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In stunning about-face, China paper issues public apology as reporter 'confesses' to bribery

A woman reads the New Express newspaper that on October 23, 2013 carried a full-page editorial with headline
A woman reads the New Express newspaper that on October 23, 2013 carried a full-page editorial with headlineStr / AFP/Getty Images

BEIJING – A newspaper in southern China ran a front-page apology Sunday after its own reporter was paraded on national television "confessing" to false reporting in exchange for massive bribes — a dramatic twist that shifts attention to questions about Chinese media credibility.

The Guangzhou-based tabloid The New Express condemned its reporter Chen Yongzhou for "accepting money to publish a large number of false reports" just days after it ran unprecedented front-page editorials decrying police violation of press freedom and defending his innocence.

The paper's bold editorials for two days calling for Chen's release from police detention initially generated public sympathy and concerns

Chen Yongzhou was shown on state-run China Central Television (CCTV) Saturday admitting that his series of investigative reports,  alleging financial misconduct at a giant engineering firm, were written by others.

For publishing them with his bylines, he claimed he received huge sums, citing a payment of about $80,000 in one instance.

Chen was arrested in Guangzhou October 19 by a police contingent from the neighboring province of Hunan after the series of reports purported to show financial anomalies at Zoomlion, China's second biggest machinery company, which just happens to be 20 percent owned by the Hunan provincial government.

The company is also a major taxpayer of Changsha, the provincial capital, and Zoomlion's stock market value suffered huge losses after the reports. The Changsha police have charged Chen with damaging the "business reputation" of Zoomlion with his reports. 

Referring to its previous condemnation of the police action, the paper said that its "inappropriate conduct ... has severely damaged the credibility of the media."

It vowed stricter policies to screen reporters' stories in order "to value truth" and "obey the laws."

Intriguingly, the paper addressed its "very deep apology" only to "various social circles," not mentioning Zoomlion or any other specific entities. No one was available at the paper's office Sunday to answer reporter's requests for more clarification.

On Saturday, Chen was shown on national television in handcuffs and with his head shaved inside a police detention facility in Changsha, admitting on camera that the desire for money and fame drove him to accept bribes from a middleman in exchange for using his bylines to publish reports about Zoomlion that were written by others.

"I didn't even check these stories, I just submitted then and they got published," he said.

Over a one-year period, The New Express published more than a dozen reports with Chen's bylines claiming abnormal financial practices and false reporting by Zoomlion. The company has denounced these reports as "false and misleading."

During the CCTV interview, Chen did not identify the source of the bribes and the planted stories.