China rejects visa for Reuters reporter in media crackdown

NY Times News Service, BEIJING

Tue, Nov 12, 2013 - Page 6

The Chinese government has rejected the visa application of a veteran US journalist who had been waiting eight months to begin a new reporting job in China for Thomson Reuters, the company said.

The reporter, Paul Mooney, said the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Reuters on Friday that it would not grant him a resident journalist visa, but declined to provide a reason. Mooney returned to the US last year after the expiration of his previous visa, which was sponsored by the South China Morning Post, a newspaper based in Hong Kong.

The rejection comes at a time of rising tensions between foreign news organizations and the government, which has been using its economic clout, the issuance of visas and Internet controls to express displeasure with coverage it deems unflattering.

“China has been my career,” Mooney, who has spent three decades covering Asia, the past 18 years based in Beijing, said on Saturday in a telephone interview. “I never thought it was going to end this way. I’m sad and disappointed.”

The Web sites for Bloomberg News and the New York Times have been blocked in China for more than a year following the publication of investigative articles by both news organizations that detailed the wealth accumulated by relatives of top Chinese leaders. Since then, employees for both Bloomberg and the Times have been awaiting residency visas that would allow them to report from China.

Such tactics appear to have had an impact. On Saturday, the Times detailed a decision late last month by Bloomberg to withhold publication of an investigative report, more than a year in the works, that explored hidden financial ties between one of China’s wealthiest men and the families of senior Chinese leaders. Reporters with the company said the editor-in-chief, Matthew Winkler, defended the decision by comparing it to the self-censorship by foreign news bureaus that sought to remain working inside Nazi Germany. Winkler and a senior editor denied that the articles had been killed and said they would eventually be published.

The Chinese government’s rejection of Mooney’s visa request will certainly add to the anxieties of foreign reporters in China, many of whom complain of cyberattacks, police interference and intimidation, especially during the annual visa renewal process, currently underway, which sometimes involves interviews with foreign ministry officials or public security personnel.

In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China said: “Such delays and lack of transparency merely add to the impression that the visa process is being used by the authorities to intimidate journalists and media organizations.”

Mooney said he suspected that the government’s decision to deny him a visa was punishment for his persistent coverage of human rights abuses in China.