In May 2019, the Judith Neilson Institute sent 12 Australian journalists to Hong Kong for a two-week education and reporting intensive on Hong Kong and China, in partnership with the Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre. The journalists or “fellows” came from leading Australian media houses — News Corp, SBS, ABC, Guardian Australia, Nine and AAP.
The program gave the journalists exposure to academics, journalists and civil society leaders in Hong Kong and Macau. They visited newsrooms, including Bloomberg, AFP and the South China Morning Post, and attended the Society of Publishers in Asia Awards dinner.
The trip was timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The reporters were given three days to allow them to report on those events and the impending passage of an extradition treaty with China that was roiling Hong Kong.
Every journalist on the trip was able to file at least one story for their home publication. Several filed multiple stories and stayed on for two historic protest marches that saw more than a million Hongkongers march in the streets.
While the ABC and Nine sent their China correspondents to cover the events, every other media outlet used their fellow to report the protests. In those cases, the JNI trip offered Australian media houses a chance to have a reporter on the ground when they would not have otherwise.
Prue Clarke, a senior executive at JNI, said one of the Institute’s aims was to improve journalists’ understanding of the region.
“Bringing Australian journalists here to see that, to understand, to feel and taste how China is impacting the region, especially Hong Kong, is really invaluable.”
The feedback from the fellows was overwhelmingly positive. Few had ever been on a fact-finding fellowship of this type and valued the access and networking opportunities it provided.
Helen Davidson from the Guardian said: “I didn’t come here with a huge awareness of China and how it operates and how it influences the region.”
“But, coming here, we met really high-level contacts, academics, journalists, dissidents,” she said.
SBS reporter Abbie O’Brien said the trip was also an opportunity for journalists from different newsrooms to connect.
“You don’t usually get to hang out a lot with other Australian journalists,” she said.
“So, it was really nice to meet them and find out how they approach stories, because Australia has a very diverse media landscape.”