(BEIJING) -- China has kicked out an accredited foreign journalist for the first time since 1998.
Observers fear that the decision to expel Melissa Chan of the Al Jazeera English-language television network is an indication that China is cracking down on foreign media in an attempt to control coverage going forward, particularly during a year of government transition that has already seen two major stories erupt. Chan’s expulsion was not related to either story.
Coverage of the Bo Xilai scandal, which involved a top politician, corruption and allegations of murder, has been stymied. So has public discourse on any potentially sensitive topic.
Online censorship is rampant. China ranks 174th out of 179 countries (just ahead of Iran and Syria) on press freedom, according the Reporters Without Borders. But longtime China hands also say the situation has improved in China, at least for foreign journalists, and that periods such as these are all part of the job of reporting in China.
Melissa Chan, a U.S. citizen, covered China for five years as the Beijing-based correspondent for Qatar-based Al Jazeera. She reported extensively on sensitive topics, including the imprisonment of petitioners from the countryside in unofficial “black jails” and the annual anniversary of the June 4, 1989, massacre of democracy protestors.
In a Twitter feed posted Tuesday from the United States, Chan wrote, ‘Yes my press credentials have been revoked and I will no longer report f/China.’
She is expected to begin a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in California in the fall.
The director of Al Jazeera has defended Chan and the network, saying in a statement, “We constantly cover the voice of the voiceless and something that calls for tough news coverage from anywhere in the world. We hope China appreciates the integrity of our news coverage and our journalism.”
Repeated attempts by Chan to renew her journalist visa were denied by the Chinese government until she could no longer legally remain in the country.
Al Jazeera said in a statement that China was not granting permission to replace Chan, forcing the network to close its English-language service’s bureau.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio