The Cases Behind The Cases Of Journalists Being Arrested

(Southern Weekend)  The Cases Behind The Cases Of Journalists Being Arrested This Year.  By Huang Li.  December 24, 2008.

On the morning of December 4, <Democracy and Legal System Times> reporter Jing Jianfeng faced the court in a low-profile trial in the city of Luliang, Shanxi province.  He was being charged with receiving a bribe.

The occupation of journalist is special.  That is why the frequent cases of journalists being arrested this year caused huge shocks in public opinion in China.

Our investigation showed that the many cases of journalists being arrested all involved other cases behind them, and the informants were arrested as well.  The reporter for <Faren> magazine was charged with "suspected libel," but all the other cases had to do with "suspicion of taking a bribe."  Each of those cases is puzzling and mysterious, which attracted extra public attention.

Let us revisit these cases of journalists being arrested, and contemplate carefully the roles of official authority, the rule of law and the professional code for journalism.


Zhu Wenna was a reporter for <Faren> magazine which is part of the <Legal Daily> group.  On January 1, <Faren> published the article <Xifeng, Liaoning: A Tussle Between Government And Business> written by Zhu Wenna.  Thus came the first shock for Chinese journalism in the year 2008.

At around 10am on January 4, Xifeng county Political and Legal Committee secretary Zhou Jingyu, publicity department director Li Fulu and others arrived at the <Faren> office in Beijing.  They brought with them a document from the Xifeng county party secretary, who claimed that Zhu Wenna's report was seriously inaccurate and has created a bad name for Xifeng.  At the time, <Faren> chief editor Wang Fengbin and Zhu Wenna were present at the meeting.

"If you say that my report was inaccurate, you must produce the evidence.  But they wanted us to publish a positive report.  We could not agree."  Zhu Wenna recalled the 10+ minute meeting to the <Southern Weekend> reporter.  She did not feel that the atmosphere was tense during this meeting.

At past 5pm thaf afternoon, Zhou and Li returned to the <Faren> magazine to discuss the matter of the positive report again.  Once again, they were rebuffed.  Suddenly three police officers barged in and produced an arrest warrant for Zhu Wenna for "suspected libel."  Zhu Wenna was out of the office on business.  When she learned about the arrest warrant, she did not return home that night.

The media were collectively sure that the order for arrest came from Xifeng county party secretary Zhang Zhiguo, because Zhu's report mentioned the dispute between Zhang Zhiguo and the Xifeng businesswoman Zhao Junping many times.

After about half a month of public opinion discussion, Xifeng county rescinded its accusation against Zhu Wenna, Zhang Zhiguo was ordered to resign and Wang Fengbin resigned as well.

The arrest order for Zhu Wenna followed the actual arrest of Xifeng businesswoman Zhang Junping.  In May 2006, the Xifeng county government was building the Northeastern Special Local Products Trading Centre.  In do doing, they forcibly demolished the gas station owned by Zhao Junping.  She was not satisfied with the compensation and issued a SMS: "There is a big case in Xifeng, Liaoning and the perpetrator is the county party secretary named Zhang who has ruled the county for six years with unlimited corruption.  There is a case within the case of the Trading Center, the collusion between businesses and government is pernicious, dark clouds hang over Xifeng county ..."  On March 3, 2007, several dozen cadre leaders in Xifeng county received this SMS.

On March 14, the Xifeng county police began to arrest the family members of Zhao Junping.  Her younger sister Zhou Junhua, and her daughter and her boyfriend were arrested.  On March 21, Zhao Junping was arrested in Beijing while preparing to petition the Central Disciplinary Committee.  Her family members were released afterwards.

At the end of 2007, Zhao Junping was found guilty of libel and sentenced to 18 months.  Along with tax evasion, she was sentenced to a total of 3 years 6 months and a 40,000 yuan fine.

On January 4, the Xifeng police went to Beijing to arrest the journalist Zhu Wenna and the case was reported in the media.  Three or four groups of journalists went to Xifeng.  They found that the Northeastern Special Local Products Trading Centre which was supposed to the biggest one in China with 220,000 square meters and 650 million yuan in investments was quite desolate with only half of the stores occupied.  There were also a lot of relocation disputes involving businesses and farmers.

This reporter obtained a document that the Xifeng county party committee requested the public security bureau, procuratorate and court to assume responsibility for selling the store space, and the sales figures would become the job performance benchmarks for the cadres.

In November this year, the Tieling city Middle Court heard the appeal from Zhao Junping about her libel case and stayed the original verdict.  Zhao Junhua told the <Southern Weekend> reporter that the family intends to petition the Liaoning provincial Supreme Court for another hearing but they have not heard the result so far.

At the end of 2007, Zhu Wenna went to Xifeng.  The Xifeng county party committee did not respond to her request to interview.  On January 1, her article appeared.  The Xifeng police immediately went to the Zhao family home and took away Zhao Junping's sister Zhao Junhua.  "They asked me whether I paid the reporter off, because there was no reason why she would write this way."  Since there was no proof that the reporter took a bribe, Zhao Junhua was released 24 hours later.

In November this year, Zhang Zhiguo was appointed to the deputy commander of the Shenyang Intercity Railroad Traffic Management Office.  After the media reported the appointment and a public opinion hubbub arose, the Tieling city party committee rescinded the appointment.


In April this year, the Beijing city Chaoyang district procuratorate charged <China Business News> Beijing Property Finance Department director Fu Hua with the crime of accepting a bribe.  This case has yet to hold a court hearing.  Fu Hua is presently out on bail.

42-year-old Fu Hua had once been a judge and a teacher.  He has more than 10 years of experience in journalism.  He has been the chief editor/director of newspapers and magazines.  On July 14, 2005, <China Business News> published <Safety standard problems loom, the secret behind the delayed completion of the Longjiabao airport> and <Safety standards must not be cut back> written by Fu Hua and his colleague.  The subject was certain safety problems with the Longjiabao airport in Changchun city.

About two years later in April 2007, the Jilin city Longjiabao airport public security bureau officers came to "collect evidence."  They wanted to know the source of the information.  Fu Hua did not tell them.  At 10am on the morning of June 15, 2007, Fu Hua was taken away by police officers from the Longjiabao airport public security bureau and the Jilin Ministry of Public Security's "Anti-organized crime" Office.

Fu Hua was held at the Changchun city detention center for 28 days.  "My 'confesson' went from 15,000 yuan to 25,000 yuan to 40,000 yuan in order to satisfy their requirement."  Fu Hua told the <Southern Weekend> reporter that in order to make him confess to taking 40,000 yuan, the Jilin police took a series of "special steps."  After posting bail, Fu Hua was examined at a hospital and he was diagnosed with "a broken ninth rib on the right side of his chest cage, soft tissue damage on the right chest and impact injury on the hip muscle."

After this case was sent to the procuratorate of Chaoyang district in Beijing, the charge was altered to receiving a bribe of 30,000 yuan in return for a negative report on the Longjiabao airport.

Longjiabao airport occupies more than 4,200 mu of land and is one of the major projects in Jilin province during the Fifteenth Congress.  Construction began in 2000, but the airport was not yet completed when Fu Hua went out there in June 2005.

In June 2005, Fu Hua received information from his former schoolmate and then Jilin Civil Aviation Bureau Management Office deputy director Zhang Guangtao and another Jilin Civil Aviation Bureau subsidiary company's manager named Li Shen.  He pointed out in his report that "quality issues form an important reason why this airport project has been delayed repeatedly."  According to information, the Longjiabao airport costs 1.8 billion yuan.

After the report was published, the informant Zhang Guangtao was arrested.  In September this year, Zhang Guangtao was tried for bribe taking, graft, offering bribes and deliberate destruction of property in the Changchun City Middle Court.  These charges included giving a bribe of 30,000 yuan to Fu Hua.

The whereabouts of the other informant Li Shen is unknown.  According to an informed source, "Li Shen was arrested before Fu Hua was arrested.  His present whereabouts is unknown.  This was a trilateral relationship: He definitely gave money to Fu Hua and that was why the airport police arrested him."

Fu Hua had received approval from his newspaper to go to Changchun to cover this story.  Before he went there, Li Shen stuffed 5,000 yuan on him and said that the money was for local expenses related to the investigation.  "I declined many times.  He said that if I didn't trust him, then he didn't trust me either.  At the same time, he was very grateful because nobody else dared to cover that story."  After taking the money, Fu Hua said that he "really wanted to turn the money over to the newspaper."  But he said that "this would expose the source."  Ultimately, he did not turn the money over.  "This is not an excuse.  This is something that I will never forgive myself for."


On the morning of December 4, in the largest courtroom of the Linyuan county court, Luliang city, Shanxi province, <Democracy and Legal System Times> reporter Jing Jianfeng was on trial for harboring a criminal, interfering with official business and accepting a bribe.

Jing Jianfeng's troubles were due to the essay <Shanxi province, Luliang city -- black crime gang gets away> that was published in the internal reference publication <Essential News> of the <Democracy and Legal Systems> group.  The source of information came from Cheng Yunqiang, who was the village director of Baijialiu village, Linjia town, Linyuan county.  His principal business was to dig and transport coal for the various coal mines in the area.

According to the report, on October 9, 2007, Cheng Yunqiang and several drivers went to haul coal from the Fushan Coal Mine but got involved in a dispute between the shareholders and were assaulted.  Cheng Weixiu, the younger brother of Cheng Yunqiang, was killed.  Cheng Yunqiang thought that the Lishi  district public security bureau did not properly handle the case and they did not hold the mastermind Shi Weijun respnosible for hiring the killers.  As a result, Cheng Yunqiang began to petition.

Jing Jianfeng investigated this murder case and got himself thrown into jail.

The Linyuan county procuratorate charged him the crimes of harboring a fugitive, interfering with official business and receiving a bribe.  No verdict has been reached on the case as yet.

According to Jing Jiangfeng's investigative report, the Linyuan county Chaoyan town, Tuanjiata coal mine boss as well as the Luliang city Lishi district Fushan coal mine boss Shi Weijun hired a team of thugs and formed his own crime gang.  The coal mines operated illegally and lacked safety procedures.  There had been many clashes between the mine workers and the management.

According to an informed source, the internal report from Jing Jianfeng was noticed by senior government officials who ordered an the investigation of this criminal organization.  But shortly after Jing Jianfeng went to gather information, a Linyuan police warrant was issued on the informant Cheng Yunqiang for "instigating trouble."  Subsequently, Cheng Yunqiang was sentenced to four years in prison for the crime.

Before his arrest, Jing Jianfeng was the <Democracy and Legal System Times> Guangdong bureau chief.  He wrote mainly critical exposés.

At the end of 2007, the informant Cheng Yunqiang became acquainted with Jing Jianfeng, who went to Linyuan county, Shanxi province to investigate the problem with the Tuanjiata coal mine.  On May 9, the Linyuan county police which was the subject of Jing Jianfeng's internal report suddenly arrested Jing and Cheng.  From the opening statements by the prosecution and the defense, we can gleam the complex relationships among the informant, the reporter and the authorities.

Concerning the crime of harboring a fugitive, the prosecutor offering the following evidence: After the case broke open, "Jing wanted to seek help to rescind the Internet warrant on Cheng.  On May 9, Jing recommended that Cheng go and hide out in Xian city and return to Beijing after the warrant is cancelled.  He also asked a friend named Feng to check out the train scehdule to Xian and arranged for friends to meet Cheng there."

The second charge of interfering with official business was that when the Linyuan county police and the Beijing city Haidian district police came to arrest Cheng, Jing attempted to interfere.  At noon on May 9, Cheng and Jing had arranged to meet in front of the China World Trade Center-Apartment Building in Beijing.  Suddenly some men jumped out to arrest Cheng.  Jing said to them: "I am a reporter with <Democracy and Legal System Times> and I am investigating a certain matter."  The other party said that they were policemen and took Jing away.

The third charge was receiving a bribe.  The prosecutor pointed out that during the period when Jing Jianfeng was interviewing Cheng Yunqiang, "all room and board expenses were paid for by Cheng, who even gave Jing a HP notebook computer worth 8,700 yuan."  The defense lawyer for Jing Jianfeng said that Jing gave 5,000 yuan to Cheng to buy that computer, but no concrete evidence was provided.


On December 1, top reporter Guan Jian of <Network News> under the Chinese Academy of Science disappeared mysteriously while investigating a case of real estate dispute in Taiyuan city.  This incident became the hot discussion topic at year's end.

On December 15, the Zhangjiakou city (Hebei province) police suddenly used Guan Jian's mobile telephone to call his family to inform them that Guan has been arrested on suspicion of accepting a bribe.

On December 16, Guan  Jian's lawyer Wang Changwen went to the Zhangjiakou city detention center to ask to meet with Guan unsuccessfully.

What are the details of the bribe?  The Zhangjiakou police are keeping a tight lid on things, so outsiders do not know.  One meaningful detail is that <Network News> had reported negative news about Weiyuan county in Zhangjiakou city.  On September 24 and October 9, the Weiyuan county publicity department had two image advertisements in <Network News> with the text being written by Guan Jian.


In these several cases of journalists being arrested, China Youth College For Political Sciences associate professor Zhou Ze has been the defense lawyer for <Faren> reporter Zhu Wenna and <China Business News> reporter Fu Hua.  Zhou Ze believed that the reporters could not be the main targets for bribery.  That is to say, he believes that none of the charges of bribery against the reporters is supportable.  This view has been controversial.

The principal criteria for the crime of bribery are: A person uses his job position to accept payment from others in return for favors.  Usually, the targets for bribery are government workers and private enterprise personnel.

"Ordinarily, people can look at the nature of a person's organization and determine whether this could be a bribe.  This sort of judgment is incorrect."  Zhou Ze said that the emphasis on the job position is based upon the authority vested in that position which meant that the person has the authority to utilize certain resources.

Zhou Ze believes that the right of a reporter to gather news is related to the exercise of civil rights such as the freedom of expression and the right to know.  This right belongs to every citizen, so the reporter does not have the "power" to obtain favors for other people.

He believes that whether a reporter obtains gains is a matter of professional ethics:  "The law does not oblige the reporter to tell the truth.  While we may believe that reporters ought to expose social ills and refuse to accept money from the interviewees, this is a demand based upon professional ethics.  If the reporter can't do it, he can be criticized.  This is as far as it goes.  We cannot subject him to legal sanctions."

Hong Kong Shuyan University Journalism and Communication Department professor Wei Yongzheng also believes that reporters do not have special privileges above and beyond what ordinary citizens have.  During his interview with <Southern Weekend>, he explained that even the U.S. Federal Court does not give reporter more special privileges than ordinary citizens on the matter of gathering information.

But Wei Yongzheng believed that this does not mean that reporters cannot be the principal targets of bribery.  While reporters do not have special privileges in terms of gathering information, this does not mean that reporters do not have special powers to publish information and guide public opinion.  Reporters are people whom the public trusts to gather information.  When they receive favors, they are being bribed.

China Youth College for Political Sciences School of Journalism and Communication dean Zhan Jiang also believes that the crime of bribery is a crime committed by ordinary people.  According to his analysis, the media have a strong ability to communicate and reporters can use the guise of news gathering to engage in "rent-seeking" behavior.  Besides, the Chinese media have always carry shades of authority because they are associated with certain official organizations.  At the same time, the media also have the authority of the marketplace.  "They are the hybrid product of official and market powers."  Therefore, if the law applies to government workers and private enterprise personnel, reporters are included as well.

In the cases of journalists being arrested, the arresting authorities are almost always the target of media watchdog journalism, or else they have intimate connections with the criticized units.

Therefore, Zhou Ze holds the view that all these cases contain the suspicion that it was revenge by the targets of criticism in the news reports.

In the cases that Zhou Ze represents the defendants, he proposed that the involved units ought to excuse themselves.  Any unit is formed from a set of personnel.  Even if the case is handled by a different person, it would be normal for someone to protect the interests of a colleague.  As a result, the case will not be handled fairly.

Zhan Jiang holds a different opinion.  "When the principal has an inseparable relationship with the authoritative unit," the fairness of the process will be questioned.  He believes that the problem with these cases is not that the disclosed information is untimely or inadequate.  Instead, there are clear procedural flaws, such as prolonged detentions, denial of access to lawyers and so on.


The many cases of journalists being arrested has caused a great deal of uneasiness within the profession.

Former <Legal System Daily> reporter Li Yong (better known as "Ten Years Chopping Wood") is regarded by netizens as having hit the point: "Given the state of Chinese media today, how many reporters can come out and proclaim that they have no flaws?  ... even if the reporters pay extra care to be stay within discipline, how can they guarantee that they won't be nailed on some detail in this complicated society?"

Zhou Ze believes that the Chinese people hold a very common attitude towards reporters.  When you report on something, they will first wonder if you obtained some special favors.  For the government authorities, if you expose me, you must have been paid off.  If you did get some favors, you have committed a crime and therefore I can arrest you.

But other media experts point out that this kind of social attitude was formed from the examples of certain unethical reporters.

The cases of arrested journalists has caused journalists to reflect about themselves.  Wei Yongzheng pointed out bluntly: "Chinese reporters are known worldwide for their corrupt behavior."

Zhan Jiang summarized Chinese media:

The first type covers the media which operate according to market laws, they hold clear modern journalistic concepts, they pay attention to professional ethics and they separate reporting from operations.

The second type covers the media which are not as involved in the market.  There are two sub-types.  The first sub-type is the traditional media powerhouses such as party newspapers, party television stations and party publications under the political system.  These sub-types are structurally corrupt and engage in activities such as taking money to sing praises, receiving "red envelops" to print soft articles and so on.  The second sub-type are semi-official newspaper which have neither credibility nor market power.  Under the special circumstances in China today, these newspapers can neither live nor die easily.  So the easiest way is to have corruption within the organization, such as having local bureaus all over China not so much to collect news but to make money.

These semi-dead media have to chase after dirty money in order to subsist.  "The dirtiest money is from the coal mines.  Around the coal mines cluster the corrupt reporters."  Zhan Jiang said that the case of the gag fees is such an example.

Xu Xun said that these problems arise because the reforms have not been thorough enough.  First of all, some media organizations do not differentiate between their reporters and ad sales people.  For reporters in those media organizations, the standard of "success" is to publish an article and get money at the same time.  This corrupt system forced people to prostitute themselves.  If you want to stay clean, you can't earn a living.

Secondly, there are different grades of media workers.  For example, CCTV reporters are divided into workers within the system, workers employed by the stations, workers assigned to the station, workers borrowed from elsewhere, freelance workers and so on.  They are treated and paid according to their statuses.  A reporter faced with such pressures will find outside income in order to compensate for the internal shortfall.

Thirdly, the standards of journalistic ethics are still weak.  The most important professional document on professional ethics in journalism is the <Chinese journalists' rules of professional ethics>.  It was introduced in 1991 and revised in 1997.  It has never been revised since.  Over the past ten years, Chinese journalism has developed rapidly with a big expansion in the workforce.  As a result, there are a number of brand new problems in professional ethics.  For example, court trials in the media, deliberate cover-ups of the truth, violence and bloodthirstiness, pornography, vulgarity, paid stories, fabricated stories, exaggerated hypes, cold and callous coverage of disasters and tragedies, misuse of undercover and secret tapings, violation of privacy (especially those of minors), staged television stories, receiving gifts and services from the interviewees, etc.  The "rules" (and the current working draft of the revised rules) contain no response or guidance on these problems.

Xu Xun believes that the solution of corruption in journalism lies in the furtherance of the market reform of the media industry.  First of all, the basic rights of journalists should be guaranteed under the system and thus the basis of corruption will be rooted out.  Next after that comes self-discipline with the profession.  "Reporters make a living from talking.  When someone decides to shut up in order to make money, the entire profession ought to condemn that behavior."

"If reporters want to fulfill the public expectation that they carry out their role as monitors, they must clean themselves up first."  Wei Yongzheng said that being a reporter is a high-risk occupation and it is impossible to do so without the will to sacrifice.  "When a reporter is corrupt, how can he expect to watch over the authorities and other people?"  Wei believes that being clean is an ethical requirement in this profession, and it is also a means by which reporters can protect themselves.

(South China Morning Post)  Journalist jailed after exposing safety flaws   By Verna Yu     December 19, 2009.

A mainland journalist was jailed for three years on bribery charges yesterday - but his lawyer insisted he was the victim of government retaliation after exposing shoddy airport construction work.

Fu Hua , a former Beijing-based correspondent for China Business News, was convicted for taking 30,000 yuan (HK$34,000) in bribes from the deputy manager of Jilin Civil Airports Group, who tipped him off on construction quality problems, Fu's lawyer Zhou Ze said.

The deputy manager, Zhang Guangtao, was frustrated his boss did not pay due attention to quality and safety problems at Changchun Longjia International Airport, then being built, and decided to report the story, Zhou said.

Fu's two articles were published in July 2005 shortly before the airport opened. Jilin police arrested and detained him for a month in 2007 and he was later released on bail.

Fu was summoned by Beijing's Chaoyang District Court on Tuesday. When he turned up on Wednesday, he was immediately arrested and jailed, Zhou said.

Fu had admitted taking 5,000 yuan from Zhang's representative, but told his lawyer that the representative said it was to cover transport and other expenses during his trip, and he felt it was rude to refuse. Zhang was also arrested.

After Fu's articles were published, many websites picked them up, but they were quickly deleted. According to a state media report, Zhang's representative later gave Fu an additional 10,000 yuan to persuade 10 websites to post them back online.

"I feel very angry," said Zhou, who accused Jilin aviation authorities of retaliating against Fu. "Aviation authorities mobilised their own police force to arrest him - that is terrifying."

Bribery charges normally apply to state employees who accept money, lawyers say. Zhou said the charge should not apply to journalists, even though all journalists on the mainland are technically state employees, because they have no official power. He argued that Fu was only fulfilling his duty as a reporter when he wrote what he found to be true.

He would help Fu appeal, he said. "He has erred on professional ethics [by accepting money] but ... if you see it in the perspective of how things are in China, it wasn't really a big issue," Zhou said.

Taking handouts is widespread among mainland journalists, who are often paid meagre salaries. Organisers of press conferences habitually give hongbao, or red packets, stuffed with hundreds of yuan in the hope of getting favourable write-ups.

Phone calls to the court went unanswered yesterday.

Fu said at a media freedom seminar last month that his employer fired him afterwards. "If you don't have the backing of powerful employers like Xinhua and China Central Television, then you should not take on the authorities because it is just like attempting to break a rock with eggs," Fu said.

A report released by Zhou, a former journalist, earlier found that more and more journalists had faced charges for accepting bribes during the past two years. Critics say authorities are increasingly punishing journalists under the pretext of a corruption crackdown.