BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese journalist arrested last week on charges he defamed a state-owned construction equipment maker on Saturday confessed on state television to accepting bribes for fabricating stories, despite a public outcry over his detention.
Reporter Chen Yongzhou’s lengthy explanation of how he invented negative stories about Changsha-based Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co. Ltd is the latest in a series of televised confessions by suspects in high-profile or politicized cases.
“I’m willing to admit my guilt and to repent,” he said as he sat handcuffed before police in a morning news segment on state broadcaster CCTV. “In this case I’ve caused damages to Zoomlion, which was the subject, and also the whole news media industry and its ability to earn the public’s trust.”
New Express, the state-backed tabloid that employed Chen, had published two front-page pleas for police to release him last week, an unusually bold move that drew widespread attention and sympathy from the public.
The paper’s website did not mention Chen’s confession on Saturday morning.
Rights activists have said that public confessions in China are often forced and violate the accused’s right to due process.
Chen’s arrest, which coincides with new curbs on journalists, lawyers and internet users in China, has drawn attention to the role of whistleblowers as the country’s leadership moves to eradicate graft.
Chen’s reports said Zoomlion engaged in sales fraud, dubious business practices and black public relations tactics, allegations Zoomlion has denied. Chen said in the confession that he had not written the reports, but that a third party had given them to him and paid him to publish them.
CCTV said Chen took bribes ranging from thousands to tens of thousands of yuan for the reports.
The CCTV report did not say who had bribed Chen to fabricate reports about Zoomlion. A Zoomlion employee had publicly accused the company’s hometown competitor Sany Group Co. Ltd of planting the stories. Sany has denied any wrongdoing.
Chen was also paid to visit industry regulators in Beijing and Hong Kong to tell them about Zoomlion’s business practices, the CCTV report said. The China Securities Regulatory Commission said they found no evidence that Zoomlion falsified its sales or financial statements, as Chen alleged, CCTV reported.
The close competition between Sany and Zoomlion, which comes amid a slowdown in the construction equipment market, has sometimes turned ugly, with each company saying the other engaged in corporate spying. Sany’s chairman told a local reporter this year that Zoomlion was involved in kidnapping his son, a charge Zoomlion denied.
Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Michael Perry