It's the first time China has expelled a foreign correspondent in 14 years, so whatever Al Jazeera English's Melissa Chan did to have her visa denied, it must have been pretty monumental, right? Actually, it appears Chan's being punished for a documentary on Chinese labor camps her network produced without her. At least, that's the piece of reporting that gets mentioned most frequently across the reports we read on Chan's expulsion as something known to have annoyed the Chinese government.
The New York Times' Michael Wines wrote that "among other broadcasts, officials were said by some to have been angered by an English-language documentary on Chinese re-education through labor camps that Al Jazeera produced outside China and broadcast on its network in November." At Reuters, a noticeably non-bylined story noted that officials had "expressed dissatisfaction about some of Al Jazeera's content, including a documentary produced overseas." The Washington Post's Keith Richburg wrote: "In a February 2011 report, Chan reported on what she described as China’s 'imaginary revolution,' and also investigated China’s 'black jails,' a network of secret detention centers. But she played no role in an al-Jazeera documentary about prison labor that prompted Chinese protests."
Naturally, Chan's expulsion and the subsequent closure of Al Jazeera English's China bureau is being seen as a warning to other journalists not to be too critical of the Chinese establishment. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China called it "the most extreme example of a recent pattern of using journalist visas in an attempt to censor and intimidate foreign correspondents." The Post's Richburg added: "Most recently, police in Beijing last week threatened to revoke the visas — and effectively expel — a dozen foreign reporters for trying to enter to the hospital where blind activist Chen Guangcheng is now confined."
Al Jazeera's Arabic-language bureau is still open in China, but for now the network says it it has indefinitely closed its English bureau. So if China's goal was to limit the network's reporting to the West, it succeeded.