China Power

China’s Disappointing “Face”

Did a former newscaster overstep the mark by endorsing health products in a news-style internet ad?

Those familiar with Chinese media will know the CCTV evening news show that goes out at 7 pm each night and which broadcasts the latest news from the ruling Communist Party. Newscasters given the chance to present on the show are considered to have been given an extremely privileged position, and they and they are often seen as the “face” of the country – they are familiar to the public and are also, in a sense, representatives of China.

Recently, a female broadcaster was appointed spokesperson for a company, and the ad she appeared in was designed to look like an edition of the 7 pm news program, with the newscaster talking about the company as if it were a news item.

The newscaster has actually already retired, but she’s as popular and arguably almost as well-known as President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. But her presentation of the business in question, delivered as if she was talking about the country’s leaders, made many Chinese uncomfortable.

The ad, which first aired on the internet, lasts for about 5 minutes, with the newscaster decked out in red. In the first and third “news” items in the ad, the newscaster reports that many companies were celebrating the lunar new year, and that they had organized new year parties on the first day of the new year, with the CEO of the company greeting the nation.

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The second item was even more interesting, though, as the newscaster aggressively pushes a health company’s products. Netizens were surprised to hear her so openly endorsing a company’s products, and many felt that it was misleading to be presenting it in a news format.

Although calls for freedom of speech are becoming more common, China still has some deep-rooted views on these kinds of issues, especially on institutions like the 7 pm news, which was set up decades ago, and which has since allowed the Communist Party to exert a certain influence over the nation.

The whole row has reminded me of the announcement late last year that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was dead. The newscaster in that case is believed to have had plenty of time to prepare for the announcement, and shed tears that were meant to reflect the mourning of a nation. The sincerity of these tears aside, many Chinese I have spoken to wish that newscasters would stay exactly that – faces of the nation, not the face of the latest products.