Chinese Reporters Jailed For Taking Bribes

(China Youth Daily)  Reporters Jailed For Taking "Shut-Up" Fees In Mining Disaster Case.  February 1, 2010.

According to the investigation by the China Youth Daily reporter, most of the reporters who received "shut-u[" fees about the mining disaster were genuine reporters.  An informed source said that the reporters who came to "gather news" all headed towards the county publicity department.  A fake press pass may fool a coal mine boss, but it can never fool the people at the publicity department.

On January 20, 2010, a Yuxian county publicity department worker confirmed to our reporter that they made detailed checking as well as registered all those reporters who came to "gather news" on the mining disaster in Yuxian.  When asked which media outlets and reporters came, this worker said that while Yuxian county has a list, they won't released it on grounds of "sensitivity."

According to this worker, most of the reporters who came to demand money work for smaller publications.  Some of them were familiar faces who have previously come to "gather news."  But among all the reporters were ones from at least four national media.

Compared to the reporters from the small publications, these reporters from the media outlets with the word "China" in front were particularly hard to deal with.  Yu Dehong said, "it took three or four trips to Beijing to get the matter resolved."

Also, the notes on Yu Dehong indicated that after the Lijiawa mining disaster took place, XXTV's Channel X, XX Digital Television, <Farmers Daily> and <China Industrial Economy News> reporters had been there to gather news.  Gao Dianjun had made a special report to Yu because "the asking prices were very high."

Among the reporters who were known to have taken "shut-up" fees from Yuxian county, <Farmers Daily> Hebei bureau chief Li Junqi has drawn attention.

On August 7, 2008, Li Junqi drove down to Yuxian.  Together with bureau worker Geng Weimin who had arrived earlier, they went down to the mine to gather news.  Then Li Junqi visited the Yuxian county publicity department and said that they had received a tip and wanted to cover the mining disaster.  The Yuxian county publicity department information office director Shen Jianming met the two and said, "the county has established an investigation team.  The situation is unclear.  The leaders are busy working and cannot receive you."  Before Li Junqi departed, he left his business card and said that he intended to report on the matter.

On August 12, in order to make Li Junqi not report on the mining disaster, Yuxian county publicity department deputy director Gao Dianjun, Nanliuzhuang town judiciary department's Ma Jun and the mine boss's brother Li Xiangkui traveled to Beijing.

After calling by phone, Gao and his two companions met with Li Junqi in a restaurant near <Farmers Daily>.  Gao said that he hoped Li Junqi would not report on the case.  Li Junqi replied, "When something this big happens, your county leaders still don't seem to care.  Why don't you get your county leaders to talk to me?"

On August 16, Gao Dianjun and his two companions went to see Li Junqi in Beijing and re-iterated the request "not to report on the mining disaster."

Li Junqi met with Gao Dianjun in his office and said that "the matter must be approved by the newspaper chief."

"Bureau chief Li, please say good things to the newspaper chief."  Gao Dianjun said.

"Is talk good enough?"  Li said.

"What can the county do?"  Gao asked.

"If that doesn't work, you can subscribe to two or three thousand copies of the newspaper.  It will cost 500,000 to 600,000 yuan."  Li Said.

Gao Dianjun said that he "needed to report to the county leaders" and returned to Yuxian county.

On August 23, Gao Dianjun and his two companions returned to Beijing again.  After consulting with Yuxian county publicity department director Yu Dehong and Nanliuzhuang town party secretary Zhao Jinlong, Gao and Li reached an agreement for 200,000 yuan to "to help poor people to subscribe to newspapers."  Gao placed 120,000 yuan on the passenger seat of Li Junqi's car.  That afternoon, Gao gave the remaining 80,000 yuan to Li.

Ma Jun said, "Li Junqi took the 200,000 yuan in the name of helping poor people to subscribe to newspapers.  But this was actually something that both sides understood but did not spell out.  Li Junqi asked us for the money in return for not reporting on the mining disaster."

Afterwards, Li said that there won't be any reporting on Lijiawa mining disaster and they won't leak any information to other media either.

According to Gao Dianjun and Li Junqi, the latter never documented how the money for the "poor people's subscriptions" was received.

According to what our reporter found out, Gao Dianjun and his two companions completed their discussion with Li Junqi and proceeded to work public relations at other Beijing media too.  Nanliuzhuang town mayor Gao Feng even knelt down in front of a <China Industrial Economy News> reporter to beg him.

Our reporter found out that more than one <China Industrial Economy News> reporter took "shut-up" fees over the Yuxian county mining disaster.  An informed source said that reporters Ren Zhiming and Wang Yuexin both took "shut-up" fees.  At the Chinese Journalists Net's <public notice on de-registration of reporters>, Ren Zhiming and Wang Yuexin were both dismissed by <China Industrial Economy News> on December 1, 2008.

Also, according to the notes taken by the procuratorate on Qi Jianhua and Yu Dehong, Qi Jianhua received a telephone call from the former director of a certain county in Zhangjiakou city to say that a certain agency reporter wanted to find out about the mining disaster and wanted to know if Qi and his people was interested in speaking to that reporter.

After taking this phone call, Qi Jianhua immediately reported the matter to Li Hongxing and recommended that Yu Dehong travel to Shijiazhuang and debrief the reporter.  They wanted to use "the matter is currently under investigation" as the reason why the reporter should not come to Yuxian to gather news.

On this trip of Shijiazhuang, Yu Dehong and the Nanliuzhuang town party secretary Zhao Jinlong went together with special local products to see the reporter.  Ultimately, this reporter did not come to Yuxian to cover the mining disaster.

According to informed sources, the powerful "big fish" among the reporters who took "shut-up" fees were able to get away successfully.  Only a dozen or so "small fish" were found guilty by the court.

<Network Daily> reporter Guan Jian was one of those who took "shut-up" fees for the 7.14 mining disaster in Yuxian and his case was broadly reported in the media.

Our reporter confirmed that in late July, 2008, Guan Jian sent a draft copy of his report on the Lijiawa mining disaster to Chang Yifeng, former deputy director of the Zhangjiakou city publicity department for confirmation purposes.  The draft article was read by Zhangjiakou city coal supervisory department chief Du Jianxue and Yuxian county deputy mayor Wang Fengzhong.  On July 29, Wang Fengzhong and others went to see Chang Yifeng and asked him to prevent the reporter from writing about the mining disaster in Yuxian.  Chang promised to help.  For the next few days, Chang was in regular contact with the newspaper's chief editor.  The final deal was 250,000 yuan to purchase advertising in return for not reporting on the mining disaster in Yuxian.

<Network Daily> chief editor Ren Pengyu confirmed that the Zhangjiakou city publicity department ran two full-page advertisements in <Network Daily> on Yuxian county.  The author was Guan Jian.

On December 1, 2008, Guan Jian was taken away by unidentified persons in a hotel in Taiyuan city, Shanxi province.  Just before the Chinese New Year in 2009, Guan Yian was approved for arrest by the Zhangjiakou city People's Procuratorate for "coerced trade."

According to the investigation of our reporter, Guan Jian went to "gather news" in Yuxian with <Popular Reading News>'s reporter Li Hongqiang, <Hebei Economy Daily>'s reporter Liu Wei and about ten others.  These reporters also took "shut-up" fees.

In late 2009, more trials were held at the various district courts in Shijiazhuang, with verdicts being rendered on the more than ten reporters who took "shut-up" fees in the case of the Lijiawa mining disaster in Yuxian county.  However, the courts declined to provide further details about those cases.

Although he was sentenced too, <Consumer Daily>'s Hebei bureau reporter Cai Guohai was "luckier" than the others.  In July 2008, after learning about the mining disaster in Lijiawa (Yuxian county), he and several reporters from other newspapers traveled to "gather news" in Yuxian.  Some time later, Yuxian sent people to pay "shut-up" fees to the reporters in Shijiazhuang city.  Cai Guohai received 45,000 yuan in "shut-up" fees.

Cai deposited the money into his bank account.  In September 2008, he saw reports on the Internet as well as the mainstream media about the big mining disaster in Lijiawa.  He also learned that those reporter friends who "gathered news" with him in Yuxian were being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Bureau of the Yuhua district People's Procuratorate.  Cai Guohai wired the sum of money as Yuxian county publicity fee to his newspaper and purchased a half-page ad for Yuxian even though he did not have any authorization from anyone.

The published information indicates that the Shijiazhuang city Yuhua district People's Court sentenced Cai Guohai to 3 years in jail (with a five-year probation period) in September 2009.  On January 26, 2010, our reporter went to the Chinese journalists' website and used the "journalist identity verification system" to locate Cai Guohai's name.  The results showed that Cai Guohai received his press card on August 2009 after a one-year probation period.  According to the "journalist identity verification system," Cai Guohai is still a reporter with the Hebei bureau of <Consumer Daily>.

Our reporter called Cai Guohai's telephone.  When Cai Guohai's heard that our reporter wanted to know about the situation in Yuxian county, he quickly hung up the phone.

On January 31, our reporter saw that Cai Guohai is still the executive vice-director of the Hebei bureau of <Consumer Daily> according to the directory on their official website.


Companion piece: The Cover-Up Of The Yuxian Mining Disaster


(Reporters Without Borders)  A second reporter arrested after investigating suspected corruption in Shanxi province   December 15, 2008.

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns the arrest of Guan Jian, a reporter with the Beijing-based weekly Wangluo Bao (Network News), while investigating allegedly corrupt real estate transactions in Taiyuan, the capital of the northern province of Shanxi. Guan was arrested on 1 December and has been held incommunicado ever since.

...

:Abuse of authority by local officials is common in this region, which is biggest source of coal in China and is riddled with corruption,; Reporters Without Borders said. :It is becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists to investigate corruption allegations involving officials. We urge the central government to investigate these cases and punish those who are really guilty.;

Beijing News quoted Shanxi Public Security Department sources as saying Guan has himself been charged with corruption. He was arrested at a Taiyuan hotel by police officers from Zhangjiakou in the neighbouring province of Hebei. Video footage recorded by the hotel・s security camera shows him being forcibly taken away in a car by five men.

Guan, 49, went to Taiyuan at the end of November to investigate allegations of illegal land transactions involving a real estate company and local officials. Wangluo Bao has not named the company but it is reportedly headed by the deputy director of the Shanxi People・s Congress.

Wangluo Bao editor Ren Pengyu said to Beijing news he has had no contact with Guan since a call a few hours before he went missing in which he said he had just had a good interview.

Guan・s son Guan Yufei told the Reuters news agency he had not had news of his father since his abduction. :His friends couldn・t reach him, his colleagues couldn・t either,; he told Reuters. :At first we thought he had just gone on a reporting trip, but then after several days when he still wasn・t in touch, we got worried.;

Guan Yufei went to Taiyuan to look for his father but, aside from the hotel security camera footage, came back empty-handed.


(Reuters)  Chinese reporter chasing corruption claims disappears.  By Emma Graham-Harrison and Yu Le.  December 15, 2008.

A Chinese newspaper reporter investigating a suspicious real estate deal who has not been seen since five men pushed him into a car two weeks ago has been accused of bribery, in the second such case this month.

Guan Jian, reporter for the small Network News (Wangluo Bao) paper, was seized by police over bribery allegations, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the Shanxi Provincial Public Security Department.

The case appears to be the second in two weeks involving journalists who colleagues said were targeted for probing graft in a part of north China rich in both coal and corruption claims.

Guan Jian was seized from a hotel lobby in Taiyuan, capital of north China's Shanxi province on Dec. 1 and forced into a waiting four-wheel drive, hotel security tapes showed.

Video footage from the Jinjiang Inn, published in the Beijing News, showed Guan in the lobby when the men arrived. He has not contacted his family since, his son told Reuters.

"His friends couldn't reach him, his colleagues couldn't either. At first we thought he had just gone on a reporting trip, but then after several days when he still wasn't in touch, we got worried," Guan Yufei said in a phone interview.

He travelled to Shanxi to look for his father, who was in the provincial capital, Taiyuan, investigating claims of illegal land-use by a real estate company with official connections.

The younger Guan came back with only tapes of the apparent kidnapping, but said he was hopeful his father was still alive. "We have basically confirmed that he has not had a 'mishap'," Guan told Reuters. He declined to say more for fear of jeopardising the search for his father.

Guan was taken into custody by police from Zhangjiakou city in neighbouring Hebei Province, Xinhua quoted the Shanxi police department as saying.

The Network News held a meeting to discuss Guan's disappearance and decided the best course of action was to work with local police to try to find him, a colleague told Reuters. Police in Taiyuan told Reuters that they were investigating the case, but declined to comment further.


(Caijing)  Web of Silence Tied To Coal Mine Disaster.  By Wang Heyan.  February 27, 2009.

Dozens of local officials and journalists have been detained or arrested for what government investigators say was an all-too-common cover-up of a deadly coal mine accident in Hebei Province last year.

The July 14 blast at the Lijiawa mine in Yuxian County killed 34 miners. One members of a rescue squad also died. Officials linked the disaster to illegal explosives stored at the site.

Local government officials kept the tragedy out of the public eye for 85 days, according to a central government investigation team formed in October by the State Council.
 
So far, authorities have detained at least 25 local officials from Yuxian County and the city of Zhangjiakou. They include the director of the Zhangjiakou Coal Mine Safety Supervision Bureau, Gao Jicun, and the deputy director of the city government・s publicity department, Chang Yifeng.
 
A journalist from Beijing-based Network News, Guan Jian, and mine owner Li Chengkui were arrested as well.
Chang, 48, was accused of accepting a bribe and offering gag fees to reporters in exchange for concealing the incident, Caijing learned. He allegedly pocketed hundreds of thousand yuan.
 
Chang, who worked for the city・s publicity office for years and oversaw government relations with reporters, was detained by the Communist Party's disciplinary agency in early October.
 
Investigators determined that paying reporters for silence was part of Chang・s job. He later confessed to paying gag fees to several reporters, including Guan.
 
Guan・s detention is believed to be connected with Chang・s case. The reporter was seen being taken away by unidentified people December 1, stirring public concern. Fifteen days later, officials said Guan had been arrested by Zhangjiakou police on bribery charges related to the Yuxian accident.
 
A source told Caijing that Li, the mine owner, paid 38 million yuan to several people for help playing down the disaster. After being detained, Li claimed gag fees in the millions of yuan were paid to reporters.
 
Others investigated in connection with gag fees included senior officials from Yuxian・s publicity department, three top county government officials, a local work safety chief, village heads and police officers.
 
A source told Caijing that reporters from dozens of media outlets accepted hush money, including Li Junqi, Hebei bureau chief for the Farmers Daily.
 
Hu Chunhua, acting governor of Hebei, sounded an alert October 7 when he accused local government officials of collaborating with mine owners to cover up the tragedy.
Central government investigators arrived about three weeks later. The Beijing team members came from six government departments.
 
The official Xinhua news agency quoted Peng Jianxun, who headed the investigation team, as saying that the mine owners hid bodies and tried to silence witnesses, including relatives of the victims, offering cash and making threats. Peng said several county officials helped miners with the cover-up.

Sources told Caijing that Li had immediately reported the accident to village and county authorities, but that government officials later decided to launch a cover-up.
 
According to the source, county Deputy Governor Wang Fengzhong went to the site to close and fill the mine. However, a local official said, the actual closure order may have come from several officials, not Wang alone.
 
Yuxian is one of Hebei・s major coal areas. Annual production is about 3 million tons, and tax revenue from coal mining accounts for 40 percent of the county・s revenue. Some 200 of the county・s coal mines are privately owned.
 
More than 100 workers have died in a number of local coal mine accidents since 2002. Unscrupulous reporters have used the disasters to line their pockets.
 
:I am quite sure that the reporters who received money in the recent accident are the same people; who collected gag fees after a tragedy in December 2007, for which a death toll was never released, said a retired county official.
 
Industry insiders blame a disorganized mining industry and distorted regulations for frequent accidents.
 
Caijing learned that a large number of private coal mines are often forced by regulators to suspend operations for various reasons. Most private mines are allowed to operate for only three or four months out of the year.
 
Seeking quick returns, mine owners usually expand operations rapidly and accept hazardous risks, imperiling miners. In addition, a source told Caijing that mine owners whose operations are restricted by the government are known to buy explosives illegally.
 
Government investigators said the July 14 blast was triggered by explosives stored in the mine that Li bought through illegal channels.


(Caijing)  Coal Mine Tragedies and a Veil of Silence.  By Zhu Tao.  May 22, 2009.

A closed-door trial is under way for a Beijing-based journalist accused of aiding in the cover-up of a coal mine accident that killed 34 miners and a rescue worker last summer in Hebei Province.

Guan Jian, a reporter for the weekly newspaper Network News, went on trial April 28 in the city of Zhangjiakou for allegedly accepting gag fees from a local government.

The accident at the illegal Lijiawa mine in Yuxian County occurred July 14, but 85 days passed before the first official details were released to the public, according to a central government investigation team organized by the State Council in October.

Investigators determined that the Zhangjiakou city government's publicity department conspired with journalists to conceal the accident.

So far, authorities have detained at least 25 local officials from Yuxian and Zhangjiakou. They include the director of the Zhangjiakou Coal Mine Safety Supervision Bureau, Gao Jicun, and the deputy director of the publicity department, Chang Yifeng.

Mine owner Li Chengkui also was arrested. And Caijing has learned that Wang Fengzhong, a Yuxian deputy governor, is being investigated for contributing to the cover-up.

Chang was accused of paying gag fees to several reporters, including Guan, who kept a lid on the incident. He was detained by the Communist Party's disciplinary agency in October and later confessed, officials said.

Guan has defended himself by arguing that he simply wrote a news story and submitted it to editors. "But it was not my duty to decide whether it would be published," he said.

According to the procurator prosecuting the case, Network News Chief Editor Ren Pengyu assigned Guan to cover the accident. The reporter arrived at the scene July 20, wrote a report and sent it to the newspaper. Ren told Guan the newspaper would run the story.

An indictment said Guan also sent the unpublished story to Chang on the afternoon of July 24.

Also getting a copy of the raw story was Wang, the deputy governor whose responsibilities include supervision of the local coal industry. After reading the report, he allegedly told Chang "no matter how it's done, hold the case."

Chang then contacted Guan and asked him to delay the report. He explained that the accident was still under investigation, and said he would contact the newspaper when conclusions were reached.

Chang also contacted Ren. The editor allegedly said the story's publication could be postponed, but that the official should negotiate a deal with Guan.

After bargaining, the prosecution says, the Yuxian government paid the newspaper 250,000 yuan for two advertisements as well as a subscription fee of 30,000 yuan V enough for a 100-year subscription. Network News then delayed the report.

Guan was seen being taken away by unidentified people in early December, stirring public concern. Fifteen days later, officials said Guan had been arrested by Zhangjiakou police on bribery charges related to the mine accident.

Court officials have not released a timetable for the closed-door trial except to acknowledge its start date.

The Yuxian accident is only the latest involving a media conspiracy to conceal information. Fu Hua, a journalist for the China Business News, was sued in 2005 for accepting a bribe tied to reporting a construction quality problem at an airport project in northern China's city of Changchun.

Last September, several journalists were accused of accepting gag fees in the cover-up of a coal mine accident in Shanxi Province. And in last December, one journalist went on trial for taking bribes.

Guan's case has attracted wide attention as an example of a conspiracy between local government and media agencies to hide the truth.

Why would a local government pay gag fees? A simple answer is that news about an accident at a surreptitious mine may have a negative impact on political evaluations of the local economy and government performance, since the central government has been trying to crack down on illegal coal mines. A bad report may even lead to removals of local officials.

Rather than simply exchange cash for silence, many local governments buy advertisements. This system, which local officials consider an efficient way to control the news, has been accepted by some media outlets and journalists.

Mine owners, particularly those digging illegally, would rather pay gag fees than handle damage claims and other compensation after an accident. Gag fees are always more expensive, but taking a legal compensation route could prompt a mine shutdown by authorities.

Local governments take the same stance as mine owners, considering media payoffs the most profitable approach to accident publicity. Under such circumstances, though, the media is under pressure to conceal the truth. Moreover, monopolies and market restrictions have been blamed for the kind of information control that can create opportunities for corruption.


(Xinhua)  Journalist gets 16 years in coverup of N China's mine accident   January 6, 2010.

    A 50-year-old journalist has been sentenced to 16 years in jail for taking bribes to cover up a mine disaster in Hebei province in July 2008.

    Li Junqi, former director of the Hebei bureau of Farmers' Daily, is believed to be the first of the 10 reporters involved in the scandal to receive criminal punishment.

    Thirty-four miners and a rescuer died after a blast ripped through the Lijiawa mine in Yuxian county, north China's Hebei Province on July 14, 2008, three weeks before the start of the Beijing Olympics.

    According to local media reports, mine bosses relocated bodies, destroyed evidence and paid the journalists 2.6 million yuan (380,000 U.S. dollars) to cover up the disaster, keeping the tragedy from appearing in newspapers for 85 days.

    Following a State Council probe into the accident, the 10 journalists confessed to taking bribes, resulting in the prosecution of 48 local officials.

    The identities of the 10 journalists have not been made public, but reports claim Guan Jian, a Beijing journalist from China Internet Weekly, and Li were among them.

    Li was jailed 10 years for taking bribes. He was slapped with a six-year term for corruption on Oct. 23 last year by the Chicheng court in Hebei. The Intermediate People's Court of Zhangjiakou upheld the verdict on Dec. 31, Li's lawyer Zhou Ze told China Daily Tuesday.

    According to the verdict, after the mining accident, Li went to Yuxian county to acquire information and asked the local government for a 200,000-yuan "subscription fee" for not reporting the accident.

    Li received the money on Aug. 23, 2008, and handed over the cash to the cashier of Farmers' Daily in the name of a propaganda fee on Aug. 26, the verdict said, adding that the money was not recorded in the newspaper's account and Li had the freedom to use the money.

    Investigations further revealed that from October 2006 to May 2008, Li received nearly 100,000 yuan from the newspaper illegally, the evidence of which was produced to convict him on charges of corruption.

    Li's wife Lu Jianping and his lawyer Zhou said they will file an appeal against the verdict in the Supreme People's Court soon.

    Zhou maintained his client did not take bribes.

    "The Yuxian government paid him the money as subscription fees and my client had no reason to refuse. We cannot conclude that Li took bribes ... too many factors can go into a newspaper's final decision," he said.

    Zhou said the reporter did not have the authority to decide whether or not to report an incident. "Li was the chief of the Hebei bureau and his major duty was to increase local subscriptions and attract advertisements."

    Li's wife said if her husband wanted to take bribes he could have easily made more through advertisement money.

    The incident is believed to be the latest in a series of journalistic scandals in China.

    Last year, two journalists and 26 people posing as journalists were accused of accepting bribes to cover up a mine accident, in which a worker was killed, in Shanxi province.

    Xia Xueluan, a professor of sociology at Peking University, suggested the establishment of an independent supervision administration for the media to prevent such scandals.