In an unprecedented move, the publishers of three major American newspapers have written an open letter to the Chinese government, appealing to Beijing to reverse its decision forcing out 13 of their journalists.
The publishers of The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times said that the government’s expulsion of their journalists working in China was “threatening to deprive the world of critical information at a perilous moment”.
“We strongly urge the Chinese government to reverse its decision to force the Americans working for our news organizations to leave the country and, more broadly, to ease the growing crackdown on independent news organisations that preceded this action,” the publishers wrote, saying that the news media has become collateral damage in a diplomatic spat between the US and China.
On March 17, Beijing’s foreign ministry revoked the press credentials of American journalists from the Times, Post and Journal, giving them each 10 days to return their media passes and effectively expelling them from the country.
Beijing is also requiring the three papers, along with Voice of America and Time magazine, to share information about their staff and operations in China with the government, and has said that it would take further “reciprocal measures” on visas, administrative review, and reporting for American journalists working in the China.
If China goes through with it, the move would be the largest expulsion of journalists from the country in more than 30 years.
Tensions have been rising between the two nations, with each taking turns cracking down on the other’s foreign press.
China’s announcement was widely regarded as retaliation for the Trump administration’s recent decision to designate five Chinese media outlets working in the United States as government entities or “foreign missions” - opening them up to tighter regulation and restricting the number of Chinese nationals they could employ in the US.
In February, China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters over an opinion-piece headline, “China is the real sick man of Asia”, which it called racist.
Separately last week Beijing also revoked the licenses of Chinese citizens working as researchers and assistants at US media organisations in the country.
Chinese nationals are already not permitted to work in China as reporters for foreign media organisations, but they can be researchers and translation assistants.
In their open letter, the publishers emphasised their reporters’ role in publicising the spread of the coronavirus from its earliest cases in Wuhan, and went to lengths to spotlight their reporters’ often favorable coverage of China’s response to the virus.
“We have prominently featured news and analysis about China’s remarkable progress in reducing the spread of the virus through containment and mitigation,” they wrote.
“Even now, with some of our journalists facing imminent expulsion, they are reporting on how China is mobilizing state resources to develop vaccines that could offer hope to billions of people there and around the world.”
The letter, which was published as a full-page ad in each paper on Tuesday, represents a rare coming together for three major news rivals usually locked in fierce competition. It is the first time publishers of the three papers have made a joint public statement.
“On this matter we speak with a single voice,” wrote Journal publisher William Lewis, Post publisher Fred Ryan and Times publisher AG Sulzberger.
“We believe it is unambiguously in the interests of the people of both countries, as well as their leaders, to let journalists do their work.”
China has not officially responded to the letter and calls and emails to the Chinese embassy in Washington went unanswered on Tuesday.
Wise men talk because they have something to say,
fools talk because they have to say something.