Correction to This Article
In a Jan. 25 article on blackmail by Chinese journalists, Hua Kejian, Liang Yongjian and Song Yi were named by several knowledgeable sources as participants in a blackmail scheme. Hua, Liang and Song deny they were part of the scheme or knew about it. They say that, however those involved in the scheme portrayed it, they never had any intention of accepting money in return for withholding news.
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Blackmailing By Journalists In China Seen As 'Frequent'

"As soon as I heard about it," Gou said in an interview, "I wanted to verify what was going on."

Gou, 32, arranged with Bai to be in her car that evening as a witness.

When Bai got out of her car and approached Zhou, the two exchanged pleasantries for several minutes, and Zhou patted her on the shoulder. But when Zhou looked inside the envelope, he complained because she had not divided the cash into three bundles as requested, according to Zhou and others.

Zhou, in the interview, said he showed up alone to collect the money because the three other reporters were busy and he wanted to do them a favor. Gou, the bureau chief, said that "a lot is unclear" about what was really going on. In any case, Gou got out of the car after taking the photographs and confronted Zhou, who promptly handed the envelope back to Bai.

Returning the money was not enough, Gou said, and ordered Zhou to follow him to the office. Once inside, Gou started writing a memo about what had occurred and demanded to see Liang, the other reporter from his paper.

Liang reported to Gou's office looking embarrassed, witnesses said. "There's nothing wrong with my reporting," he maintained, according to the witnesses. For his part, Zhou said that the ringleader was Nanfang Daily's Hua Kejian and that he himself was only trying to help Bai get through a difficult time.

Unmoved, Gou fired Zhou. Liang was spared for lack of evidence, he said, and continues to work in the bureau. Hua Kejian and Song Yi also remain at their jobs.

At the bureau's regular weekly meeting on Oct. 10, Gou told his staff that the Zhou Yu case was a "shame" for himself, the bureau and the newspaper, besmirching its "glorious history," according to a record of the meeting.

After investigating, Gou told his reporters that he was convinced this was a unique case; he threatened to fire any others caught engaging in such conduct. "If anyone feels he can only make a living by blackmailing people, he should leave," Gou said, according to the record. "This is not the place for you."

But he also acknowledged that Shenzhen has an "unhealthy environment" in which such corruption can flourish. One of his own reporters has asked him repeatedly to withhold certain news, he complained.

Shenzhen journalists said that, in addition to blackmailing, reporters and editors regularly receive payments from businessmen and officials in exchange for publication of favorable articles. Instances range from the 300,000 yuan paid to a newspaper recently for an article praising Shenzhen's city government to "red envelopes" containing "transportation money" for reporters who show up at news conferences. The practice is encouraged, they added, by a system in which reporters are also responsible for selling advertising and subscriptions to the institutions and businesses they cover.

The payoffs have become so accepted that a reporter who showed up this month at a news conference called by an Internet software company here complained loudly and walked out when he discovered he would be given only a bottle of mineral water, according to other reporters present.

"I would say there are problems in the Chinese media world," one of them commented.

Zhou, meanwhile, said he feels betrayed by Bai for denouncing him to his boss. He no longer has any contact with his former colleagues Liang, Hua and Song, he said. His girlfriend seems to be the only one who believes his version of what happened that evening, he complained. His dreams of being a great journalist have dimmed, he added, and now he plans to start a trading company.

"I'm not thinking of the news business anymore," he said, smiling. "This had too much of an impact on me."

Researcher Jin Ling contributed to this report.

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