Shanghai police detained the chief editor and other journalists at a well-read financial news website for allegedly blackmailing companies into paying for favorable coverage, one of the most high-profile cases yet of journalism for hire in China.
Eight people, some from the 21st Century Business Herald’s website and others from two external public relations companies have been taken into custody on suspicion of demanding money to slant their coverage of companies, most of which were planning initial public offerings, Xinhua reported yesterday. The suspects also published false and malicious reports about “uncooperative companies” that refused to pay, Xinhua said. At least 10 companies in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou were blackmailed by the website since November 2013, Xinhua said.
The case is the latest of example of so-called “red-envelope journalism,” which ranges from cash gifts to friendly journalists to hush money to cover up unfavorable news. State Broadcaster CCTV’s finance channel has been hit by a series of corruption probes since June, and last October, a business journalist at Guangzhou-based New Express newspaper publicly confessed to taking bribes to defame a listed machinery company.
“If you want more good news, you need to pay; if you want less or no bad news, you need to pay as well,” said Qiao Mu, a professor of media studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
The website will cooperate with police on the probe, according to a statement on its verified microblog.
The media company that runs the website also operates the 21st Century Business Herald, one of China’s leading financial and business newspapers. The website, launched in 2008, has been run independently of the newspaper since 2009, with its own financial operation and a largely separate editorial team.
Still, Liu Dong, the head of the website who was detained in the probe, doubles as deputy chief editor of the newspaper. Liu is a veteran journalist with 20 years experience, the Caixin magazine reported.
Corruption is more rampant in financial and business journalism because of “cut-throat competition and little regulatory mechanism” in that area, Qiao said.
“Also, censors turn to focus on the political area and give financial journalism a relative free rein,” Qiao said.