The New York Times’ Edward Wong reports this weekend on events sweeping CCTV, China’s national broadcaster.
- He describes the intra-party fighting and allegations of corruption that have dashed CCTV’s reputation.
- A further casualty is the high expectation among Western producers and channels that China was rapidly becoming a reliable buyer and financial partner.
Chengdu during Asian Side of the Doc, 2014
Here at this link and below is The Times’ report. I’m reprinting it in full because many readers can’t get through the NYT firewall.
- And use our Search button at right for our recent coverage of CCTV-9 Documentary Channel.
CCTV, China’s Propaganda Tool, Finds Itself at Center of Antigraft Drive
By EDWARD WONG, FEB. 13, 2015
BEIJING — As President Xi Jinping accelerated his sweeping campaign against government corruption, political enemies and Western influences in China, he deployed the Communist Party’s most powerful propaganda tool, the state television network, like a hammer.
News programs on the network, China Central Television, showed confessions by prominent businessmen before they had even been put on trial. Foreign companies like Apple were smeared by so-called investigations programs. Heavily edited excerpts from the trial of a fallen party leader were broadcast in prime time to hundreds of millions of viewers.
But now the wrath of the party has turned on the network itself. An inquiry into corruption at CCTV, as the network is known, has shaken up the nation’s most influential news and propaganda organization, riveting the country with reports involving a seamy mix of celebrities, sex and bribery.
At least 15 senior network employees have disappeared into the maw of party and state detention, according to official news reports and people who have been tracking the investigations. The most famous, Rui Chenggang, 37, a smooth-talking financial news anchor who wore Italian suits and drove a Jaguar, was noticeably absent last month from the annual conference of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, where he had been a fixture for years.
The network’s more than 10,000 employees are on edge. The practice of trading positive coverage for cash is so prevalent, many say, that everyone lives in fear that employees who have been detained will reveal details about their colleagues. Like others for this article, they spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the authorities for talking about the continuing investigations.
Managers hesitate to make big decisions. The move into the new landmark CCTV headquarters, which has been mostly empty since its facade was completed in 2008, has stalled, and some high-budget documentary projects have been frozen.
Executives and producers, afraid of making themselves conspicuous targets, are leaving their luxury cars in their garages. Among the top ranks, figuring out how to stop journalists from taking bribes from the people they interview has become a priority, CCTV employees said.
The turmoil at the network comes at a time when it has become both the spearhead of China’s propaganda efforts in foreign countries and a more expansive global news conduit for an estimated 700 million Chinese viewers.
“A nation’s TV station is the face for the entire nation,” said Wang Qinglei, a former producer who worked at CCTV from 2003 until he was fired in 2013 for publicly denouncing propaganda on the network. “Now this face is dirty and full of mud. There should be a cleansing process to wash it, so the entire nation can be proud again.”
The party’s investigations of the network follow two main strands that overlap. One is corrupt business practices, particularly at CCTV 2, the financial news channel where Mr. Rui worked. The other involves the relationships, sometimes intimate, that some party leaders had with anchors and executives at the network, many of whom are also at CCTV 2.
The widespread gossip about sex between network employees and government officials could not be independently confirmed, but some personal ties are well known. Mr. Rui, for example, hosted events for Gu Liping, who is now detained on suspicion of corruption and illicit financial dealings and is the wife of Ling Jihua, an aide to former President Hu Jintao. The couple has been placed under investigation.
At least one current and one former female CCTV anchor who have been detained are being scrutinized for close ties to Zhou Yongkang, the former security chief and the most senior party official to be arrested in decades for corruption, according to executives and journalists working for CCTV and other news institutions. Mr. Zhou’s second wife, who is a former CCTV journalist and is 28 years his junior, has also been detained.
Li Dongsheng, a close associate of Mr. Zhou and a 22-year employee of CCTV, is suspected by investigators of having introduced young women at the network to Mr. Zhou and other officials for sexual encounters in violation of party rules, the journalists and executives said. When Mr. Zhou was expelled from the party last December, Xinhua, the official state news agency, said he had “committed adultery with a number of women and traded his power for money and sex.”
Mr. Li, who rose to become deputy director of the propaganda department and then vice minister of public security, has been detained since December 2013.
The investigations are casting a long shadow over a vast propaganda apparatus with global ambitions. CCTV began a big international push around 2008 and now has 70 news bureaus overseas, including a flagship in Washington. CCTV channels broadcast programming around the world in Arabic, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
In 2011, the network started a documentary channel to compete with the kind of high-end programming seen on BBC. It has bought the rights to many foreign documentaries and hired prominent Western producers like Phil Agland. But since the detention last July of the ambitious head of the channel, Liu Wen, some major projects have been halted, employees said.
Current and former employees and news media analysts say the revelations, along with a renewed emphasis on propaganda, have further damaged CCTV’s credibility.
“It is shocking how corrupt the Chinese media is,” Zhan Jiang, a professor of journalism and media studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said in a recent online discussion. “It is the most corrupt in the world. To put it bluntly, it is the shame of our country.
CCTV declined repeated requests for an interview.
Mr. Wang, the former producer, said he did not think Mr. Xi’s anticorruption campaigns would cure the ills of the network or China’s one-party system.
“This anticorruption campaign is very much a tool of political struggle,” he said. “All it will do is strike down one faction. But the system is not changed in any way.”
Indeed, the party has taken the corruption investigation as an opportunity to reinforce the network’s propaganda role, ordering up more old-school stories about common Chinese and their daily struggles. Reporters have been told to emphasize “moral values and social virtues.”
“We are now directed to place more emphasis on the common man, farmers and migrant workers,” one journalist said.
The corruption that permeated the network had been an open secret for years. At its simplest level, reporters and producers take modest bribes in exchange for positive coverage. Journalists typically receive up to $160, known as “red envelopes” or “taxi fare,” as a token of thanks from sources. Network employees say much larger fees are sometimes negotiated, according to the type of coverage.
Several people said one central investigation, involving the anchors and executives of CCTV 2, the financial news channel, was focused on large-scale bribetaking as well as ties to corrupt party leaders. Mr. Rui was the channel’s most famous anchor and had boasted of friendships with former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger; former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia; and Richard C. Levin, who was president of Yale until 2013.
The head of CCTV 2, Guo Zhenxi, was detained last June, a month before Mr. Rui was. Security officers seized Mr. Rui at the studio on a Friday afternoon, leaving an empty co-anchor’s chair that night on his program, “Economic News.”
When officials decided years ago to make CCTV more market-driven, the director of CCTV 2 was put in charge of both news programming and business operations, a dual role that offers many opportunities for corruption. “Everyone at CCTV knows this setup is illogical and unreasonable,” said Mr. Wang, the former producer.
Financial irregularities emerged during a six-month audit that was completed last year, Mr. Wang and others said.
Information released by state news outlets points to Mr. Rui’s own mixing of journalism and business as a central part of the case against him. In 2002, he helped found a public relations firm, Pegasus Communications, that was bought five years later by the American public relations company Edelman. Mr. Rui held stock in Pegasus until 2010, according to government documents posted online by a Chinese news organization.
In 2009 and 2010, while Mr. Rui was still a part owner of Pegasus, the company provided services at Davos to CCTV 2, Mr. Rui’s employer, arranging for a studio there, according to an earlier statement from Edelman and Chinese news reports.
Corruption takes place in other ways at CCTV. Budget padding is common, several employees said; people who draw up or approve budgets for productions sometimes request more money than is needed so that they can pocket some of the cash.
One senior journalist said he believed the authorities intended for the investigations to be cautionary lessons for other organizations in the news media and beyond. “The crackdown at CCTV was designed to create shock waves in society,” he said.
At the moment, though, the tumult is greatest at the center.
“Recently I spoke to another director of programming at CCTV, who is leaving,” Mr. Wang said. “This person told me, ‘Each day I spend at CCTV is another day I’m spending in shame.’”
The North American Documentary Broadcast Market
An overview by Peter Hamilton
Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 16:00 – 18:00
Pavlos Zannas Theater, 5th floor of Olympion Cinema
For many European documentary professionals the North American broadcast market can be difficult to grasp. During this two-hour master class Peter Hamilton will present key players in North America and what they are looking for.
Peter Hamilton will outline the main broadcasters on the North American market and give a closer look at:
- What are they buying?
- How do they enter documentary co-productions?
- How can European documentary makers get a commission with a North American broadcaster?
The workshop will offer an in depth look at some of the key players in the North American territories, like HBO, POV, PBS, TVO, Knowledge Canada, Smithsonian Channel, and how they operate.
- This master class takes place within the framework of Docs in Thessaloniki Pitching Forum 2015.
- It is organised by EDN – European Documentary Network and the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival Images of the 21st Century.