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Reporter accused in Da Vinci scandal

(Global Times)

08:34, January 05, 2012

In a dramatic twist over the weekend, high-end furniture dealer Da Vinci accused a reporter from China Central Television (CCTV) of extortion, a charge flatly denied by the journalist in question.

Analysts warned yesterday that the scandal could lead to public doubts over the media's credibility, and called on related departments to fully play their role in quality supervision and law enforcement.

Doris Phua, Da Vinci's founder and CEO, said Monday the company has filed a case to authorities accusing Li Wenxue, a reporter from CCTV, of extorting 1 million yuan ($158,871) from the company.

Phua alleged that Li fabricated reports on Da Vinci's products, which were aired July 10 and 17.

The reports accused the Singapore-based Da Vinci of falsely advertising its furniture as being Italian-made and selling pieces at high prices by first manufacturing them in Guangdong Province and then shipping them to Italy, before bringing them back to China.

The quality of the furniture was also called into question in the reports.

After the revelation, Da Vinci admitted that it had cooperated with domestic suppliers and that not all products imported from Italy were made of solid wood.

The company was fined over 1.33 million yuan by the Shanghai Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) on December 23 over quality problems.

However, in an interview with Century Weekly magazine published late December, Phua said after the CCTV reports, the company contacted Li in a bid to settle the matter outside the courts.

"Li said they still have some 500 minutes of content on hand, but would not necessarily broadcast them. On July 25, Li demanded 1 million yuan through a middle man, and we transferred the money three days later," Phua told the magazine.

The company claimed that Li's reports used fake victims' accounts and deliberately ignored a statement from the SAIC that Da Vinci products had all the necessary customs paperwork.

A Da Vinci spokesman also told The Straits Times that Li tried to threaten the personal safety of the company's chairman, Tony Phua.

Responding to Da Vinci's accusations, Li issued a personal statement on CCTV's website taking responsibility for the authenticity of the two reports and saying that Phua was slandering him.

Li added that he would use legal means to safeguard his lawful rights and also request an apology from Phua.

The scandal stirred up heated discussion among the public. Apart from blaming Da Vinci for bribery and counterfeiting, people also questioned the credibility of the media in exposing such cases.

Pan Shiyi, chairman of SOHO China, said in his Sina microblog account that this matter reminded him of years ago when he was often blackmailed by media who requested advertisements to replace negative reports.

In a similar case in 2006, Li Ling, who claimed to be a journalist with, was sentenced to four years in prison after he tried to extort 3.8 million yuan from a company by threatening to report scandals concerning the firm.

Yu Guoming, a professor of journalism at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that there are indeed some "rotten apples" in the media who have smeared its reputation as it plays an increasingly important role in monitoring society.

"But it is too early to make a final judgment on this matter before the investigations from judicial departments reach an outcome.

"But even if the extortion did happen, the problems that Da Vinci has can't be covered. Otherwise, why was it willing to pay such a big sum to appease the scandal?" Yu asked.

Liu Xiaoying, a professor from the Communication University of China, said the credibility of CCTV and even the entire media industry would be greatly sullied if the charge against Li were proved true.

"Media corruption exists in China and is showing a tendency to grow due to the lack of supervision and some undisciplined journalists," Liu said.

"It's undeniable that it's difficult to conduct investigative reports in China, but that doesn't mean reporters can slack off during reporting."

Liu also noted that such cases indicated the absence of the relevant authorities.

"Product quality problems are supposed to be uncovered through quality supervision departments, but now it seems that the media is shouldering excessive responsibilities in an independent monitoring role," said Liu.

"The absence of authorities makes journalists exceed their responsibility sometimes, which triggers disputes."


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