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Questions over journalist’s confession and newspaper’s apology

Posted: 10/29/2013 7:00 am

After inspiring headlines around the world with its front-page appeal for the release of its reporter Chen Yongzhou, Guangzhou-based New Express Daily has issued an apology and Chen has given a televised confession to accepting bribes, BBC reports.

Chen appeared on state television in his prison uniform to issue his apology, image courtesy of Reuters

Chen was arrested over claims he defamed partly state-owned manufacturer of construction machinery Zoomlion in articles exposing alleged corruption. Despite initially receiving the full backing of his employer, Chen said in a statement broadcast on CCTV on Saturday (Oct. 26): “I’m willing to admit my guilt and to show repentance.”

The paper admitted, in an article buried in a corner of its front page, to not being strict enough in fact-checking Chen’s reports after he “accepted bribes and was used to publish many false reports, seriously violating professional journalistic ethics and regulations.”

However, this u-turn is so sudden that many are questioning what is really behind it.

Li Yuanlong, a former reporter for Bijie Daily told NTDTV on Sunday (Oct. 27): “It’s not like a reporter can publish whatever he wants to. Before any news report can be published, it has to be approved by an editor, the chief editor or even an editorial board. Now they have changed their attitude like this. This does not seem natural and doesn’t comply with the process of news production either. The change is just too abrupt.”

If you look closely you can see the scar on Chen’s throat, image courtesy of Reuters

Moreover, when he appeared on television, a scar could be seen on Chen’s neck, which raises the suspicion that he had been tortured into giving a confession.

Li Yuanlong was the journalist who broke the story of the five street kids who were found dead in a dumpster in Guizhou last year. In the aftermath, his online posts were blocked and his movements were closely monitored by authorities. Li says it is common practice for journalists to be tortured and media outlets to be paid off in contentious cases such as this one.

The argument that marketisation and the emergence of companies like Zoomlion will lead to democratisation has done the rounds in recent years. But, as Philip Pan wrote in “Out of Mao’s Shadow,” those counting on the capitalists to lead the charge for democratization in China are likely to be disappointed. China’s emerging business elite is a diverse and disparate bunch, and for every large company that would embrace political reform, there are others who support and depend on the authoritarian system, who believe in one-party rule and owe their success to it.

The torture and intimidation of journalists is a phenomenon that is unlikely to go away any time soon. Journalist Yu Dongyue was jailed for 17 years for splattering paint on a portrait of Mao during the 1989 pro-democracy protests. Upon being released in 2006, human rights groups who had campaigned for him say he was driven insane by the torture.

In 2009, he was granted political asylum in the United States after fleeing to Thailand.

Although the evidence that Chen was tortured is not cast-iron, long-term Chinese media-watcher Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei said: “I don’t know the specifics of this case, but you don’t get a confession on CCTV unless there is some political element to it.”

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