New University of Hong Kong media centre director pledges to uphold its independence and integrity

Keith Richburg, who reported from Hong Kong in the 1990s for The Washington Post, says it is now a challenging time for the media

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 March, 2016, 9:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 March, 2016, 9:23pm

The incoming director of the University of Hong Kong’s journalism school has pledged to uphold the centre’s independence, autonomy and integrity amid the political controversies that have been buffeting the school and the city in recent years.

Professor Keith Richburg, the former foreign editor of The Washington Post who was appointed on Wednesday to succeed Professor Chan Yuen-ying as head of the HKU’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre (JMSC) in September, also noted that there were public concerns that the city’s academic and press freedoms were at stake with promises made under the Basic Law being eroded, as reflected in the recent case of the missing booksellers.

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“I come with only one agenda: to make sure our students are imbued with the same values of objectivity, fairness, accuracy, fact-based reporting and rigorous attention to detail that I learned over 30 years with The Washington Post,” Richburg told the Post in an email reply.

“I see my job as to insulate the JMSC and our students from all these political currents swirling around. We’re about honest reporting and we’re about facts.”

HKU has been at the centre of controversy since last year after its governing body delayed – and then rejected – the appointment of liberal law academic Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun to a key managerial post, which many saw as a sign of political interference from the government.

Noting that a number of students are from the mainland and aspire to cover the country as correspondents, Richburg said the centre would make sure they were equipped with the highest standards of journalistic integrity.

The journalist was a visiting professor at the JMSC in the last semester. He also taught at Princeton University after his retirement in 2013,

Richburg spent 33 years working as a reporter and editor at The Washington Post. He was a foreign correspondent reporting from four continents, including Asia, for two decades.

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After spending much time in Paris and the Middle East, where he covered significant developments including the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, he was appointed foreign editor from 2005 to 2007.

He served as the president of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club when he was based in the city in the late 1990s.

Richburg noted the media industry in Hong Kong, like in other places around the world, was going through incredibly challenging times. But he thought the JMSC could serve as the city’s and the region’s think tank on the future of the industry.

“It’s a challenging time for the media, but it’s also an exciting time,” he said, adding he hoped to equip students with the skills they needed in the uncertain new world, including storytelling ability and technological skills.

Chan, the founding director of the JMSC, told the Post that she found her 16 years in the centre very gratifying.

“I started with one assistant and two small rooms, but now we have students working at major news organisations across all platforms around the world,” said Chan, who believed the centre would be “in very good hands” under Richburg’s leadership.