State media

CCTV needs to report on the activities of state leaders

JDM090826xwlb.jpg

In the early part of this year, there were rumblings from CCTV about possible retoolings to its Network News broadcast (新闻联播), the formulaic half-hour of reporting on the activities of national leaders and positively-spun national events that takes over televisions nationwide every evening at 7:00.

Changes have been rumored to be in store for Network News for years now. New anchors were finally added in late 2007, but the broadcast itself changed little. This year's format and content changes were intended to bring the program "closer to the people," perhaps through something similar to the "cold news," "hot news," and "in my words" segments rumored to make up Hunan TV's competitor to the CCTV broadcast.

But is eliminating reports on the activities of China's national leadership really the best way to improve the program? In a column for China Newsweek, journalist Chang Ping argues that paradoxically, CCTV Network News without ten minutes of leaders' daily activities is even further from quality journalism than its old formula was.

The People Need Political News

by Chang Ping / CN

Network News has had a redesign. I've watched a few days of it and find it pretty strange. A CCTV spokesperson did not admit to the redesign, but called it instead "an experiment in editing and broadcast formats." Perhaps there's some truth to this, because the changes to the news broadcast on the program haven't been that big. The biggest change is that reporting on meetings and the activities of leaders has practically disappeared.

In one respect, CCTV is answering the people by eliminating those two types of news, because for decades those seemed uninspired even compared to the other segments on the program: a boring format empty of content. Like the mocking ditty goes, "There's no meeting that's not solemn, no closing ceremony that's not a success, no speech that's not important, no applause that's not enthusiastic, no leaders that aren't attentive, no visit that's not genial..."

And that's basically the style of Network News and its "three segments": the first ten minutes talk about how busy the leaders are, the middle ten about how happy people are across the country, and the final ten about how chaotic other places in the world are. It can't have been easy to carry on like that through this era of dramatic changes.

But today, people have finally seen a change. Having endured for so long, any change may seem like a good thing, so the Network News retooling has therefore become a hot news item, and public opinion has generally been positive.

But watching the program these past few days, the second and third segments have not changed a whit: it's just that the first ten minutes have turned into "everyone in the country is working hard." Previously, no matter how dry the reporting about meetings and leaders' activities may have been, it was at least news that basically contained the "Five Ws" (apart from "what" and "why"). However, now you don't hear "today," "yesterday," or even "the day before yesterday." It's all about "the first half of the year" or even "for the past few years." Compared to moving news how "the country's great efforts to broaden areas and channels for private investment" "extols and demonstrates the new fighting force," we'd be better off seeing what the leaders have been busy doing, and how many meetings have been held at the Great Hall of the People.

A news report done poorly does not mean that the news itself is unimportant. Activities of national leaders are important news — this holds both domestically and internationally, and both today and in the past — and makes up the major content of political news. The leaders hold hold in their hands the power to distribute vast social resources, and their every word and action affects the overall situation. Even more importantly, in a modern democratic society, the people have given the power to their leaders and have purchased governing capacity through the taxes the pay. The leaders ought to be accountable to the people at all times, and the people must also be able to supervise their work. Much of this process is accomplished through the news media.

Theoretically, if Network News does not report on leaders' activities, we can still learn about them through other media. However, in China, only a few media outlets can report directly on leaders' activities, and among them, CCTV's Network News has the largest audience. In addition, I fear that this action by Network News will influence those other outlets. Take a look at Xinhuanet: it's hard to find evidence of the leaders among the daily news items. Instead, there's a special section called "Reports on Leaders' Activities" that's devoted to them. As an official news website, the section is quite valuable, but it cannot replace daily news reports. If you go onto the UN website, you can find the daily activities of the Secretary General, but this is not equivalent to a report in the mass media.

Besides, the reports on meetings and leaders' activities that used to appear on Network News were not entirely without value. Many people had learned how to find the content inside those empty reports: where the leaders are conducting inspections, for example, can predict which industries are about to be given special attention, or what long-rumored policy might be about to be made public. Even whether or not the leaders appear happy or healthy can be important news for many people. Of course, the vast majority of the people don't have this special skill; they only see leaders shaking hands and exchanging greetings, or meetings that open grandly and conclude successfully.

There's a slogan for the Network News redesign: more news about the people. It seems, then, that reporting less on meetings and leaders' activities and more about visits to markets and how to ensure the supply of cabbage is showing concern for the people's livelihood. Separating the work of the leaders from the lives of the people, or even setting them in opposition to each other, fragmenting and marginalizing news about the people, is a peculiar mentality. In fact, the everyday work of political figures is the best possible news about the people's livelihood.

Links and Sources
There are currently 1 Comments for CCTV needs to report on the activities of state leaders.

Comments on CCTV needs to report on the activities of state leaders

Nice stealth attack by Chang Ping.

I checked Xinhuanet to see about his assertion that they are reporting less on "leaders" actions. Not quite true: today's Xinhuanet has a photo spread of leader Obama playing golf! link


China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
laomo2010x80.jpg
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives