Tue, Aug 14, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Journalist jailed by Beijing court for smearing bun

AFP , BEIJING

A Beijing television journalist has been jailed for one year for fabricating a report about cardboard-stuffed buns that embarrassed China during a barrage of food scandals, state media said yesterday.

Zi Beijia (訾北佳), a temporary employee at Beijing TV, was also fined 1,000 yuan (US$130) after a court on Sunday found him guilty of "infringing the reputation of a commodity," the Beijing News reported.

The court said Zi orchestrated a news report last month that street vendors in the city were selling baozi -- a popular bun-like snack usually filled with meat or vegetables -- containing chemically softened cardboard.

The broadcast came amid mounting reports of shoddy or dangerous Chinese foods, and other merchandise and generated local and international interest.

It also embarrassed the government, which had been denying that China had a big problem with fake or dangerous products and had accused foreign media of sensational reporting on the issue.

Beijing TV, like all media groups under the control of the government, later declared the report bogus and sacked Zi. It said he had instructed a group of migrant workers to make the phony buns while he filmed them.

"The program caused evil social effects and severely ruined the reputation of the relevant commodities," according to the court ruling.

Xinhua news agency said Zi pleaded guilty to the charges, and claimed he was "muddled-headed" when he produced the report.

However there has been some speculation that Zi was in fact a scapegoat and that the report was genuine.

Xinhua was one of the state-run news organizations that had earlier carried reports citing cynical Chinese saying Zi could have been the fall-guy for the government as it tried to squelch embarrassing news.

Several newspapers signed a declaration "to root out fabricated news in all newspapers and rebuild the credibility of the media."

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