China: US journalist press passes revoked for “ideological bias”

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on March 18 that all US journalist working in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post will have their press passes revoked. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) together with its affiliates, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and Associação de Imprensa em Português e Inglês de Macau (AIPIM) are deeply disappointed by this decision which will deal a blow to media reporting in the region and harm the public’s right to know at a critical juncture.

Wall Street Journal reporters Josh Chin and Philip Wen leaving China on February 24. Credit: Greg Baker / AFP

On March 18, 2020 the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs delineated its retaliation against recent restrictions on Chinese journalists in the US, chief among them, all journalists in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau working for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. All journalists who are US citizens must now return their press passes within 10 days and cannot continue  to working as journalists in the country.

The announcement by the ministry further demands that in “the spirit of reciprocity”, Voice of America, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Time will be subjected to the same laws governing foreign government missions, specifically the aforementioned media outlets must “declare in written form information about their staff, finance, operation and real estate in China.”

The ministry announcement said that the Chinese government rejects the “ideological bias against China, fake news made in the name of press freedom, and breaches of ethics in journalism”. Instead it called on “foreign media outlets and journalists to play a positive role in advancing the mutual understanding between China and the rest of the world”.

The Chinese authority’s decision directly violates article 5 of the Basic Law of Hong Kong, which states: “The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.” The Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong expressed concern about this violation and asked for immediate clarification from the Hong Kong government.  

China’s retaliatory moves appear to be a direct countermeasures to the US government’s designation of five Chinese media agencies as government entities, subjecting them to the same rules as foreign missions, which includes a cap of 100 Chinese citizens working at Xinhua, CGTN, China Radio, China Daily, and The People’s Daily in the U.S.

HKJA said: "we regret Mainland China's decision to restrict US media in Hong Kong and Macau and urges the Hong Kong government to clarify visa arrangements. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the cornerstones of Hong Kong's success. Restricting the normal interview activities of foreign media in Hong Kong and conducting political scrutiny of visas for foreign media will raise international questions about whether Hong Kong is still a free and open society, which will ultimately have a serious impact."

AIPIM said: “we are highly concerned and regret the inclusion of Macau and Hong Kong in the Central Government’s decision to ban American journalists from three US media outlets from working in China. AIPIM is worried about the negative impact of the escalating tensions between the United States and China over press freedom and hopes that this situation can de-escalate and be reversed as soon as possible."

The IFJ said: “The free flow of information that journalists facilitate is pivotal, particularly in the face of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The IFJ is disappointed at the decline in relations between the US and China that has led to the unnecessary targeting of journalists.”



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The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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