Apple is "working behind the scenes" to help resolve a dispute between its iPod manufacturer, Foxconn, and local Chinese journalists who blew the whistle concerning poor working conditions at the giant iPod plant.

"Apple is working behind the scenes to help resolve this issue," Apple spokesman Jill Tan said, but could provide no additional comment.

The Chinese courts this week froze the personal assets of two journalists from the China Business News, writer Wang You and editor Weng Bao.

This followed reports in the Chinese newspaper and the Mail on Sunday that alleged labour abuses at the iPod factory. Foxconn is suing the journalists for defamation of character.

Influential journalist's advocacy group, Reporters Without Borders, yesterday called on Apple to persuade Foxconn to drop its action against the two reporters.

A letter from Reporters Without Borders secretary general Robert Ménard beseeches Apple CEO Steve Jobs: "We know that Apple is already aware of this case. After the London-based Daily Mail newspaper ran a story about it on June 11, your company reacted by investigating conditions at Foxconn's plants and discovered that your supplier had indeed violated several aspects of your code of conduct, including those concerning the length of the working week and days off."

The letter points out that all the journalists have been guilty of was to report facts, which Apple clearly needed to know in order to ensure its strict guidelines for manufacturers are maintained.

Foxconn meanwhile claims to have been recognised by local Chinese government authorities as a "role model".

The China Business News has vowed unconditional support for its journalists in this case.