Expulsion of journalist highlights Chinese controls


THE CHINESE government has expelled a journalist at Al Jazeera’s English-language service for breaking unspecified laws in a move that highlights tightening restrictions on foreign media covering China.

Melissa Chan, a US citizen, had been Al Jazeera English’s sole China correspondent since 2007. Her expulsion has forced Al Jazeera’s Beijing bureau to close.

Foreign journalists often face harassment and surveillance when reporting in China, although the way they are treated is nothing compared to the pressures and censorship faced by Chinese journalists. Foreign journalists can face occasional brief detentions, notebook confiscation and shouting matches with police in towns in the provinces, and delays getting annual visas renewed.

However, this is the first time since 1998 that China has refused to renew the press credentials and visa of a particular reporter.

“The refusal to renew Melissa Chan’s credentials marks a real deterioration in China’s media environment, and sends a message that international coverage is unwanted,” said Bob Dietz, Asia programme co-ordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Over the weekend, about a dozen foreign reporters covering the case of legal activist Chen Guangcheng at Chaoyang hospital were hauled in by the Public Security Bureau and threatened with having visas revoked. A number of correspondents had their press passes confiscated by the police.

The Chinese foreign ministry declined to say why Ms Chan was expelled, but spokesman Hong Lei told a news conference: “We stress that everybody must abide by Chinese laws and regulations and must abide by their professional ethics.” He did not say what Ms Chan had done that so irked officials, although the powers-that-be were reportedly very angry at a documentary about the imprisonment of petitioners from the countryside in unofficial “black jails”.

China ranks 174th out of 179 in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index – a scale on which Ireland ranks 15th.

Ms Chan has left Beijing for the US, where she will take up a Knight Fellowship in journalism at Stanford University.