Police have detained a Beijing reporter for allegedly faking a hidden camera report about street vendors selling breakfast buns stuffed with chemically treated cardboard, the apologetic broadcaster said amid mounting concern over China's poor food safety record.
The revelation follows a spate of real food scares involving toxic fish, tainted pork and egg yolks colored with a cancer-causing dye that have harmed China's reputation as an exporter and alarmed people at home.
Allegedly shot with a hidden camera, the story was first broadcast on Beijing Television's Life Channel on June 8 and then shown again on China Central Television last week. It created a buzz on the Internet, with netizens flooding chatrooms with comments expressing shock and disgust. On the YouTube Web site, the video had been viewed more than 6,000 times by yesterday.
Beijing Television apologized to the public during an evening news broadcast on Wednesday and said the creator of the fake news report, identified only by his surname, Zi, had been detained by police but did not say when.
"He used deceptive means to get the footage on the air," news anchor Wang Ye (王業) said, without giving specifics. "The Beijing Public Security Bureau has taken the criminal suspect, Zi, into custody and he will be severely dealt with according to law."
Zi's footage appeared to show a makeshift kitchen where people made fluffy buns stuffed with 60 percent cardboard that had been softened in a bath of caustic soda and 40 percent fatty pork.
An investigation revealed that Zi brought meat, flour, cardboard and other ingredients to a downtown Beijing neighborhood last month and had four migrant workers make the buns for him while he filmed the process, Beijing Television said. It said Zi "gave them the idea" of mincing softened cardboard and adding it to the buns.
The newscaster said the station was "profoundly sorry" for the fake report and its "vile impact on society." It vowed to prevent inaccurate news coverage in the future.
The report prompted Beijing's health authorities to carry out a spot check of more than two dozen vendors selling the pork buns -- a common breakfast in China. None were found to contain cardboard.
Li Changjiang (李長江), head of China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, warned media in an interview on state television to be responsible in reporting food safety issues, though he did not deny there were some problems.
"The media and those who work in the news should focus on professional morals and also honesty," he said.
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