Detained reporter confesses on TV to publishing false accusations against company
Chen Yongzhou, the Guangzhou-based New Express reporter who was detained by police last Friday, has made a public confession in a CCTV programme aired on Saturday morning, admitting to accepting bribes and publishing articles containing false accusations against a heavy machinery maker.
The unexpected twist of event surprised China’s journalists, who in the past week have rallied for the release of Chen after he was taken away by policemen from Changsha, Hunan, and accused of "fabricating facts" and "damaging the commercial reputation" of Changsha-based Zoomlion, China's second largest maker of construction equipment.
Chen had published more than 10 articles since last September, discussing problematic marketing and accounting practises allegedly used by Zoomlion, he told CCTV. Almost all of the stories were pre-written and fed to him by a third party on the condition that they be published under his byline. Chen was paid thousands of yuan each time he delivered the "task", according to CCTV.
Video: Detained Chinese journalist makes a confession on China state TV, admits taking bribe
The identity of the third party was not disclosed.
Chen admitted that he never conducted reporting or investigation of his own regarding the accusations made in these articles. At one time, he didn’t even “take a single look” at the story that was to be published under his name, he said on the programme.
Besides publishing stories, Chen was also paid to fly to Hong Kong and Beijing in June to meet with regulatory authorities and report Zoomlion’s alleged fraudulent practises, said the CCTV report. He was paid a total of 530,000 yuan for the two trips, he told CCTV.
Based in Changsha, Zoomlion is listed both in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Police said Zoomlion’s stock value suffered an “abnormal” loss of 1.369 billion yuan alone on May 29, two days after Chen published a story accusing the company of cooking its books.
The company's stock price tumbled in the last few days as newspapers across China joined the New Express in a campaign to demand Chen’s release. In Hong Kong, Zoomlion's share price went down more than 9 per cent in two days, losing about HK$930 million in market value. In Shenzhen, the loss amounted to around HK$2.5 billion, an earlier report by SCMP.com said.
“I am willing to confess and repent my crimes, and I’d like to apologise to Zoomlion, its shareholders, the media groups whose credibility suffered [because of me] and my family,” he said in the program.
News of Chen’s confession triggered heated discussions among media and legal circles on Saturday. Many argued that even if Chen had transgressed from professional codes and made mistakes, the incident should be resolved within legal frames.
“The victim of the ‘false reports’ should have resorted to lawsuits to hold Chen responsible, and the newspaper could have fired him, ” wrote Zhu Xuedong, a prominent Beijing-based magazine editor, on his microblog. “And it’s wrong to lay all the blames on Chen while apparently the newspaper's management was also problematic.”
Zhu said the scene of Chen confessing in front of a camera reminded him of the “criticism and attack sessions” held during the Cultural Revolution, a violent political movement from 1966 to 1976 that saw millions persecuted. Zhu's comments have been reposted more than 1,400 times on Saturday.
Zuo Zhijian, an active microblogger and senior journalist, criticised the authorities' practise of "obtaining evidence through illegal means,” which he said is a threat to citizens.
“The job of law enforcement is to uphold social order, not to make us live in fear,” he wrote on Weibo.
Others questioned CCTV's role in "trying" Chen before a genuine court trial starts.
"How could CCTV decide he is guilty even before he gets his trial?, " asked a microblogger who uses the alias "Laoguiading". "And how come CCTV was the only media outlet who was permitted to talk to him?"