The Evening News

On Friday the Wall Street Journal had an interesting article , Two Youthful Anchors Give China’sa TV News a Jolt of Personality, about the sudden appearance of two new anchors on China’s evening news broadcast.  It’s created quite a buzz:

After their television debut this week, Li Zimeng and Kang Hui may be on their way to becoming household names like Katie Couric and Brian Williams — in China. Ms. Li and Mr. Kang are the youthful new anchors of China Central Television’s half-hour evening news broadcast, the first fresh faces in more than a decade on a program that is watched nightly by an estimated 140 million people. Mr. Kang, in his mid-thirties, and Ms. Li, 28, made their unannounced appearance on Monday, delivering Beijing’s official line on current events in a cheerful manner that departed from the dour demeanors of CCTV’s rotating group of six other newscasters…… The addition of Ms. Li and Mr. Kang reflect the reshaping of China’s media and the government’s approach to propaganda as new, livelier avenues of information flourish in the country. The duo is part of a broader but cosmetic effort by the state-run broadcaster to add a touch of personality to its programs and woo viewers and advertisers — but without allowing editorial independence…… First broadcast in 1978 in a format similar to its current form, the evening news program is the core of the government’s official message machine. Anchors — a man and a woman — read the news each night at 7 p.m. in a humorless manner, looking only at the teleprompter or the scripts on their desk. There is virtually no banter.  The show, called "News Relay," generally leads with reports on the activities of the country’s top leaders in order of the officials’ rank in the party hierarchy. That formula has been followed so strictly over the years that political analysts often try to determine who is up and who is down based on how much air time each official gets. Recognizing TV’s power as a propaganda instrument, especially among the country’s largely peasant population, the government promotes state TV, even installing satellite dishes in remote villages. About 400 million households now have TVs.

To say that the nightly newscast is dull would be a vast understatement.  20 of the 30 minutes are devoted to reports on meetings, where we the viewers are treated to endless shots of party faithful dutifully taking notes while cadres drone on and on.  I’ve long thought this newscast a plot by the folks in charge here to keep order by making sure the people are bored to tears.  What’s more, at 7pm, nearly every station in the country is required to air the program, so channel surfing at that time will only find that one show.  The only escape is the "power off" button.

I don’t watch the show often (too painful), but did happen to turn it on Monday, and was surprised to see these two new faces.  I thought maybe a wrinkle had occurred in the universe.  In the universe of the party propaganda machinery, I guess it had.  They were smiling. They were perky.  They actually looked at the camera.  Unfortunately, the content was the same old same old.