China's media regulator defies the authorities to speak out over reporter's arrest

BEIJING (AFP) - China's media regulator has vowed to protect "lawful reporting rights", the state media said, in a rare official intervention over press freedom after a journalist was detained by the police.

Mr Chen Yongzhou, a journalist with the New Express tabloid based in the southern city of Guangzhou, was held on Friday by the police on "suspicion of damaging business reputation" after he wrote 15 articles on "financial problems" at Zoomlion, a partly state-owned construction machinery manufacturer.

The New Express on Wednesday ran a full-page editorial on its front page to call for Mr Chen's release, in a rare example of the media defying authorities that drew an outpouring of sympathy and support online and among its press peers.

China's General Administration of Press and Publication, Radio, Film and Television (GAPPRFT) said it was "highly concerned" by Mr Chen's detention, the China Press and Publishing Journal, which is run by the agency, reported late on Wednesday.

The agency has "coordinated with the relevant authorities" to ensure the case was handled "in a just and appropriate manner", the report said, citing an unnamed GAPPRFT official.

GAPPRFT is a key part of the Chinese government's control mechanisms over the media, and issues the credentials all Chinese journalists need to be able to work.

"The GAPPRFT firmly supports the media to carry out normal reporting activities and firmly protects the justified and lawful reporting rights of journalists," the report quoted the official as saying.

But the official added it opposed any "abuse of reporting rights" and hoped all media outlets would cover the incident in an "objective and rational way", according to the newspaper.

In the published reports, Mr Chen accused Zoomlion of providing fraudulent accounting figures, such as inflated profit data.

Zoomlion is about 20 per cent owned by the state, and is listed on the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock exchanges with a total market capitalisation of more than US$8 billion (S$9.9 billion).

It is one of China's biggest manufacturers of construction machinery, such as bulldozers.