A 50-year-old journalist has been sentenced to 16 years in jail for taking bribes to cover up a mine disaster in Hebei province in July 2008.
Li Junqi, former director of the Hebei bureau of Farmers' Daily, is believed to be the first of the 10 reporters involved in the scandal to receive criminal punishment.
Thirty-four miners and a rescuer died after a blast ripped through the Lijiawa mine in Yuxian county on July 14, 2008, three weeks before the start of the Beijing Olympics.
According to local media reports, mine bosses relocated bodies, destroyed evidence and paid the journalists 2.6 million yuan ($380,000) to cover up the disaster, keeping the tragedy from appearing in newspapers for 85 days.
Following a State Council probe into the accident, the 10 journalists confessed to taking bribes, resulting in the prosecution of 48 local officials.
The identities of the 10 journalists have not been made public, but reports claim Guan Jian, a Beijing journalist from China Internet Weekly, and Li were among them.
Li was jailed 10 years for taking bribes. He was slapped with a six-year term for corruption on Oct 23 last year by the Chicheng court in Hebei. The Intermediate People's Court of Zhangjiakou upheld the verdict on Dec 31, Li's lawyer Zhou Ze told China Daily yesterday.
According to the verdict, after the mining accident, Li went to Yuxian county to acquire information and asked the local government for a 200,000-yuan "subscription fee" for not reporting the accident.
Li received the money on Aug 23, 2008, and handed over the cash to the cashier of Farmers' Daily in the name of a propaganda fee on Aug 26, the verdict said, adding that the money was not recorded in the newspaper's account and Li had the freedom to use the money.
Investigations further revealed that from October 2006 to May 2008, Li received nearly 100,000 yuan from the newspaper illegally, the evidence of which was produced to convict him on charges of corruption.
Li's wife Lu Jianping and his lawyer Zhou said they will file an appeal against the verdict in the Supreme People's Court soon.
Zhou maintained his client did not take bribes.
"The Yuxian government paid him the money as subscription fees and my client had no reason to refuse. We cannot conclude that Li took bribes ... too many factors can go into a newspaper's final decision," he said.
Zhou said the reporter did not have the authority to decide whether or not to report an incident. "Li was the chief of the Hebei bureau and his major duty was to increase local subscriptions and attract advertisements."
Li's wife said if her husband wanted to take bribes he could have easily made more through advertisement money.
The incident is believed to be the latest in a series of journalistic scandals in China.
Last year, two journalists and 26 people posing as journalists were accused of accepting bribes to cover up a mine accident, in which a worker was killed, in Shanxi province.
Xia Xueluan, a professor of sociology at Peking University, suggested the establishment of an independent supervision administration for the media to prevent such scandals.