- "The entire journalist industry could learn a lesson from me," Chen says
- But his newspaper says it checked his stories and found only one discrepancy
- Police say he was paid for the stories
- His colleagues say he couldn't afford to go to take his wife to Pizza Hut
A Chinese reporter who was arrested last week on suspicion of damaging a business' reputation has confessed to releasing fabricated stories about the company for money and fame, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported Saturday.
"I definitely hope the entire journalist industry could learn a lesson from me," New Express journalist Chen Yongzhou said while in custody in an interview distributed by Reuters. "For myself, if I were given one more chance to be a journalist, I must follow the basic journalistic ethics that are impartial, real, objective and complete to report -- and would not be lured by self interest."
Chen released more than 10 unverified reports -- from September 29, 2012, until August 8, 2013 -- that centered on "financial problems" experienced by the engineering company Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science & Technology and resulted in losses for the company, Xinhua reported, citing police.
Chen, who is based in the southern city of Guangzhou, apologized to the company, to its investors and to his family, police told Xinhua.
He was taken into custody October 18 in Guangzhou by police from Changsha in Hunan Province, where Zoomlion is based, months after the newspaper ran stories under his byline that said Zoomlion had falsified its sales numbers.
The state-run company, which did not respond to a call for comment, makes construction equipment.
The 27-year-old reporter has worked for New Express since he graduated in 2009.
According to police, "other people" paid Chen for the stories, Xinhua said.
"Chen confessed that only 'one and a half' of his more than 10 reports about Zoomlion were done after gathering information himself, while the rest were made based on provided articles," Xinhua said. "He even published some of the supplied articles on the New Express without reading them first."
The announcement came two days after the New Express pleaded on its front page, "Please set him free."
The move garnered sympathy online and China's media regulator vowed to protect "lawful reporting rights," according to the state-run China Press and Publishing Media group.
The paper said Wednesday that it had checked all of Chen's stories about Zoomlion and found only one discrepancy: He wrote the company spent 513 million yuan on advertisements, when that money had been spent on "advertisements and entertainment."
"If Brother Policeman can find any evidence of shabby reporting on our part, please make notice of it and we will gladly doff our hat," the newspaper said, according to a translation published by the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project.
"Because we still believe that -- some day, at least -- you will have the same full respect for the law that we have."