Top Ten Chinese Media Events of 2006
(Xiaode's Blog) December 3, 2006.
"The media record history but they also create their own history. Even as we use the media to obtain information, the media themselves are living under various conditions and environments; some of them flourish, some are stable while still others are dying off."
This is the fifth year that Xiaode has written about the top ten media events in China. I was just reviewing the preamble that I wrote five years ago. I went from wandering along the fringe of the media industry to immersing myself in it, and I can feel all the sentiments associated with the comings and goings in the industry. I have many thoughts. Over the past five years, the media environment has undergone a great deal of change, and our individual fates have fluctuated as well.
Specifically for 2006, the biggest sentiment has to be the gradual demise of traditional media. This demise cannot be simply attributed to the rise of Internet-based media. The Internet-based media are still just superficial and noisy. They may do well in the longer term, but at the moment they are unable to assume the moral responsibility that media should assume. They can offer quick pops, but they do not evoke ideas; they can increase interaction, but the results are shallow and superficial.
A number of famous newspapers and magazines have vanished over the course of this year. When we think about the people who once shouldered the moral responsibility and wrote brilliantly, we begin to realize that it is now hard to find anyone with real conscience and backbone among the mainland Chinese media. This is not the sorrow for one individual or one media outlet, but it is the sorrow to a certain degree for the entire nation.
1. The temporary shutdown of <Freezing Point>
From January 24 to March 2, this famous brand-name section of <China Youth Daily> gave us a lively lesson about the perils and fortunes in this industry. Li Datong wrote the history of the first ten years of the weekly supplement in the book <The Freezing Point Story>. The additional happenings outside the story were eye-opening for newcomers and sorrowful for insiders.
I remembered that on the day when the directive came down, all the associated published materials on the Internet had to be published in a very short time. Suddenly, the world became sparkling "clean." After reorganizing for more than month, <Freezing Point> was allowed to publish again. This was something that many of the other "re-organized" media never had the opportunity to do. Of course, there was a price to be paid, and the departure of Li Datong meant that <Freezing Point> has lost its soul.
Actually, <China Youth Daily> had already become unreadable a long time ago. In the 1990's, magazines such as <Society Weekly>, <Economic Blue Notes>, <Youth Hotline> were popular, but my high school favorite reading material was that newspaper. About a month ago, I read China Youth Daily again. The overwhelming bureaucratese made it seemed like <China Youth Rotten Wood>.
2. CCTV became everybody's target
A big elephant was being steered by the spectators every which direction. This once powerful elephant is so exhausted that it has no energy left. In the arena, there is only laughter and scorn.
That is right. I am talking about CCTV.
During this year, CCTV was very busy in an unprecedented way.
Under the pressure of public opinion, they changed the news announcers. But Kang Hui and Li Zimeng only appeared briefly and then vanished. It was quite a sight to observe the high degree of attention paid inside and outside China to the affair. On June 26, CCTV announced that it will cancel the playing of the national anthem before the news program. On the same day, Huang Jianxiang made his ear-shattering roar at the World Cup quarterfinals and shook all of China. On July 31, Chongqing Commercial News revealed that someone was trying to register the trademark CCTV1 for condoms. On August 15, CCTV published a note of explanation in response to netizens' demands that it change its name to the National Television Station. Later, Huang Jianxiang resigned and the talk of "internal struggles" within the sports division was rife ...
Whereas Li Yong repeatedly emphasized that CCTV is China's national television station, it has lost a lot of its haughty manner in 2006. The friendliness may have generated some curiosity, but the only other thing is sarcasm against this bloated monster.
3. Self-directed "spoof" farces occurred repeatedly
We live in an era in which values are inverted or reversed. The media were complicit in forming this era but they are also sometimes the target of their own farce, even though they are oblivious and in fact feel quite good about themselves.
The reporters at <China Business News> were sued for 10 million RMB, and surely this has to the biggest "hype" event of the year. Just like the case of the <Southern Metropolis Daily> reporter who lost his fingers, the unsatisfactory ending of this story disappointed many people. When <China Business News> and FoxConn settled the case with mutually complimentary and respectful words about each other, the many other people who stepped up to speak on behalf of justice must have thought that they had swallowed some flies down their mouths.
I am not a bored observer who is happy only when I see people fight to their deaths. But the "performances" of those two parties were truly disgusting, because this looked like a staged play between two parties both of whom derived interests from the case.
As for the second farce, this was the duel between Huang Jianxiang and the Southern Weekend reporter. Why did the resignation of one man have to end up with a media circus? Although the principal may deny his intent, the fact was that he tried very hard to transform the talk about the "internal struggles" within CCTV to a battle of words between a sports commentator and a media reporter (and CCTV must be privately delighted). This debate ended with Southern Weekend producing a technical report and Huang Jianxiang "thanking Southern Weekend." The violence in the language used in this war of words was unbearable. This show reminds me that during the Milosevic era, the tough old guys "bullied" the small little female soccer reporter Li Xiang. Today, Li Xiang has quietly gone to work at Sports Pictorial magazine, while her erstwhile "opponent" has just punched another female reporter. It is interesting how some things change but other things do not.
4. Xinhua reporter PK Fujian media
The Internet is popular because it gives everybody the right to speak. Even though people carry different weights with their words, at least they have some place to speak out. Under these circumstances, the aura of "authority" is slowly fading. For example, we just talked about CCTV above, and here we are talking about Xinhua. Even more interestingly, in this Internet era, certain "netizens" are recruited as tools to serve certain people. Thus, this group became a significant "player" in this battle.
The confrontation was initiated by a typhoon, for I remembered when the Xinhua reporter and the Fujian province were accusing each other. This summer, typhoon Saomai hit China and many people in Fujian province were affected. A Xinhua report triggered an even bigger storm than typhoon Saomai (the report accused the local authorities of inadequate disaster relief, the medical personnel were invisible, etc). On August 19, the Fujian provincial leaders criticized "certain media ... for making false reports based upon hearsay and rumors ..." Thereafter, from August 20 to 24, the Fujian provincial websites and mainstream media published three articles (such as <The natural disaster is over, so let us not be knocked out by manmade disasters>) under the penname of "Netizen." On August 26, the Xinhua website published <For the conscience of news workers -- the frontline notes about typhoon Saomai>. Three days later, Fujian's Strait Metropolis Daily published a long article to rebut Xinhua's 'reporter's notes.'
Was this an inaccurate report? Or local protectionism at work? We are not privileged to know the truth. But when the authoritative news agency was seen wrestling with the local media, there is a certain significance. Actually, there was another similar incident in 2006 in which Xinhua reported that the Huhhot government was manipulating housing prices. The local Huhhot leaders issued a stern denial, but they were later shown to have underestimated the national will for macroscopic adjustment.
5. The bloggers are like devils dancing at the party
In my personal opinion, 2006 was the year in which the Internet began to lead public opinion. Although the Internet was only good at acting like a parent minding trivial matters such as proper behavior and so on, this trend has moved to a degree that it cannot be ignored. This is confirmed by the launching of <Youth Weekend>, a magazine that specializes in commenting on Internet issues.
There are any number of incidents that can be cited: the Bronze Moustache affair, the Internet warrant on the cat torturer, the debate over selling animal hunting rights in western China, the storm over banks charging fees for inquiries, the question whether Peking University is second-rate, etc. Many people found themselves besieged by the fury of the Internet attacks. In early April, economist Fan Gang expressed the view in an interview that "Internet public opinion should not determine government decisions." He was subject to barrages of criticisms at many forums.
Some other Internet incidents caused us to be more reflective. Someone said that 2006 was the Year of the Blogger, or this was Year One for blogging. But since talk is easy and cheap, the blogosphere has also become quite chaotic. Even as large amounts of good writing are produced, the monsters and demons are also emerging. The worst offenders are the experts who shoot their mouths off on their blogs: Stephen Cheung wanted to open First Qin Emperor's tomb to check it out; Zheng Yuanjie said that marriage can be conducted with 5-year contracts; Fang Zhouzi and He Zuoxiu are calling for the "abolition of Chinese medicine" ... there is enough to compile a good list of the <Top Ten Nonsense Talk of 2006>.
Celebrities are skilled in the ways of attracting eyeballs. If they offer "recommendations" without careful thinking and mislead people by virtue of their standing, then where is their sense of responsibility?
6. Their Ten Years
What kind of era was 1996?
This is ten years later now. The reason why I am thinking about this is that certain sections at the large media outlets are celebrating their ten year anniversaries.
<New Weekly>, <Esquire>, <Southern Metropolis Daily>, <News Investigation> are famous media entities that have gone through a stormy decade. Ten years ago, it was a messy media environment in which the Internet was not yet popular. The newspapers and television programs at the time were uniformly monotonous. Therefore, these pioneers seized the opportunity to dominate.
It is easy to see their contribution to Chinese media. The most typical case is <New Weekly>, During its ten years, <New Weekly> introduced many new terms that are now commonly used by the Chinese people. The manner by which this magazine operated it business, chose its stories and built concepts has deeply influenced many Chinese media.
At the time, I was still a student. I did not have the money to buy fashion magazines that costs 15 or 20 RMB per copy. But CCTV's <News Investigation> entered into the lives of people at almost zero cost. At the tenth year anniversary gala, we saw the many people who had been reported on by <News Investigation>. Some of their fates are still the same as before, as is the case of Li Wenjuan.
In China, it is certainly difficult to do serious news. Therefore, we have cause to pay respect to <Southern Metropolis Daily> and <News Investigation>.
7. Media workers continue to migrate to the Internet
The influence of the Internet is everywhere.
On November 30, <Min Sheng> ceased publication in Taiwan. The Taiwan media interpreted this as the inevitable result of the Internet trend. Over on this other side of the strait, more and more traditional media workers are migrating to the Internet media. Certain top media workers wanted to build an Internet empire. There is an observable characteristic, in that a top media worker will usually cause a whole group of other media workers to follow..
<Nanchengfeng> editor Chen Juhong joined Tencent, <Economic Observer> chief editor He Li joined Yanglan (unconfirmed news is that he may join <Financial Times>), Beijing Times news director Zhang Rui joined Netease. There are many more unreported moves by news workers to the Internet. It impossible to say so far whether they are like the moths rushing into the fire, or they will do well. But this "trend" is the mainstream. Not every person will rise like the "trend" because they have to find out if this suits them.
8. New powers in watchdog journalism
In this grim media environment, certain traditional "responsible media" are fading out. But at the same time, new powers in watchdog journalism have emerged in 2006. Although their appearance may seem accidental and very few persist, the new blood gives us a slim ray of hope.
<Huaxia Times>, <Democracy and Legal System Times>, <Democracy and Legal System> all raise the banners of fairness and justice. They published many reports that fulfilled the role of watchdog journalism. A typical case is the investigative reports on the death of Gao Yingying. At a time when Chinese media are becoming increasing dull, this report made many people see how the media acted responsibly. In an age when few people speak of ideals, there will still be some media who work hard, even if they are too few.
Of course, the number of similar reports is sparse compared to the past. But we can treat this as our hope for 2007.
9. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television was very busy
Re-organizing telesales programs, issuing notices about the ratio of animated shows, cleaning out private satellite dishes, announcing broadband video regulations, restricting the mention of extramarital affairs in television shows, ... these orders come from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.
Most people do not know much about this organization, but it continues to affect the leisure and cultural activities of the people. There is no need to expand on the details, so only two stories will be mentioned just to remind us about SARFT.
- According to notice number one from the Department of Auditing, a correction needs made in the 2004 national budgetary plan. The problem arose because the revenue from SARFT was not included in the budget. As of 2005, the Ministry of Finance will include the 400 million RMB that SARFT collected from CCTV into the budget plan. As of 2006, SARFT will no longer collect money directly from CCTV for its own use. Instead, CCTV will become a new enterprise with its own managerial system.
- The second story is written by Yu Yiwei in Southern Metropolis Daily. The title was "Trust the power of the State Administration" and the subject was about bidding for advertising time on CCTV and the future prospects. In recent years, local media are becoming more prominent and many grassroots characters became nationally renowned through local television stations and websites. So why do the advertisers still stick with CCTV? CCTV has very low ratings in southern China, where it is called a northern television station. But CCTV will always have the support of SARFT. According to the Department of Auditing, CCTV does not pay any taxes. It only delivers its profits to SARFT. As long as SARFT is around, any other local media that get popular will be branded "cheap and vulgar" by SARFT. It is a political mistake not to believe in the power of SARFT.
10. The contest shows bloom
The popularity of <Super Girl> last year caused the contest shows to bloom. Apart from <Super Girl>, there are <Dream China>, <Go, My Good Man>, and even CCTV's <Youth Song Contest> has been included in the same category. There are also numerous local contest shows. Beyond the competition among these various shows, there are also the various kinds of conflicts within the programs themselves. I used to like this type of program. But there are so many of them around. After a while, I lose my enthusiasm and I am staying farther and farther away from them now.
Of course, this is not going to stop those self-confident television producers from dreaming. Some of the moderate programs are also getting into the voting game too. The most obvious example is CCTV's <Challenge the Host> in which ordinary people start making "critical comments" while the contestants attack each other. I can only say, "It is not that I don't understand, but the world is changing too fast."
Actually, there are many more memorable things in 2006, such as the semi-nude Hunan television hostess doing the public interest ads, the former Zhejiang bureau chief Meng Huaifu of Zhonghua Industry and Commerce News being sentenced to seven years in jail, the Phoenix TV female reporter claiming in Japan that she not Chinese, the emergence of new magazines and newspapers, etc. These incidents caused storms when they took place, and formed a colorful portrait of Chinese media with the ten events listed above.
The temperature has dropped to below zero now, but the sun is still shining on top of the blue sky. The Chinese media workers are abandoning their armor and weapons and they are racing happily down the road of materialism. Perhaps there is no right or wrong in this world. If one cannot stay at the station, one should depart respectably.
The five annual "Top Ten Chinese Media Events" listings are personal memories from my perspective. They cannot be said to be objective in any sense. But I have been trying to use this window to organize my vision of the mediascape for the next year. When we come back years later to review them, we may have some thoughts and feelings.