Monthly newsletter: September 2020

First, a few welcomes are in order.

Welcome to the Bachelor of Journalism class of 2024—which will be our largest-ever undergraduate cohort in the 20-year history of our programme. Welcome to our 2021 Master of Journalism class. And welcome back to all of our returning students.

As our programme enters its third decade, we decided it was a good time for a new look and a new logo, so you will now see us branded as “HKU Journalism.”

The name communicates more clearly what we do, which is teach journalism that is fact-based, accurate, truthful and fair. It also rolls off the tongue a lot simpler than our official acronym JMSC, and our simple, clean and modern logo reflects that.

This is not an official name change—we are still the Journalism and Media Studies Centre. And we will continue with our cutting-edge media research into disinformation and combatting fake news, monitoring Chinese censorship patterns, media law and free expression, and media business models and developments. So in short, while we’re sprucing up our look, we are not changing what we do.

This is a start to a new year like no other. The pandemic that began early this year is still with us, necessitating us to teach all of our courses virtually for the first few weeks. While not ideal, we have had all summer to prepare and can deliver a quality academic experience online until we can resume our face-to-face classes in a few weeks. We can’t wait to welcome all of our students to Eliot Hall in person.

Besides the coronavirus pandemic, the other main issue that is causing concern is the new National Security Law, and I know many of you are wondering how it will affect our teaching, how it will affect your decision to study journalism, and whether there is even a future for the profession in Hong Kong.

As I wrote in an earlier note, just after the new law took effect, for us here at HKU Journalism, nothing changes. We are not changing the way we teach, we are not restricting what can be said in our classes, and we are not setting any “red lines” or off-limit topics for what our students can report about. As far as we are concerned, it is full steam ahead.

The new National Security Law sets out four new criminal areas, terrorism, secession, subversion of state power, and collusion with foreign forces. The law has been left deliberately vague and subject to broad interpretation, and we have no idea how it will be implemented in the future.

What we do know is that the law is targeting advocacy and activism, not academic or journalistic inquiry. Journalists doing their job are engaged in only one type of activity—digging for facts, searching for the truth. And as journalists, we must continue to be fierce advocates for just one thing: press freedom. That will not change.

As I’ve said many times before, the biggest danger now for journalism is self-censorship, and journalists drawing red lines in their minds seeking to tip-toe around any potential tripwires. I advocate the opposite approach—keep digging, keep pushing the boundaries, testing the limits, giving voice to the voiceless and holding power accountable.

No one in power likes nosy journalists poking around, uncovering corruption, exposing hypocrisy, fact-checking false statement, and giving the public information it needs that someone would rather see buried. That is precisely why the journalist’s job is so vital to society. And that’s why we here at HKU Journalism plan to continue teaching exactly as before.

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