In an interview late last year with a men's magazine, Southern Metropolis Daily editor-in-chief Cheng Yizhong said his favourite movies were prison dramas. He cited The Shawshank Redemption - a story of a miscarriage of justice and finding hope in prison - as one of the films he liked best. But little did he know that a few months later he would be experiencing prison life at first hand. Mr Cheng recently spent his 39th birthday in jail waiting for corruption charges to be brought against him. He was arrested after being accused of embezzling 100,000 yuan from the newspaper's advertising revenue in 2001. Two other senior managers of the newspaper have been convicted of similar charges and sentenced to lengthy jail terms. Mr Cheng, a native of Anhui province , has always believed in fate, according to his wife, Chen Junying. 'He said fate gave him this chance to be a journalist so he was serious about doing a good job,' she said. Mr Cheng graduated in 1989 and was sent to work for the Southern Daily Group. The group then only had its four-page flagship newspaper and the Nanfang Weekly, then an entertainment weekly, but after a short stint as a reporter at the news bureau in Zhanjiang , Mr Cheng quickly distinguished himself and was assigned to help set up the Southern Metropolis Daily in 1994. His aspirations to make the tabloid a media leader that existing dailies would compete against were laughed at. He had ambitions to redefine media rules and develop a new readership that would require newspapers to be more aggressive and creative. In the years that followed, Mr Cheng rose from deputy editor-in-chief in 1995, when the newspaper was still in preparation stage, to editor-in-chief in 2001, four years after it started publishing. The newspaper rose to become a daring and popular publication that championed social issues. The media industry 'allowed me to see a lot of things, things that are hopeless, and we can't do anything [about]', he said in the interview with Mangazine. But he soldiered on, believing the media could help change society. Mr Cheng ignored pleas from police to suppress reports about Sun Zhigang , a migrant worker beaten to death while in custody. The stories about the brutal treatment Sun received and the grief of his family unleashed waves of angry public sentiment that led to Beijing abolishing the much-abused custody and repatriation system. Staff respected and admired Mr Cheng, and found him approachable and receptive to their ideas. But he lacked the trait that endeared his mentor, Guan Jian, the tabloid's first chief editor, to them, a Southern Metropolis Daily staff member said. 'He doesn't have an eye for details, unlike other editors who applied stricter self-censorship so as not to get into trouble,' she said. 'He got into trouble once for running a story about the brutality of officials forcing pregnant women to have abortions after they had had their first child,' the staff member said. Mr Cheng also ran a scoop about the first Sars case when the disease re-emerged in Guangdong late last year, before the news was cleared for official release. The case against Mr Cheng and his colleagues has drawn widespread criticism from liberal academics and retired politicians, who say the charges amount to retaliation against journalists who dare to criticise provincial authorities. Mr Cheng and the other managers claim the funds they are accused of stealing were given to them as performance bonuses.