Once the favorite TV network of mainland viewers, Phoenix TV has been going through difficult times in recent years, with both its ratings and ad revenues falling into continuous decline.
To make things worse, according to sources, the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China has halted its late-night political talk shows such as the highly popular Behind the Headlines with Wen Tao, Current Affairs Debate and Peter Qiu’s Talk.
It is said that these shows were ordered off the air immediately because their hosts, as well as their production crew, had made serious “libertarian ideological mistakes”, which were deemed intolerable by the authorities as the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party is just around the corner.
It is believed that the disappearance of these talk shows, which have remained Phoenix’s signature and best-received programs over the years, would further exacerbate the declining ratings of the network.
Founded in 1996 and based in Hong Kong, Phoenix TV was once a sensation among mainland TV viewers, who were fed up with being spoon-fed party propaganda by the state media, and who were desperate for news programs that were able to provide insights into current events from an alternative perspective.
And the main reason Phoenix TV managed to amuse mainland viewers with a different perspective in news coverage was that it was regarded as a “foreign” media outlet by mainland officialdom in the past.
Thanks to its uniquely vague identity, Phoenix was allowed relatively more freedom and flexibility in covering mainland news, which gave it a definite advantage over other state media outlets such as CCTV and enabled it to gain favor with the mainland TV audience quickly.
And as its ratings continued to grow, its ad revenues also surged.
However, as President Xi Jinping has been tightening his grip on ideology ever since he took office, so much for the flexibility and “foreign” identity enjoyed by Phoenix TV. And while the network is increasingly toeing the party line at the expense of its “different perspective”, it has become less and less appealing to mainland viewers.
Meanwhile, some have also attributed the downfall of Phoenix to the fact that its founder and boss, Liu Changle, had bet on the wrong horse by aligning himself with Bo Xilai, the former party secretary of the Chongqing municipality and President Xi’s major political rival, a decision that would later turn out to be fatally wrong for Liu himself and his company.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 23
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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