Days after major Guangdong media outlet New Express published a bold front-page headline calling for the release of Chen Yongzhou, the detained reporter has released a confession as well as an apology for publishing unverified information about a company for money.
Earlier this week, major Guangdong newspaper New Express made international headlines after publishing a front-page article with the words “RELEASE HIM” written in large text across the top in a plea for Changsha police to let go of one of the publication’s recently imprisoned journalists, Chen Yongzhou.
The headline was a bold move, especially when considering the government’s recent censorship crackdown, and South China Morning Post referred to it as “an unprecedented call for press freedom by a major Chinese media outlet.”
According to Danwei.com, Chen’s arrest was “believed to be linked to a series of articles published in New Express he wrote in which he says that Zoomlion Heavy Industry, a heavy machinery maker based in Changsha, engages in fraudulent practices including faking sales and exaggerating profits.”
The chairman of the Board of Zoomlion in July claimed that the negative effect of the reports depressed company stock prices, and accused the writer and the newspaper of being paid off by interest groups who might gain benefits from the company’s lowered stock prices.
Chen, 27, was arrested and detained on October 18 in Guangzhou by Changsha police on suspicion of damaging the business’s reputation. On October 23, New Express printed the headline calling for his release.
As New York Times reports, “In the days following the aggressive tabloid’s bold call, many bloggers and some other Chinese media outlets had criticized police as abusing their powers and stifling the press at the behest of powerful government and corporate interests.”
On Saturday, a short three days after the headline was printed, Xinhua reported that the detained reporter Chen Yongzhou confessed to having released untrue information about the company for money, and released an official apology on CCTV that has been rippling through national media outlets.
At the request of others, Chen fabricated facts and wrote more than 10 reports based on supplied materials from Sept. 29, 2012 to Aug. 8, 2013 about Zoomlion’s “financial problems” without verification, bringing huge losses to the company and its share prices, police said late Friday.
The fabricated problems, including loss of state assets, ugly marketing, sales and financial fraud, were groundless and out of Chen’s subjective assumption, according to police. The reports were widely forwarded over the Internet, causing severe social impact.
He would like to apologize to the Zoomlion, the stock investors and his own family members, and warn his peers to “learn a lesson from myself,” he was quoted by police as saying.
Police say that Chen received “rewards”, from thousands to tens of thousands of yuan, from a middleman during the time that he was publishing stories about Zoomlion.
Chen said in his confession that only “one and a half” of his 10 or more reports about the company were written from information that he himself had gathered, and the rest were based on supplied articles — some of which he published without reading first.
Chen also said that he knew the reports would damage Zoomlion’s reputation but did not expect for the impact to be so huge. He reportedly told police that he was “afraid of getting into trouble” after seeing the consequences.
“If I were given a chance to be a reporter again, I would follow the professional ethics to write impartial, true, objective and balanced reports. I would not be lured by benefits,” Chen reportedly told police.
BBC on Saturday aired this report covering the event, saying, “It’s worth pointing out this isn’t a confession given in a court of law, this is a confession given a few days after he was detained, in a police cell [where] he was handcuffed…we’re not entirely sure the whole story behind this yet.”