China state broadcaster to revamp news

Kathrin Hille – The Financial Times

Copyright The Financial Times
China Central Television, the country’s main state broadcaster, is planning to relaunch its flagship news programme in a quest to defend its position as the country’s paramount media organisation in the face of a changing industry.
CCTV wants to make Network News, the news programme with the largest audience in the world, more attractive to viewers by devoting less time to reporting the activities of political leaders, introducing livelier anchors and adding more critical reporting, editors involved in the plans said.
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The national evening news programme has no direct competitor and is re-broadcast on all local and provincial news channels, but has found it increasingly difficult to keep viewers from switching to entertainment and sports programmes.
“CCTV is losing out because the news programme is dull and too limited to positive messages only. You cannot do that anymore because citizens’ sources of information have multiplied,” said Tong Bing, a professor of journalism at Fudan University in Shanghai. “The news programme needs a radical overhaul, cosmetic changes will not do.”
How far the makeover will go could indicate how serious Beijing is in reforming its media landscape.
China’s ruling Communist party is trying to transform the media, still all state-owned, into more market-responsive entities while keeping them under political control. At the same time, the rapid spread of the internet is increasingly diluting the state’s monopoly on information.
The party tightened the screws around last week’s anniversary of the bloody suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen student democracy movement. But overall, the range of information and opinions available in China has broadened over the past few years.
Blogs and online social media have taken a key role in forming the news agenda. Newspapers and networks not under the control of the central government or the party have adopted more daring and more entertaining content.
But Network News has remained virtually untouched as the holy grail of Communist party propaganda. “Currently, the programme has three parts: political leaders’ activities for the first ten minutes, other news for second ten minutes, and international news for last ten minutes,” said Mr Tong. “During the first part, people tend to watch commercials. They use the second part to go to the toilet. Only for the third part will they come back to listen.”
A wave of hate and schadenfreude earlier this year in reaction to CCTV’s accidental burning down of part of its new futuristic headquarters served as a wake-up call to the Communist party over just how unpopular the network has become.
The party wants to build CCTV from a party mouthpiece into a “national broadcaster”, although politicians and advisers have yet to explain what exactly that would mean in China.
Last month, the Communist party appointed Jiao Li, a deputy head of its propaganda department, to replace Zhao Huayong, CCTV’s elderly head. The appointment of such a heavyweight figure appears a clear sign that the network is in for some serious changes.
The news programme revamp is the first sign that Mr Jiao is getting to work.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009
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