Regulator voices 'concern' for detained reporter Chen Yongzhou
Move comes after New Express devotes front page to appeal for release of Chen Yongzhou
Mimi Lau in Guangzhou and Patrick Boehler
A central government department has taken a rare step regarding the plight of a journalist, voicing concern over the detention of reporter Chen Yongzhou.
Comments by officials from the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television that it was "very concerned" for Chen came days after he was taken into criminal detention by police from Changsha, in Hunan following the publication in the New Express of articles he wrote alleging fraud at construction-equipment maker Zoomlion, based in Changsha.
"The administration would staunchly support normal media reporting and safeguard journalists' legitimate and legal rights in conducting their reporting work," the China Press and Publishing Journal cited an official as saying. "We are also against any abuse of press rights."
And in a second surprise move, the All-China Journalists Association requested that the Ministry of Public Security ensure Chen's safety and handle the matter in a "fair and legal" manner.
The Journal, an official newspaper directly administered by the administration, issued the report online late last night.
The association had already taken the unusual step earlier yesterday of urging the Hunan authorities to investigate Chen's detention.
Chen was detained on Friday on accusations of "fabricating facts in his reportage" and "damaging the commercial reputation" of a mainland firm.
The New Express yesterday sought his release in an editorial that took up its entire front page, under the headline: "Please release him".
The newspaper's call for press freedom was an unprecedented action by a major mainland media outlet. The incident is being compared by some online commentators to the censorship saga at Southern Weekly early this year, where employees engaged in a stand-off with the authorities over changes to its New Year edition.
Chen wrote a 15-part investigative series that detailed alleged fraud committed by Zoomlion. The company has denied the claims, but the reports helped to send the stock of the Hong Kong-listed company to a two-year low in May.
New Express said it regretted its initial decision to stay silent. It had gone back over Chen's stories and found only one concern - more than 510 million yuan (HK$650 million) that was counted as Zoomlion advertising expenses should have been categorised as advertising and entertainment costs, the editorial said.
Chen's supervisor, who had worked with him since 2008, described him as a "down to earth" and "professional" journalist.