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Anti-harassment policies result in backlash at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong recently introduced an anti-harassment policy which takes a zero tolerance approach to verbal or physical harassment on the basis of among other things race, gender, ethnicity or religion. It has resulted in backlash and a war of words on Twitter with those for and against the policy, weighing in.

The policy was introduced in November, against the backdrop of three cases of inappropriate behaviour reported in 2017.

In a note defending the policies, the FCC’s president and and Le Monde correspondent Florence de Changy said: “In recent years, the Board has handled a number of disciplinary cases involving allegations of harassment, a problem that is not unique to private clubs or to any specific place in the world.

“After dealing with three cases in 2017, the Board resolved to take proactive measures by putting a formal anti-harassment policy in writing.”

The policy which was extremely comprehensive acknowledged that while “harassment does not have to be intentional”, even a “single incident may be sufficient to constitute harassment”.

According to the policy: “Harassment is defined as any unwelcome conduct, comment or display that is known or ought reasonably be known to offend, intimidate or humiliate the recipient 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.

Harassment does not have to be intentional. It may occur between persons of the same sex or opposite sex, and a single incident may be sufficient to constitute harassment. It may include, but is not limited to:

  • Sexual or physical assault, stalking and indecent exposure
  • Inappropriate touching or brushing
  • Sexually suggestive remarks
  • Persistent unwelcome invitations or requests
  • Sexual propositions; promises or threats in return for sexual favours
  • Inappropriate comments about a person’s body, appearance or clothing
  • Unwelcome questions or sharing of information regarding a person’s sexual activity or sexual orientation
  • Displaying or distributing sexually explicit material
  • Staring or leering or making suggestive or insulting sounds
  • Jokes, taunts, gestures or innuendo concerning gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
  • The use of racial and ethnic slurs or derogatory sexual terms
  • Bullying; verbal abuse/profanity”

The opponents to the policy have staged it as an assault on free speech.

The campaign against has involved everything from setting up a site called http://save-the-fcc.com/ to coasters that riff on the popular Calrsberg advertising tagline ‘Probably the best beer in the world’, quoting Barack Obama and Mahatma Gandhi, among others

The ‘Save The FCC’ group claims to have over 120 members and is recommending members sign a petition to overturn the anti-harassment laws in their current shape and form.

This in turn has evoked counter-protests from those supporting the anti-harassment policies, insisting that change is long overdue at the HK FCC.

Reacting to the controversy, Splice Media co-founder Alan Soon told Mumbrella: “This has nothing to do with free speech. Harassment, bullying, intimation have no part in civilised society – and definitely not in journalism.”

In her note defending the policy, Florence de Changy added: “This policy is about making sure all members feel comfortable in their Club. The FCC has a proven record of standing for free speech in Hong Kong, Asia and around the world. But free speech in the context of a private club does not give members license to talk to or treat others in a demeaning way. This policy is common courtesy and common sense.” 

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