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Press Freedom Important notice from the President

The FCC’s core mission is to promote and facilitate journalism of the highest standard, and to defend press freedom in Hong Kong and across the region. Faced with unprecedented attacks on the media, never has our club’s role been more vital – nor our commitment been stronger. We will speak out on behalf of our fellow journalists and correspondents, work to ensure they can operate freely and without interference and strive to provide the best resources and information we can to the community.
 
Visit our Human Rights Press Awards official page at https://humanrightspressawards.org/
 
    
Message from the President on World Press Freedom Day
3 May 2022
As we mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day, we should pause and remember the many journalists and media workers killed so far this year in Ukraine while covering the conflict and in other trouble spots including Afghanistan, Mexico, Myanmar and around the world. They sacrificed their lives for the mere act of reporting, which should never be a crime and should never cost a journalist their life.
The past year has also seen an erosion of press freedom globally, with increases in threats against journalists, the use of legal tools to target legitimate reporting, online threats and harassment against journalists, a tsunami of disinformation aimed at undermining truthful reporting, and of course censorship. Here in Hong Kong, some news outlets have been forced to close and journalists arrested because of the application of the colonial-era sedition ordinance.
What do we do now and how do we face the future?
As a press organization, we will continue to try to hold the S.A.R. government officials to their word that Hong Kong continues to enjoy press freedom. That means we will continue to speak out on issues directly impacting the media, when it is appropriate and always within the law — since the Basic Law also allows for free expression. We will issue public statements when we feel our voice can make a difference, and we may at times send private letters to government officials expressing our concerns and seeking clarification or seeking to meet.
We will continue to express our deep concerns over any type of “fake news” law in Hong Kong and how such a law might be used to hinder legitimate reporting, and to offer our expertise on the subject. We will push for journalists to have access to public records and databases. We will continue having speaking events about press freedom, to which we invite government officials to attend. And we will continue holding workshops for journalists, including on matters involving physical safety, online threats and harassment, data protection, as well as mental health and trauma.
Hong Kong authorities should be willing to accept legitimate comment and criticism without resorting to automatic claims that the FCC is somehow “interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs” or “smearing one country, two systems.” I respectfully remind them that the FCC has been in Hong Kong for 73 years, and its members include many Hong Kong natives, permanent residents and long-time residents. The FCC is Hong Kong. We are a part of the fabric of the city and adding our voice to the discussion should be welcomed, not maligned. Moreover, what makes “one country, two systems” more than just a vacant slogan is that unlike elsewhere, Hong Kong has a diversity of voices and views, and everyone is allowed to voice those within the law, and without being subjected to veiled threats, intimidation and reprisals. As George Orwell said; “Freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticise and oppose.”
I know a few members who disagree with the decision of the FCC Board of Governors to suspend the Human Rights Press Award, even though there are clear and acknowledged concerns that continuing the Award in the current political climate would have posed a real and an immediate risk. I am thrilled the HRPA will continue in the future under a new administrator, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and new regional co-sponsors. But I’m saddened the FCC will no longer have any involvement or affiliation.
Some suggest that if you cannot speak out on every issue, then the Club should not speak on any issue. I disagree. I believe the majority of our members, as well as our friends, supporters and absentee members around the world, all understand that it is still better, indeed imperative, that we continue to speak up as forcefully as we can when we can. This means that we can continue to discharge our journalistic duties and maintain the level of civic discourse for which Hong Kong is rightly proud.
We do not plan to give up. Walking away now, when we can still try to have some impact and when we have something very much worth protecting, would be a betrayal to all those who have made great sacrifices for the profession of journalism, and for trying to seek the truth.
Keith Richburg
President
    
Dear Members,
 
I write to inform you that the FCC Board met on Saturday, 23 April, and, after a lengthy discussion, regretfully decided to suspend the Human Rights Press Awards pending further review.
 
I know this is an unusual step to take so late in the process, just weeks before we were set to announce the winners. It is likely to be deeply disappointing to all those who took time to enter, and to the judges and everyone else who invested their time and energy into this project.
 
Over the last two years, journalists in Hong Kong have been operating under new “red lines” on what is and is not permissible, but there remain significant areas of uncertainty and we do not wish unintentionally to violate the law. This is the context in which we decided to suspend the Awards.
 
This decision in no way reflects the FCC Board’s view of the content of any of the entries or the work of the independent judges.
 
The FCC intends to continue promoting press freedom in Hong Kong, while recognising that recent developments might also require changes to our approach.
 
This was a very tough decision to reach. We explored a variety of other options, but could not find a feasible way forward. It is particularly painful coming less than two weeks before May 3, World Press Freedom Day, when we normally announce the HRPA winners and celebrate their journalism.
 
We would like to thank and apologise to all the entrants, the judges, the staff members and others who gave their time.
 
Keith Richburg
President
25 April 2022
 

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