Date
23 September 2018
Since its 1978 debut, CCTV’s news program Xinwen Lianbo was seen as a key tool of Beijing to get the message of the party and the government out to citizens and disseminate censored information on current events. Photo: CNSA
Since its 1978 debut, CCTV’s news program Xinwen Lianbo was seen as a key tool of Beijing to get the message of the party and the government out to citizens and disseminate censored information on current events. Photo: CNSA

Who wants to watch CCTV’s Xinwen Lianbo program?

Xiang Ligang, a part-time professor with the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications (BUPT), recently posted a highly provocative tweet on Weibo, in which he suggested that the Chinese who do not watch CCTV’s prime-time news program “Xinwen Lianbo” every evening are generally “low-end” people.

Such people are “low-end” because, as Xiang has put it, they do not need to find out what is going on around the world, which means they are incapable of achieving any big thing.

Xiang’s remarks immediately sparked a bitter debate in online forums, with some netizens agreeing with the academic’s thoughts while others rejected them outright.

Some netizens who strongly disagreed with Xiang lashed out at him, arguing that if one keeps on watching Xinwen Lianbo on a daily basis, the person will probably end up being a party lackey or an inhuman academic.

As a matter of fact, people who are for and against Xiang’s notion both have got a point there, depending on how they define “big things”.

For “high-end” careerists like Xiang, “big things” probably refer to the overriding need of second-guessing the wishes of the paramount Beijing leaders in order to make sure they are always toeing the party line and avoid taking the wrong side.

And apparently, the only way in which they can keep abreast of what their Beijing bosses are thinking is by staying tuned to the Xinwen Lianbo progrm every evening.

Apart from being a part-time professor with the BUPT, Xiang is the chief executive of CCTime.com, and a contributing commentator with China National Radio (CNR) and also a CCTV commentator, among other gigs.

To put it more meanly, Xiang simply makes a living by publicly kissing up to the party leadership in the state media.

However, despite the steadfast loyalty of die-hard fans like Xiang, the viewer ratings of Xinwen Lianbo have continued to fall in recent years.

In today’s China, perhaps only three categories of people would still bother to watch the 7 pm news program on a daily basis.

The first category of regular viewers of Xinwen Lianbo are online commentators like Xiang, while the second category is made up of mainly grass-roots party officials who are eager to find out what’s hot and what’s not with the party leadership.

And the third category of people who watch Xinwen Lianbo regularly are foreign journalists who need to stay informed of the latest political and economic developments of the mainland.

As we can see, these three categories of viewers have one thing in common: they watch Xinwen Lianbo regularly because it is part of their job.

As far as the vast majority of the average mainlanders are concerned, they are having a lot of online access to news these days, hence no need to waste half an hour every evening to watch Xinwen Lianbo.

In the age of the internet, if a mainlander claims that he or she is still relying on Xinwen Lianbo to find out what is going on around the world, that person would be either lying or be mentally impaired.

Since its debut on New Year’s Day in 1978, Xinwen Lianbo has been intended by Beijing to serve one purpose only: to get the party’s and the government’s message across and to spread censored information about current events over the country.

In 1992, during a historic southern tour, former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, as a matter of fact, expressed his dismay at the news reporting approach of Xinwen Lianbo.

In one of the public speeches given by him during the tour, Deng criticized the CCTV news program for giving too much coverage of high-level party meetings, reporting the subject matter of important party documents or the speeches of state leaders in excessive length, and being routinely repetitive in its content.

The truth is, even our Beijing leaders themselves won’t waste time watching Xinwen Lianbo, which is intended only for their “low-end” loyal subjects.

Instead, over the years, state leaders in the mainland have been relying chiefly on the uncensored and unsanitized “internal documents for reference” to keep themselves informed of the latest domestic and global news.

Unfortunately, 40 years on since its debut, Xinwen Lianbo, which was created at the dawn of China’s economic reforms initiative, hasn’t reformed itself at all over the decades.

Rather, even to this day, the news program is still giving overwhelming coverage of either foreign visits or local inspection tours made by Beijing leaders while deliberately downplaying history-changing events like the 9/11 attacks on the US and avoiding any politically sensitive topic.

If you ask me, mainlanders will definitely become “low-end” people if Xinwen Lianbo continues to remain the only channel for them to understand the outside world!

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 24

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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JC/RC

Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

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