A lifestyle editor who is not from a traditional news correspondent background has been elected as president of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), after he ran unopposed in the leadership race.

Lee Williamson, who currently heads Gen.T – a platform under lifestyle magazine Tatler – was elected as FCC president with 31 votes from foreign correspondent members of the club. He will replace Keith Richburg, the outgoing head of the University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) journalism school, by the end of this month.

Lee Williamson
Lee Williamson. Photo: Lee Williamson, via screenshot.

The foreign press club is open to foreign correspondents and locally-based journalists, as well as those who are not employed in the media. It counts bankers, lawyers, and teachers among its members, according to its website.

The outgoing president received 26 votes in the last election. Richburg’s predecessor, Jodi Schneider, received 110 votes when she was first elected in 2019.

Responding to an enquiry from HKFP, Williamson said on Wednesday that he had not run for president of the FCC because he wanted to “run a bar and restaurant.”

“It’s written right there above the door: we are the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. The FCC has an important role to play in contributing to the plurality of Hong Kong life,” Williamson said.

The president-elect said that he and the club would continue to speak up for press freedom in Hong Kong, adding that the press club had confirmed “a new board policy on issuing statements.”

FCC Keith Richburg
Foreign Correspondents’ Club Keith Richburg. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Richburg would be announcing the details of the new policy at the club’s annual general meeting next Monday, he said.

The FCC, which has come under fire in recent years, has not published a statement on Hong Kong’s press freedom in more than eight months.

In 2018, a representative from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong attempted to block Hong Kong pro-independence activist Andy Chan from speaking at a panel event at the club. Victor Mallet, the former Asia editor of the Financial Times and ex-vice-president of the club who hosted the talk with Chan was later barred from entering the city, weeks after the government refused to renew his work visa.

Last year, the FCC cancelled the Human Right Press Awards after hosting it for 25 years, citing legal risks. Eight members of the club’s Press Freedom Committee, which oversaw the awards, and one of the club’s board members resigned in protest, and Richburg later apologised to the awards’ judges, saying that the club still had “a role to play.”

The government also added a new national security clause to the club’s lease when it was renewed last year, saying “standard clauses” had been introduced “to safeguard national security and to sufficiently protect the Government’s rights and interests.”

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Richburg said at the time that the lease renewal was a “huge relief,” and that the national security clause did not seem “problematic.”

“Since we don’t plan on violating national security or any other Hong Kong law, that [provision] does not seem problematic,” he said.

Hong Kong has plummeted in international press freedom indices since the onset of the security law. Watchdogs cite the arrest of journalists, raids on newsrooms and the closure of around 10 media outlets including Apple Daily, Stand News and Citizen News. Over 1,000 journalists have lost their jobs, whilst many emigrated. Meanwhile, the city’s government-funded broadcaster RTHK has adopted new editorial guidelines, purged its archives and axed news and satirical shows.

See also: Explainer: Hong Kong’s press freedom under the national security law

In 2022, Chief Executive John Lee has said press freedom was “in the pocket” of Hongkongers but “nobody is above the law.” Lee, whose administration is mulling a “fake news” law, has told the press to “tell a good Hong Kong story.”

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.