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11/11/2013

News wire service accused of spiking story to avoid ouster from China

Screen shot 2013-11-11 at 8.06.57 AM

Wang Jianlin of Dalian Wanda Group, which last year bought the US movie chain AMC, is now China's richest person. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty

Bloomberg News has written about movie theatre tycoon Wang Jianlin before.

In August, the business news wire profiled Wang in a piece estimating that he has a net worth of $14.2 billion.

Wang, 58, controls companies such as Sunseeker International, a U.K.-based maker of yachts used in the James Bond movies, and is known to sing Tibetan and Mongolian folk songs during his company's annual meetings.

He has a pedigree. His father fought for Mao Zedong's Red Army during the Long March campaign during the 1930s, and also against the Japanese in World War II.

Wang himself served for 16 years in the army before being honourably discharged as an officer.

In recent years, Wang has built a commercial real estate empire.

Now, there are new questions about how Wang amassed his wealth, and accusations that Bloomberg spiked a recent story about Wang to avoid being kicked out of China.

According to a story in the Financial Times, Bloomberg was close to publishing a story about the close ties between Wang and the relatives of top Communist party officials.

But during an Oct. 29 conference call with reporters who worked on the story, Bloomberg editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler said the story would be spiked because it would jeopardize Bloomberg's position in China, the FT reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the call.

A Bloomberg source told the FT that reporters "had crossed the Rubicon. The story was fully edited, fact checked, and vetted by the lawyers."

The report comes days after news that China blocked a visa for veteran American journalist Paul Mooney who was waiting eight months to begin a new reporting job in China for Thomson Reuters.

Winkler would not tell the FT whether he had suggested Bloomberg might be ousted from China for running the piece. “The reporting as presented to me was not ready for publication,” Winkler told the FT.

Bloomberg has built a reputed news service that specializes in covering the financial markets. But the company, founded by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, makes much of its money from computer terminals that are used by securities traders. Bloomberg leases about 315,000 of the terminals around the world for $20,000 each. (Total estimated annual revenue: $6.3 billion.)

China's aristocracy has been under intense scrutiny in recent months. In April, New York Times reporter David Barboza won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for showing the wealth amassed by the extended family of former premier Wen Jiabao.

Following Barboza's reporting, China blocked web access both to the English and Chinese versions of The Times.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

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