Chinese newspaper prints front-page apology after its reporter confesses live on TV

Guangzhou-based New Express is forced to backpedal after high-profile campaign seeking release of Chen Yongzhou

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A Chinese newspaper which ran a front-page campaign for the release of one of its reporters has been forced to apologise following his confession.

The New Express, based in Guangzhou, printed bold appeals on Wednesday and Thursday backing employee Chen Yongzhou, saying that there was no evidence he had committed a crime.

On Saturday, however, the state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) showed footage in which Chen admitted he had published a number of false reports in exchange for payment.

The reporter had been detained on suspicion of harming the reputation of Zoomlion, China’s second-largest manufacturer of heavy equipment, and he told CCTV that “greed and desire for fame” led him to take bribes and then run pre-prepared stories under his own name.

Today Chen’s paper, which had previously railed against the state system for criminally prosecuting journalists who report facts which are simply embarrassing for companies, issued a front-page apology.

The New Express said it saw the incident as a warning and that action would be taken to rectify existing problems. It said it would strengthen the management of its editorial staff, and that it did not carefully review Chen’s articles before publishing appeals earlier this week.

The apology made up only a small part of Sunday’s front page – the main story being about football, according to a picture shown on its website.

The case initially raised concerns in China about how civil disputes are criminalised by the state, while legal experts yesterday spoke disparagingly about the practice of broadcasting TV confessions which could affect ongoing police investigations.

Chen, speaking yesterday on camera from a police detention centre in the central-southern Chinese city of Changsha, where Zoomlion is headquartered, has not yet even been charged by police.

CCTV said Saturday that Chen ran more than 10 news articles between September 2012 and August 2013 with fabricated facts saying there had been losses of state assets, abnormal sales practices and false financial reporting by Zoomlion, which caused widespread criticism of the company and resulted in its stock price falling after one particularly damaging report.

Chen said an unnamed middleman bribed him to run the stories and that he filed the stories without verifying them. He said he was given 500,000 yuan (£49,500) to report Zoomlion to regulatory agencies in Beijing and Hong Kong.

The Hunan provincial government owns one-sixth of Zoomlion and is its largest shareholder. The company filed a police report against Chen in September.