Hong Kong Journalists Club passes motion to commit to press freedom as more than half of board abstains

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) of Hong Kong voted overwhelmingly in favor of a press freedom motion. More than half of the members of the board of directors abstained during the vote.

The non-binding motion was raised at the club’s annual general meeting on Monday, just weeks after the FCC made the decision to scrap the Human Rights Press Awards for legal reasons. The move was widely criticized and raised questions about the club’s commitment to defending press freedom in the city.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The motion called on the FCC to “prominently display its mission statement on its website and reaffirm its commitment to publicly exposing threats to press freedom in Hong Kong in a transparent manner.”

“In future cases where concerns are raised that acting within the mission of the club poses legal risks, the club will seek written legal advice to share with the board from practicing lawyers. experienced in providing legal advice to international media,” the motion reads.

He also said that the FCC Board “formulates and publishes a policy committing to comply with the above principles within 90 days.”

HKFP has learned that the motion was drafted by a member who resigned from the club’s board and journalists who quit the Press Freedom Committee, the body that oversaw the Human Rights Press Awards, following on cancellation.

According to figures shared by an FCC member, obtained from the club, the motion garnered 1,121 “for” votes and 108 “against” votes, while there were 354 abstentions.

Votes are not weighted equally, members who work for international media are allocated 25 votes.

Since the motion was not binding, the board has no obligation to honor its commitments.

The FCC was to hold the Human Rights Press Awards earlier this month. But at the end of April, the club announced that they would not hold the awards because the club “did not wish to unwittingly break the law”. Sources familiar with the matter told HKFP that it was because disbanded outlet Stand News won a number of titles.

When the awards were abruptly canceled in late April, members noted that a statement outlining the club’s core mission – “to promote and facilitate journalism of the highest caliber” – disappeared from the “FCC Statements” page of its website. . It was not restored on Tuesday.

The statement remains on the FCC’s “Human Rights Press Awards” page.

A journalism school at Arizona State University in the United States said it would take on the organization and hosting of the awards.

Council members abstain

Of the 16 members of the FCC’s board of directors, 14 were present at Monday’s meeting. Among them, four voted “for” and one person voted “against”, HKFP learned. Nine abstained from voting.

Human Rights Press Award. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Speaking on Tuesday, Richburg – who abstained – said the meeting went well and was “cathartic” for members who wanted to air their views.

He told HKFP he abstained from voting because he “didn’t like the second part of the motion,” which called on the board to get written legal advice from lawyers just in case. the club would be concerned about the risk.

“What type of legal advice, whether you receive oral, verbal or written advice, should belong to the chairman at this time,” Richburg said, adding that the wording suggested the club had not sought an opinion. written legal.

Richburg also said some attorneys may not be willing to give advice in writing.

HKFP contacted the member who voted “against”.

Since the passage of the Beijing-mandated national security law nearly two years ago, rights groups have been sounding the alarm over what many say is a decline in press freedom in Hong Kong. Kong.

Reporters at a press conference. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The independent Apple Daily newspaper closed in June 2021 after authorities froze its assets and arrested staff under national security law. About six months later, Stand News also closed following an office raid and arrests. Two former employees have been charged with conspiring to publish “seditious publications” under the Colonial Crimes Ordinance. Citizen News closed days after Stand News disbanded, citing concerns about staff safety.

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai has been in pretrial detention since December 2020 and is serving time on charges related to the protests. He also faces charges under Beijing’s national security law, as well as the colonial-era sedition law.

Hong Kong fell 68 places to 148th place in a press freedom index published by watchdog Reporters Without Borders this year, putting it behind Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.


The author of this article is a member of the FCC.


Corrected 21:20: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the University of Arizona, as opposed to Arizona State University. We regret the error.

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