The Emirates-based Al-Jazeera satellite television news network was expelled from China yesterday, May 7, after Beijing refused to renew the press credentials for correspondent Melissa Chan, a normally routine process. Such an action represents the first time in over 14 years that Beijing has refused to renew press credentials for a foreign network.
Though no explicit reason was cited for the refusal to renew Chan’s press visa, it is believed that Al-Jazeera’s documentaries about the Chinese re-education system for political dissidents drew the ire of Chinese authorities, drawing upon sources and highlighting claims that the central government discredits and denies.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China issued a statement that it believes it should determine which press agencies operate within China, not the central government. Of course, Al-Jazeera officials expressed regrets over Beijing’s actions but have provided no further comment.
The Doha, Qatar-based news agency has experienced rapid growth in the past decade and the closure of a Chinese bureau would be a big loss for the group. Chinese paranoia regarding outside media and depictions of Chinese socio-political and economic life are heightened with recent political scandals drawing criticism of the Chinese system from all quarters. This has particularly been true in the Bo Xilai case where Chinese authorities have expressed dismay at Western coverage of the unfolding scandal.
The need for the leadership to preserve stability ahead of a leadership transition this October is paramount, in part to continue economic growth. The expulsion of a news agency is, nonetheless, a relatively unprecedented move that draws even more attention to the People’s Republic of China’s treatment of foreign media outlets in a globalized world in which its economy and people are increasingly central.