China reporter Chen Yongzhou 'confesses' on TV

Michael Bristow explains the twist in the tale of Chen Yongzhou's confession

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An imprisoned Chinese journalist whose newspaper has made front-page appeals for his release has confessed to wrongdoing on state TV.

"I'm willing to admit my guilt and to show repentance," said reporter Chen Yongzhou. He was arrested over claims he defamed a partly state-owned firm in articles exposing alleged corruption.

State media said he had admitted writing false stories for money.

Several high-profile suspects have made televised confessions recently.


In the footage, detained journalist Chen Yongzhou is paraded for the camera. Handcuffed and flanked by police officers he is marched along a corridor. Then he sits, a lone figure in a green police-issued top, in an interrogation room, making his purported confession. He's clearly susceptible to pressure.

In many countries Chen Yongzhou's detention, and the broadcast of the footage of it, would provoke a legal outcry. Corruption is known in Chinese journalism, stories planted to blacken rival firms. But the facts of this case are murky and this "confession" does little to clear them up.

All China's major construction equipment firms have been under severe financial pressure recently as the economy, so reliant on construction, has slowed. And after Mr Chen's newspaper printed a brave and highly-unusual front-page call for his release, the police have been under pressure too.

The release of the "confession" may be their attempt to regain the initiative. But it's likely to fuel the row, with questions about the role of the police and of state television, and the way they have obtained and aired Mr Chen's admission.

Public confessions have long been a part of China's criminal law.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Beijing says it is impossible to know whether the admission was forced out of him.

Experts say confessions are still routinely coerced, despite an amendment to the criminal procedure law earlier this year forbidding the authorities from forcing anyone to incriminate themselves.

'Hankered after money'

Mr Chen wrote several articles for the Guangdong-based New Express newspaper alleging financial irregularities at a construction-equipment company called Zoomlion. The company denies the allegations.

"In this case I've caused damages to Zoomlion and also the whole news media industry and its ability to earn the public's trust," he told state broadcaster CCTV.

"I did this mainly because I hankered after money and fame. I've been used. I've realised my wrongdoing."

State media said he had confessed to taking bribes, but did not report who might have paid the bribes.

His case attracted huge attention after the New Express twice used its front page to call for his release.

The newspaper has not yet commented on the confession.

Recent Televised Confessions

Media monitoring group China Digital Times reported that the Communist Party's propaganda department had barred newspapers from reporting the story.

An instruction from the department also warned papers to monitor reporters' individual social-media accounts.

But many newspapers have continued to cover the story.

The Southern Metropolis Daily published an editorial accusing officials in Zoomlion's hometown of Changsha of abuse of power over the case.

A screen shot of New Express front page A screen shot of the New Express headline that reads "Please Release Him"

According to the Hong Kong-based China Media Project, the paper had to pull an earlier editorial under pressure from censors.

China's newspaper industry is tightly controlled by a system of local censors carrying out party directives.

But there have been several high-profile rows over censorship.

Earlier this year staff at the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly paper went on strike after a new-year editorial calling for reform was censored.

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