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Chinese newspaper withdraws support for detained reporter after TV confession

By Katie Hunt and Feng Ke, CNN
updated 1:23 AM EDT, Mon October 28, 2013
The New Express had come out in strong support of its detained journalist.
The New Express had come out in strong support of its detained journalist.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese newspaper withdraws support for detained journalist
  • New Express apologizes; said it failed to fact check reporter's work
  • Reporter was detained on suspicion of damaging a company's reputation
  • Analyst says cases shows limits of press freedom in China

Hong Kong (CNN) -- A Chinese newspaper has withdrawn its high-profile support of a detained reporter after he confessed on television to releasing fabricated stories "for money and fame."

The New Express printed a letter of apology on its website on Sunday that said the newspaper had failed to fact-check his articles and would manage its journalists more closely.

The apology was in contrast to the spirited support the publication had given its reporter in the aftermath of his arrest last week. When contacted by CNN, the paper said that it had been asked not to give interviews.

Chen Yongzhou was detained by police in Hunan Province on October 18 on suspicion of damaging the commercial reputation of a business after he published a series of articles that exposed financial problems at Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science & Technology .

China gets tough on foreign television

On Saturday, he appeared on state broadcaster CCTV and confessed to accepting money to publish false reports about the state-run maker of construction equipment.

"I did not check the content of these articles and only made minor changes. The original drafts were provided by other people," Chen said in the interview.

READ: Newspaper makes front-page plea for journalist's release

Chen wrote 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.

In a bold move, New Express had run the headline "Please set him free" on its front page on Wednesday. It reiterated its plea on Friday.

The paper also said it had checked all of Chen's stories about Zoomlion and found only one discrepancy.

David Bandurski, editor of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong, said the newspaper had taken an unprecedented step in its public defense of the reporter but authorities felt it had gone too far.

"You can get away with it if you have the political backing, but if you don't you are stepping into dangerous territory and accurate or not accurate is not the most important question," he said.

He added that the CCTV broadcast of Chen's confession underlined the political nature of the case, given that the legal investigation has not been completed and Chen has not appeared in court.

The reporter's plight had garnered sympathy from other news outlets and China's media regulator vowed to protect "lawful reporting rights," according to the state-run China Press and Publishing Media group.

However, on Sunday the All China Journalists Association said, while it would uphold the legal rights of news professionals, it was "against the abuse of news gathering, making profits through news, news blackmailing, and all kinds of violations of journalism ethics.

"All news professionals should learn a lesson from this, and should be fully aware of the serious damage of profitable news and news blackmailing."

CNN's Katie Hunt wrote and reported from Hong Kong, Feng Ke reported from Beijng

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