Al Jazeera English announced Tuesday that its Beijing correspondent, Melissa Chan, did not have her visa renewed. The following is a transcript of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s daily briefing, where spokesman Hong Lei answered foreign reporters’ questions about the Chinese government’s action.
Hong Li: [Enters to sound of Gary Glitter’s ‘Rock n Roll Part 2’] Good morning, everybody.
Q: I just want to know whether the expulsion of Melissa Chan should be seen as a warning to other journalists operating in China?
Hong Lei: Damn straight…
Q: Under what circumstances will Al Jazeera be given press credentials and visas for a new reporter?
Hong Lei: Let’s just say we’re awaiting reports of a cold front emanating from certain underworld regions.
Q: So if there is a new correspondent for Al Jazeera, will you give them a visa?
Hong Lei: Didn’t catch that. Ask me another.
Q: Can you tell us who made the decision to deny Ms. Chan: was it the Foreign Ministry or another department?
Hong Lei: Honestly? Not a clue. I’m gonna refer you here to our mysterious laws and regulations.
Q: Can you give us any specifics on why Melissa Chan was expelled from the country… because there is a lot of confusion here and unless you’re more specific about it it’s very difficult for us to get a picture of exactly what’s going on.
Hong Lei: She was not expelled… as far as I know, she left of her own volition.
Q: I think the main concern of the journalists is that the Chinese government, you use the issue of visa as a way to censor journalists’ work in China. Is this a precedent of how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will behave in the future?
Hong Lei: We do this every 14 years or so. So, yeah. No. Maybe.
Q: What could the Chinese government say if a Chinese journalist was expelled from a foreign country?
Hong Lei: Anybody else going to see Hanggai play this weekend?
Q: Chinese laws and regulations are written down, so even if we don’t know which ones Melissa is accused of violating, we know what they say. Nowhere I know is the Chinese government’s conception of journalistic ethics written down. How can we judge whether our behavior is consistent with Chinese conception of journalist ethics, and can you offer us guidance as to what that conception looks like?
Hong Lei: You’re asking me to lecture you on ethics? Oh, man. Wait till I tell the boys back in the ministry.
Q: What would the Chinese government say to accusations that it is censoring foreign media with the expulsion of Melissa Chan?
Hong Lei: We would give a convoluted and ultimately meaningless combination of diplomatic waffle and officialese, probably.
Q: Where can we see those regulations? Because we are having some problem finding which law and regulation was broken. So where can I check the regulation if I want to see some number or article was broken according to Chinese law?
Hong Lei: Look. They’re right over there – behind you! [Grabs documents, shuffles out to sound of Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’]
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