This week we start off our list of media stories with an interesting constellation of debates centering around “First School Class” (开学第一课), a well-known kids education program that has aired on China Central Television since 2008. The high concentration of advertising coming ahead of the program, which airs at 8PM, after the Party’s official news cast, has prompted criticism from parents — particularly given the fact that many are compelled by schools to watch the program with their children.

But “First School Class” has also been the focus of discussion in recent days over the issue of gender identity, as some have criticized the appearance on the program of “effeminate” males guests, questioning whether such guests are appropriate role models for young boys — and others have spoken out against such narrow gender views, and in defense of diversity.

THIS WEEK IN CHINA’S MEDIA
September 1 to September 7, 2018

➢ Debate Erupts After CCTV’s “First School Class” Program Postponed by Advertisements
➢ Price Ratings Return With a Vengeance to Baidu Medical
➢ China Internet Media Forum Held, Releases Rankings
➢ Shanxi Province Initiates Propaganda Campaign to “Sweep Away Organized Crime”

[1] Debate Erupts After CCTV’s “First School Class” Program Postponed by Advertisements

Screenshot of “First Class Period,” an educational program airing at 8PM on CCTV.

On September 1, 2018, the program “First School Class” (开学第一课), usually broadcast on China Central Television at 8PM, was broadcast late because an additional 13 minutes of advertising content was allotted after the official nightly news program, Xinwen Lianbo (新闻联播). The additional advertising included advertisements for educational training and products. “First School Class” is jointly produced by China Central Television in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, with the demand that parents accompany their school-age children in watching the program. In some cases, schools even require that parents take digital photographs of the program on their televisions to document their participation, and that they share their written impressions of the program.

“First School Class” first went on the air in 2008, its programs directed toward current affairs and education in basic values and virtues. This year the program has frequently prompted anger from parents and the public for several reasons. First of all, the program has often begun late due to advertising and commercial promotion, and people have complained that this is essentially an executive order forcing parents and their children to consume advertising content. On September 2, the advertising center of CCTV (中央电视台广告经营管理中心) issued a public apology for the excessive advertisements ahead of “First School Class.” But many people felt this apology was coming from too junior a position, and that higher officials at the network should be held responsible.

Second, the program has featured film star Jackie Chan, who speaks directly to the children about his own history of struggle against adversity. But many parents have pointed to Chan’s failed marriage, and to the fact that his own son was arrested for drug use, to suggest the actor is a poor role model for their kids. Finally, some parents have expressed the concern that male singer Zhu Zhengting (朱正廷) and other guests have appeared on the program wearing makeup, which might confuse young boys watching the program. On September 6, Xinhua News Agency ran a commentary under the byline “Xin Shiping” (辛识平) called “The ‘Effeminate’ Trend Must Stop (“娘炮”之风当休矣), which said the phenomenon of “effeminization,” or niangpao (娘炮), was rejected by society because “the harmful effect of this perverse culture on youth cannot be underestimated.”

Singer Zhu Zhengting pictured on the Weibo account of “First School Class.”

On September 6, the WeChat public account “People’s Daily Commentary” (人民日报评论) posted a commentary called “What Kind of ‘Male Character’ Should We Have Today?” (什么是今天该有的“男性气质”), which was meant as a response to the Xinhua News Agency commentary. The WeChat piece rejected the notion that so-called “effeminization” or that phenomenon of “not male not female” (不男不女) or other forms of identity should be disparaged, and said “today’s society has further expanded the field of aesthetics, providing more diverse ways of living, and it has also presented a more diverse face where male beauty is concerned.”

Approaching the issue from the vantage point of gender socialization, China Women’s News (中国妇女报) said in its own article that notions like “male character” and “female character” (女性气质) were already discredited. Instead, the paper said, on the principles of equality and respect, the identity choices of each individual should be viewed with tolerance and respect, avoiding altogether terms like “effeminization” and “not male not female” that are derogatory.

Key Chinese Sources:
Sina Entertainment (新浪娱乐): 央视就《开学》广告多道歉:影响了家长和同学们
Dushikuaibao (都市快报): 《开学第一课》成了“广告第一课” 央视道歉 教育部表态
Xinhua News Agency (新华社): 辛识平:“娘炮”之风当休矣
China Women’s News (中国妇女报): 男性该有怎样的气质引发社会热议
WeChat public account “People’s Daily Commentary” (微信公众号“人民日报评论”): 什么是今天该有的“男性气质” | 睡前聊一会儿

[2] Price Ratings Return With a Vengeance to Baidu Medical

According to a report on China Central Television, many residents in the city of Shanghai searching online for information about medical treatments for various conditions have expressed concern that when searching on China’s Baidu search engine for “Shanghai Fudan University Affiliated Hospital” (上海复旦大学附属医院), they were directed at the top of their search results to a “Fuda Hospital” (复大医院) – a name that sounds like an abbreviated form of “Fudan University Hospital.” After spending enormous sums to treat their conditions, patients reported no improvement, and when they then visited other hospitals they found that their diagnoses were markedly different from those given at “Fuda Hospital.” When a reporter from CCTV looked into “Fuda Hospital,” they found that it was operating sites at 91 different web domains, all serving as destinations for different search terms. Searches for the city’s leading hospital, paired with search terms related to certain illnesses, were being directed to paid advertisements for “Fuda.”

Screenshot of CCTV coverage of Shanghai’s “Fuda Hospital,” to which unsuspecting patients were directed through online searches.

Baidu’s reputation suffered a serious blow back in 2016, when it was found that its search engine brought up misleading results directing patients to dangerous experimental treatments. In one prominent case, those results allegedly contributed to the death of a college student direct to an experimental cancer treatment.

Key Chinese Sources:
CCTV Online (央视网): 百度医疗竞价排名卷土重来?患者搜索医院遭遇“冒牌货”
And: [第一时间]搜李逵出李鬼!百度医疗竞价排名卷土重来 搜复旦附属医院却引来复大医院
The Paper (澎湃新闻网): 患者搜复旦附属医院被引入民营医院就诊,百度回应
And: 百度回应复大医院推广事件:将扩展品牌保护关键词库

[3] China Internet Media Forum Held, Releases Rankings

On September 6, 2018, the China Internet Media Forum was held in the city of Ningbo. The forum release a ranking of top sites in China in 2018 based on “communication power,” or chuanboli (传播力). Among official central-level news sites, the website of the People’s Daily was ranked at the top, with the sites of Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television coming in second and third. Among provincial-level news sites, eastday.com, a site operated by the leadership in Shanghai municipality, was ranked on top, with Chongqing’s cqnews.net coming in second, followed by rednet.cn from Hunan province.

Coverage of the rankings provided little in the way of supporting data, and it should be little surprise that the website operated under the banner of the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily, should be ranked first among “chief central media” — regardless of what the real numbers reflect.

Sun Yusheng (孙玉胜), the deputy director of China Central Television, opened the event with a speech in which he affirmed the key role of film and video, saying that its premier media status had not changed in the past 100 years and would not change in the future, though the channels themselves might change.

Key Chinese Sources:
WeChat public account “New Media” (微信公众号“网络传播杂志”): 2018中国网络媒体论坛成功举办 带你全程回顾!
WeChat public account “Media Circle” (微信公众号“传媒圈”): 孙玉胜:视频是传播的最高形态 未来也不会改变

[4] Shanxi Province Initiates Propaganda Campaign to “Sweep Away Organized Crime”

Lian Yiming (廉毅敏), the top propaganda leader of Shanxi province, held a meeting on September 7 called the “Sweeping Away the Black Concerted Struggle Propaganda Work Promotion Conference” (扫黑除恶专项斗争宣传工作推进会), which aimed at a coordinated series of propaganda reports dealing with the fight against organized crime. Lian demanded that propaganda officials at all levels across the province define propaganda reports on the struggle against organized crime as a “critical political task.”

Shanxi has sought in recent months to grapple with its reputation as a hotbed of official corruption. In 2015, Chinese Vice-Premier Ma Kai described the problem of corruption in the province as being “like a cancer.”

Key Chinese Reports:
WeChat public account “Shanxi Broadcast Television” (微信公众号“山西广播电视台”): 我省对深入推进扫黑除恶专项斗争宣传工作作出安排部署
Xinhua News Agency (新华网): 中央派出10个督导组实地“督战”扫黑除恶专项斗争