Two Chinese journalists face corruption charges in Shanxi

New York, December 16, 2008–Police should observe Chinese law and proceed transparently in the investigation of two journalists arrested on bribery charges in northern Shanxi province, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Shanxi public security officials told local journalists on Monday that Guan Jian, a reporter for Beijing-based weekly Wangluo Bao (Network News) who had been missing for 15 days, is in custody in neighboring Hubei province on suspicion of accepting bribes, according to local news reports. According to Chinese law, authorities must inform family or colleagues of an arrest within 24 hours.

In a separate case, four plainclothes officers from Taiyuan arrested another journalist, Li Min, from state-run China Central Television–also on bribery charges–in her Beijing home on December 4, according to Beijing Qingnian Bao (Beijing Youth Daily).

“Investigations into bribery charges should be transparent and fully conducted according to Chinese law,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “We are concerned that bribery allegations can be easily fabricated to wrongfully imprison journalists who dig too deeply in an investigation.”

Guan Jian had been reporting on irregular land deals involving a local real estate company in Taiyuan, Shanxi’s capital, for his newspaper, a Science Times Media Group publication affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Security surveillance footage in a hotel in the city shows five men bundling Guan into a waiting vehicle on December 1, local and international news reports said. He has not been in contact with family or colleagues since then. Guan’s son, Guan Yufei, reported his father missing to local police on December 7, according to Beijing-based financial news magazine Caijing. 

Public security officials in the city of Zhangjiakou in neighboring Hebei province told local journalists on Tuesday that Guan had been detained on suspicion of accepting bribes in Taiyuan on December 1, Caijing reported, but no explanation for the 15-day lapse before making his status public was published.

Authorities have accused CCTV journalist Li Min of accepting gifts from the brother of a businessman involved in a corruption story she was working on, according to local news reports. Some local commentators questioned the fact that the arrest was ordered by a Shanxi district prosecutor implicated in Li’s report. But the country’s highest agency responsible for prosecutions and investigations, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, approved the district prosecutor’s jurisdiction over the case despite the possible conflict of interest, local news reports said.

Corrupt practices exist in Chinese journalism. Gifts or cash payments, made to those carrying press credentials in return for publishing or withholding a story, are common practice, leading to concerns among local media analysts about editorial integrity.

Recent debates about media ethics have cited several cases from Shanxi province. Local journalist Lan Chenzhang was beaten to death at the site of a Shanxi mine accident in January 2007. Police accused him of posing as a journalist to extort money from the mine owners. In October, Hong Kong University’s China Media Project Web site reported Chinese newspapers had raised the issue again following another mining disaster in Shanxi’s Linfen city. Some journalists–and people posing as journalists–reportedly lined up to receive “gag fees” in exchange for suppressing the story.

“There is no question that local authorities in China are in the habit of using charges of corruption to target reporters who are uncovering stories,” David Bandurski, at the China Media Project, told CPJ by e-mail. “But there is also little question that corruption in China’s media is a worsening problem. A general lack of transparency and fairness–in the press, in the courts, in law enforcement–makes it very difficult to know what to make of any one particular case,” Bandurski said.