Tuesday, 8 May 2012
China expels Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan
Why can't the Chinese authorities stop shooting themselves in the foot?
If you are going to expel a journalist, it had better be for a more pertinent reason than reporting events accurately.
It looks as if Al-Jazeera's only English-language reporter Melissa Chan is guilty of the crime of uncovering scandals such as the perennial one of corruption, including the public officials who've smuggled US $123.6bn out of the country in the 15 years since the mid-1990s to the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Based on a report by the Chinese Central Bank, you'd think Chan's coverage was doing the government a favour in helping to name and shame and stem the flow. The final straw may have been an Al-Jazeera documentary — not made by Chan — alleging that China uses forced labour in its prisons.
Chinese Foreign Ministry officer Hong Lei announced that Chan's accreditation would not be renewed but he would not be drawn on the specifics of her infringement of the law, stating blandly instead that: "China addressed this problem in accordance with laws and regulations. The media concerned know in their heart what they did wrong".
Except that we don't. Did she lie? Did she invent these scenarios? Chan may have goaded them with a sharp stick over the years with her investigations, but the government fails to make a strong case as to why this constitutes breaking the law. This is journalism, not PR.
The government is smarting from the unflattering exposure wrought by the Bo Xilai case, but this knee-jerk clampdown just digs them deeper into the same old hole. The world wants China to smarten up, loosen up and address the issues raised, rather than simply shoot the messenger pour encourager les autres.