2016-12-19 12:11:47  + video 

The party secretary of a county in northeastern China has publicly apologized to two journalists who were assaulted by police on Friday.

Wang Shuwei, party secretary for Gannan County in Heilongjiang province, told state-owned China Education Television in an interview Sunday that he felt responsible for the incident and apologized to the reporters and their families. 

Two reporters for a newspaper affiliated to the television station had been beaten up while on assignment to investigate the operations of school canteens in the county. The reporters were looking into complaints about a private company that had been contracted to provide meals at schools in the area. At one school, they found that the company only allowed students to charge their meal cards with at least 300 yuan ($43) per time — a significant amount in Gannan, which is officially designated an impoverished county.

The party secretary of Gannan County apologizes for police beating up journalists.

The trouble began after the pair had interviewed pupils on a school playground in Xingshisi Town. They were stopped by school staff and taken away by police. At the station, the two were roughed up, the newspaper said. In a recording made at some point during the incident, one of the journalists can be heard saying “Call Director He, I’m being beaten!” It was not immediately clear who He is.

Medical results released by a local hospital show that one journalist was diagnosed with a head injury that required treatment. The other reporter suffered a bruised elbow.

According to an investigation by the Gannan government into the incident, the behavior of the Xingshisi police deputy chief was “simple and rough.” It said he had pushed and beaten the journalists, and had been dismissed from his position. The police station chief, meanwhile, received a warning.

The journalists said that they thought the punishment was too lenient, and requested a face-to-face apology from both the school and police.

Following the incident, the education bureau of Heilongjiang announced an urgent inspection of the province’s school canteens. In 2011, the province banned private companies from providing school meals, but existing contracts were allowed to finish their terms. Schools in China receive government subsidies to provide lunches.

Earlier in December, a journalist reporting for Henan TV was assaulted by a courthouse security guard. The security guard was detained following the incident.

In his statement, Wang, the county secretary general, also said he supported the investigation by provincial authorities. “Subsidized school meals should be nutritious,” he said. “They shouldn’t have the taste of corruption.”

(Header image: An X-ray shows evidence of an injury to one of the journalists’ right elbow, Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province, Dec. 16, 2016. VCG)