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The Hong Kong reporter who stayed calm in war-torn Libya

Reporter: Margaret Ng Yee-man

Journalists usually report on a story instead of being the centre of the story themselves. But that is exactly where Matthew Sze Ho-wai found himself earlier this year.

Sze, 34, was one of four Hong Kong frontline journalists who were trapped in a Tripoli hotel by forces loyal to the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in August.

Sze wears a neat black suit and looks relaxed as he talks to Varsity in a in a café. It is hard to imagine that several months ago, he was dining in a flak jacket with a helmet by his side.

Sze was born and educated in Hong Kong. He graduated with a degree in cognitive science from Hong Kong University in 1999. After that, he started his first job as a spot news reporter for the Oriental Daily. He relates his decision to become a reporter to his active personality: “It is because I like to run around instead of staying in an office.”

He did not run around for long as he later transferred to the foreign desk where he translated foreign news stories from wire copy.

Sze spent a total of five years in newspapers before he switched careers to work as a district councillor’s assistant. But after a year, he decided to return to his first love, journalism. He joined ATV as a television reporter for three years but was unfortunately forced to leave his job when the company laid off more than 200 staff in 2009. This, however, opened the gateway for Sze to work for the mainland media.

He started working for Shenzhen TV when it opened its branch in Hong Kong. After that, he was approached by the national TV broadcaster and joined the first group of Hong Kong journalists to work for CCTV in 2010.

The fact that Hong Kong SAR passport holders enjoy visa-free access to many countries is a big incentive for CCTV to recruit Hong Kong staff, but Sze believes there is more to Hong Kong journalists’ competitiveness.

“We know our regional and neighbouring areas better,” he says, adding that the mainland media have long been restricted in the way they report the news. Hong Kong reporters, who have more access and exposure to foreign news, can provide different views and angles on issues.

People may think a Chinese news organisation would limit a reporter’s freedom but Sze thinks the contrary, at least as far as his work is concerned. “There isn’t much difference in terms of freedom, not for international news.”

It is precisely the opportunity to report on big international news stories that attracted him to CCTV. The broadcaster has ambitions to cover more global stories like the BBC and CNN .

While foreign news organisations are closing down foreign bureaus to cut costs, CCTV is expanding its global reach with bureaus in Africa, Latin America, Russia, and Europe. There are plans to have 56 bureaus by 2013.