BEIJING - A Chinese newspaper issued a front-page apology on Sunday recanting its bold defence of an employee arrested after reporting on "financial problems" at a company, adding another twist to the high-profile media controversy.
The statement was the latest public disavowal of the journalist Chen Yongzhou - despite initial public sympathy after his detention and open support by his employer, the New Express, in a rare act of defiance against the state's strict censors.
"This newspaper was not strict enough about thoroughly fact-checking the draft of the report," it said in a small announcement on a bottom corner of its front page.
"After the incident occurred the newspaper took inappropriate measures, seriously harming the public trust of the media."
The paper, which is based in the southern city of Guangzhou, promised to "make serious corrections" and better ensure that its reporters and editors "comply with professional journalistic ethics and regulations".
The statement came one day after Chen appeared on state television in a green prison uniform to "confess" after being arrested over a week earlier on "suspicion of damaging business reputation".
He had written 15 articles accusing the engineering giant Zoomlion of "financial problems" including inflating its profits.
The All-China Journalists Association also issued a statement on Saturday criticising Chen's actions and saying the newspaper "should also bear responsibility".
The apology by New Express contrasted its initial reaction - a full-page editorial printed days after Chen's detention with the headline "Please release our man" in large black print.
The paper said it had reviewed Chen's reports and found no significant errors.
"We have always thought that as long as we report in a responsible way, there would be no problem," its earlier editorial had said. "But the facts showed that we were too naive."
Zoomlion is about 20 per cent owned by the state, and is listed on the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock exchanges with a total market capitalisation of more than $8 billion.
It is one of China's biggest manufacturers of construction machinery, such as bulldozers, and is a major tax contributor to Changsha city in the province of Hunan.