy Sood is an FCC Clare Hollingworth fellow and a digital verification reporter at AFP in Hong Kong, monitoring misinformation in India and Indonesia. Prior to her current role, she was an intern at CNN and NBC News. 

Introducing the FCC’s New Members: October 2021

One likes football, another motorbikes, and there’s a keen fisherman, a passionate golfer and an avid hiker: but all of our new members seem to relish good food and drink. They’ll fit right in.


David Armitage

Although my days of active sport parachuting are long behind me, I can still say I have experienced taking off in an aeroplane more times than I have experienced landing in one. Thankfully, I managed to stay on board long enough in 1996 to land in Hong Kong to commence work on the construction of what was then the new international airport. For the last 25 years I have had the good fortune and privilege to work on iconic and challenging construction projects both in Hong Kong and around the region.


Barrie Barlow

Originally from New Zealand (where my Malaysian wife Alison and I met as students), I am a commercial litigation barrister. Normally, we travel a lot, but Hong Kong (where we have lived most of our lives and where our two children were born and raised) is home. I have always enjoyed visiting the FCC and I should have sought membership long ago. Since last year’s dramatic changes to our law, I have taken a heightened interest in the protection of our freedoms and in particular our free media. This, plus my friends who are members, drew me to the FCC.


Gregory Davidson

My first trip to Hong Kong and the FCC was in 2003 and I instantly fell in love with the city’s vibrancy. I didn’t settle in Hong Kong until 2009, where I have run various commodity focused funds and trading ventures. Originally from the US, I have lived in the US, Germany and China, but now spend my time between Hong Kong, Shanghai and Puerto Rico. My interests tilt toward golf and skiing, but my passion is Old World wines. After the last several years of turmoil in Hong Kong, I am excited to be a new FCC member.


Li Meng de Bakker

I am an RTHK radio presenter and freelance writer covering music and subculture, with a focus on electronic dance music. On Radio 3, I have produced and presented two specialist music programmes: “Asia Soundsystem” and “The Breakdown”. Currently, I am writing my doctoral thesis on the history of Hong Kong nightlife. Though piano was my first instrument, I have been deejaying professionally since 2018 and it is a passion that has informed much of my journalistic and academic trajectory. I also write as “Mengzy” (my DJ name), for Mixmag Asia. After music, my passion in life is food!


Ruchir Desai

Originally from Mumbai, India, I have called Hong Kong home for the last 10 years. I am a frontier markets fund manager with a focus on Asia and my work has taken me to diverse countries ranging from Bangladesh and Iraq to Uzbekistan and Vietnam. I am a keen follower of geopolitics and enjoy listening to the diverse speakers the FCC invites for discussing important trends. Outside of work, I enjoy the Hong Kong outdoors and hopefully at some point in the future I would love to get back to exploring more countries.


Patrick Graham

I am a long-term British exile, who has called Asia home for more than 20 years. I’m a health insurance professional, husband to my beautiful wife, Kaoru, and father of a little girl, Rinka. It was becoming embarrassing how much time I was spending in the FCC bar freeloading off my member friends, so it was with mixed emotions I finally got membership in my own right: pleased I can sign for my own drinks; but nervous about how many people I owe drinks! You know who you are and where to find me…


Tamsin Heath

I’m Deputy Consul General at the British Consulate. I arrived in Hong Kong in the summer of 2019, heavily pregnant with my second child. Shortly after maternity leave, I covered as Acting Consul-General from December 2020 to July 2021. Before Hong Kong, I was posted in Beijing, Riyadh and The Hague with several short stints in Sana’a when I headed up UK policy on Yemen. I studied as an economist and worked for Royal Bank of Scotland, HM Treasury and the Dutch development bank FMO. I love being in the hills (I’m Scottish), reading, learning languages and exploring Hong Kong.


Nicholas Hoar

I’m originally from London and moved to Hong Kong for three years in 2011. So 10 years on, I’m still here; I am sure this is a familiar story for many of us – the longer you are here, the tougher it is to leave. I’ve worked in asset management for 30-plus years. I am a passionate motorcyclist and when I am back in Europe I’m often found at the 21-kilometre Nürburgring’s Nordschleife circuit where I must have completed thousands of laps over the years, posting a best time of 8.52 minutes per lap.


Heidi Lee Yik Shuen

I was born and educated in Hong Kong. I studied stage management at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and cultural management at Chinese University Hong Kong. I have been working in the arts management area for years and have worked for many arts organisations in Hong Kong and mainland China. My life is closely attached to the performing arts. I enjoy going to different kinds of performances as well as movies. I love spending time with friends to try out food from different countries.


Kevin Lee

Born in Malaysia, my family and I moved to Auckland where I received my high school and tertiary education. I am fortunate that work has allowed me to live in Singapore, Sydney and, now, Hong Kong. I enjoy watching major sports and am a staunch supporter of the All Blacks and Tottenham FC. I am married to a beautiful native Hong Kong wife. I work in the banking and finance sector specialising in infrastructure and energy and natural resources. I enjoy craft beers and all sorts of food from different cultures. My main hobby is fishing.


Cara Li

I grew up in Beijing, and moved to Sydney as a teenager. After graduating with a law degree, I joined a law firm in London, only to be packed off to Hong Kong. That was in 2002, and I’m still here. Nowadays, I’m a senior banker at Morgan Stanley, and Hong Kong is firmly home for me and my two children. I am an avid reader of current affairs, and enjoy balanced, thoughtful journalism. And the FCC Main Bar now has a 100-percent share of my monthly client entertainment budget.


Li Shan

My leadership experience with global financial institutions and major Chinese banks spans over 25 years. I am a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, CEO of Silk Road Finance Corporation, vice chairman of the Silk Road Planning Research Centre, chairman and CEO of Chinastone Capital and the vice chairman of Chinese Financial Association of Hong Kong. I am also a director of Credit Suisse Group AG, and serve as a senior advisor to Zurich


Paul McGunnigle

Hailing from Glasgow, I’ve worked at the Australian International School Hong Kong with my wife, Lesley since 2004, teaching history and primary, respectively. We came for the obligatory two years, but 18 years later we’re ensconced in Sai Kung with our kids, Maia and Cai. I have a passion for football and still play for Kowloon Cricket Club, although these days it’s mainly at walking pace. Lesley and I are excited to be joining the FCC and we’re looking forward to spending time propping up the bar whilst having a few amber nectars.


Adesh Sarup

Hong Kong’s pulse, pace and character are each unique and my wife and I very much enjoy living and working here. We were introduced to the FCC fairly early on after our arrival from Singapore. After a few visits, it instinctively felt like a place we would want to be part of and we are thrilled to be members. I am a career banker and my wife works with an NGO that supports financial literacy for domestic migrant workers. Outside of work, we love discovering new restaurants and we also enjoy hiking Hong Kong’s beautiful country parks.


Ava Tang

I am a native HongKonger working in a dynamic, multi-national company as chief operating officer. I enjoy working in a diverse cultural environment, which is full of challenges and surprises. During holidays, I like meeting people and travelling and enjoy local food and drink.


Fionie Wong

I am a promotion designer with a love of travelling, music, arts and culture, meeting people and experiencing new adventures. I started my design career in the 1990s when I joined the Pearson group; I previously worked at a private club, providing branding and marketing design. As an avid arts and music lover (especially classical and jazz), I can’t wait to listen to live jazz at Bert’s. My other passion is travelling. I love to meet people from diverse backgrounds – something that I love about this small, multicultural city we live in. Since the pandemic, my travel bucket list is getting longer.

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