13th April, 2014
RTHK’s Last Foreign Journalist Retires
Francis Moriarty, the last foreign journalist of RTHK’s news department, retired end of March. Some described his retirement as the end of an era. Being a journalist for over a quarter of a century, Moriarty said that he has witnessed Hong Kong to go downhill from glory to ruin. As the lights being switched off, Moriarty warned the citizens of Hong Kong that free press is never free, and that it is something that people need to pay and struggle for.
“I cover politics and legal news, but what I really do is look for ‘corrosion’. There are many things in Hong Kong are already corroded.” Moriarty was a journalist in the US, but AFP sent him to Hong Kong in 1989 to cover the demonstration where a million of people protested when typhoon signal 8 was hoisted. Underneath his rain coat, Moriarty kept his notepad under his armpit to stop it from getting soaked. The protestors closed their umbrella outside Xinhua News Agency to show their determination and he took detailed notes about the event. A lady next to him held up an umbrella for him and said, “don’t worry, we need you to report all this to the world.” After 25 years, the same notepad is still with him.
In the 90s, Hong Kong was full of energy. Moriarty thought that after the handover Hongkongers would be able to realise autonomy. However, since the black metal gates were erected outside the old government headquarters after the handover in 1997, all he witnessed was the HKSAR government going downhill and becoming ever more autocratic. Prior to the handover, the government phonebook listed out the phone number of all senior officials’ home. These officials would answer calls from journalists personally. Reporters covering politics would hang around in Central where government offices were located. When they met an official, they would go to the government offices’ staff canteen to have a discussion, “there are pubs in European congresses for journalists to get to know lawmakers better. Nowadays in Hong Kong, the government is a closed place. The canteen in Legislative Council is too noisy for any discussion, and the one upstairs is for lawmakers only. They (government officials) only leak information to selective journalists, but you can never find them to make comments.”
Moriarty, 67 years old, said that his boss wanted to renew his contract, but Civil Service Bureau refused the request, hence, he now works as a freelance journalist.
Commenting on the seven senior journalists left RTHK so far this year, Moriarty said, “it is true that they are paid well, but (in this field) experience worth a lot.”
A divorcee, Moriarty jokingly said that he is married to his job. When the US was in war with Iraq, Moriarty bought his own ticket to cover the story and only told his boss after he arrived. “International media like BBC provide comprehensive trainings and support to their journalists so that they are all ready to cover any story anywhere in the world. On the contrary, I have to pay for my own insurance every time I travel for work.”
Storm hits the US during the last American presidential election. Moriarty’s memory card was full of recording, and had to buy an extra one in the middle of the storm. RTHK, however, refused to cover the cost and explained that it (the purchase of a memory card) requires approval ahead. “When the decision was made to bring in Roy Tang Yun-kwong (as Director of Broadcasting), it strengthens the bureaucracy within RTHK. From my point of view, there’s far far too much paper shuffling.”
He also urged fellow journalists not to tolerate the disparaging attitude officials hold towards journalists. Whenever press officers stopped him from asking officials questions, he would tell them that, “you must respect the journalism profession. Blocking my microphone is no different from strangling me. I grew up in a farm, and fences are for animals. You will have to bear with our rudeness by surrounding journalists with fences.”