Must Read: CCTV-9 Exposed by Insider!

You saw it here first: A former reporter for the much esteemed CCTV-9, China’s English-language propaganda machine that knows no limits when it comes to parodying itself, has written a scathing and delightful expose of what goes on behind the scenes there.

For example:

If you’re not one of our satellite subscribers outside China, you can go to and watch our broadcasts to get an idea of why we’re here. China has opened up and reformed! Our news shows look just like yours! We have actual anchors who wear neckties! (Another channel, CCTV-12, has an interview set so similar to Larry King’s that it’s probably some sort of copyright infringement.) One thing management has provided is a mission: to make our employer, the central government, look good.

That’s why “Your first window on China” always affords a sunny view. When a British tourist was murdered near the Great Wall, CCTV-9 knew nothing about it. When the police shut down all the internet cafes in Beijing, our coverage never questioned the party line that it was for safety reasons.

When Falun-Gong-hunting cops raided my hostel one winter midnight, putting dozens of foreign backpackers and workaday Chinese out on the street without a moment’s notice, CCTV-9 staffers were amused and sympathetic—but there was no coverage.

When a group of North Koreans made a dramatic break into the Spanish embassy in Beijing that was played repeatedly on CNN, you never heard a word from us. I went down to the Spanish embassy that afternoon in March 2002 and found Beijing’s small community of real journalists. Reuters, CNN, Hong Kong’s Phoenix, the BBC—everyone was there except “Your first window on China.”

When an enterprising intern who also worked as a translator and interpreter wanted to do an exposé on China’s woefully unsupervised translation and interpretation business, she was told to forget it. “Why would you want foreigners to know about this problem?” demanded those in charge. The irony seems lost on them that this method of making China look good is simply exposing the country as a joke.

Long-time readers know this is a topic close to my heart. Remember, it was CCTV-9 I wrote about back in April for interviewing people about how thrilled they were that SARS was no longer a problem in China and a record number of tourists were now flowing in — and this was days before Beijing became a veritable city under siege, finally forced to acknowledged it harbored more SARS patients than any other city on earth.

I’d actually like to post this entire story here, every paragraph is so revealing. Hilarious, too. Just one more snippet:

You would have thought it was a real newsroom, except that the propaganda reached such heights of crassness that it provoked some minor revolts among the Foreign Experts and served as the catalyst for my finally sitting down to write all this. We’re talking about an authoritarian government with a legacy of tens of millions of murders that claims it has always served the best interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people; it will later censor SARS coverage after supposedly coming clean about its coverup and establishing information networks on the disease.

Now, during the NPC [National People’s Congress], it is anointing its new elite, with the commander-in-chief of the Tiananmen Square massacre [Li Peng] in the field of candidates and an unspecified intention to drag 1.2 billion people headlong into its latest political experiment. Imagine the kind of press coverage it’s demanding. Imagine Uday Hussein describing his own dick.

While the world was counting down to war in Iraq, the entire first block—not just the first story, but the first block—of every CCTV-9 broadcast was dedicated to the “profound historical significance,” the “major event not only for China but for the rest of the world,” the “significant landmark,” that was the 16th National Party Congress of the Communist Party of China.

What was so pressing and momentous? What was the story that so desperately needed to be told? Well, that “Delegates interviewed all spoke highly of Jiang Zemin’s Three Represents thought,” that “Serving the people wholeheartedly is the aim of the Communist Party of China,” that Chinese abroad “noted that as China’s ruling party, the Chinese Communist Party is praiseworthy for its ceaseless efforts to keep the country stable and prosperous,” and that “It was a proud moment for many overseas Chinese when President Jiang Zemin stepped onto the podium and began to deliver his report at the opening session of the CPC National Congress.

The event kept them glued to their screens, their hearts beating in time with their motherland’s.” If you’re not sold on the significance of these carryings-on then you’re in an insignicant minority, as CCTV-9 reported.

This is priceless. I’ve been ranting about CCTV for a year, and it is so wonderful to see that those who work there loathe it as much as I do. It’s not a news network, it’s not a source of information, it is simply a dressed-up tool for telling lies, misleading foreigners and making the CCP look good. Go read the whole article.

One more paragraph. I can’t resist:

Educated young Chinese in the newsroom tell me the Tiananmen Square massacre was an attack on the People’s Liberation Army by vicious students, and I dismiss them as peasants. I look for better journalistic practices in a Chinese writer freshly returned from a coveted CNN training junket, only to find that she’s been promoted to censor. I help my coworkers write applications to journalism schools at American universities, and I politely refrain from asking them what they intend to do with such an education when they get back. I turn away with embarrassment from the work of another competent, up-and-coming field reporter who is trifling away on assignments about sports, the growing popularity of the Communist Party among China’s youth, and the 100 percent safety record of the Long March rocket. (It’s the engine that’s safe, he clarifies for me—and the rocket has never failed when launching China’s Shenzhou spacecraft, only when launching other countries’ stuff, like the time it blew up with an American-made satellite on it and killed over a hundred Chinese villagers.)

And we are dumping foreign investment into this country like there is no tomorrow based on the statistics the Party feeds us.

The Discussion: 4 Comments

It’s like reading the English-language Shanghai Daily which must be the only broadsheet (ahem) in the world to run government, business, economy and development news before getting to anything English readers here are actually interested in.

November 4, 2003 @ 5:57 am | Comment

Actually you saw it first at PRC News.

Heh. I love scooping you Richard. 😉

November 4, 2003 @ 9:41 am | Comment

Amazing. How did I (and the rest of the community) miss that? Was PRC News even around back in July?

Anyway, it’s a great story and I hope everyone who thinks the media in China is improving gets to read it.

November 4, 2003 @ 10:08 am | Comment

Makes you wonder if there isn’t a hell of a lot more out there we’re missing, yeah?

November 4, 2003 @ 11:24 am | Comment

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