Commentators and members of the press have expressed sympathy for the former boss of one of China’s leading financial news outlets after he confessed to his involvement in an alleged news extortion scheme. Shen Hao, the former director-general of the group that runs the 21st Century Business Herald , has been detained along with 30 others from the firm, including their chief editors and advertising executives, and two executives from a Shanghai and a Shenzhen public relations firm. Citing Shanghai police, Xinhua said the three media outlets allegedly shared a similar approach to soliciting illicit gains, and were closely linked. Despite Shen’s confession, in which he said that he regretted betraying his profession, a number of commentators took to popular microblogging site Weibo to argue that misconduct was hard to avoid in an industry where such malpractice was prevalent. Wang Xuming, head of Language and Literature Press, said “media organisations that do not separate their editorial from their commercial operations are very common [in China]. And these have become a hotbed of crime”. This was echoed by Wu Fei, a media professor from Zhejiang University. “Most media bosses would not be able to escape punishment under the standards showed in this case,” Wu said, referring to Shen’s situation. Others argued that even if the alleged crimes against Shen are proved to be true, they stemmed from an industry already embroiled in extortion misdeeds. Lu Yaming, chief executive officer of Shenzhen-based news portal Shenchuang.com, cited the “Jesus and the woman taken in adultery” passage of the Bible when commenting on the case. He appealed for his media counterparts not to condemn Shen or to hit a man when he’s down. Shen appeared on state-run China Central Television (CCTV) on Monday confessing to have directed his group’s reporters to force pre-IPO companies into signing advertising “cooperation deals” with the media outlets, threatening to run negative reports about them if they did not comply. The broadcast triggered fierce criticism of the authorities for making Shen, who has not been convicted, to confess publicly on state television, a practice not uncommon in China when authorities want to make an example of the suspect. But the practice is under fire for humiliating suspects and potentially influencing public opinion about the case. “This is the same as parading criminals on the street. An infringement of the rule of law,” argued Wu Fei. Social commentator Peng Xiaoyun also pointed out that CCTV failed to allow Shen to defend himself or to present his lawyer’s view. “It’s a professional blot on the reporter if such information is ignored or omitted,” she said. Police were also criticised for their handling of the case. Hangzhou-based Chen Youxi, claimed Shanghai police had not allowed the detainees to contact their lawyers for nearly a month. Shanghai police could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. Lawyer Li Qiang, who is familiar with the case, alleged that Shanghai police failed to provide proper documents when taking Shen away and in conducting searches at his company premises. Shen headed the news department of influential newspaper Southern Weekly after he graduated from Peking University in 1992. He co-founded the 21st Century Business Herald newspaper in 2001 and has lead the 21st Century Press Group since 2003, making the paper one of the top financial media outlets in China. He was not well known to the public prior to the case but a New Year Message in Southern Weekly written by him in 2009 was widely acclaimed and cited as an inspiration for many youngsters to pursue a career in journalism. “No matter how the case turns out, his profound talent and a low-profile posture, has already made him a legend in the media industry history,” journalist Shi Feike said.