The Qatar-based Al Jazeera television news network has had to shut its Beijing bureau after authorities here expelled its correspondent.
Correspondent Mellisa Chan’s residence visa and press accreditation were not extended and neither was the network allowed to post a replacement reporter, forcing the closure of the channel’s English bureau.
It’s the first time since 1998 that the Chinese government has expelled a foreign correspondent, once again revealing its deepening sensitivity to what it perceives as critical reporting.
The story in this case was documentary filmed by Al Jazeera’s London bureau last November on China’s jails.
“Chinese officials had expressed anger at a documentary the channel aired last November. Melissa Chan did not even play a part in making that documentary. They have also expressed unhappiness with the general editorial content on Al Jazeera English and accused Ms Chan of violating rules and regulations that they have not specified,” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said in a statement.
The Chinese government has repeatedly refused to recognise FCCC as a formal journalists’ association.
The FCCC added that the journalist’s expulsion followed 3 months of uncertainty during which time she was issued short term press credentials rather than the standard one-year accreditation.
“When her final one-month accreditation was not renewed she was obliged to leave the country because reporters are not issued Chinese residence permits without such accreditation,” the statement added.
The FCCC added that over the past two years 27 foreign reporters were made to wait for more than four months for visa approvals. Thirteen of these had to wait for more than six months and were still waiting at the time of the survey.
Twenty eight permanent postings or reporting trips had been cancelled since 2009 because applications for the required journalistic visas were rejected or ignored by the Chinese authorities.
“In six cases foreign reporters say they were told by the Foreign Ministry officials that their bureaux’ visa applications had been rejected or put on hold due to the content of the bureaux’ or the applicant’s previous coverage of Chinese affairs,” the FCCC added.
In a statement published on its website, the television network, quoted Bob Dietz of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists as having said that this case “marks a real deterioration in China's media environment and sends a message that international coverage is unwanted.”