A member of a campaign group to remove an anti-harassment policy at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) Hong Kong is running for the press club’s Board of Governors.
William Giles, a partner of law firm Hart & Giles, is a co-founder of “save-the-fcc.com” – a website with a petition launched in retaliation to an anti-harassment policy sent to FCC members last November. The group said the club should not define the boundaries of speech with broad policies that can be weaponised by members with ill-intent. FCC revealed on Thursday that Giles is standing for the position of Associate Member Governor at the private club.
Giles said in a statement that he wishes to bring three policies to the board for approval: Rebuild “bridges” with the government or “landlord”; “Suspension of the anti-harassment policy”; and the establishment of an annual prize for “the best investigative local reporter” in honour of the late barrister Kevin Egan.
Last September, former Chief Executive CY Leung demanded the FCC reveal details of its building lease and accused it of paying “token rent” after it invited pro-independence activist Andy Chan to speak at the club’s luncheon talk the month before – an event that the Chinese foreign ministry in Hong Kong tried to stop. The club’s former vice-president Victor Mallet, who chaired the talk, was denied a visa renewal shortly after, while Chan’s Hong Kong National Party was also banned.
Giles said that “save-the-fcc.com” – which was hidden from search engines – was intended for FCC members only. He said its content related to internal issues within the club, adding that the group respects the views of those who disagree and welcomes debate.
His platform came under fire on Wednesday over its call to form closer ties with the local authorities, and for its interpretation of free speech.
New FCC member and freelance journalist Laurel Chor told HKFP that she would reconsider remaining as a member of the press club if Giles were to win the election: “Anyone who suggests cosying up to a government that has actively impeded freedom of [the] press has no place on the board of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club,” she said. “His reaction to the anti-harassment policy shows he is out of touch. I don’t know if he can win, but as a new member, I’ll certainly reconsider my membership if he does. His election would certainly send a message to young women like myself that the FCC is not a leader in furthering social progress.”
If you are a member of the Hong Kong FCC @fcchk and are prone to have opinions, this candidate does not support the sexual harassment policy. He also made the website. Consider voting. https://t.co/LsoipcSPjD
— Erin Hale (@erinhale) April 11, 2019
FCC member and former president Ilaria Maria Sala told HKFP that Giles’ policy on rebuilding government “bridges” contradicts its call for free speech: “During journalism-related [activities] the club has never been either in support of or against the government or any other political party. The only principle it upholds is freedom of speech, and of expression… so the criticism doesn’t make sense.”
“Is he saying we should try to ingratiate ourselves with the government but when it comes to harassment uphold it as a form of free expression? That’s laughable,” Sala – who first drew attention to the campaign website – said. “The anti-harassment policy was needed and is a matter of civilised behaviour inside a Club. It cannot seriously be portrayed as a matter of free expression principle, and really shows a candidate worth no understanding of what freedom of expression is.”
The “save-the-fcc.com” domain was privately registered on March 4 and has been hidden from search engines. It contacts no contact information. A statement on its “Why sign?” section reads: “The current anti-harassment policy threatens free speech because it places the right to be offended above the right to speak… You can also be reported simply for staring. How do you judge that? Such an ill-defined policy could be used as a weapon by any disgruntled member who wishes to pursue a grudge against another member,” citing Article 37 of the Basic Law which defines the right of Hongkongers to free speech.
The message ends by saying the group is not “diminishing the issue of harassment” and reiterates their belief that the FCC policy is poorly written.
Erin Hale, an FCC member and freelance journalist, told HKFP that – much like Donald Trump – Giles could unexpectedly be voted in: “I understand his position as an associate member who’s not in the media, but as a policy for a club focused on journalism I find it distasteful… Personally, I think it is more important for Hong Kong to have a local organisation advocating for freedom of speech and the rights of journalists in these increasingly fraught times than it is to have a clubhouse with cheap drinks.”
The club’s anti-harassment policy, sent to members last November, defines harassment as conduct that could cause offence or intimidation “on the basis of appearance, gender, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, physical size or weight, age, marital/family status, nationality, language, ancestry or place of origin.” It encourages members to approach alleged harassers or confidentially report bad behaviour to a manager or board member.
A disciplinary process may be activated if a complaint is officially made, which could result in warnings or a suspension or expulsion from the FCC.
HKFP has reached out to Giles for comment.
Additional reporting: Tom Grundy.