Local officials in Nanpi county, Hebei Province, Thursday fired a land and resources official after being accused of detaining and attempting to bribe a journalist who was reporting on damage caused to farmland by illegal soil exploitation, the Beijing-based magazine China Newsweek reported Thursday.
The magazine said He Zhiqi, deputy secretary of the CPC Nanpi County Committee visited its office Thursday and told editors that local official Xue Wenyuan's actions were unacceptable.
The magazine on Wednesday reported on its Sina Weibo that its reporter, Xu Zhihui, was being held against his will by Xue, who, until he was fired, was the head of the administration office under the county's land and resources bureau.
Liu Wanyuan, an editor from the magazine, uploaded a recorded conversation she had with Xue, in which Xue can be heard to say that Xu would not be permitted to leave the office unless he accepted a 10,000 yuan ($1,600) bribe and promised not to report on the story.
In the recording Xue said, "If Xu leaves, I will die," apparently suggesting Xue was worried the truth would end his career.
The weekly reported on its website that its reporter was held for six hours and when he tried to flee, he was escorted back by local officials.
Liu said Xu had been stalked by local land and resources officials in the county for two days while conducting his investigation.
Xue told the Legal Mirror, a Beijing-based daily, that he did not detain Xu and insisted he was just trying to clearly explain the case to the journalist.
Conflicts between journalists and interviewees often involve a journalist's right to interview, Yao Guangyi, vice dean of the School of Journalism and Communication with the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times Thursday.
"The right to interview is both private and public. Privately, it involves a person's freedom. Publicly, interviews conducted by journalists play an important role in the public's right to know and to supervise the government," Yao said, adding that journalists have the right to report any case involving harm of the public interest.
Current laws do not fully protect reporters' rights to pursue some stories, Yao said.
She also noted that journalists should be fully aware of their legal obligations and rights so they can better perform their duties and protect themselves.