By not issuing visas of certain correspondents, China seems to be sending a clear message to journalists. In 2012, The New York Times published stories that showed Chinese government officials in a negative light. The author most responsible for those stories, one of which was titled “Billions Amassed in the Shadows by the Family of China’s Premier,” won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 in the International Reporting category for his “striking exposure of corruption at high levels of the Chinese government.”
Austin Ramzy, who left Beijing Thursday, had reported from mainland China for Time magazine for six years and had renewed his credentials in the past without incident. He is the second member of the Times staff unable to renew a resident journalist visa in the last 13 months. Waiting in the departure lounge of the Beijing airport for his flight to Taipei where he will resume work as a correspondent, Austin Ramzy tweeted his thanks for all the kind thoughts and expressed sadness at having to leave, adding that he hoped to be able to return soon.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China issued a statement regretting Ramzy’s departure and noted that it was difficult to come to come to any conclusion for the situation other than that the Chinese authorities are punishing the New York Times. The statement added that this type of behavior does not meet international standards. Ramzy’s departure came despite Vice-President Joe Biden raising the issue last month of problems that foreign journalists are facing in China with the country’s president, Xi Jinping. The Chinese president was unmoved, insisting that reporters were treated according to Chinese law. Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement on Thursday saying that the treatment and restrictions that journalists face in China hamper their ability to do their jobs and are not consistent with freedom of the press. Carney added that China’s actions stand in stark contrast to the treatment of Chinese and other foreign journalists in the U.S.
Correspondents for other media outlets such as Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post, and Reuters have been similarly barred from reporting in China. The Bloomberg and New York Times Chinese-language websites are no longer accessible in China since the companies ran stories about the wealth of the families of former premier Wen Jiabao and President Xi Jinping. Chinese security assaulted a CNN correspondent, David McKenzi, while he was covering the trial of a prominent Chinese activist.
The Chinese government denies that journalists are being forced out of the country, attributing the visa delays to paperwork issues. Ramzy had joined the Times last spring. He found out in December that there was a problem with his visa, which the Times says it had applied for in June. Between June and December, Ramzy had been using his Time journalist visa for travelling. Beijing says that this was a violation of the rules and that Ramzy’s journalist visa will not be renewed.
A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said that the country would continue to welcome media from overseas, adding that he hoped that journalists would cover the news in an objective and fair-minded way.
By Donna Westlund