NORMALLY, when Chinese people are accused of spying for Taiwan, the world does not find out until they have long since disappeared.

Yesterday, however, that spicy allegation involving a celebrity television host was presented to the world on the front page of the Communist Party's English-language newspaper.

"Fang Jing, the 38-year-old face of China Central Television's prime-time military program Defense Watch, is being investigated for possibly spying for Taiwan, colleagues told China Daily," the official mouthpiece reported.

"She was rumoured to have been seduced by a man from Taiwan who was 'eight years younger than her' and to have received money from him."

The China Daily story was not sourced to "investigators" or "official sources" but to one of Fang's favourite guests, Rear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong, and a former CCTV colleague, Zhou Yijun, who was also a television anchor and now teaches media studies at Peking University and goes by the pen name A Yi.

He first aired his thoughts about Fang's spectacular rise and fall on his blog, with more than a touch of schadenfreude.

"That elegant and generous sister Fang Jing, who applied to host Defense Watch for the purpose of collecting and leaking military intelligence, finally got arrested on the evening of May 12," he wrote. The blog item has received 181,000 hits since being posted on June 9.

Admiral Zhang, who was Fang's final guest before she "quit" on March 1, told China Daily: "She has not been jailed as is being rumoured. But she is not hosting the program any more because she is currently being investigated."

If Fang has been "taken away" then she still has her broadband connection and her faith in Chinese law.

"Regarding the recent public blog article by someone who has viciously defamed me, I feel most deeply shocked and furious," she wrote on her personal website.

"I hereby testify that everything in that article is baseless. I will use the legal process to maintain and protect my lawful rights."

She has also retained her television anchor's sense of poise as well as her mobile phone.

"I am not a spy," she told the Southern Metropolis Daily, an often adventurous Guangzhou newspaper, which devoted a full page to her saga yesterday.

"Fang Jing sounded calm on the other end, and said she has never talked to A Yi before," it said.

Last night it was far from clear whether Fang's tale was destined to end as a story about a celebrity spying for Taiwan or as a test of China's rather untested unfair dismissal and defamation laws.

What is more clear is how internet technology is transforming the Chinese media and the Communist Party's endeavours to control them.

A year ago the President, Hu Jintao, delivered an "important speech" about his "new pattern of public opinion guidance".

David Bandurski, a researcher at Hong Kong University's China Media Project, explains how it works.

"It is no longer sufficient for party leaders to stopper information through traditional press control tactics (propaganda orders, disciplining of journalists)," Mr Bandurski wrote yesterday on the project website.

"Part of this policy is a first-strike mentality being pushed at central party media and English media such as China Daily; the idea that official versions of the story should be hustled out quickly to take the wind out of the sails of 'Western media' and drive the agenda early on."