Journalism students learn valuable lessons covering Chinese government conferences

Four Bachelor of Journalism students have cut their teeth covering two of China’s most important political meetings, the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), contributing reporting to Hong Kong’s Ming Pao and South China Morning Post newspapers.

JMSC students Hayley Lau, Harvey Ye, Billy Wong and Lydia Sung covered plenary sessions, took photographs and interviewed officials and others during China’s annual parliamentary session, the NPC, and the yearly meeting of the CPPCC, which were held consecutively in Beijing from March 1 to March 8.

Lau and Ye worked in conjunction with Ming Pao and had articles and a photo published, while Wong and Sung worked with the SCMP and contributed reporting to a number of articles on the conferences.

Ye said he learned the benefits of tenacity and background research after he managed to secure an exclusive interview with a high-profile entrepreneur during the conference.

The entrepreneur, who couldn’t be named, had initially refused numerous times to speak to Ye and other more experienced journalists, as he has a new company that is in the process of listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. But Ye persisted and will have his article published in Ming Pao after the company has listed.

“I got nervous that night (before the interview) because it was my first time to have interviewed such a celebrated person,” he said. “So I researched his company and his story beforehand and…the interview was finally a success, and I was so happy.”

Hayley Lau covered numerous sessions with Ming Pao reporters and said it was been a hands-on experience that also taught her persistence when seeking an interview. “I will never forget the hundreds of journalists gathering outside the entrance of the meeting hall to get sound bites from the representatives, and I will never forget locating China’s new richest person, Li Hejun, in the crowd and interviewing him despite him originally not being willing to answer questions,” she said.

Lydia Sung said she learned the importance of building relationships and to think more carefully about her interview questions. “Throughout the eight days, we realised how difficult it was to get officials and representatives to address the issues you raised, and we also had first-hand experience dealing with sensitive issues when interviewing a top (Communist Party of China) official,” she said

Scripted performances by both journalists and delegates during the press conferences held outside of the official sessions gave Billy Wong an insight into how staged journalism can be in China.  He contrasted that with the role of journalists in Hong Kong, who act as a “check against the government”.

“Such a major difference in the role of journalists makes me realise the value of press freedom and how fortunate we are to enjoy (relative) freedom of speech in Hong Kong,” he said.

The student’s work was supervised and funded as part of an internship organised by the Journalism Education Foundation Hong Kong, in conjunction with the JMSC.

The JEC is a non-profit organisation that seeks to raise the standards of journalism in Hong Kong, and this is the seventh time that student journalists from the JMSC have covered the NPC and CPPCC meetings.