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Chinese newspaper apologizes for backing detained reporter

'This newspaper was not strict enough about thoroughly fact-checking the draft of the report,' the New Express said, a day after its reporter 'confessed' on TV.

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Demonstrators call for press freedom in support of the Southern Weekend newspaper outside the company's office building in Guangzhou, on Jan. 8, 2013. (AFP/Getty Images)

A Chinese newspaper apologized Sunday for failing to verify the published articles of its detained reporter.

The New Express, a Guangzhou-based newspaper, had made a rare and highly public appeal for the release Chen Yongzhou, who was arrested for allegedly taking bribes and defaming Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co.

Chen reportedly told authorities that he had accepted money for writing false reports about the partly state-owned company.

On Sunday, the paper said on a small corner of its website that its conduct had “seriously hurt the credibility of the press,” and that its behavior violated the "Code of Ethics for Chinese Journalists."

"This newspaper was not strict enough about thoroughly fact-checking the draft of the report," it added.

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This suspicious change of heart came after Chen, with a shaved head and wearing a dull green prison uniform, admitted on state TV Saturday to the charges against him.

"I'm willing to admit my guilt and to show repentance. I offer sincere apologies to Zoomlion, which has suffered a loss, to the public trust of the news industry as well as to my family who all suffered. For the shareholders of Zoomlion... I apologize too," he said.

Chen's confession and the newspaper's retraction were not taken at face value.

Jeremy Goldkorn, founding director of Danwei.com, a firm in Beijing that studies Chinese media and internet talked to Bloomberg News.

The confession and apology “makes a complete mockery of this 'China is a country under rule of law' nonsense that we get fed,” he said. “I don’t know the specifics of this case, but you don’t get a confession on CCTV unless there is some political element to it.”

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According to the BBC, confessions are often coerced in such cases, despite a Chinese law passed this year prohibiting authorities from forcing people to inform against themselves.

As part of Beijing's large-scale crackdown on dissident press, authorities have issued a new rule that says internet users may face three years jail time if they write something considered defamatory that is re-posted more than 500 times.  

On Sept. 30, another New Express journalist, Liu Hu, was arrested for posting information online that alleged corruption among government officials.  

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/131027/chinese-newspaper-apologizes-backing-its-detained-reporter