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FCC Expresses Deep Regret Over Closure of Apple Daily

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong wishes to express its deep regret at the announcement of the closure of Apple Daily.

Apple Daily has been a vibrant member of the Hong Kong media landscape for more than quarter of a century and a widely read source of information for many in the city.

The closure is a blow to the journalism community in Hong Kong and raises legitimate concerns over the future of press freedom in the city. It comes after government authorities froze its assets and arrested several top editors. 

The closure also has a major social impact and will leave hundreds of journalists, editorial production staff and other employees involved in the publication and distribution of the newspaper unemployed. 

The FCC calls on the Hong Kong media community to provide assistance for those now left jobless with the closure in finding new employment.

FCC Statement on Arrests and Search Involving Apple Daily

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong is concerned over the arrest of five Apple Daily executives, including its editor-in-chief Ryan Law and deputy chief editor.

According to the Hong Kong police and media reports, the five were detained on suspicion of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces under the National Security Law and were undergoing questioning.

The FCC notes that the Hong Kong police’s search of the Apple Daily premises took place under a warrant “covering the power of searching and seizure of journalistic materials.” Press reports indicate that police searched journalists’ notes and files and accessed their computers.

We are not pronouncing on the legalities of the situation or today’s actions. However the Foreign Correspondents’ Club is concerned that this latest action will serve to intimidate independent media in Hong Kong and will cast a chill over the free press, protected under the Basic Law.

Hong Kong Press Freedom Index for Journalists Hits Record Low – HKJA

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has released the Hong Kong Press Freedom Index 2020, which shows that the index for journalists has reached an all-time low. According to the HKJA, the reason for the decline is that “journalists are more cautious than ever when they criticise the HKSAR Government and the Central Government, and managements have put more pressure on them.”

Noting that press freedom in Hong Kong has “greatly deteriorated in the past year,” particularly following the passage of the National Security Act, the HKJA describes a host of developments which have collectively impeded news gathering. As a result, the index for journalists is now at a record low of 32.1 on a scale of 0-100. Previously, the figure stood at 36.2 for 2019 and 40.9 for 2018, reflecting a rapid decline.

To learn more, go to the Hong Kong Press Freedom Index 2020.

FCC Statement Marking World Press Freedom Day

The past 12 months have been one of the most challenging periods for press freedom, not just in Hong Kong but across the region. The military coup in Myanmar, the crackdown on protests in Thailand and attacks on independent media in the Philippines have all threatened the physical safety and personal liberty of reporters.

In Hong Kong, which has fallen to 80th place on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, from 18th in 2002, journalists have contended with a range of challenges, including new police limits on accreditation, the prosecution of members of the media, ever increasing pressure on the editorial independence of RTHK, concerns over visas and an attack by thugs on a newspaper printing plant. 

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has said that the media are one of the priority sectors in Hong Kong that need to be “improved” and, with the support of Police Commissioner Chris Tang, says she wants to introduce a “fake news” law. Precedents from around the world have shown that such laws are invariably used to stifle critical coverage and freedom of speech.

On World Press Freedom Day, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong wishes to express its solidarity with journalists who are facing harassment, imprisonment or risking their lives to carry out their essential mission. The club is committed to defending press freedom in Hong Kong and across the region by speaking up when it is under threat, by providing resources and workshops for working reporters, and inviting prominent Hong Kong and international journalists and personalities to speak at the club on matters of public concern.

International Press Institute Issues Statement on Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

On October 30, the International Press Institute, which has been defending press freedom since 1950, released the following statement:

Impunity for crimes against journalists has continued to remain high, as governments are failing to bring perpetrators to justice, the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, said ahead of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on November 2.

Since last October, as many as 52 journalists have lost their lives due to their work, according to the Vienna-based IPI’s Death Watch. At least 24 were killed in targeted attacks. An additional 15 cases are considered to be likely targeted attacks but remain under investigation regarding the motive. Seven other journalists were killed in Syria and one in Iraq covering armed conflict, and two died in Iraq and one in Afghanistan reporting on civil unrest. An additional two journalists were killed while on assignment. In almost half of the cases, those responsible are still at large,

An IPI analysis of these cases shows an alarmingly insufficient response by authorities to grave crimes against journalists. So far, arrests have only been made in 10 cases, five each in the Americas and Asia.

“The unbroken cycle of impunity for crimes against journalists fuels further violence against the press at a time when the free flow of news is more valuable than ever”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The failure to bring those who kill journalists to justice is unacceptable and an attack on the public’s right to receive information.”

As in the year prior, the Americas accounted for the highest number of killings with 21 journalists murdered, including eight in Mexico, five in Honduras, two each in Colombia and Venezuela, and one each in Brazil, Guatemala, Haiti and Paraguay. In Asia, 11 journalists were killed, three in the Philippines, two each in India, Indonesia and Pakistan, and one each in Cambodia and Bangladesh. In Africa, two journalists were killed in Nigeria, and one each in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. One journalist died in a targeted attack in Yemen, and another was found dead in his car in Iraq, while in Qatar, the death of an imprisoned journalist is under investigation.

In Mexico, arrests were made only in one of eight cases on IPI’s Death Watch. Despite Mexico’s being one of the most dangerous countries for journalists to work, the government there has decided to stop funds allocated for upholding the Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (LPPDHP). Although underfunded, since its establishment in 2012, a federal safety mechanism had benefited over 1,200 individuals, 33 percent of whom were journalists.

In Brazil, Colombia and Honduras, the killers are still at large, while in Haiti, Paraguay and Venezuela, arrests have been made connection with the killings.

Amongst Asian countries, the Philippines has arrested suspects in two of three murders, while Indonesia has apprehended the alleged masterminds of the two killings in the country. In India, the police have arrested suspects in one case, and filed a case against the accused in another killing. The police in Pakistan have filed a case against suspects in one of two murders. However, no progress has been reported in investigations into the killings that took place in Bangladesh and Cambodia.

In Africa and the Middle East, no arrests have been reported in the seven cases on IPI’s Death Watch.

“Unfortunately, even the fact of arrests does not necessarily indicate genuine progress in an investigation into the killing of a journalist, given that all too often the only people who are arrested are the triggermen, while the masterminds remain free”, Griffen noted. “Authorities must ensure that every single person involved in the murder of a journalist is brought to justice.”

Alarmingly, little progress has been made in bringing perpetrators to justice even for the most high-profile and shocking murders in recent years. A public inquiry and trial are underway in the killing of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who died in a car bomb explosion in 2017. Last month, a court in Slovakia acquitted the suspected mastermind behind the 2018 murder of journalist Ján Kuciak.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has made a mockery of justice in the gruesome 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.  After intense international pressure, the Saudi government admitted that Khashoggi had been murdered in what it described as a “rogue operation”. However, it then charged 11 without revealing their names or their alleged role in the killing. The trial that began in March 2019 was shrouded in secrecy and despite requests by the United Nations, international observers were not allowed to attend the proceedings. In December, five of the suspects were sentenced to death (later overturned) and three others were given prison sentences, while the remaining three were exonerated.

We will keep publishing for as long as we can: New Naratif editor on the challenges facing independent news in Singapore

The challenges of running an independent news website in Singapore on a shoestring budget as the government continues to squeeze press freedom were discussed by freelance journalist and editor Kirsten Han.

Kirsten Han, editor-in-chief of Singaporean news website, New Naratif, has been accused of publishing political material. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Kirsten Han, editor-in-chief of Singaporean news website, New Naratif, has been accused of publishing political material. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Fresh from her appearance on the Fighting Fake News In Asia panel at the 3rd FCC Journalism Conference on April 14, Han told of her battle with Singapore’s accounting and corporate regulatory authority to have New Naratif, the website of which she is editor-in-chief, registered as a subsidiary company. Currently, the fledgling news operation is owned by Observatory Southeast Asia Ltd (OSEA UK), a company incorporated in the United Kingdom.

Singapore’s Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) has rejected the application, saying it “would amount to allowing a foreign entity or foreigners to fund and influence political activities in Singapore”. Acra added that granting the application would be “contrary to Singapore’s national interests”.

New Naratif, launched in September 2017, is subscriber-funded and has 457 members in 17 different countries. It describes itself as a “platform for journalism, art, research, and community-building for the people of this region” and seeks to “go deeper” than rival news organisations covering Southeast Asia.

New Naratif website. New Naratif website.

“We’re not interested in reporting events,” Han said, adding that she left the day-to-day news coverage to rivals, instead opting for providing different perspectives and insights on a story. “If we cannot beat them on their own turf, we will take the turf they cannot stand on,” she added.

New Naratif is non-profit and operates on a tiny budget. It relies heavily on freelancers, who, Han said, get paid before the editors pay themselves. She said she doesn’t believe in not paying contributors as is common practice with some news organisations. The site takes on staff with no journalism experience because “we want to get more local writers writing about Southeast Asia”, Han said.

Singapore ranked #151 in last year’s World Press Freedom Index, an annual survey produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which described the country as having an intolerant government, and self-censorship. It also highlighted various legislation it believes will stifle independent reporting, including a proposed law that would allow the police to search homes and electronic devices without a warrant, posing “a grave threat to the confidentiality of journalists’ sources”.

But Han said she is undeterred: “We will keep publishing for as long as we can,” she said.

Clarification: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that New Naratif had 3,500 members. We apologise for the error.

We’re keeping an eye on it: Macau journalists’ association on its fight to safeguard press freedom

Journalists in Macau still enjoy a level of press freedom despite incidents such as the barring of Hong Kong reporters into the enclave following Typhoon Hato in 2016, says the president of the Macau Portuguese and English Press Association (AIPIM).

José Carlos Matias spoke about press freedom in Macau on January 18, 2018. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC José Carlos Matias spoke about press freedom in Macau on January 18, 2018. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

And while publications in the Special Administrative Region receive government subsidies, this has not affected the integrity of the Portuguese or English language newspapers, said AIPIM president José Carlos Matias, emphasising that this was his opinion. He added that he was unable to comment on Chinese language publications.

The 30 square kilometre former Portuguese colony, has the highest concentration of media in the world, with a staggering 18 daily newspapers (in Chinese, Portuguese and English) to serve the 648,000 population. Additionally it has 19 weeklies, two TV and radio stations.

In recent years, Macau has been the focus of fears over press freedom. In August 2016, four journalists – one from HK01, one from South China Morning Post and two from Apple Daily – were denied entry to Macau in the wake of the devastating Typhoon Hato. The government cited that they ‘posed a threat to the stability of the territory’s internal security’.

“The explanation by the authorities we found particularly hard to understand to say the least,” Matias told FCC guests. “We have to keep an eye on this problem that is becoming relatively common.”

In a separate incident, Portuguese-language weekly, Plataforma, was ordered by the Electoral Affairs Commission for the Legislative Assembly Election (CAEAL) to remove from its online edition an interview with a candidate of the Legislative Assembly elections. Matias explained that in Macau there is a period between publication of candidate lists and the start of the campaign during which electoral propaganda is banned. However, AIPIM issued a statement at the time that said: “AIPIM deplores this situation, stressing that it is perplexing that news content, such as an interview, can be considered electoral propaganda.”

Soon after, AIPIM conducted a survey among around half of its journalist members that highlighted a growing trend among authorities to limit access to information to reporters. Matias said that part of the issue was the shortage of bilingual translators working in the judiciary and government departments, where the predominant language is Chinese.

The survey, analysed by an independent third party committee of experts, also found that 80% of journalists believed there was press freedom in Macau; 70% didn’t face violation of press freedom rights; and 76% dealt with different types of restraint.

Matias said that future aims of the AIPIM include conducting new surveys to go deeper into the challenges faced by journalists; and to deepen ties with Chinese journalists’ associations to promote press freedom and access to information.

FCC expresses concern over the exclusion of major news organisations from China’s political unveiling

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, is concerned at the unexplained barring of several major international news organisations from the most important political event in China in the last five years.

The BBC, the Financial Times, the Economist, the New York Times and the Guardian were all denied access to the unveiling of the new Politburo Standing Committee in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: AFP The BBC, the Financial Times, the Economist, the New York Times and the Guardian were all denied access to the unveiling of the new Politburo Standing Committee in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: AFP

The BBC, the Financial Times, the Economist, the New York Times and the Guardian were all denied access to the unveiling of the new Politburo Standing Committee in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on the morning of October 25.

Chinese government officials did not explain why these particular news organisations were all excluded from the carefully stage-managed event attended by some 2,000 journalists. A statement from the congress media centre said that space was limited on Wednesday and noted that the media concerned had been able to attend previous briefings.

However, it seems almost certain that they were likely barred simply because of their, at times, critical coverage of China and Chinese politics.

As the Foreign Correspondents Club of China noted in a statement yesterday: “Using media access as a tool to punish journalists whose coverage the Chinese authorities disapprove of is a gross violation of the principles of press freedom.”

Restricting media access to key political events is an ominously retrograde step for a country and government that claims to be open and transparent. Moreover, it contrasts sharply with the relatively free and open access given to foreign journalists at Communist Party Congresses in the 1980s and 90s when the country was just re-emerging on the world stage.

If China wants to be seen as responsible leader of the global community it should honour President Xi Jinping’s claim that the country “welcomes objective reporting and constructive suggestions” and allow both domestic and foreign journalists to do their job.

FCC supports HKJA statement on threatening letters to Hong Kong Free Press staff

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, supports the Hong Kong Journalists Association as it calls for the police to thoroughly investigate threatening letters sent to Hong Kong Free Press staff and their family members.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association is appalled at the threat mails received by the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) over the weeks. We call on the police to investigate it with its best endeavour. Journalists should be allowed to work without fear.

An excerpt from a letter sent to the family of Hong Kong Free Press editor-in-chief, Tom Grundy. Photo: HKFP An excerpt from a letter sent to the family of Hong Kong Free Press editor-in-chief, Tom Grundy. Photo: HKFP

 

The intimidation is real not only because the threat to harm but also the delivery of the letters to the home address of two journalists, namely HKFP’s Editor in Chief Tom Grundy and commentator Tim Hamlett as well as that of Mr Grundy’s family in UK.

The letters warned two and their team from “spreading hatred and dividing Hong Kong, China society”.

The one sent to Mr Grundy’s family said: “In politics, when one does not know ones enemies clearly, one could get hurt… I and many people would really regret if something happen to Tom in the next few years.”

These have gone beyond disagreement of a media’s editorial line and should not be tolerated in Hong Kong where press freedom is promised by the Basic Law. We understood the journalists have reported the threats to the police. The authorities should ensure their safety with their best effort.

Hong Kong Journalists Association
4 October 2017

Macau press freedom survey: Journalists cite decline in access to information

SCMP photographer Felix Wong was prevented from entering Macau. Photo: SCMP SCMP photographer Felix Wong was prevented from entering Macau. Photo: SCMP

Press freedom still exists in Macau in spite of a growing trend among authorities to limit access to information, according to a survey of journalists operating in the special administrative region.

While 79.55% of reporters surveyed agreed there was press freedom and 70.45% said they had never been subject to a violation of press freedom rights, a majority said that they had encountered obstacles in accessing sources of information, particularly the judiciary (68.18%). The survey found that 58.82% of respondents described access to the Government as the executive body as ‘difficult’; and 54.55% said the same of access to the group executing governmental policy and providing services to the residents of the MSAR.

The relatively small number (20.45%) who said they had been subject to a violation of press freedom rights detailed incidents including the ‘Case of the Gravesites’, in which one journalist described a refusal of rights to sign notices of political nature; or of Oktoberfest 2015, in which “during the press conference the journalists were instructed to not ask questions that weren’t related to the event, as well as being instructed to ask questions about the brand of beer sponsoring the event”.

The survey, conducted in November 2016 by the Macau Portuguese and English Press Association (AIPIM), comes just weeks after the publication of the 2017 annual World Press Freedom Index in which Reporters Without Borders (RSF) highlighted Thailand, where the media industry is increasingly muzzled by a military government; and Cambodia, where defamation laws have been criminalised to silence dissent.

Since the survey was conducted, Macau has been at the centre of two incidents indicating an erosion of press freedom. In August this year, four journalists – one from HK01, one from South China Morning Post and two from Apple Daily – were trying to cover the clean-up work in Macau after the enclave was heavily hit by the Severe Typhoon Hato. They were denied entry on the grounds that they ‘posed a threat to the stability of the territory’s internal security’.

Shortly afterwards, the AIPIM learned that the Electoral Affairs Commission for the Legislative Assembly Election (CAEAL) had ordered weekly newspaper Plataforma to remove from its online edition an interview with a candidate to the Legislative Assembly elections.

READ MORE: Press freedom plumbs fresh depths in Southeast Asia

The AIPIM survey concluded: “Based on a thorough analysis of this survey, we may conclude that the major problem faced by the journalistic community is precisely access to sources, namely in what concerns information that should be public and is concealed as a result of a system where journalists are forced to request it via the Government Spokesperson mechanism. The area which is conspicuously more problematic is the judiciary.

“The survey allows us to conclude that in their daily work journalists are faced with difficulties in accessing sources of information which allow them to better understand the surrounding environment and obstacles in obtaining answers to questions that loom while performing their duty as journalists.”

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