Media maverick and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai has for the first time appointed a foreigner as a director in his Next Media flagship.
Dr. Bradley Hamm, dean of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, becomes an independent non-executive director this month.
At age 50, Hamm is the youngest member of the board.
His appointment came after Lai’s Dec. 12 resignation as chairman of the company, three days before last year’s democracy protests ended.
Next Media appointed chief executive Cassian Cheung as interim chairman.
No journalism school dean has served on the board of a Hong Kong company, although many executives have a journalism background.
Charles Li, chief executive of Hong Kong’s stock exchange operator, was a China Daily reporter and editor from 1984 to 1986.
He obtained a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Alabama in 1988.
Hamm’s appointment is controversial amid accusations by the government that some Hong Kong media outlets are working with “foreign forces”.
Next Media publishes Apple Daily and Next Magazine, both vocal democracy supporters and government critics.
Beijing is unlikely to welcome Hamm, who is described as an expert in “agenda setting”.
With its Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern runs Hong Kong’s most expensive MBA program for busy professionals and executives in partnership with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
In 1997, the year Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty, Hamm released a book about invisible media influences. The book was titled The Unseen Factor: How Psychological Type Influences Media Use.
We can almost expect a similar book on the Hong Kong media (perhaps including freedom of the press) to be in the works any time soon.
Hamm began his career as a sportswriter and reporter for the Salisbury Post. He has taught foreign studies in Japan, China and Britain.
Before moving to Northwestern, he was the dean of the Indiana University School of Journalism for seven years.
Hamm holds a doctorate of philosophy in mass communications research from the University of North Carolina.
In his new role with Next Media, Hamm will receive HK$200,000 (US$25,790) a year, on top of a HK$30,000 fee as a member of the remuneration committee, according to a company announcement.
Hamm is the second American Lai has hired for a senior position in his media empire.
Lai’s special assistant, Mark Simon, has been with him for more than 10 years.
Last year, Simon made headlines after two massive leaks of confidential e-mails between him and Lai were released online.
The documents revealed his role in channeling Lai’s financial support to pan-democrat lawmakers and to Occupy Central, a civil disobedience movement that played a key role in last year’s 79-day street occupation by pro-democracy protesters.
Simon spent four years with US naval intelligence but denied he is a spy. His father was with the CIA for 35 years.
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