CHINA: CCTV's attempt at makeover for news show falls flat
Younger presenters fail to reappear after viewers and online critics slam changes
Thursday, June 15, 2006
By Straits Times China Bureau Chief and Chua Chin Hon
Beijing --- A modest attempt by China's state broadcaster to spruce up the frumpy image of its main news bulletin appears to have been put on ice following a wave of online criticism and complaints from conservative viewers.
China Central Television (CCTV) surprised millions of viewers on June 5 when it made an unannounced decision to have Ms Li Zimeng, 29, and Mr Kang Hui, 35, anchor the all-important 7pm news bulletin on Channel One.
Watched by an estimated 140 million Chinese, the bulletin -- called Xinwen Lianbo -- is the last word on official pronouncements of the day. But ratings are falling amid growing media competition and access to other sources of news, such as the popular Phoenix Satellite TV.
Xinwen Lianbo's dry format -- heavy on propaganda and short on real news -- and line-up of six humourless, conservatively dressed presenters did not help matters.
The introduction of Ms Li and Mr Kang last week marked a cautious attempt at shedding the bulletin's staid image, but the duo's fresh-faced appeal fell flat unexpectedly with many viewers.
Many Chinese Internet users slammed the duo, particularly Ms Li, for not being "serious" enough, thereby hurting the image of the programme.
"(She has) poor diction, bobs her head in a self-satisfied manner, and shows a lack of understanding on major domestic news. No matter how much we look at her, she still looks awkward," read a posting on an online forum hosted by popular Internet search engine Baidu.com on June 5.
The most damaging criticism against Ms Li has been one alleging that she smiled while reading an item on how 40 Chinese perished in a military plane crash.
However, online video clips of the bulletin showed that Mr Kang read that story, not Ms Li.
The very next evening, veteran presenters Wang Ning and Madam Xing Zhibing, who has been widely panned for her dowdy image, returned to helm the programme.
The swift and unexplained disappearance of Ms Li and Mr Kang has set tongues wagging in the Chinese capital. CCTV has declined comment on the matter.
When contacted by The Straits Times, a staff member at CCTV's news unit said: "No one knows where the problem lies. You are better off not reporting this."
But some changes are inevitable even for a programme as serious as Xinwen Lianbo, said Mr Pan Kewu of the Communication University of China.
To boost ratings, changes will have to go beyond cosmetic fixes, media commentators here said.
"The public looks forward to a reform of Xinwen Lianbo, not just in terms of a change in presenters but, more importantly, a breakthrough in content," a commentary in the Shanghai Securities News said last week.
"If it's still the old system, and the new presenters continue to speak in the same tone and show the same demeanour, then the audience would continue to suffer pain and disappointment."
Date Posted: 6/15/2006