A former chairman of the company that publishes one of China's most prominent business newspapers has been sentenced to four years in prison on charges he led an extortion ring that coerced companies into paying to avoid negative coverage.

A court in Shanghai announced Shen Hao, former chairman of the 21st Century Media Co., was convicted Thursday of extortion and other offenses. He also was fined 60,000 yuan ($9,500).

The court said 21st Century Media, which publishes the 21st Century Business Herald and other newspapers, was fined 9.5 million yuan ($1.5 million).

Earlier reports by state media said companies were coerced into paying about 300 million yuan ($50 million) for advertising and were threatened with negative news coverage if they refused.