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Hong Kong press club cancels awards

by The Washington Post | April 26, 2022 at 5:29 a.m.

HONG KONG -- For the time in 26 years, the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong suspended its Human Rights Press Awards.

In a statement issued Monday, the club wrote that "significant areas of uncertainty" in the past two years, where Hong Kong journalists have been operating under "'new red lines' on what is and is not permissible," was the reason they suspended the awards, and they cited fears of unintentionally violating the law.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club was founded in 1943 in China, relocated to Hong Kong six years later and centered its mission to uphold journalistic standards and defend press freedom in Hong Kong and across the region. The Human Rights Press Awards is one of the oldest journalism awards in Asia.

"We explored a variety of other options, but could not find a feasible way forward," wrote Keith Richburg, president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club, adding that recent developments may require "changes to the club's approach" to continue promoting press freedom. Richburg, a former Washington Post correspondent, is now a columnist for the paper.

The security law, which criminalizes vaguely worded acts such as secession, subversion and foreign collusion, has unnerved institutions and caused even those whose mission is based on safeguarding press freedom to self-censor.

Mary Hui, reporter at Quartz, was one of eight members who resigned from the press freedom committee at the Foreign Correspondents' Club on Monday.

"By canceling the awards, I think we send a rather worrying message that defending press freedom as the stated mission of the Foreign Correspondents' Club is no longer tenable," Hui said.

Several people involved in the organization confirmed that the driving factor behind the suspension was that a handful of this year's winners could be in breach of the security law. Winning entries included articles from Stand News -- a local news outlet forced to shutter after national security police raided the newsroom in December and arrested editors and executives.

Since the law was passed, a string of media outlets has closed, including Citizen News and Apple Daily.

Dan Strumpf of the Wall Street Journal was the only board member of the club who voted against the suspension of the awards and later resigned.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club has not further commented on its move.

Documentary filmmaker Connie Lo, one of the adjudicators for four categories of the awards, said the club's choice to suspend the awards is "an insult to the journalism industry."

"Many times reporters had to risk their lives to pursue their journalistic works," Lo said. "This year's awards holds a special meaning to journalists from news outlets that have already disappeared."

According to documents seen by The Post, some winning entries covered topics such as police accountability in the Hong Kong protests in 2019 and documented now-shuttered newsrooms and civic organizations.

Lo said the fact that news outlets like Stand News garnered more awards than others underscores the struggles local journalists face from increasing censorship and limited resources in newsrooms. Public broadcaster RTHK, once a TV news platform that thrived with award-winning investigations and deep dives into political wrongdoing, was barred from covering sensitive subjects with a political angle.

Ronson Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said the abrupt cancellation of the awards was "regrettable but understandable," and that the awards were a "recognition to journalists who poured their heart and soul into their reporting work."

The announcement of the winners had been scheduled for May 3, World Press Freedom Day.

Print Headline: Hong Kong press club cancels awards


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