China jails 2 reporters accused of faking stories

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese court on Friday jailed two journalists accused of taking bribes and smearing an engineering company with fabricated articles, one of a series of recent scandals surrounding the state-controlled media.

The Yuelu District Court in the central city of Changsha sentenced Chen Yongzhou to one year and 10 months in jail for what it said were false reports accusing construction equipment manufacturer Zoomlion of announcing phony financial information. Chen was also fined 20,000 yuan ($3,300) and forced to turn over 30,000 yuan (5,000) in alleged bribe money.

The co-writer of the articles, Zhuo Zhiqiang, was sentenced to 10 months and fined 10,000 yuan ($1,600).

Zoomlion's share price took a hit after numerous websites picked up the articles, originally published in the New Express newspaper, which fired the reporters and ran a front-page apology.

The court didn't say who bribed them or why, although stock manipulators and extortionists increasingly employ false media reports for financial gain or to inflict harm.

Business news in China is especially fertile territory for corruption because many executives are willing to pay bribes to win a competitive edge, and many low-paid journalists turn to extortion to make extra money.

Last month, police in Shanghai detained the chief editor and several employees of an influential website belonging to the 21st Century Business Herald newspaper on allegations they extorted money from companies by threatening to publish negative reports.

Separately, a reporter for the Hangzhou Daily in eastern Zhejiang province allegedly took more than 300,000 yuan ($49,000) from a public relations company in return for positive coverage. Reporters covering the coal industry have also been known to accept bribes or advertising contracts in exchange for covering up deadly mining accidents.

Even state broadcaster CCTV has been implicated, with the director of its financial news channel accused of demanding hefty public relations fees to avoid negative news coverage and offering positive coverage in return for advertising contracts and stock options.

Experts say the corruption is enabled by China's lack of a free press and independent media watchdogs that could expose false reports.