China grants press cards to several U.S. journalists

Reuters | The Washington Post | The Guardian

Journalists at Bloomberg News and The New York Times received press cards from China, according to a Thursday report from Reuters. China held up granting the visas to journalists from the Times and Bloomberg after both published stories about Chinese leaders and their families.

William Wan reported Thursday in The Washington Post that one journalist for the Post has been granted a visa, and another got a press pass Thursday as well.

China has long denied or held up visas to retaliate for coverage critical of Communist Party officials, but U.S. reporters say the practice has grown more intense under President Xi Jinping, who took office in March. But this year, entire news organizations, rather than individual reporters, faced threats that they would be kicked out of the country, the journalists said.

The tensions appear to stem primarily from Chinese displeasure with articles about corruption among top Communist Party members and government officials. Reports about the massive wealth acquired by “princelings,” the family members of elite government figures, are a particular sore point.

The press passes don’t ensure U.S. journalists working in China will be able to stay, but they are necessary for the visa applications, Wan wrote.

All of Bloomberg’s foreign staff in China but only some at the Times received press cards Thursday, members of both organizations said. A handful of Times journalists have still not received press cards and thus continue to face the prospect of being forced to leave China, according to journalists in Beijing working on their behalf.

Even among those who have press cards, none are considering themselves safe from expulsion until they get their visas physically stamped into their passports, several journalists said.

While some U.S. journalists are now on a bit closer to getting their visas in China, Chinese journalists are facing stricter measures to keep their own press cards.

On Thursday, Jonathan Kalman wrote in The Guardian that if Chinese journalists want to keep them, they’ll have to pass an “ideology exam.”

It is the first time reporters have been required to take such a test en masse, state media have said. The exam will be based on a 700-page manual peppered with directives such as “it is absolutely not permitted for published reports to feature any comments that go against the party line”, and “the relationship between the party and the news media is one of leader and the led”.

Some reporters say the impact of the increased control in the past year has been chilling. “The tightening is very obvious in newspapers that have an impact on public opinion. These days there are lots of things they aren’t allowed to report,” a journalist at a current affairs magazine said.

Tensions have been tight between U.S. media organizations and China this year. In December, Poynter wrote about Vice President Joe Biden’s trip there, where he met with journalists and complained to Chinese leaders about the holdup in granting press passes. In November, Poynter wrote about charges of self-censorship at Bloomberg, which held a story that may have upset Chinese leaders.

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