|US citizen Melissa Chan of Al-Jazeera|
Ask just about any foreign correspondent who operates in China nowadays and you are bound to be told that the media environment there has recently gone from bad to worse.
While unfettered journalism has never existed in modern China, the rules on what reporters could and could not write about became more permissive after Mao Zedong (毛澤東) passed away and more pragmatic leaders took over. The environment hardened again following the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, but since then reporters, foreign and local, have seen relative improvements.
Despite those new freedoms, some areas remain perennially out of bounds, including coverage of large-scale civil unrest. Meanwhile, the government’s attitude toward reporting on human rights, corruption and environmental damage is haphazard, marked by occasional detentions, expulsions and, sometimes, surprising leniency.
Until this week, the last foreign accredited journalist to have had his reporting rights denied by the Chinese authorities was Yukihisa Nakatsu of Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun, who was expelled in October 1998 for allegedly having accessed “state secrets.” Now, with China facing a series of domestic controversies, the government appears to once again be tightening the screw on the media. On Monday, al-Jazeera was forced to close its bureau in Beijing after its chief correspondent, Melissa Chan, was denied a renewal of her press credentials and Chinese authorities refused to allow a replacement.
My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.