Difficulties With Visas and Access Continue in China

The leadership of China does not believe in press rights and major news organizations are being targeted for aggressive reporting. Reporters are being denied visas. Websites have been shut down.

Vice President Joe Biden discussed reprisals against the media with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top leaders in early December while on a visit to Beijing. Biden also publicly criticized the Chinese for refusing to say if they will renew visas of journalists and for continuing to block American-based news websites.

Biden told reporters in Beijing for The New York Times and Bloomberg News that he warned Chinese leaders of consequences if journalists were forced out. He said Xi responded that reporters were treated according to Chinese law. The Times reported that nearly two dozen journalists working for it and for Bloomberg have visas that expire by the end of the month. So far, China has declined to act on the visas.

Bloomberg News found itself in the news after a front page story in The New York Times on November 9 reported that some Bloomberg employees said top editors, led by Matthew Winkler, the editor in chief, killed two investigative pieces about China due to concern that Bloomberg might be expelled from China. Winkler said in an email to The Times that “the stories are active and not spiked.”

According to The Times, one story detailed hidden financial ties between one of China’s richest men and families of the country’s top leaders; the other article was about children of senior Chinese officials employed by foreign banks. A few days later, Michael Forsythe, a reporter who worked on one story, was suspended. On November 18, Bloomberg laid off dozens of staff members, primarily covering sports and culture, and reassigned others. That day, Bloomberg said Forsythe had left the company. Winkler and Forsythe are OPC members.

Fortune magazine reported that Chinese authorities conducted unannounced inspections of Bloomberg bureaus in Beijing and Shanghai in late November.

On December 1, Robert Hutton, a London-based reporter for Bloomberg, traveling to China with David Cameron, the United Kingdom prime minister, was barred from a joint press event in Beijing with Cameron and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. In a written statement, Cameron’s office said it protested Hutton’s exclusion.

China has blocked the Bloomberg News website since last year after the company published a story about the wealth of families of Chinese leaders including Xi, the former vice president who is now president. That project won the 2012 OPC Award for Best Investigative Reporting, with Forsythe one of the recipients.

Bloomberg reporters trying to enter China on new reporting assignments have not received visas. According to The Times, China has ordered companies not to lease Bloomberg terminals.

As the most populous nation in the world and the second largest economy, China is an important developing market for American businesses, including the media.

China blocked the English- and Chinese-language news websites of The Times and has not issued the paper new journalist visas following publication of stories in 2012 about the wealth of family members of former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. That project won a Polk, OPC Malcom Forbes Award and a Pulitzer Prize for David Barboza. The shutdowns have cost the company about $3 million in revenue.

The Times launched a Chinese-language website in October based on its style magazines and that also was blocked. In November, Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times Co., told Reuters that the company has no information about when the blocks will be lifted. He said the company keeps all money-losing operations under review.

Other media organizations also have visa difficulties. Paul Mooney, who covered Asia for three decades and spent 18 years based in Beijing, said he learned in November that his application for a resident journalist visa was rejected with no reason given. He had waited eight months for a visa that would allow him to begin a job in China for Thomson Reuters. He returned to the United States last year after his previous visa sponsored by The South China Morning Post expired.

Melissa Chan, working for Al Jazeera, was the first foreign reporter expelled from China in 14 years when authorities refused to renew her visa in May 2012.