Chinese Reporter Jailed for Supposedly Faking Story

August 15, 2007 Updated: August 15, 2007

Chinese reporter Zi Beijia was jailed after being convicted of faking a television news report about cardboard-filled meat buns.

On August 12 the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court sentenced Zi to a year in jail and a fine of 1,000 yuan (US$132). The government-controlled Xinhua News Agency reported that he was convicted of infringing on the reputation of a commercial enterprise.

According to the Xinhua report, Zi Beijia, 28—once a temp for the “Transparency” Program of Beijing Television's Life Channel—discovered through his investigation in mid-June, 2007 that some restaurants were intentionally making and selling cardboard-filled meat buns. In his eagerness to achieve fame and recognition, Zi fabricated his own angle on the story.

Pretending to be the head of a nearby construction site, Zi approached Wei Quanfeng and ordered a large number of steamed buns for his crew. Meanwhile, Zi smuggled in his own cardboard, flour, and ground pork, as well as equipment for filming the operation. He instructed Wei and others to make twenty buns stuffed with pieces of softened cardboard and flavored with a small amount of fatty pork. Then he secretly filmed the production.

The court claimed that as a current staff member for the “Transparency” Program, Zi Beijia purposefully misrepresented facts and intentionally fabricated a situation but presented it as news, which in turn imposed a malign influence on society. The court found that Zi seriously jeopardized the reputation of the pork bun industry, and had thus committed the crime of infringing on the reputation of a commercial enterprise.

Zi Beijia pleaded guilty to charges of infringing on the reputation of a commercial enterprise during his trial, said the Xinhua report.

On July 8 when the “Transparency” Program broadcast Zi's story of cardboard-filled meat buns, world attention was again drawn to China's poor food safety record, and news outlets throughout the world spread the report. Both in China and across the globe people condemned the country's poor food safety record. On July 16, in response to the report Beijing authorities immediately condemned the report as fake, and placed Zi and his accomplices under arrest.

Yet despite the trial and conviction, many throughout China still believe that Zi's television report was in fact true.

“The event is indeed true. Now even oil floating on the surface of drains is being used. I believe it is not unlikely that a company would stuff buns with chips of cardboard,” said one Beijing local.

“The news has spread overwhelming influence and has even alarmed people [in China]. Beijing is going to host the Olympics. With such a poor food safety record, will athletes and foreigners dare to come here? Quite possibly the conviction of this reporter was a miscarriage of justice. The news of cardboard-filled meat buns has been spread overseas, right? As it may have tarnished the reputation of China, the Beijing authorities exerted pressure on television for running the report. That is why the authorities had no choice but to claim the news of false buns was falsified, right? I really have no idea what could be true in China.”

“I don't believe the news was faked,” said another Beijing citizen. “For journalists, credibility is as essential as their lives. One who told such an absurd lie is either mentally ill or out of his mind. I would not believe the excuse that the whole event resulted from fake news if my life depended on it. I would rather believe the news is true, because there are numerous food safety woes all around us. Our officials in charge of food and product safety are too bureaucratic, while our businessmen are shameless and cruel. Such individuals would certainly make cardboard-filled meat buns if they could get away with it.”

“I believe this event is true,” said another local woman. “Next to the community I live in is a farmer market. Cardboard-filled meat buns were being made in that market. Nearby vendors saw people bringing in lots of cardboard every day, but they had no idea what the cardboard was for. After the news was broadcast, the people who were making the buns disappeared. If there were nothing immoral, why did they run away? Law-abiding store owners still keep their business as usual. I am very disappointed with such authorities who dare not accept the facts.”

“Now there is someone who is brave enough to tell the truth,” she continued, “but he ends up being in such a bitter situation. Who dares to tell the truth in the future? Who dares to speak up for citizens? It's so sad!”