Posted by Joel Martinsen on Tuesday, August 26, 2008 at 4:58 PM
An authoritative brand
Last December, CCTV's the venerable Network News Broadcast () added fresh faces to its lineup of news readers.
At the time, Danwei was fairly unimpressed with the changes and the accompanying state media blitz: the three opinion pieces we translated all pegged the program as being hopelessly mired in the past, weighed down by its association with the state propaganda apparatus. What use was it, we thought, to update the look of a program when its dull, formulaic content would continue to drive viewers away in droves?
Perhaps we were wrong. A symposium held by CCTV in July to gauge audience reactions found that people are quite attached to their evening ritual of sitting down in front of the television and watching Hai Xia or Luo Jing inform them of the day's top domestic and international stories. In follow-up discussions, participants were asked a number of questions about their impression of the program and their reasons for watching:
Blogger Tiger Temple, who posted about the symposium transcript yesterday, compared the whole exercise to a young woman who's always asking "Am I beautiful?" He brought up an old advertising slogan: "Frestech ads are good, but not as good as Frestech refrigerators."
Here's CCTV's record of the part of that symposium that deals with Network News:
Network News is the Man with the Final SayCCTV Network News was the television program brought up most frequently by the audience at a symposium. In follow-up interviews by the hosts, the audience spoke their minds about Network News, and many of their viewpoints were fresh and interesting.
Why do you watch Network News?
Zhang Xin: I think that Network News stands for our nation, like the national flag. Watching Network News is like eating — you just have to watch it. Just like people read a newspaper every day, or attend a staff meeting at their company every Monday morning.
Chen Chunmei: Network News is the most authoritative dissemination agency in the country. The news it announces is the most authoritative and correct. In my opinion, Network News speaks for the central government in everything that it says.
Zhao Jie: I think it's fairly politically-oriented. Sometimes when documents are issued, they don't make the Shanghai station, but there they are on CCTV.
Zhan Liang: Network News doesn't have commercial breaks.
Chen Junyan: It's become a habit. From elementary school through today I've always done it. When I occasionally miss a day, it feels strange.
Feng Bin: At 7:00pm, basically all of the satellite channels broadcast Network News. I don't have a choice. And I feel that I can learn about major domestic and international events through the Network News, including the pulse of politics. If I watch Network News every day, I can get a handle on major international trends. Also, Network News has a high degree of accuracy, not like the flashy news you find online. The news on Network News has definitely been confirmed before it's broadcast.
Zhou Yanmei: I think its news is pretty comprehensive; it has things from all over the world and every sector and industry. The Shanghai channel broadcasts some news stories before 7:00, but at 7, I'll remember to change to CCTV.
You Huiying: I've always watched it because I know Network News has a long history. When my dad was young he watched it, and he's watched it for thirty years. I also started watching when I was young. Its theme music hasn't changed in decades. I still remember it, and those hosts made a deep impression on me. I think the central leadership mainly relies on Network News to publicize information. My dad watches it and then talks about what sort of ideas the leaders have now. And then when it's finished you can watch the Weather Forecast. It's pretty nice.
Liu Junyan: Sometimes my job requires me to write up reference materials, and I'll need to understand what major events have happened in the country, or what the major policies are.
Song Jiyun: It's in Beijing, so it's pretty authoritative.
Guo Lei: CCTV's Network News is more rigorous and serious than the news on other channels, because it's one of China's three authoritative news organs: People's Daily, Xinhua News Agency, and CCTV's Network News. Of course, another reason I watch Network News is that it broadcasts the exact time, so I can check.
Chen Hongbin: What feeling do I get watching Network News? Isn't the last segment international news? I don't know if you all have noticed, but the international news report has been getting shorter and shorter. It used to be five minutes long, but now it's only three. I think this shows our country's rising economic levels and our growing international stature.
Li Yang: It's not just us Shenyangers who watch it. Everyone in the country watches at the same time.
Zhou Yanmei: I really like the new newsreader, Hai Xia.
If you had to compare Network News to a person, what would that person be like?
Moderator: If you had to compare Network News to a person, would that person be male or female?
He Tao: A man. What he says, goes.
Guan Yi: I think he'd probably be male. Take myself, for example: although I take care of the home, my husband still has final say in big matters.
Zhao Junhao: Fairly old, a gentleman, with a demeanor a little like [current anchor] Luo Jing.
Zong Jianjun: Male. Fairly serious, deep, reserved. The hosts sit there all well-disciplined; if they yawn or fix their makeup, the newspapers all comment about it. It's like they can't move a muscle.
Gao Dingxia: If soft news that's fairly close to everyday life is a woman, then Network News, which is pretty political and serious, ought to be a man.
Lou Hongwei: I think that Network News has a leadership role; all stations, whether they're provincial, municipal, or otherwise, typically broadcast the Network News feed at 7:00pm. So it's a man, because leaders are mainly men.
Liu Daquan: CCTV's connected to politics, and it's always men who are in politics.
Guo Lei: It's a family patriarch who has final say and can't be disobeyed.
Wan Xiaoyan: It's kind of like a directional sail.
Chen Chunmei: It's like a teacher, leading us onward. It represents China, our mother, and a teacher's authority.
Yu Yanhong: I think it's like a mirror. You can see lots of different things in it.
Zhao Junhao: It's an elder family member. It educates us and warns us, teaching us to grow, how to act as people, and how to learn. But there's a distance between us.
Cen Yi: I think it's like the relationship of a leader to those he leads. I listen to what it says. Just like me and my father: I have to listen to what he says.
Liu Junyan: Network News is like a foreign ministry spokesperson. Every country needs someone to speak for it.
Lu Yu: There's an old saying that goes, "the barracks are iron, the soldiers are water." I think Network News is the iron barracks, and other news programs are the soldiers that flow by.
Fang Yumin: Mature, sober, and very authoritative. You can tell from the way the hosts are dressed: the men all in serious suits and ties. The hosts' language is very standard, not like the local stations where hosts use local dialects.
Chen Hongbin: Self-promoting individuals can't be Network News hosts, because you're not representing yourself, you're representing the nation.
Zhou Jun: It's stuffy and unwilling to talk to you. I always want to talk, but it never pays any attention to me.
Liu Junyan: It's placid. The hosts' tones are pretty even, not like the hosts of entertainment programs, with their Hong Kong and Taiwan accents and hip-hop style.
If Network News didn't exist, what would you do?
Moderator: Suppose CCTV didn't have the Network News program, what would you do?
Guan Wei: That's an impossible supposition.
Chen Hongbin: I think that not having Network News would be like a person without a brain. Network News gives the people of the country a sense of direction.
Zhang Xin: That'd be no good. It'd be like having no Beijing.
Lou Hongwei: Then we wouldn't know about major national events.
Chen Hao: I'd look all around, on the TV, and online.
Chen Lei: I'd feel like I was missing something, because I'm in the habit of watching it every day.
Cen Yi: I'd think CCTV had lost its authority. A while ago, the reports of looting and burning in Tibet were all broadcast on CCTV. Local stations couldn't possibly have had them.
Zhang Wei: I'd think there was something wrong with CCTV.
Hao Wenfeng: If there were no Network News, then it couldn't be called China Central Television. It'd be incomplete.
Li Yang: It'd be really strange. Network News is a symbol of CCTV. In other words, CCTV has a responsibility to tell the people domestic and international affairs through a program like that.
Zhang Yu: It represents what the country is thinking on any given day: it lets the common people learn what the country is thinking on that day. That's impossible without Network News.
Liu Daquan: The country needs this channel to publicize policy. If you had to pass things down from one level to the next, how long would it take in transit?
Zhang Yu: Then it'd just be a normal news progra. It'd be a local station's Liaoning News or Shenyang News, not Network News. Because Network News is privileged. Has it ever stood aside for anything? But other places yield to it: if today's Network News runs over, programs on other stations are pushed back.
Chen Jing: I'd watch it on whatever station it went to. If it went to Liaoning TV, I'd watch it on Liaoning TV.
Liu Junyan: If it went to a local station, it'd be a mess. Serious, authoritative news should be broadcast from CCTV, which represents the nation.
Song Yanwen: I'd feel like it wasn't the national news anymore. It'd have a local feel to it.
Zhao Jie: I wouldn't watch. On local stations it wouldn't have a mainstream feel anymore.
Feng Bin: I could accept it if it switched to CCTV-2, CCTV-3, or CCTV-4, but if it switched to a local station, I might not watch. It's authority would have been cut down.
Guo Lei: There's a reason that Network News is broadcast on CCTV-1: that's the top channel, #1, first in the country. If you put it on a local station, then it wouldn't be called 新闻联播 ("national news broadcast") — that means taking news from all over the country and all over the world and broadcasting it on channel #1 first for the whole country to see.
Yu Yanhong: From Network News, I get a feeling that reminds me of CCTV-1. If CCTV-1 didn't have Network News, there'd be no reason for it to exist.
Links and Sources
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
Books on China
The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
Front Page of the Day
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From the Vault
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+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.