When China’s second unmanned lunar probe, Chang’e II, was scheduled to blast off at 18:59:57 on October 1st 2010, 3 seconds before CCP mouthpiece CCTV’s Xinwen Lianbo began, the biggest highlight of this launch emerged — how would CCTV deal with the time conflict between the live broadcast of Chang’e's flying to the moon and the 30-minute news program on the evening of National Day?
This problem doesn’t exist in most countries in the world, for the answer is awfully easy: the live broadcast of launching is definitely more important, so the regular news program has to be delayed until the rocket is flying in the air. For TV stations in these countries, to ask this question is just like to ask a patient in critical condition: “Would you like the oxygen treatment, or to have some cookies first?”
But in China, this became a Gordian knot. The key reason is that the relationship between news and politics is still confusing. Although Xinwen Lianbo seems to be a regular news program, it is a political symbol of CCP. Every day at 7 pm, a kind of “virus” will attack all the TV sets in China. The symptom is that almost every channel will become the same, showing one man and one woman reading propaganda articles in a very old-fashioned way. Any tiny changes of this program will attract a huge amount of attention. There used to be hot discussions on the change of anchors and the slight variation of news arrangement. Gradually, this 30-minute news program is under great pressure. Any small action will be interpreted as a big political issue.
It becomes impossible for CCTV to delay Xinwen Lianbo in this situation. In fact, news has never weighed more than politics in China. Not to mention the political importance of the mouthpiece program in the evening of National Day.
However, we cannot forget about the pace of news reform in China. CCTV has been heading for real journalism by revising its News Channel several times. On the other hand, audiences’ expectation for news has been increasing. Therefore, it will trigger social discontent if Xinwen Lianbo simply ignores the launching. Presumably, there was a lengthy discussion inside CCTV and CCP’s Central Propaganda Department before deciding the scenario –
To begin the live broadcast in News Channel early in the day. When it turned to 18:59:55, the News Channel and CCTV-1 combined as regular (the virus works). It was time for Xinwen Lianbo.
At that moment, the countdown was coming to the end and the commander was about to shout out “ignition”, but CCTV didn’t care. The live scene of Chang’e II was put in the bottom right of the screen by using picture-in-picture. The main screen was filled by the 5-second countdown advertisement of a liquor, then the opening of Xinwen Lianbo. As a result, during the most crucial and amazing seconds, all the audience of Xinwen Lianbo could only watch Chang’e II through a small picture without any live sound.
The live scene of launching was switched to full screen after the opening theme. After 2 minutes of live broadcasting without narrative, journalist Bai Yansong read the draft, saying that the News Channel would continue to focus on Chang’e II. Then, the anchors Li Ruiying and Kang Hui appeared in the normal way, but Kang’s opening remark changed from the regular “Good evening everyone, today is October 1st, 2010, August 24th in lunar calendar” to “The scene you just watched is the live broadcast from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. Xinwen Lianbo will track and report it later”. After this, the regular news of Chinese celebrating National Day began.
Honestly speaking, this way of solving the problem is a compromise that can be accepted by the propaganda department, the TV station, and the audience. On the positive side, using picture-in-picture in Xinwen Lianbo‘s opening can even be regarded as a great progress in China’s journalism. Although politics refused to yield, it showed us a gesture of lower its high head a bit.
But there is also a big flaw in this live broadcast: the countdown advertisement. The opening of Xinwen Lianbo couldn’t be cancelled due to political reasons, but what about the commercial advertisement? Perhaps the major tasks of CCTV is to accomplish political missions and to make more and more money, while to report the news is never the most important.
In addition, there is another interesting detail in this event — the launching of Chang’e II itself is with political intention. It is different from the news in the usual sense. Therefore, the game between Chang’e II and Xinwen Lianbo is not simply the game between news and politics. To a certain extent, it’s still a game within politics.
So why not imagine: when a disaster like Wenchuan Earthquake hits China at 6 pm, what will CCTV do? To continue boasting about “the excellent situation” in Xinwen Lianbo, or to replace it with the live broadcast? Or to adopt a “middle way” by spending a quarter talking about the good news, the other quarter broadcasting the disaster? The answer will reflect the level of civilization of this country.