China on January 9 renewed visas for journalists who faced mass expulsion, including those who work for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. It appears, however, not every journalist who wanted a visa received one.
After a flurry of media stories about visa delays in December, reports diminished in January as media organizations waited and worked behind the scenes. Journalists from Bloomberg and The Times were targeted in the delays. Both organizations had produced award-winning investigations about the wealth of families of top Chinese leaders that led to China blocking the Bloomberg and The Times‘ websites.
While journalists already in China and not changing employers were able to renew visas, The Washington Post reported that The Times and Bloomberg have been unable to obtain visas for new staff members. The Post reported that Austin Ramzy, a former Time magazine reporter who began working for The Times, was not given a press card nor allowed to apply for a permanent visa.
On January 11, The Times announced another new hire with China experience: Michael Forsythe, an OPC member and Hong Kong-based reporter who left Bloomberg in November after reports that Bloomberg withheld an investigative article from fear China would expel the company.
Paul Mooney, a veteran China correspondent who was refused a visa after being hired last year by Reuters, told the GlobalPost that 23 journalists received visas in January. "I predict that the Chinese will step up the harassment of the foreign media this year in an attempt to muzzle reporting on corruption among the top leadership as well as on increasing domestic problems and rising opposition to the Party," he said.
In a survey conducted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China in May of its members, 98 percent of respondents replied that reporting conditions in China did not meet international standards. Seventy percent said conditions worsened or stayed the same as the year before.
Reporting from China has never been easy, said Jaime FlorCruz, an OPC member who has lived and worked in China since 1971. "As journalists, we are bearers of news, both good and bad," FlorCruz, CNN’s bureau chief in Beijing, wrote on CNN.com. "We just ask: don’t shoot the messenger."
The visa renewals ended a months-long standoff that began to break in December when, after a personal appeal by Vice President Joe Biden to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Western journalists facing expulsion were issued press cards that allowed them to apply for visas. Foreign journalists need visas that expire each December.
"If the Western media concludes that China intends to return to its totalitarian ways and not brook the slightest whiff of independent foreign reporting or domestic dissent, they will paint a very different portrait of China in the eyes of the world," Bill Holstein, a former OPC president and former UPI Beijing bureau chief, wrote in an essay before the visas were issued. "In short, Xi is playing a dangerous game, one with far greater consequences than he may imagine."
For the first time, Chinese reporters seeking to renew their annual press cards were forced in 2013 to attend ideological training and to pass a multiple-choice examination.
China ranked 173 out of 179 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 World Press Freedom Index. Vietnam and Cuba outranked China and the countries rated below were Iran, Somalia, Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.