Chinese newspaper replaces top editors in wake of scandal

BEIJING - The top editors of a Chinese newspaper have been replaced after one of their journalists was arrested for damaging the reputation of a major state-owned construction equipment maker, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

The wrangle over the journalist and his newspaper, the Guangzhou-based New Express tabloid, comes as the government cracks down on freedom of expression by journalists, lawyers, whistleblowers and internet users.

The reporter, Chen Yongzhou, was arrested on Wednesday after confessing on state television to accepting bribes for fabricating more than a dozen stories that said Changsha-based Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co. Ltd. engaged in sales fraud, exaggerated its profits and used black public relations tactics, accusations strongly denied by the company.

The editor-in-chief of the New Express, Li Yihang, and deputy editor Ma Dongjin were both removed from their posts, Xinhua said.

On Friday, the newspaper's parent publication, the Yangcheng Evening News, published an editorial from the People's Daily saying that behaviour like Chen's has "really harmed the reputation and honour of the news media and journalists, and made the whole industry suffer shame".

Chen's case caused a stir when his newspaper published two front-page commentaries last week asking authorities to "please release him" after he was detained - an unusually bold move in a country where newspapers self-censor to avoid repercussions from the government.

On Sunday, New Express recanted its support for Chen and added its own apology, saying it had behaved unethically and damaged the credibility of the news media. Shares of Zoomlion surged on Monday after the news.

Zoomlion told Reuters last week it had complained to Changsha police, who arrested Chen, leading critics to point to Zoomlion's influence over city authorities.

It is not clear who bribed Chen, but Zoomlion has in the past accused its hometown rival, Sany Group Co. Ltd., of planting critical stories about it, accusations Sany has denied.

The feud between the two firms has sometimes turned ugly, with each accusing the other of using sleazy tactics to gain market share amid a slowdown in the industry.

Liu Hongbing, the Communist Party boss of Yangcheng Evening News Group, which owns New Express, will take over as director of the New Express. Sun Xuan, another senior group official, will take over as editor-in-chief.