A journalist from mainland China has issued a personal statement to refute government criticism that he was manufacturing fake news when reporting the death of a local official last year.

Wang Xing, a former reporter at Southern Metropolis Daily, was one of 17 journalists at 15 media outlets who were punished recently by the authorities for writing and publishing fake news, according to the state news agency, Xinhua.

mainland journalist wang xing
Journalist Wang Xing. Photo: HKFP

Wang had his licence as a journalist suspended for five years by China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) as a result of his report, published in December, about the suspected suicide of Henan official Ding Pinglin.

The SARFT said Wang’s report “has serious discrepancies with the facts” as Ding died of a heart attack, not suicide. In an announcement carried by Xinhua, SARFT also said Wang was “urged to quit” the liberal-leaning Southern Metropolis Daily because of this report.

Wang admitted in his statement that he had not done enough to confirm the cause of Ding’s death but denied he was fabricating news, which was the authorities’ stated reason for suspending his licence.

“This piece of news indeed had serious problems. Without sufficient evidence, I quoted a source which I had assumed to be authoritative and reported the victim’s death as suicide. Later investigation showed he died of a heart attack. This news may have caused great harm to the victim’s family, this is an unforgivable mistake.”

However, Wang said he “could not agree” with SARFT’s accusation that he was “fabricating fake news, using methods such as making news reports out of thin air, hiding facts and creating false impressions.”

Wang revealed that he had trusted his source because the information came from the local Henan government. His report also discussed the suicides of ten other officials across China over a three month period.

At the end of the statement, Wang said he had resigned from the newspaper in February of his own accord and before the authorities started to investigate his report.

mainland journalist wang xing
Wang posted the statement on Weibo. The link could not be opened on Tuesday. Photo: weibo

Wang’s statement, issued on microblogging site Weibo at 6:50pm on Monday, was shared more than 2,000 times. However, it has since been censored.

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.