Members of a student publication at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) have collectively resigned citing interference from the university after receiving complaints. A student editor who resigned alleged that the university said it could not guarantee student safety if the board attributed their decision to resign to HKBU’s demand to recall the magazine.

The HKBUSU Editorial Board’s Facebook page. Photo: Screenshot via Facebook.

The editorial board of the student publication Jumbo announced last Friday evening that all management at its newsroom had stepped down, a month ahead of the end of their term. The board said its decision was taken as a result of attempts by university administration to interfere with its reporting.

The student publication – a subsidiary of the university’s student union – reported on student affairs but also other news, such as the city’s politics and protests. The resignation means the publication’s upcoming editions will be put on hold until the election of the next editorial board.

Jumbo’s 2021 January edition. Photo: Jumbo via Issuu.

Two hours prior to announcing the mass resignation, the editorial board posted on Facebook saying that it will recall the latest edition of its magazine following a demand from HKBU. The university also asked that the student publication remove calls for submissions from its social media platforms.

In a statement announcing the resignations, the editorial board said the university had asked for “clarification” regarding its report on a flag-raising ceremony on campus in early January. It had also “made comments” to the publication’s former editor-in-chief about certain terms used in its reports, including the term “Wuhan virus,” – a reference to Covid-19. HKBU asked that the publication stop using the phrase, according to the statement.

The school barred the board from using school email accounts, a student editor who resigned – Alex Chan – said in a social media post. Meanwhile, a room occupied by the newsroom on campus was cleared out, a source with knowledge on the matter told HKFP.

“There will never be a lack of excuses when it comes to making trumped-up charges,” the editorial board statement said. “The board has no regrets nor remorse over any publications it made and reports it wrote.”

“HKBU rings the alarm bells on attacks against student media. Student media at other institutions will experience oppression of varying degrees in the future,” it read. “Every report is hard-earned. We hope everyone will cherish the last bit of press freedom that our society is now left with.”

The school began taking action against the board following complaints from “people outside the school”, which alleged that some of the publication’s content may have violated the national security law, Chan said, without identifying the complainant.

The complaint pointed to a quote by the magazine’s editor-in-chief in its January edition, which said the city’s “rule of law is dead, the student union is dead, Hong Kong is dead, freedom is dead. News is merely an anthology of obituaries.”

Other problematic articles included one about late Hong Kong actor Ng Man-tat’s patriotism, and an interview with HKBU associate professor Kenneth Chan on the observation of elections, Chan wrote.

‘Illegal acts’

Chan also alleged that the school’s legal representatives had advised HKBU to report problematic content to the city’s national security police. HKBU also said it could not “promise to guarantee” student safety if the newsroom chose to publicly attribute its decision to resign to the actions the university took against the magazine’s January edition, Chan said.

The magazine’s January edition had been removed from its website at the time of writing.

A university spokesperson acknowledged on Saturday that it fielded complaints about the magazine, and legal advice it sought indicated that the student publication may have involved “illegal acts.” It also admitted to urging for the recall of the published magazine and to condemning the magazine’s use of the term “Wuhan virus.”

The university also terminated the board’s right to use all campus facilities and will initiate disciplinary procedures against students who were engaged in “misconduct,” a spokesperson said.

Baptist University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“The University expresses its indignation about the Editorial Board’s statement,” HKBU’s statement read. “The University has been handling media reports related to it published by all media outlets in a fair and objective manner, and is obliged to reflect to and clarify with the media whenever there is inaccurate or false information.”

“Considering the responsibility and attitude of the Editorial Board in this incident, the University has decided to discontinue its relationship with the Editorial Board with immediate effect.”

HKBU did not respond to HKFP’s enquiries when asked whether they had threatened students over the potential disclosure of the school’s warnings.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.