“China is moving backwards.” That’s what one reporter, Evan Osnos of the New Yorker, wrote today about the news that Melissa Chan, a reporter for Al Jazeera, was effectively kicked out of China. That’s because Chinese authorities refused to renew her visa and press credentials, leaving her no way to stay in the country. Al Jazeera also had to shut down its operations in China, after authorities also did not allow them to send a replacement reporter.
Many are seeing this incident as the Chinese regime punishing Al Jazeera and Melissa Chan for covering topics that authorities did not want exposed, like forced slave labor camps and illegal black jails. But it’s also a warning to the foreign journalists who cover China.
And it’s not the first warning to come in recent days, either. Last week, reporters covering Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese activist who fled to the US embassy, were summoned to the Public Security Bureau, and told their visas would be revoked if they entered the hospital where Chen is staying.
And earlier last week Xinhua News Agency, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, issued a piece lambasting foreign media for reporting on “rumors” about Bo Xilai, the former Communist Party secretary of Chongqing, who was recently purged from the leadership.
Reporting on China is difficult in general. The Chinese authorities say that reporters must follow “rules and regulations” but do not spell out what those regulations are. And during “sensitive” times, foreign journalists are further restricted.
For example, last year during the reports of Jasmine Revolution protests, reporters were even stopped from filming publicly on the streets.
Now, these warnings to foreign journalists could indicate that more “sensitive” times are ahead in China.