Monthly newsletter: November 2018

Message from Keith

Let’s start this month with a quiz. Just two questions.

In what country did the government this month just bring tax evasion charges against a hard-hitting independent news site and its editor, in a thinly veiled attempt to try to silence critical coverage of the president?

And in what country did the president recently have the press credentials revoked for a journalist who asked him tough questions at a press conference, and then had his aides distribute an amateurishly doctored video trying to justify the move?

The answer to the first question is the Philippines, where the government of Rodrigo Duterte recently accused the Rappler news site, and its CEO Maria Ressa—a good friend of the JMSC—of failing to pay tax on about US$3 million in unreported gains from 2015. Ressa has rightly called this a blatant attempt at intimidation.

The answer to the second question is the U.S., where the White House revoked the press credentials of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, who has been known for his tough but accurate coverage of President Donald Trump. The network is now suing the White House to have Acosta’s credentials reinstated, and have enlisted top Republican lawyer Ted Olson, a former solicitor general in the last Bush administration.

You might be forgiven if you had the two answers reversed.

The U.S. and the Philippines are both now run by authoritarian presidents who publicly berate reporters in personal terms and bristle at any press coverage not fawning enough. Duterte and Trump have both threatened to use the instruments of government to harass media organisations whose coverage they dislike. Both countries have dropped in the annual World Press Freedom Index; the Philippines is down six places and the U.S. under Trump has dropped two spots.

What is disheartening is that the U.S. and the Philippines are also both democracies. Harassing and intimidating reporters is what we have come to expect from nondemocratic and unelected authoritarian regimes. But leaders elected in democratic systems are supposed to understand the essential role the press serves, namely holding governments accountable, rooting out corruption, giving voice to people’s concerns, and providing citizens the uncensored information they need to make informed decisions.

Democracy’s founders understood the central role of the press, placing press freedom in the very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson famously said he would choose newspapers with no government over a government devoid of newspapers. Another Jefferson quote, a favourite of mine, is worth remembering; “The only security of all is in a free press.”

That is wisdom we should all remember when we see journalists being intimidated, threatened, slapped with trumped up legal charges, or having their press credentials revoked—or being denied a visa to enter Hong Kong.

Keith Richburg
Director of the JMSC

Almost 300 people came to HKU on 31 October to hear author and investigative journalist Suki Kim talk about her experience going undercover in North Korea for her New York Times bestselling book, Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite. Suki gave the audience a glimpse behind her six-month stint at an all-male university in Pyongyang where she posed as an English teacher and missionary. Click on the image above to watch the video.
Tom Wright, Asia Economics Editor of The Wall Street Journal, wrapped up our JMSC writers-in-residence series this semester at the HKU Main Library on 8 November. Tom is the co-author of Billion Dollar Whale, the inside story of Malaysia's 1MDB scandal. Erin Hale, freelance journalist and teaching assistant at JMSC, moderated. Click on the image above to watch the video.
Strapline video link

JMSC recently launched a video series called Strapline: News Literacy for the Rest of Us on YouTubeFacebook, and Medium. It is part of a renewed effort led by Masato Kajimoto, Assistant Professor of Practice, of our ongoing news literacy initiative to develop teaching and learning materials for the general public in Asia. Watch the teaser video above and visit the Strapline website for more about the series.

Videos of the panel discussions at "The Ethical Image" conference we co-organized with the World Press Photo Foundation and Rights Exposure on 6 October are now on our YouTube channel. The videos are the first step towards continuing the discussion about the ethical challenges faced by those who create, publish and use images in the course of their daily work in the efforts of coming up with concrete solutions and sharing of best practice. Click the image above for a teaser video.

Dr. Jane Goodall was the guest of honour at a full-house screening of the National Geographic film JANE at Yuet Ming Auditorium on 11 November where she took questions from the audience afterwards. The event was part of the ECO FILM SERIES organized by the Hong Kong Documentary Initiative.

The JMSC booth at the HKU Information Day on 3 November was well-staffed with our undergrads who shared their experiences in the Bachelor of Journalism programme and gave hands-on news production demos to prospective students. This year's event attracted a record 103,030 visitors to our campus to see what was on offer at the University.

JMSC director Keith Richburg was on a panel to talk about the implications on trade and politics of the U.S. midterm elections. The event, held at the Foreign Correspondent's Club on 7 November, was hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Consulate General, and JMSC.

Faculty & Staff News

Regina Chung of our WeChatscope team penned the cover story of the fall 2018 issue of the Socientist, the biannual newsletter published by HKU's Faculty of Social Sciences. The piece is about China's "We-Media" landscape and how the WeChatscope team, using big data analysis, is grappling with the question of its censorship & regulation in China. Read it here.

JMSC is co-organising the Institute for News Literacy Fellows in Asia again this year in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, with Masato Kajimoto as the main instructor during the three-day workshop. Hosted by the Faculty of Journalism and Communication at the University of Social Sciences 

and Humanities from 13-15 December, it will consist of a series of news literacy workshops targeted at media educators and practitioners from Southeast Asian countries. Details here.
JMSC in the news
19 October – World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe: 110th Global Health Histories seminar: Polio, immunization and universal health coverage
25 October – Columbia Journalism Review: The erosion of Hong Kong’s free press
1 November – Libération: Chine Le «Global Times» table sur YouTube pour tacler l’Occident
2 November – The New York Times: Journalist's Expulsion Casts Shadow on Hong Kong's Future
6 November – South China Morning Post: More than a century of newsroom technology at SCMP: from the telegraph to live streaming of spacewalks
9 November – Hong Kong Free Press: Senior Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet banned from entering Hong Kong
9 November – South China Morning Post: British journalist Victor Mallet denied entry to Hong Kong as tourist
13 November – Hyperallergic: Political Cartoonist Threatened by Chinese Authorities During “Free Expression Week”, by Kari Lindberg (MJ 2019)
Coming up

Professor Zhan Jiang, one of China’s leading experts on journalism and communication, will be giving a talk on 19 November at HKU about the question of media corruption on Mainland China from both legal and moral angles. The talk is organized by the China Media Project and will be given in Putonghua. Details here.