A Chinese newspaper issued a front-page apology yesterday, recanting its bold defense of an employee arrested after reporting on a company’s “financial problems,” adding another twist to the high-profile media controversy.
The statement was the latest public disavowal of journalist Chen Yongzhou (陳永洲) — despite initial public sympathy after his detention and open support by his employer, the New Express, in a rare act of defiance against powerful 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, which is based in Guangzhou, promised to “make serious corrections” and better ensure that 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 arrested more than a week earlier on “suspicion of damaging business reputation.” He had written 15 articles accusing the engineering giant Zoomlion of “financial problems,” including inflating its profits.
Zoomlion is about 20 percent owned by the state and is listed on the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock exchanges with a total market capitalization of more than US$8 billion.
Xinhua news agency said on Saturday that Chen had admitted to “having released unverified and untrue stories about a company for money and fame,” and that he had acted “at the request of others.”
“I did this mainly because I hankered after money and fame. I’ve been used. I’ve realized my wrongdoing,” Xinhua quoted him as saying.
The All-China Journalists Association issued a separate statement on Saturday, which criticized Chen’s actions and said the newspaper had “seriously neglected its professional duties.”
Users of China’s popular microblogging site Sina Weibo expressed dismay yesterday over the latest developments.
“The entire media is going to face a major cleansing,” a lawyer called Liu Jianping posted.
Another user with the handle Tianlihe said: “If the New Express believes it reported false information, then it shouldn’t just apologise, it should surrender itself completely.”
“The person who took the money has been caught — what about the person who gave the money?” wrote another named MunchenWarte24.
The apology by New Express, a tabloid, starkly contrasted its initial reaction — a full-page editorial printed days after Chen’s detention with the front-page headline: “Please release our man” in large print.
The arrest had initially elicited public support, with one well-known government researcher, Yu Jianrong (于建嶸), criticizing the detention as an “abuse of public power.”
The Southern Weekly, a liberal newspaper also based in Guangzhou, said on its Sina Weibo account at the time that police were trying to create a “terrifying atmosphere.”
That paper’s staff also defied authorities in January, striking after an article urging greater respect for constitutional rights was censored.
Zoomlion is one of China’s biggest manufacturers of construction machinery, such as bulldozers, and is a major tax contributor to Changsha city in Hunan Province.