China’s state broadcaster hires opinion leaders on Weibo in smear campaign against Apple
Source: Sina Weibo
Tech giant Apple and German automaker Volkswagen were accused of jerking Chinese consumers around in a 3-hour expose aired by China Central Television Friday evening, but a celebrity’s foolish mistake on Weibo revealed that the so-called investigative journalism from CCTV was nothing but the big shark’s PR offensive against the wrong targets.
Each year on March 15, the Consumers’ Rights Protection Day in China, CCTV runs a special “3.15” evening show that takes to task shoddy products or substandard services in the name of alerting the nation and laying bare corporate evils. In this year’s show, CCTV said that Chinese customers are not provided with the same customer service from Apple as it does to users in other countries, and that Volkswagen cars have this direct shift gearbox transmission problem that makes car suddenly lose power during driving.
A screen grab of the segment about Apple’s “discriminatory customer service” in CCTV’s “315” evening show
But the twist came at 20 minutes into the show, when a well-known singer/actor echoed CCTV’s accusation in an angry post on Weibo. Peter Ho, who has five million followers on Weibo, wrote, “Apple played so many tricks in customer service? As an Apple fan, I am really hurt… Is what you’ve done worthy of Jobs the head (Steve Jobs)? Worthy of the young man who sold one kidney? So you bully customers just because you are big! To be posted at around 8:20.”
The last sentence, “To be posted at around 8:20,” sounds very much like an instruction to Ho about timing of his attack on Apple. Oops, did he just copy and past every word onto Weibo from a PR person and forget to leave out the telltale message?
At least five other similar posts were published at the same moment by various influential personalities on Weibo, including Zheng Yuanjie, a popular children’s book writer, which only lead more to believe that Apple had been set up in a carefully orchestrated smear campaign that ended in a fiasco only because of this Peter Ho who let the cat out of the bag.
Two hours later, Peter Ho took down the post and wrote, “Someone stole my Weibo account and published the previous post! Can anyone tell me what was wrong? This is ridiculous,” which most users call a clumsy denial, “a lousy lie”.
“Notebook”, a very famous social commentator, summed up the 315 drama in his post, “3.15 has been a weapon to strike down competitors. It uses dirty tricks, bribes big shots from all sectors on Weibo, assigns them tasks of posting content on Weibo at around 8:20 to work with CCTV in a concentrated fire on the target CCTV presets. It makes people sick.” It was retweeted more than 20,000 times in ten hours.
Although so far the claim that those who publicly spoke against Apple got a fat paycheck from CCTV cannot be corroborated and is probably exaggerated, there is little doubt that in this case, the single most powerful broadcaster in China abused its media power by mobilizing so much manpower behind the scenes to beleaguer one corporate.
If only they scratched the right surface. This year, also joining Apple and Volkswagen in the list of “dishonest enterprises” are Craft Food, Chow Tai Seng Jewelry, and web portal Net Ease. CCTV’s allegations are that the cheese does not meet standards, the gold necklace is adulterated, and that the website does cookie stealing to infringe upon privacy. Like “Notebook” said, “It leaves alone countless rubbish cell phones or computers and instead attacks a company that is a hundred times better than you are in every way out of jealousy.”
One user wrote, “You made no mention of the notorious tainted baby formula, or food scandal, or substandard gas and diesel that has created smog, or SMS spams from telecom oligarchs, and instead hypocritically singled out small faults of NetEase and Apple. Who are you bluffing?”
Another wrote, “Actually, Peter Ho is the real fraud buster today. He crushed an evening show and a hypocritical crowd with two Weibo posts.”
It is not the first time CCTV’s expose was lambasted. Last year, it sent an undercover reporter to one McDonald’s restaurant in Beijing, who filmed with a hidden camera how the restaurant staff prepared food with ingredients past their expiration date. Its newsgathering method and motive were questioned by many, who said they would rather trust McDonald’s than CCTV’s news report.
In 2008, CCTV picked on Chinese search engine giant Baidu.com for running ads paid by illegal and unlicensed pharmaceutical companies. Baidu’s stock price took a terrible tumble afterwards. But in 2009, after Baidu plunked down 40 million yuan (5.7 million) as the sponsor of CCTV’s Chinese New Year Gala, one of the most watched TV program in the world, CCTV left it alone.
Robin Li, founder and CEO of Baidu.com (left), was invited to 2009 CCTV New Year’s Gala after paying “protection fee”.
No one probably nailed the truth about these two flagship shows of CCTV better than this post, retweeted by Xue Manzi, a famous venture capitalist, on his Weibo page Friday after CCTV’s 315 night turned into a scandal, “The difference between its Chinese New Year Gala and 315 Evening Show is, you can pay money to appear in one and pay money to avoid appearing in the other.”