Newspaper ordered to sack reporter over rail scandal

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2007, 12:00am

Journalist punished for articles on inferior materials

Propaganda authorities have punished a reporter who tried to raise the alarm over the alleged use of low-quality materials in construction of China's first high-speed railway.

The crackdown comes amid efforts to create a harmonious media atmosphere ahead of the Communist Party's 17th National Congress.

The Central Propaganda Department and government-authorised All-China Journalists Association issued a circular last week denouncing reports by the China Economic Times on the use of substandard pulverised fuel ash - used as a filler or a component of concrete - on the Wuhan-Guangzhou railway as 'inaccurate'.

They ordered the dismissal of the reporter responsible and punishment of newspaper officials.

The circular also ordered both the reporter and newspaper to formally apologise to the Ministry of Railways and construction companies for 'damage to the image of the Wu-Guang railway project at home and abroad and large-scale state economic loss', caused by the reports.

The newspaper was required to 'reinforce the education of Marxist ideology to its journalists and enhance its political awareness to avoid such cases in the future'.

The reporter's punishment follows that of Beijing TV reporter Zi Beijia , who reported a bogus story on steamed pork buns made with cardboard. Zi was later sentenced to one year in prison.

Since Zi's case, the media has been reeling under a wave of attacks from the authorities under the guise of cracking down on fake news.

Pang Jiaoming , 24, an investigative reporter at the China Economic Times, claimed that huge amounts of substandard pulverised fuel ash produced by a dozen plants in Hunan and Guangdong had been mixed into concrete for the railway bed, posing a potential risk to the railway, a key infrastructure project with a budget of 93 billion yuan. He also tried to untangle the web of business dealings, and identify the responsibility of builders and project supervisors.

But in a harshly-written announcement, the authorities criticised the reports as untrue and 'based on partial evidence without sufficient overall facts ... drawing wrong conclusions and subjective speculation inconsistent to the facts'.

The statement said investigators were sent to the construction site after the reports were published and found no flaws.

It criticised Pang for not identifying himself as a journalist in interviews and contacting 'so-called insiders, informants and other people who are not employees of the construction company'.

'He didn't report to relevant departments for further investigation ... but ran the stories hastily for a sensational effect based on the self-interest of his newspaper,' it said.

Propaganda department sources had sent a notice to news organisations nationwide to bar them hiring Pang as a reporter.

It also said several officials at the newspaper would face punishment, but newspaper chiefs all refused to comment on the case because of its sensitive timing ahead the congress.

Pang said he had been suspended from his job and had no idea what the future would hold for his career.

He said he had been pressured by the Ministry of Railways since the first report was published on July 4. He said he still wanted to be a reporter.

'Officials from the Central Propaganda Department, the All-China Journalists Association, the Ministry of Railways and the Wuhan-Guangzhou Railway Construction Company repeatedly called our newspaper to stop me doing follow-ups,' Pang said.

'I believe what I wrote in the stories is true but now I am just a lamb to the slaughter.'

The propaganda department was demanding that he hand over all of his interview notes and the contact details of his unnamed sources.

But Pang said he was obliged to protect sources and he would never expose them.

He said he had tried to conduct interviews at the construction site, but had not received a response.

On track

The Wuhan-Guangzhou railway is due to open in 2010. The cost of building the railway in yuan 93b

The length of the railway: 995km