Reporter the fall guy for Chinese crisis

Wang Xiaolu, a business reporter, was detained last Tuesday after claiming China’s securities regulator was pondering ending interventions aimed at stabilising the stock market. The story, published on July 20, came at a highly sensitive time.

Weeks of stock market turmoil sent political shockwaves through Beijing, with some now openly questioning the future of prime minister, Li Keqiang, and others attacking President Xi Jinping’s botched handling of the financial debacle.

The market chaos in China led to stock market sell-offs around the world. In Europe, markets suffered their worst month in four years in August, with the continent-wide FTSEurofirst 300 index down 9%.

The Dax in Germany lost another 0.4% last Monday, with France’s Cac off 0.5%. The Dax fell by 9% in August; the FTSE 100, which was closed for the August bank holiday on Monday, lost 6.7% in the month.

A visibly tired Wang apologised for his story in a confession aired last Monday on state broadcaster CCTV.

“I shouldn’t have published the report at such a sensitive time, especially when it could have great adverse impact on the market,” he said.

“I shouldn’t have caused our country and shareholders such great losses just for the sake of sensationalism and eye-catchiness. I’m regretful of what I have done and am willing to confess my crime. I hope the judicial authorities will give me a chance and handle me leniently,” he added.

China’s news agency, Xinhua, said Wang had been placed under “criminal compulsory measures” last Sunday. He was suspected of “colluding with others and fabricating and spreading fake information on securities and futures market”, Xinhua reported, adding that Wang admitted basing his report “on hearsay and his own subjective guesses without conducting due verifications”.

In recent years, activists have expressed extreme discomfort at the growing number of people paraded on Chinese TV to make such so-called confessions, including Gao Yu, a veteran journalist jailed in April for leaking an internal Communist Party document; Charles Xue, a venture capitalist and blogger; and Peter Humphrey, a British private investigator released from prison in June after nearly two years behind bars.

Speaking earlier this month, Eva Pils, an expert in Chinese law at King’s College London, said so-called televised confessions were being used more and more against government critics including human rights activists, journalists and lawyers.

“I have heard previously of people being forced to make statements in front of a camera without that later being shown,” Pils said. “But I think that now clearly … they have also tried to get these filmed confessions and to broadcast them.”

David Bandurski from Hong Kong University’s China media project told the Financial Times: “This isn’t about the factual nature of his reporting, it’s about the political impact. This looks like a vendetta.”

A statement on Reporters Without Borders’s website called for Wang’s immediate release. “Suggesting that a business journalist was responsible for the spectacular fall in share prices is a denial of reality,” said the group’s Christophe Deloire. “Blaming the stock market crisis on a lone reporter is beyond absurd.”

China’s market calamity has been splashed over front pages from Delhi to Dubai. Beijing’s powerful propaganda department has forced its own media to all but ignore it.

A leaked government directive said: “Do not conduct in-depth analysis, and do not speculate on or assess the direction of the market. Do not exaggerate panic or sadness. Do not use emotionally charged words such as ‘slump’, ‘spike’ or ‘collapse’.” – © Guardian News and Media 2015

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