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Chinese newspaper apologises for journalist who confessed to corruption

Associated Press in Beijing, Sunday 27 October 2013 04.21 GMT


A newspaper whose detained reporter made a televised confession saying he had defamed a company in exchange for money published a front-page apology on Sunday, saying the improper practices had taught it a "profound lesson".

The Guangzhou-based New Express newspaper said a preliminary police investigation found that Chen Yongzhou had been incited by others to publish numerous false reports in exchange for money, and that the paper did not carefully review his articles before publishing.

On Wednesday and Thursday the newspaper had printed bold appeals for Chen's release, saying there was no evidence he had committed a crime, and that journalists should not be criminally prosecuted for responsibly reporting facts that may embarrass influential companies or individuals.

On Saturday, the state broadcaster China Central Television aired footage in which Chen – detained on suspicion of harming the reputation of a business – said greed and a desire for fame led him to take bribes and run under his name prepared stories alleging financial misdeeds by China's second-largest heavy equipment maker, Zoomlion.

Chen, in handcuffs and with his head shaved, was speaking from a police detention centre in the central-southern city of Changsha, where Zoomlion has its headquarters.

No managers of the newspaper were available to speak on Sunday about the apology or Chen's detention, said a man who answered the phone in the New Express's editorial department.

Chen's detention has caused an uproar among media professionals, who worry police are overstepping their legal jurisdiction in criminalising civil disputes.

Legal scholars also voiced concerns about state media airing the confession of a suspect before a court heard the case. Chen has not been charged, as police are still investigating.

The New Express said on Sunday it would take the incident as a warning, rectify problems and strengthen management of its editorial staff, including requiring them to abide by the law and follow journalistic ethics. The apology was a small part of its front page, according to a picture uploaded to its website.

CCTV said on Saturday that Chen wrote more than 10 news stories between September 2012 and August 2013 with fabricated facts saying there had been losses of state assets, abnormal sales practices and false financial reporting by Zoomlion. They resulted in widespread criticism of the company and its stock price fell after one particularly damaging report.

Chen said a middleman had bribed him to run the stories and that he filed the stories without verifying them. The middleman was not named. Chen said he was given 500,000 yuan (£50,000) to report Zoomlion to regulatory agencies in Beijing and Hong Kong.

The Hunan provincial government owns one-sixth of Zoomlion and is its largest shareholder. Zoomlion filed the police report against Chen in September.