Al-Jazeera closes Beijing bureau after reporter expelled

Al-Jazeera closes Beijing bureau after reporter expelled
Al-Jazeera closes Beijing bureau after reporter expelled

Chinese authorities refused to renew the press credentials of Melissa Chan, who has reported from Beijing for five years

Al-Jazeera English has closed its Beijing bureau after the Chinese authorities refused to renew the press credentials of its correspondent or grant a visa for a replacement, the TV station said on Tuesday.

Journalist groups said the expulsion of Melissa Chan - who has been reporting from Beijing for five years - is a grave threat to the ability of foreign reporters to work in China.

The Chinese authorities have yet to make a statement about the closure of the bureau, but immigration officers say privately that Chan's visa has not been renewed because she violated regulations. They did not elaborate. Al-Jazeera's coverage has also upset the authorities.

Chan, an American citizen, was the first Beijing correspondent for Al-Jazeera English, a 24-hour news channel headquartered in the Middle East that was launched in 2006. In those early months, Beijing officials expressed hope that the non-Western media organisation and its ethnically Chinese reporter would provide a more positive view of their country than other foreign news groups.

Since then, Chan has covered a range of stories, including several
hard-hitting reports on

">lost children during the Sichuan earthquake.

In a statement, Al-Jazeera English said its reporting from China has been first class and consistent with the channel's perspective in all countries.

"We constantly cover the voice of the voiceless and sometimes that calls for tough news coverage from anywhere in world. We hope China appreciates the integrity of our news coverage and our journalism. We value this journalist integrity in our coverage of all countries in the world," said Salah Negm, director of news.

Negm said Al-Jazeera English would try to reopen the bureau and called upon the Chinese authorities to accept that coverage is sometimes critical.

"We are committed to our coverage of China. Just as China news services cover the world freely we would expect that same freedom in China for any Al-Jazeera journalist."

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said it was appalled by Chan's expulsion.

"This is the most extreme example of a recent pattern of using journalist visas in an attempt to censor and intimidate foreign correspondents in China," the club said in a statement.

"The FCCC believes that foreign news organisations, not the Chinese government, have the right to choose who works for them in China, in line with international standards."

Two journalists were expelled in 1998: Yukihisa Nakatsu of the Yomiuri
Shimbun, and Juergen Kremb of Der Spiegel.

The Committee to Protect Journalists noted that foreign reporters are often threatened overs visas and subject to harassment and malware attacks in China, partly because they cover subjects that are censored in the domestic media. But the US-based group said the closure of a the Al-Jazeera bureau marked a disturbing development.

"We urge China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to immediately grant Al-Jazeera English correspondents accreditation to report the news in China," said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator.

"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."

In the late nineties Henrik Bork, Beijing bureau chief of the Frankfurter Rundschau, was turned down when he tried to renew his visa, probably due to his critical coverage of the former prime minister Li Peng. He was allowed to return a decade later.

Other high-profile cases include the expulsion of Andrew Higgins of the Independent in 1991, and two American reporters, Alan Pessin of the Voice of America and John Pomfret of the Associated Press, after their Tiananmen Square coverage in 1989.

Ahead of the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese authorities relaxed reporting regulations. But in recent years, they appear to have taken a harder line against foreign journalists. Several news organisations have reported protracted delays in obtaining visas. Board members of the Foreign Correspondents' Club have been told their activities were unacceptable. Reporters were also called in and warned about their attempt to cover last year's "Jasmine protest."

Most recently, about a dozen journalists were told their visa status was at risk because they entered the hospital where the blind activist Chen Guangcheng was staying without the authorities' permission. This Guardian reporter had his press card confiscated at the hospital on Thursday. It was returned on Monday with a warning.

According to the FCCC, 27 foreign reporters have been made to wait for more than four months for visa approvals over the past two years. 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, the survey found.

Police say there has been no change in government policy. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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