China Today, a news program on CCTV, is also broadcast in English.
Television news in China has been broadcast since TV became available in the country in the late 1950s. China Central Television (CCTV)—the national network owned and managed by the government (and the standard for all TV news stations in China)—has begun to offer several popular “news magazine” shows that cover everyday events or touch on a wide range of hot topics in China and the world.
After dramas, news bulletins are the most popular TV shows with Chinese viewers. Broadcast news in China is ubiquitous, popular, and influential. The government stipulates that each television station must have a comprehensive channel to broadcast important news. The people of China are well informed—up to a point. The power of the press belongs to those who own the press. In China the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) owns and manages TV news, along with all other mass media.
China Central Television (CCTV), the country’s first TV station, is the only national network and the standard for all other TV networks. CCTV has eighteen channels. CCTV-News, launched in 2003, broadcasts news twenty-four hours a day. CCTV’s domination of news programming is shown by its prime-time Network News (Xinwen lianbo), a program that began broadcasting in 1978, and which still runs daily from 7 to 7:30 p.m. The government requires all local stations to broadcast this program simultaneously.
The editorial board of Network News consists of senior officials of CCTV, overseen by the network’s president. Network News is the model for Chinese television news programs. It serves as one of the most important news outlets for the CCP, in addition to the People’s Daily (Renmin ribao) and the Central People’s Radio Station (Zhongyang renmin guangbo diantai). Network News adheres to CCP media theory and guidelines: Television’s first purpose is to serve as the “mouthpiece” of the government and the party, and should mainly cover political and economic successes and the positive aspects of government, and not spread negative thinking or foster low morale. This media policy is part of the political and ideological agenda of the CCP. And there are no signs that the CCP will relinquish its firm hold on the media in the foreseeable future.
The format of Network News has remained unchanged since its first day of broadcasting. Any radical changes in the format are unlikely, and any changes are incremental and gradual. There are two presenters, one male and one female. Two or three pairs of presenters rotate daily. These presenters are merely announcers and have no editorial power to determine the selection of news.
Network News always begins with the public activities of the top leaders, in order of their rankings in the highest political body, the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CCP. The first appearance is reserved for the general secretary of the CCP. Conferences, meetings with foreign visitors, tours, and speeches involving the top leaders usually take up the first ten minutes, or a third of the program. The next ten-minute segment covers economic news from across China. Some segments are prerecorded and produced weeks or even months in advance. Most news stories are produced by local television stations and cover positive reports of growth, development, and technological advances.
Other News Programming
As part of reforms in news programming, CCTV launched two news magazines in 1993, Oriental Horizon (Dongfang shikong) and Focus (Jiaodian fangdan).
Oriental Horizon is a one-hour program broadcast at 7 a.m., before most of the audience goes to work or school. It features coverage of events in the daily lives of ordinary citizens, portraits of well-known figures, and in-depth reports on a single issue. The program is hugely popular, and some observers claim that it has caused a silent revolution in daytime television.
Focus is a thirty-minute current affairs program broadcast at 7:30 p.m., prime time. It touches on a wide range of hot topics in China and the world, with background analysis, on-the-spot reporting, and in-studio interviews. Focus usually covers issues of significant social impact and of considerable interest to both the government and the public. Sensitive issues—such as corruption, injustice, and rising social disparities—are approached using an investigative reporting style. This kind of tough reporting has made Focus extremely popular. It usually trails only Network News in the ratings.
In 1996 CCTV launched the news magazine, News Probe (Xinwen diaocha), a forty-five-minute weekly program that provides in-depth investigative reporting of sensitive social issues. It is broadcast on CCTV-1 first at 10:30 p.m. on Mondays and then repeated on CCTV-News the following Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday, all during off-peak times. The issues exposed and the criticism of social problems on News Probe are sometimes more distressing or controversial than those covered on Focus, partly because it is aired during off-peak hours. The editorial board reckons that because fewer people watch the show, its impact is less widespread.
News programs like Focus and News Probe are governed by a complicated and difficult process of selection, negotiation, framing, and censorship. A former director of Focus admitted that for each program he had to carefully weigh the question of its possible negative effects on political stability, in general, against the resolution of the problems it uncovered, in particular. To satisfy the government and meet the public’s demand to know the truth behind incidents, crimes, and disasters, journalists and editors need to walk a fine line. Their work in recent years reflects a trend toward more accurate, balanced, and fair news reporting in an increasingly open society.
In October 1998 then-premier Zhu Rongji met with Focus editors and reporters, and left a written message that paid tribute to the program. Zhu expressed the hope that Focus would function as a leader in reform, the government’s mirror, and the “people’s mouthpiece.” Observers noted that the change from the party’s mouthpiece to the people’s mouthpiece was a significant shift, especially when articulated by a top leader. Although no substantial reorientation occurred at CCTV after this visit, local television stations took the cue from Zhu in their efforts toward reform.
A trend toward a diverse range of television news programs and news magazine shows continued on local television stations into the early 2000s. These programs devote more attention to local issues that have direct impact on the everyday lives of ordinary citizens. On 1 January 2002, Jiangsu Television’s City Channel launched the prime-time news program Nanjing Zero Distance (Nanjing lingjuli), which airs from 6 to 7:30 p.m., overlapping with CCTV’s Network News. (City Channel’s sister channel Jiangsu TV-1 obligingly airs Network News.) Nanjing Zero Distance ushered in a new way of covering the news of people’s lives (minsheng xinwen), dealing mostly with the everyday events and issues that concern the residents of Nanjing. Because Nanjing is the provincial capital of one of the most prosperous provinces on China’s east coast, events in the city have implications for all of Jiangsu Provin
ce. The program’s ratings soon soared, and it attracted the highest Nielson rating (17 percent) of all television programs in Nanjing and vicinity, an area of more than 6 million people.
More than ten programs of this type emerged in Jiangsu and Nanjing alone over the next few years and have dominated television broadcasting and ratings. Across China, similar programs have appeared on provincial and city television stations, creating a sort of TV war for programming on people’s lives. Such local news programs meet the needs of a public with ever-growing concerns about issues that affect the rights and well-being of individuals. In addition, such programs are in keeping with the government’s policy priority of building a harmonious society.
Li Xiaoping. (2001). Significant changes in the Chinese television industry and their impact in the PRC: An insider’s perspective [Monograph]. Washington, DC: Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, the Brookings Institution.
Source: Liu, Kang. (2009). Television—News. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2220–2222. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
A CCTV Focus report, with a reporter at Tiananmen Square.
Television—News (Diànshì x?nwén ????)|Diànshì x?nwén ???? (Television—News)