As befits an obedient state TV channel, China Central Television (CCTV) has been diligent in its coverage of much of the government’s ongoing anti-corruption drive.
Come the start of this week, however, the broadcaster turned strangely silent about the latest developments.
The reason? Perhaps because the news involved one of its own top executives – Guo Zhenxi, head of the business news channel CCTV2.
Guo has been detained along with one of his channel’s producers, Tian Liwu, on suspicion of taking bribes.
Century Weekly was the first media outlet to break the story, saying that authorities from Jilin were spearheading the investigation into the pair.
That was confirmed late on Sunday night by a statement from the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office.
“Recently, prosecutors have started an investigation into the director of CCTV’s business channel Guo Zhenxi and a producer Tian Liwu for bribe-taking. We have taken legal measures to detain them,” it read.
The arrests follow that of Li Dongsheng, a former deputy director of CCTV, for “serious violations of discipline” last year. At the time of his detention Li was a vice-minister for public security and widely regarded as a protégé of Zhou Yongkang, the former domestic security tsar now thought to be the focal point of a series of high-profile graft cases.
The specifics of Guo’s situation are unclear but the speculation is that there is a connection to two of his channel’s shows: the 3.15 Consumer Rights Gala and the Chinese Annual Economic Figures awards ceremony.
Both have been influential.
As regular WiC readers will know, the 3.15 Gala is an annual event (broadcast on March 15, hence the name) exposing shoddy goods and bad customer service through whistleblower interviews and undercover camera work. It’s got wider attention outside China in the past couple of years owing to the fact it has gone after multinationals. Foreign firms put under its unwelcome spotlight have included respected brands like Apple, Volkswagen and Nikon.
The second extravaganza is more celebratory in nature, highlighting the commercial (and other) achievements of business leaders (Chinese, this time) and handing out awards for innovation and social responsibility.
Both shows can have a major impact on company images, so there have been rumours that local firms have been willing to pay to avoid appearing in the first but falling over themselves to get their bosses featured in the second.
The 3.15 Gala has certainly earned Guo some enemies. When online games company Giant Interactive was highlighted last year, Giant’s boss Shi Yuzhu denounced Guo as “shameless”. A group of Chinese property developers also cried foul last November when CCTV2 accused them of owing trillions of yuan in unpaid land tax. Shortly after news of the Guo’s detention emerged, Ren Zhiqiang, chairman of Huayuan Property (one of the companies in CCTV’s report on taxes) wrote on weibo that Guo and his colleagues “only serve themselves”.
Online chatter about Guo’s case was intense, with rumours sprouting that dozens of other CCTV employees have been taken in for questioning. But the revelations also served as a lighting rod for long-held dissatisfaction with the state broadcaster among the general public.
“A rotten tree like CCTV should have been felled years ago,” wrote one netizen.
“Forget the companies on the 3.15 show, CCTV is the number one fake enterprise in China!” crowed another.
“This is just how state media use their monopoly to make money,” warned a third. “Put simply it is the monetisation of power.”
The Global Times rallied in support of its state partner. Although it was critical of Guo personally, it insisted that China needs large media firms because they are less corruptible than smaller, poorly-funded ones. “Big media organisations are less susceptible to seduction… if this business channel goes down, it will be a tragedy for the order of China’s economic life,” it pleaded.
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