Police in East China's Jiangsu Province have detained, on suspicion of blackmail, an accredited journalist and five men who were recruited to pose as journalists and a Beijing-based newspaper has been ordered to cease publication, the Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday.
The arrests were made following a China Central Television (CCTV) investigative report, which secretly recorded Li Deyong bragging about how much money he made by promising companies not to publish stories about some alleged wrongdoing.
"No other job is better than this one. In April, 2012, I bought two cars with the money I earned this way," Li told a CCTV's reporter.
Li and his accomplices visited companies and agencies in local economic development zones in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shandong provinces demanding interviews with the bosses. He questioned the companies about their environmental safeguards and asked local agencies about land requisition practices. Li told a CCTV reporter that the companies paid between 1,000 yuan ($160.21) and 15,000 yuan for not printing stories that would have made them look bad.
One of Li's recent recruits, a man surnamed Cai, who was recruited by Li, told CCTV in a face-to-face interview that Li recruited several people to pose as reporters and visit the companies. They shared sources and information relating to the companies so that they could each visit them at different times and demand money.
Cai also said Li sold fake press cards for as much as 10,000 yuan, ensuring the buyers they could make money by blackmailing the companies.
China's General Administration of Press and Publication Wednesday has banned Li from working as a journalist for life and ordered his newspaper, the Shopping Guide, to cease publication. Li's name still appears on the list of reporters working for the Shopping Guide on the official website of China's General Administration of Press and Publication.
Along with a genuine press card, Li also had five forged press cards, according to China Press and Publication News.
"Li abused the power of the media to satisfy his own personal interests. Journalists should serve the public interest and expose and supervise the problems of society. This case reflects corruption in China's media," Zhou Baohua, an associate professor at the Journalism School of Fudan University, told the Global Times.
The prevalence of paid news such as advertorials in the media also fed Li's lack of journalistic ethics, said Zhou. "We all know paid news negatively affects the media. Their credibility and impartiality are impaired. Without common ethical and professional rules and punishment, paid news will continue to exist."