The legends of Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club
- The FCC, which has made Hong Kong its home since 1949 as a canary in China’s coal mine, has been criticised for both malign opposition and craven surrender to Chinese authority here
- For a city which aspires to continue to be an international financial centre, the FCC’s demise would seem to be an act of self-harm that no authority should knowingly commit
At the end of the great spy novelist John Le Carre’s Hong Kong story The Honourable Schoolboy, a legendary 1970s character at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club has a furious argument over “a silly point of club protocol” – the process of paying bills with chits.
“You won’t stop the wheel, not together, not divided, you snivelling a***-licking novices!” he tells them as he storms out.
The debate on Monday night at the FCC’s annual general meeting was over a more fundamental matter: How to maintain a seven-decade tradition of advocating for press freedom at a time when authorities are bringing sedition charges against journalists in Hong Kong.
Like the city that has been its home since 1949, it has been a difficult few years for the FCC.
Even in tamer times, members have found reasons to disagree, sometimes disagreeably, and in our post-truth, postmodern world, willing but unreliable witnesses can be found for a multiverse of competing narratives. And cost-free platforms to broadcast them to the impressionable.
And so on Monday, “Hong Kong journalists’ club passes motion to commit to press freedom, as over half of board abstains from vote”, the online Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported. No news, when you’re the subject, is good news. The meeting went well and was cathartic for members who wanted to air their views, club president Keith Richburg told the HKFP.
Not only are its landlord’s intentions even harder to discern than ever, the FCC’s members are leaving in numbers not seen since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. But why should any non-member care?
The aftermath of a big story is hard for the storytellers. The FCC, its walls adorned with pictures of the fall of Saigon, a movie about a Korean war correspondent and various people-power revolutions, has comforted and rejuvenated these journalists and fellow travellers for whom the journey was the destination.
I first walked into the club almost 19 years ago, and I joined on the spot. As a Malaysian coming from Singapore, a country not always known as a journalists’ refuge, it was like finding an oasis in the desert. I met and drank with the photographer who took the iconic picture of the American helicopter lifting off a Vietnamese building. We celebrated the birthdays of the woman who broke the story of the German invasion of Poland. Nobel Prize-winning journalists and government leaders from around the world came to speak to us.
And we created an award to honour and celebrate the work of journalists reporting on human rights in Asia. Some of the early winning outlets, like the Far Eastern Economic Review and the International Herald Tribune no longer exist, closed by their American owners. Two of the winners for the 25th awards announced last year, have also shut down, after arrests for alleged “collusion with foreign forces” and asset freezes: Hong Kong’s Apple Daily and Stand News.
We live, however, in interesting and controversial times whose history is still being told, and retold. Dispatches like this don’t provide more than an appetiser. If you prefer to know the whole story, read Le Carre’s The Honourable Schoolboy. And join us in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong.
Douglas Wong was FCC President from 2012-13 and a Human Rights Press Awards judge from 2012-21