Arizona State University’s (ASU) journalism school will host the Human Rights Press Awards from next year, after Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) axed the event citing legal “red lines.”

ASU Cronkite school
Photo: Screenshot of Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication made the announcement on Tuesday – World Press Freedom Day.

‘Red lines’

Last week, the FCC scrapped this year’s awards after the defunct local outlet Stand News won nine accolades. Two former Stand News employees are facing sedition charges after the outlet was raided and its editors arrested last December.

The press club’s move prompted a board member to step down and eight members of the club’s press freedom committee to resign. HKFP later obtained and published the full list of winners.

“Recognising exceptional reporting on human-rights issues is more important today than ever before, due to the many – and growing – threats to press freedom around the world. The Cronkite School is honoured to take on the administration of the Awards and we hope to expand their global reach as part of our #CronkiteGlobal initiative,” said Battinto L. Batts, Jr., dean of the Cronkite School in a press release.

Human Rights Press Awards
Human Rights Press Awards. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Jeffrey Timmermans, who directs the school’s Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, will be the head judge. Timmermans, a former governor of the FCC in Hong Kong, told HKFP he believed that “all past winners of the Human Rights Press Awards should be recognised,” when asked about this year’s awardees. However, he said “there has been no decision yet.”

When asked how the new institution would navigate legal uncertainties, considering the local authorities say the law applies internationally, he said: “We believe the Human Rights Press Awards are a way to recognize outstanding journalism and thus worth supporting – and that’s why we offered to take over the administration of the awards.”

Timmermans said the timing of the takeover was accelerated for the announcement to come out on World Press Freedom Day, adding he doesn’t foresee any security issues.

In December, there will be a global call for entries. Winners will be announced next May, and there will be no fees to enter.

‘Pick up the mantle’

President of Hong Kong’s FCC Keith Richburg was quoted in the press release as saying: “I’m thrilled to know that the Cronkite School at Arizona State University is going to pick up the mantle and allow the Human Rights Press Awards to continue into the future.”

FCC Hong Kong foreign correspondents' club
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Richburg told HKFP he was approached by ASU “as soon as the news came about the suspension,” saying the Human Rights Press Awards “will now be in safe hands.” When asked whether he thought that security concerns were resolved, Richburg said, “Since FCC sadly has no more affiliation or involvement after suspending the Awards, I see no issues.”

Richburg earlier apologised to judges of the axed awards, saying the decision was “in the best interests” of the club and its staff. Richburg also previously told HKFP the award “will likely continue with new sponsors and from a new location.”

The Human Rights Press Awards began in 1996 and this year’s prizes were meant to be distributed on Tuesday. The 2022 awards would have been the 26th – it is first time the FCC has not held them.

Correction 09:15: An early version of this article stated Jeffrey Timmermans was ASU’s journalism school director as opposed to a professor. We regret the error.

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Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.