Guangzhou paper apologises for detained reporter's story

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 October, 2013, 4:19am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 October, 2013, 8:32pm

A mainland newspaper issued a front-page apology yesterday recanting its bold defence of its reporter detained after reporting on a listed company's "financial problems", adding another twist to the media controversy.

The statement was the latest public disavowal of journalist Chen Yongzhou, despite initial public sympathy after his detention and open support by his employer, Guangzhou-based newspaper New Express, in rare defiance against state censors.

"This newspaper was not strict enough about thoroughly fact-checking the draft of the report," it said in a small announcement on a bottom corner of its front page.

"After the incident occurred the newspaper took inappropriate measures, seriously harming the public trust of the media."

The paper promised to "make serious corrections" and better ensure its reporters and editors "comply with professional journalistic ethics and regulations".

The statement came a day after Chen appeared on state television in a green prison uniform to "confess" after being detained for more than a week earlier on "suspicion of damaging business reputation".

Video: Detained Chinese journalist makes a confession on China state TV, admits taking bribe

A journalist with New Express said on condition of anonymity that the paper was forced to print the apology. "It was an order from above. It's a day of disgrace for New Express." Last week the paper ran two front-page appeals calling for Chen's release.

Another reporter said: "The paper had good and pure intentions to start with, which was to project its own reporters and their journalistic rights. But regrettably, we can't possibly beat more potent government power. Chen was just cannon fodder."

Chen wrote 15 articles accusing engineering giant Zoomlion of "financial problems", including inflating its profits. Zoomlion is about 20 per cent state-owned and is listed on the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock exchanges.

Its shares fell in Hong Kong trading last week. The stock rebounded 1.8 per cent on October 25 after plunging more than 9 per cent over the previous two days.

Legal scholars voiced concerns about state media airing the confession of a suspect before a court hears the case.

China Central Television showed footage in which Chen said greed and a desire for fame led him to take bribes and run under his name stories alleging financial misdeeds by Zoomlion.

"No matter [whether] he's guilty or not, there are serious issues with the procedures here," said Abe Yang, a lawyer with Dacheng Law Offices in Shenzhen. "Even if the police believe they have enough evidence, it's up to the court to decide whether he's truly guilty."