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Detained journalist, newspaper apologise publicly in shocking twist to New Express saga

New Express journalist admits on air to taking money to publish critical articles of Zoomlion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 October, 2013, 5:42am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 October, 2013, 1:11pm

Guangzhou-based New Express on Sunday issued an apology and condemned its detained reporter for writing false stories, after the newspaper ran unusual front-page appeals for his release two days in a row earlier this week, prompting an barrage of online discussions.

“According to police’s preliminary investigation, our reporter Chen Yongzhou had accepted money to publish a a large number of false reports, seriously violating the verification principle,” read a statement on the newspaper’s Sunday frontpage.

Referring to the high-profile demands it published earlier for Chen's release, the apology statement said, “The inappropriate conduct the newspaper carried out after the event has severely damaged the credibility of the media."

The newspaper apologised for its editorial department's lax screening process on stories and promised to enforce more stringent policies on its reporters to “value truth” and “to obey laws”.

This is the latest dramatic twist of Chen’s case regarding a series of stories with his bylines published since last year that were accused of "smearing the name" of a Hunan-based heavy equipment manufacturer.

On Saturday, state broadcaster CCTV aired a video of Chen confessing to accepting money to publish a series of unverified articles critical of machinery giant Zoomlion, which is based in Hunan.

Chen's high-profile confession on CCTV stunned the many mainland journalists, lawyers and rights activists who had rallied to Chen's defence last week after his newspaper, the Guangzhou-based New Express, published two unusual front-page editorials calling for his release. Some expressed concern that the confession had been coerced.

"We are shocked to the core by this unexpected twist," said a New Express reporter who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The whole newsroom was stunned by the rapid reversal; editors were silent and our online discussion group was empty. Chen's confession feels like a blow to the newspaper and his supporters."

The video showed Chen - handcuffed, wearing a green prison jumpsuit and his head shaved - admitting to accepting hundreds of thousands of yuan from an unidentified middleman. The man supplied him with articles to publish under his byline.

"I'm willing to confess and I'm willing to repent my crime," he told police in what appeared to be a detention centre in Changsha , Hunan's capital. "[It's] mainly because of money and fame. I was being used."

Chen said he "did not check the content of these articles" and "made only minor changes" before handing them to his editors. One payment was for 500,000 yuan (HK$637,000), he said.

Since last year, the New Express has run more than a dozen pieces under Chen's byline implicating the Hong Kong- and Shenzhen-listed Zoomlion in schemes to exaggerate its profits and manipulate markets.

Chen said he regretted the losses he caused Zoomlion and its shareholders. He also apologised to his family.

The All-China Journalists Association, which had earlier expressed support for Chen, issued a statement yesterday faulting him for "seriously violating journalistic professional ethics and harming the media's credibility". It said the New Express should also be held accountable.

Meanwhile, internet users circulated screen grabs of the CCTV report, which appeared to show the name of Zoomlion rival Sany in the statement Chen signed for police.

The statement also showed the names of Zhu Zongwen and Wang Zhong, whom internet users identified as a reporter for the 21st Century Business Herald and a business editor of New Express, respectively.

Neither Zoomlion nor Sany returned calls for comment. New Express also declined to comment.

Some feared that the confession had been coerced, as Chen was the latest high-profile figure to publicly admit wrongdoing on national television before any formal charges had been filed.

Videotaped confessions by prominent Sina Weibo commentator Charles Xue Biqun and British corporate investigator Peter Humphrey have also been aired on national television in recent weeks.

People commenting on Sina Weibo were particularly concerned about Chen's shaved head and prison jump suit because he has not yet been charged with any crime.

Prominent rights lawyer Si Weijiang compared the CCTV broadcast to a pre-trial judgment.

"Any police investigation material before a court hearing is considered to be a state secret and only lawyers are allowed to approach suspects or the plaintiff," Si said. "Who gave CCTV the right to violate these legal procedures?

"There are many unresolved queries," Si said, citing reports Changsha police had arrived to detain Chen in a Mercedes allegedly owned by Zoomlion.

Qiao Mu , a media expert at Beijing Foreign Studies University, believed the New Express shared much of the blame, even though "compensated journalism" - in which reporters trade stories for cash - was a common practice on the mainland.

"How can you blame the reporter alone when the paper published over a dozen problematic stories?" he said.

He also questioned the ethics of CCTV.

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This article is now closed to comments

321manu
"IF" this guy wrote and/or submitted articles for under-the-table money, and perpetrated accusations that were unverified or that he knew to be false, then he has indeed grossly violated his journalistic principles. Certainly adequate cause for dismissal from his employer, and he may well be exposed to civil libel lawsuits from Zoomlion.
However, what is the justification for his arrest and detention? How is this a criminal matter? Why are police even involved? What has he been charged with? And why did he need to publicly apologize and confess on state TV?
Now, if this was some place other than China, it would be a curious turn of events. But this is China, the land of corruption, black jails, police invites for "tea", and where people can get "disappeared". So no, CCTV and Chinese authorities do not deserve, and should not get, the benefit of the doubt, on the basis of innumerable prior bad acts.
So maybe this guy did do some unbecoming things for a journalist. But I'm guessing Zoomlion threw some red pockets to some folks in high places to "encourage" some authorities to make this journalist go away. And lo and behold, they have. Funny what guanxi can do in China.
Of course, this doesn't even begin to address the pathetic state of "rule of law" in China, where arrest and detention apparently comes before being charged. But that's par for the course for the CCP.
jeffrey.forsythe.52
Twenty years ago a citizen of Mainland China was afraid to go into his own house, enter the bathroom, turn off the light and have one bad thought concerning the brutal Chinese Communist Party. Now people are cursing the blood-thirsty CCP openly on the street. The CCP has murdered eighty million of its own people since 1949 and since 1999 has been attempting the brutal genocide of the tens of millions of innocent Falun Gong practitioners who live there. This genocide consists of torture, slavery, organ harvesting and murder. The heinous CCP is spending 25% of its GDP committing this genocide and keeping it hidden from its people and the rest of the World. The Western media and governments are trying to ignore the truth because of corporate greed. This is the truth concerning the cruel Chinese Communist Party.
jenniepc
If there is more arrest since he received the payment to write false stories. So, who paid him to write the false stories?
I don’t agree with Si Weijiang. As educated in U.S. I apply American constitutional laws assuming it has occurred in U.S. Based on the "freedom of the press" provision of the U.S. First Amendment, the court cannot constitutionally restrict the media from printing or broadcasting information about the case. However, the court can put a gag order on the participants under the court’s control. Defendant or his lawyer can ask the judge to prohibit to prohibit the government prosecutors, attorneys and the parties to a pending lawsuit or criminal prosecution from talking to the media or the public about the case. So, if Chinese want China to have a freedom of press, then, the court should not constitutionally restrict the Chinese media.
Jennie PC Chiang/江佩珍 10/26/13 美國
scmpbeijing1
The problem is that we really don't know if Chen Yongzhou's confession was made under duress, and as he's not gone to court, he's not been legally found guilty yet. But CCTV's already reported his guilt, which could influence his trial. Furthermore, despite the pros and cons of such a law, it is a Chinese law, and should be respected by the government and CCTV. Is there no respect for Chinese law in China? CCTV and the police are shameless.
scmpbeijing1
Chen Yongzhou is the third person to be arrested in recent months and to have declared his guilt on national TV in China? What happened to the court system in the PRC? Why are these people not going through the legal process? This is a gross miscarriage of justice. Chen's colleagues were shocked by his confession. I'm willing to bet that he was frightened into making this confession and promised leniency. Let's see what happens.
 
 
 
 
 

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