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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.”


Guangzhou paper confronts authorities over staff arrest

Posted: 10/25/2013 7:00 am

Tuesday’s front page says “Please release him!”

The China blogosphere has been abuzz this week at the rare sight of a Chinese newspaper directly challenging senior law enforcers. Not for the first time, it has been a Guangzhou-based newspaper that has done it.

The New Express Daily published pleas on its front page both yesterday and Tuesday calling for the release of its reporter Chen Yongzhou. Chen was detained by Changsha police operating outside their jurisdiction last week after a series of his reports allegedly “damaged the business reputation” of Hunan-based construction machinery manufacturer Zoomlion, according to China Digital Times.

Yesterday’s front page contained the plea: AGAIN WE ASK FOR HIS RELEASE. A smaller headline read: “Everything must be resolved within the framework of the law. You cannot detain first and [rationalize] charges later.” A jump directs readers to page A05, where there is a lengthy story summarizing the Chen Yongzhou case — drawing on reporting from other media, including the official Xinhua News Agency and The Beijing News, according to China Media Project.

David Bandurski of China Media Project had this to say:

So far, plenty of other Chinese media have followed suit with this story. We are hearing that a strongly worded editorial from Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily was removed by propaganda authorities. The headline of that editorial apparently was: “Cross-Regional Detention Sends Chill Through Media; The Abuse of Police Powers Does Not Stand Before the Law.”

However, the Southern Metropolis Daily has managed to publish a second editorial on Page 02 today, and it has plenty to say.

The editorial argues that the Chen Yongzhou case is about a serious abuse of power by authorities in Changsha. “Even more unsettling,” the editorial says, “is if local authorities act only to serve local economic interests, if they ignore legal limitations and preventative regulations to pursue cases and arrest suspects, not only is this the ugly result of the failure to limit power, but it becomes a serious example of power doing evil.”

Then last night, as the feud continued to rage, the following directive form the Central Propaganda Department was leaked:

Regarding the trans-provincial criminal detention of a New Express journalist in Changsha, the media are not to continue reporting on the issue for the time being, and must strengthen management of official and journalists’ individual Weibo accounts.

But even if official media stop reporting on the issue, expect microbloggers to get creative in finding ways to continue discussing it.

The media in Guangzhou has long been more liberal than anywhere north of Guangdong, including Shenzhen, where the once-freewheeling media has been strictly controlled since 1989.

Examples of this freedom include the groundbreaking work of Cheng Yizhong, who was named as the laureate of the 2005 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for his work at Southern Metropolis Daily, publishing articles revealing the SARS epidemic and a case of death in a Canton police station.

Then at the beginning of this year there was the Southern Weekly Incident, in which newsroom staff went on strike to protest against the original New Year’s special editorial being changed significantly under the pressure from the propaganda officers.

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