Media business

Chinese journalism played by the Super Girls

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The endless scandals that surround the Super Girls this year can be more captivating than the talent competition itself. To the highhanded contractual demands and bribery rumors of last year have been added allegations of SMS vote tampering, fixed competitions, astro-turfing, and rule-tinkering.

Hangzhou competitor Hao Fei'er, who told the media about all sorts of sketchy deals that went on behind the scenes, returned to the Super Girls during the "Resurrection Competition" last Friday in which popular competitors who had been knocked out in early rounds could be brought back by popular acclaim and mastery of the PK sing-off. After she was cut in Hangzhou, Hao declared that she would not participate in the resurrection competition, calling the Super Girls "over-commercialized," and the 8-year contract "too hard to accept." But her exposure of Super Girls corruption made her a hero to many people, and she decided to return out of responsibility to her fans (called tiětǎ, "iron towers"): "As a person you must have a sense of responsibility. When so many people like you, spend money to vote for you, and throw you up there, then you really have to go back and sing for them to hear."

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The "Resurrection Competition" brought on its own headaches. By not disclosing the rules of the contest until it was about to begin, Hunan TV, which according to the most recent assessment is China's #4 TV brand, came under fire for taking advantage of fans' enthusiasm for their chosen divas.

Wei Jiaqing, a contestant in the Shenyang region, topped the SMS votes with 170,000 yet was dropped from competition. Wei's fans (known as qīngtíng, "dragonflies") have been clamoring for a suit to be brought against HTV, alleging that rules allowing the top three vote-getters to automatically re-enter the competition were scrapped last-minute, cheating the qingting out of 130,000 yuan in SMS fees. The fans base their allegations on an interview Wei gave the Huashang Morning Post, in which she said, "When we were rehearsing in the afternoon of the day of the competition, Hunan TV suddenly notified us that the competition's rules had changed. I felt that this was a bit wrong...." Hunan TV says that the qingting had faulty information and that the SMS votes were never going to be used in more than one stage of the competition.

So how were contestants chosen for rebirth? The program's judges were joined by entertainment journalists from sixteen media outlets, who cast their votes near the end of the program. These journalists subsequently reported on the event for their newspapers, leading to questions about impartiality.

In an opinion piece in the Zhejiang newspaper Youth Times (translated below), cultural commentator Yang Yu castigates these journalists for failing their calling, and draws up a quasi-blacklist of unethical reporters.


Super Girls give Chinese Journalism a Stinging Slap Across the Face

by Yang Yu / Youth Times, 2006.08.21

In his Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy once said, through the character Nekhludoff, "On Easter eve, the most secret of moments has nothing to do with the living."1 N years ago Brother Monk2 read that line without understanding it, but N days ago he had a sudden realization.

The Super Girls Resurrection Competition last Friday night was a relatively normal night in this year's Super Girls competition. There were lots of tears from Hu Ling, Luo Dan's English song was really high, Liang Zidan's eyes flashed atmosphere, Sun Yixin danced with authority, Zhang Shanshan sang out of tune, Li Weiwei appeared only briefly, Wang Han was slutty, and Li Xiang showed no taste. In short, this game of life and death, played at the entire evening, the hubbub, the true and false, hustle and bustle, the puzzlement. At the last moment, when image of the sixteen reporters coming on stage one after the other to cast their votes as popular judges first glinted off his bald head in front of the TV screen, Brother Monk leaped off the couch where had been entrenched forever. Da-a-mn, now it's happened!

The truly significant event of this night had finally begun. Brother Monk lifted his head to look at his watch - 23:40 on 18 August, 2006. This is a tragic moment that will go down in the history of Chinese journalism.

16 news reporters, 16 interviewers, at that moment, mysteriously became a part of what they were interviewing; they became judges who decided the fate of those Super Girls. This not only violated the basic common sense of Chinese and international journalism, but also violated the fundamental working standards generally observed by the international news world. At that moment, the Super Girls were fair, the 16 reporters excited, and the 16 media outlets won a free television commercial. But the entire Chinese news world suffered humiliation - though a large number of journalists didn't even realize that they were being humiliated.

In cultural and athletic competitions, when the hosts invite the news media to play a part, using them as oversight, to insure fair results, this is normal. But commonplace things have rules, too, as well as limits. America's Golden Globe awards is run by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. but the association has rules that state that voting reporters may not be involved in the news reports on that vote. The World Cup's Golden Ball Award is voted on by reporters from various countries who reported on the World Cup, but FIFA will certainly not allow news reporters to decide the results of any particular match. Europe's classical music competitions frequently invite senior reporters in the music field to be part of the judging oversight team, but that only supervises the work of the judging committee, and cannot make direct evaluations of the competitors.

Even China's Football Association, denounced by the public after negative publicity and farcical operation, understands to maintain a distance from the media. Over these N years, they've invited reporters in the field to oversee drawings or discussions over handling records, but they've never had news reporters directly decide the fate of any team, or the validity of any on-field action. Super Girls, however, used its evil magic to make the impossible possible, to drive one to exclaim: our great motherland is becoming an innovative country.

Two days after Brother Monk investigated and researched the Super Girls' resurrection night, four of the 16 media outlets who are based in Beijing issued their reports. Disappointingly, the two popular judges from the Beijing Evening News and The Beijing News proudly told their readers that they had been judges and had cast a vote. The girl reporter from the Beijing Times was more controlled, and only narrated the process of Friday's competition without mentioning that she had been a judge. Beijing Youth Daily managed to surprise Brother Monk, since its report on Saturday was written by a different reporter. It's a shame that on Sunday, the popular judge from that paper used his identity as a "staff writer" to publish an even longer bit about being a judge. Over many years, these four media outlets have been mutual opponents in Beijing's newspaper marketplace, and competition is fierce. What is regrettable about this is that in this essentially even match, each outlet lost out on an excellent opportunity to overtake its rivals in "respecting journalistic principles."

Of course, so-called "respecting journalistic principles", to these media outlets, can never be more important than achieving the top scoop rate as the distribution season draws near. To some reporters, it can never be more beneficial or real than taking advantage of being a popular judge to enter the wolf's den and explore the savagery behind the Super Girl curtain. This is the tragedy of today's Chinese journalism - bitter competition in the media marketplace means the competitive techniques of the media become more short-term and vulgar every day, and journalists have subconsciously become deprofessionalized and made themselves into entertainment.

Of course, most of the public won't care a whit about so-called "respecting journalistic principles," since whatever these empty principles may be, they can never be as interesting or fun as the spectacle that the popular judge/reporters picked up. This is the tragedy of today's Chinese media audience - when the blurring of the borders between interviewer and interviewee receives the tacit acceptance of the public, the news media moves further and further away from its essential role as a "public institution". If, within the entertainment journalism arena, reporters can also become an element of entertainment, then in the realm of economics journalism, journalist's reports can aid a listed company in manipulating its stock price; in the societal news arena, journalists reports can become accomplices who bang the drum for the benefit of some group.

Before writing this piece, Brother Monk originally wanted to use as a title "Chinese Journalism was Raped by the Super Girls," but during writing decided to switch titles. First, "raped" is far too strong, second, rape is done through force from another person, while in this affair, the more I thought about it the more I felt that those involved actually were willing. Additionally, do not forget that entity behind the Super Girls - Hunan TV - is also a media entity. It truly has the skills - no sooner had it extended its hand than it caused the story about the Super Girls' shady deals to collapse on its own, and in another stroke completely blurred the fundamental division between journalist interviewers and their interviewees, pulling into the ditch 16 news outlets. So it's better to say "Super Girls give Chinese Journalism a Stinging Slap Across the Face" - since face-slaps can be struck by other people, but one can also hit oneself.

Finally, Brother Monk will put on record here these 16 glorious popular judges/reporters. They are: Oriental Morning Post, Zeng Yu; Beijing Times, Zhu Yaqing; Southern Metropolis Daily, Huang Changjie; Liaoshen Daily, Wang Linna; China Business News, Liu Zhe; Xiaoxiang Morning News, Hou Jian; Chongqing Economic Times, Lu Yuanyuan; The Beijing News, Yang Lin; Chutian Metropolis Daily, Chen Lingyan; Shanghai Youth Daily, Chen Li; Sanxiang Metropolis Daily, Yi Yulin, Beijing Youth Daily, Zhu Lin; Dushi Kuaibao, Han Ying; Beijing Evening News, Liu Ying; Guangzhou Daily, Long Yinxi; Jinling Evening News, Liu Wei.

Looking at their ages, most of these sixteen colleagues are a little younger even than the young and promising Brother Monk. So Brother Monk will go ahead and say a few sincere words from his heart: you are conscientious cultural reporters; finding yourselves in the bosom of the enemy, you must have exhorted yourselves N times not to let the enemy take advantage of you, not to lose impartiality in your reports. However, your individual efforts cannot replace systematic avoidance. You may believe that with your straight feet you needn't worry about crooked shoes, but in fact over the last few days, you've been praised or cursed by fans of all stripes. In the impartial environment of the broadcasters and audience of today's Chinese journalism, if 1600 colleagues came, I'm afraid they'd all act as you did. Brother Monk would just like you to know what would happen if this affair occurred in a country where principles of journalistic work are more completely established - the media outlets you work for would apologize to the public, you would lose your jobs, and the above list would be saved at many more media organizations with a line at the bottom: "The above 16 people may never be employed at this paper."

Footnotes

1: "复活的夜晚,最诡秘的一瞬间,与活者无关." This doesn't appear in Resurrection, as far as I can determine; it could be a misquotation of the line "In the love between a man and a woman there always comes a moment...with nothing sensual about it."
2: Yang, who is bald, calls himself 秃哥 throughout the article.


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Yang Yu's blog is a great source of interesting commentary on entertainment and cultural issues. A recent post on Coffee Cola, that vile concoction that Wahaha is trying to peddle as the next hit soft drink, is spot-on:

You can't know without drinking, but once you drink you'll be shocked. When it entered my mouth it tasted like coffee, when I swallowed, it was cola-flavored; in the end, it's neither coffee-flavored nor cola-flavored. To cover it in a single term, trading flavors. In short, Brother Monk once imagined it to be very foul; after drinking, I feel it's even fouler than I imagined. Out of impatience and resentment, the easygoing Brother Monk here calls upon all soda lovers in the work to immediately band together and establish a united pro-cola front between Coke and Pepsi, to abandon their former enmity and stand together to beat back this attack that Wahaha has launched using coffee-corrupted cola and the countryside to besiege the cities, and together protect the shared reputation the big happy cola family has enjoyed these N years.

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There are currently 2 Comments for Chinese journalism played by the Super Girls.

Comments on Chinese journalism played by the Super Girls

I didn't realize that journalists would be voting until they started coming out and casting their votes. I couldn't believe it; my mouth simple dropped open wider and wider as they kept coming. What was it, 15 reporters or so? Talk about a slap in the face of the fans.

My wife bought a bottle of that coffee soda stuff. She finished half of it, and then we chucked it. I think she was just drinking it to impress me. I would have none of it.

I finished a *whole* bottle of that funny drink! hated it, but I finished it, as I couldn't find a sink or sewage to pour it, and I am too civilized to throw a bottle with liquid in it into a garbage bin so I decided to pour it into my mouth before dumping the empty bottle 0_o ~>_

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