Fion Li
8 July 2024
Robin Pang
9 July 2024

Lukas Messmer

Swiss journalist looks for human-interest angle in Southeast Asia conflict

Lukas reporting on the 2023 Philippines elections

Lukas Messmer (MJ 2015) became a broadcast journalist, as he puts it, “quite by accident.”

After working for different Swiss newspapers, Lukas developed an interest in video production a decade ago, while working in Laos — first as an intern at the Vientiane Times and later as a communications consultant for the Dutch development nonprofit SNV.

A colleague gave him an idea to study in Hong Kong. Intrigued, he applied to the JMSC in 2014. “I selected all the JMSC classes with the intention to learn video production,” he said. “The video production class taught by Kevin Sites was where I really learned how to produce video content.”

After graduation, he worked as a video journalist for the Swiss Radio and Television (SRF) in Shanghai, covering mainland China, Hong Kong, North and South Korea. Today, Lukas is SRF’s Southeast Asia correspondent, based in Bangkok.

“I cover all kinds of news — political, cultural, economic,” Lukas said. “Everything from elections and natural disasters like tsunamis to cultural stories, such as a young Thai entrepreneur who creates eco-friendly disposable cutlery from rice husk.”

The Swiss journalist is always on the lookout for human interest stories. For example, in a 30-minute documentary he produced on the conflict in the South China Sea last year, he focused on how the row between China and the Philippines impacted the lives of local Filipinos. 

As a one-man team, Lukas took his camera to the frontlines of the conflict flashpoint. “I went with the fishing boat in the north of the Philippines, and with the tourist boat in the south,” he said. 

“I wanted to see what it means when you’re a Filipino fisherman on a small boat and then suddenly these Chinese coast guard ships start throwing water cannons at you,” Lukas added. “There are all these questions which are not easy to document in video. I find it a very interesting and challenging experience.”

Lukas and Filipino fishermen at the Scarborough Shoal

Lukas covering a wildfire in Doi Inthanon National Park, Chiang Mai province, Thailand

A seasoned fisherman told him how the disputes impacted their livelihood. “Simple fishermen doing this for years, then suddenly the Chinese navy appears — they don’t understand why,” Lukas said.

He also interviewed a young man who organised tours to Palawan Island, and captured his enthusiasm about the future prospect of tourism.

When Lukas is not busy reporting or traveling, he can sometimes be found deejaying at Bangkok nightclubs.

The DJ gig started as “a hobby which I picked up during the pandemic because work was low,” Lukas said, adding it is not a professional pursuit. “Once you need to earn money with it, I think it would lose the joy for me because it becomes too serious.”

Lukas has a soft spot for the Greater China region, thanks to a JMSC course called “Covering China.” It piqued his interest in reporting stories beyond the major Chinese metropolises. “There are still so many stories to be told outside of Beijing and Shanghai,” he said.