Why Hong Kong is the only Asian hub for global media

July 24, 2015 15:47
Hong Kong serves as the Asia-Pacific hub of leading global publications and news agencies thanks to its many unique virtues. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong is definitely the Asian hub of the global news industry. If you still need convincing, just walk the streets of Wan Chai.

In this dense harborfront area, you will find the offices of some of the world’s biggest and most prestigious publishers and news agencies.

Central Plaza, a 78-storey, glass-curtained Wan Chai landmark, houses the Wall Street Journal’s Asia newsroom (along with its parent Dow Jones), Associate Press’ Asia-Pacific headquarters, Agence France-Presse's Hong Kong bureau and CNBC’s regional office.

BBC Worldwide Asia's head office is a five-minute walk away at Sun Hung Kai Centre.

Quarry Bay’s Taikoo Shing is another Hong Kong district with a sizable cluster of global broadcasters and newspapers.

CNN International’s Asian operations center is in Taikoo Place. Hong Kong is a key hub of the news network alongside London, Abu Dhabi and its home base in Atlanta.

Award-winning anchors and correspondents like Kristie Lu Stout and Ivan Watson are stationed here, and top-rating shows such as CNN Newsroom Live from Hong Kong, Talk Asia and News Stream are also produced in the network's studio in the city.

CNN’s neighbor is Time Asia Ltd., which occupies five floors in the same complex and publishes the news weekly magazine’s Asian edition.

Reuters and its parent Thomson have two offices in the city, one in Quarry Bay and another in Central.

International New York Times’ (formerly International Herald Tribune) Asia office is in K. Wah Centre in North Point and the Financial Times runs its Asian editorial team in The Center in Sheung Wan.

Bloomberg operates at the Cheung Kong Center in Admiralty with over 450 employees, including a team of photographers for its Media Source Services.

It also operates a huge studio in Hong Kong for the Bloomberg TV Asia Pacific channel, and the Chinese version of Bloomberg Businessweek is also published in the city.

USA Today’s regional office is in Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui. Fox News’ International Channel has a production base in Hung Hom and has been recruiting personnel to expand its local operations.

Monocle, an international lifestyle magazine for the well-heeled class, has a bureau and theme store in Wan Chai.

Indeed, Hong Kong boasts a proud line-up of the biggest names in the global news industry, most of which operate their Asian headquarters in the city.

But how to explain the high concentration of overseas news outlets?

For one thing, Hong Kong is a truly world city, and that's a big draw for editors, reporters, TV anchors and presenters.

International journalists and correspondents travel a lot to cover events and capture new leads, but they need a regional base, a home away from home, that is metropolitan enough to suit their taste and needs.

Perhaps there is no finer city in Asia than Hong Kong. All the infrastructure, convenience, business environment, cultural diversity, access to information as well as connectivity and ease of transport contribute to making Hong Kong the region's media capital.

True, other advanced Asian economies can also provide these modern amenities and features.

Singapore, for example, has all these trappings. It's a charming city, but it's not exactly the place one associates with press freedom.

In its 2015 Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore 153rd out of 175 nations surveyed.

There's growing concern that freedom of expression in Hong Kong is slowly eroding as Beijing tightens its grip on the territory. But so far you can mock and throw insults at Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, the city's Beijing-appointed leader, and get away with it.

Singapore is ultra-sensitive, by comparison. The now defunct Far Eastern Economic Review, a highly respected monthly publication owned by Dow Jones, was entangled in a long-running dispute with the island state's top leaders, and was the target of a defamation suit filed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his late father Lee Kuan Yew. The magazine was banned for a long time in Singapore.

In 2010, the New York Times was forced to pay US$114,000 to settle a libel case filed by Lee Hsien Loong. The way authorities treated outspoken teenage blogger Amos Yee Pang Sang also speaks volumes about the state of freedom of speech in the island state.

Press freedom is thriving in Tokyo, Taipei and Seoul, but the language barrier — particularly the difficulty of communicating in English with the locals — is a big drag.

There has been a perceived decline in the standard of English in Hong Kong since the handover, but it is still the lingua franca in business and legal circles as well as in the academe.

News conferences, Legislative Council sessions and government documents are mostly bilingual.

Hong Kong also has a sizable community of English-speaking expats; the number of residents from Britain, the United States and Canada in the city exceeds 400,000, according to various estimates.

Hong Kong also serves as a safe haven for journalists covering goings-on in mainland China.

In 2013, China refused to renew the visas of Bloomberg and New York Times correspondents after they came up with stories exposing the massive hidden wealth of top Communist Party officials. 

Many of those affected by the clampdown chose to flee to Hong Kong. The city offers journalists a great vantage point to view China while ensuring that they are safe from Beijing's reach.

Besides, Hong Kong itself has always been a great story to cover.

The city's political development is attracting the world’s attention, as exemplified by the extensive coverage by international media of last year’s Occupy protests.

In fact, many of the veteran journalists expelled from the mainland found themselves in the thick of the action covering Hong Kong's pro-democracy civil disobedience campaign.

The territory will remain a focus of international media coverage because the Western world has substantial economic interests in Hong Kong and wants to follow the developments in the struggle for political reform in the city.

The dynamics of the “one country, two systems” policy and cross-border relations makes Hong Kong unique. It's something global media can hardly find anywhere else.

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Hong Kong hogged the headlines of global publications following the launch of the Umbrella Movement last September. Photo: Internet
The Western world, having substantial economic interests in Hong Kong, is keen to follow political developments in the territory.Photo: HKEJ

EJ Insight writer