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On suspected self-censorship by a news agency and the censoring of a foreign journalist in China

On November 11, 2013, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) protested the Chinese authorities' decision to refuse to grant a working visa to a veteran China desk foreign journalist, Paul Mooney, without giving any explanation.

According to a report in The New York Times on November 9, Mooney, 63, was denied a resident journalist visa by the Chinese Government on November 8, after he submitted his application in San Francisco in April. Mooney, a Human Rights Press Awardee, said he was required to attend an interview with an officer of the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco. During the interview, the officer questioned him about his previous reports and asked him to explain his position on delicate issues such as Tibet. At the end of the interview, according to the report, the official threatened Mooney, saying: "If we give you a visa, we hope you'll be more balanced with your coverage."

Mooney is a veteran journalist who has spent 18 years based in Beijing without violating any Chinese laws. He said: "China has been my career. I never thought it was going to end this way. I'm sad and disappointed." He was a journalist with the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong but is now hoping to begin a new job in China for Thomson Reuters.

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."

The IFJ Asia-Pacific Office said: "Last year, the Chinese authorities decided whether to issue visas to quite a number of foreign journalists based on the content of their reports. We must emphasise that journalists' duty is to report on what they have seen and heard. Journalists are not required to please any person or any government authority.

"Paul Mooney has clearly been a law-abiding citizen in China. If he were not, he would not have stayed in the country for 18 years. However, the Chinese authorities refused to grant him a visa without giving any reason. The decision was made after he was asked several questions relating to his political views. This is clearly political censorship, not a straightforward application of Chinese law," the IFJ Asia-Pacific Office said.

We urge China's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, to reconsider Mooney's application and explain the reasons it was refused. As well, the minister should set out the system under which working visas are issued to journalists.

We urge the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to take note of this incident and its implications for press freedom when they are considering China's application to become a member of the council next year.

Bloomberg suspected of self-censorship

In a separate development, on November 13, the IFJ expressed deep concern that Bloomberg News may have exercised self-censorship by suddenly stopping publication of a long-awaited story believed to relate to the wealthiest tycoon in China, who is suspected of corruption involving relatives of top officials in the Chinese Communist Party.

According to a report in the Financial Times on November 11, the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, Matthew Winkler, quashed an investigative report because of worries it could jeopardise Bloomberg's position in China.

The FT said the story had been closely read by the editors in the US in mid-September and a few days later one of the editors described it as "terrific". About a month later, Bloomberg managers suddenly decided to put the article on the "backburner", without further explanation.

On October 29, Matthew Winkler told Bloomberg journalists in Hong Kong in a conference call that Bloomberg could not risk jeopardising its position in China by running the story, according to the FT report.

Bloomberg denied exercising any self-censorship. Winkler told the FT: "The report as presented to me was not ready for publication." But he did not explain which particular part of the story was lacking and ducked questions as to whether Bloomberg had been afraid of jeopardising its position in China.

The FT report said the investigative story might have related to Wang Jianlin, the founder of real estate group Dalian Wanda, who is ranked by Forbes magazine as the richest man in China, with a fortune of US$14.1 billion.

The IFJ Asia Pacific Office said: "We know that the official website of Bloomberg is still banned by the Chinese authorities after it reported that the extended family of the President of China, Xi Jinping, has assets worth billions of US dollars. The Communist Party leaders are meeting in Beijing, but they should not influence management to violate the principles of press freedom out of self-interest.

"It is absolutely an unacceptable decision and the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg should give further explanation of why a story that was ready to be published was suddenly put on the 'backburner'."

We urge Bloomberg's Matthew Winkler to answer the queries of staff and the public to ensure there is no self-censorship in the future.

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