BEIJING – Viewers of stodgy state-run television were in for a surprise Monday when they tuned in to the 7 p.m. news. In place of stone-faced anchors reading dry news reports, a mainstay of the CCTV network for decades, they were treated to two young, smiling faces.
The change reflects growing concern by the Communist Party that its core evening broadcast is losing influence, particularly among young people bypassing its political sloganeering and party line “news” in favor of the Internet, DVDs and livelier privately run networks with their rich diet of practical consumer news and racy entertainment.
CCTV’s decision to present the 30-something CCTV anchors on a trial basis in the nation’s pre-eminent newscast won some early plaudits Tuesday, with clips of the show – featuring female anchor Li Zimeng sporting shoulder length hair and male Kang Hui with a crew cut and dark suit – picked up and re-broadcast over the Internet.
Some 11,000 people who participated in an online poll by Sina.com.cn, China’s largest Internet portal, found Li and Kang “fresh, lively and not lecturing,” compared with 546 who favored the old team.
The Beijing Youth Daily newspaper gushed that the change was “an incredible move by CCTV.”
Critics were quick to add, however, that the network will have to do more than redecorate its windows if it hopes to regain momentum. The evening news has seen a dramatic loss of market share, although exactly how much is the subject of debate.
Official figures suggest it is still the most-watched news program in major markets, but some analysts and even some CCTV employees suspect the numbers have been doctored for political purposes.
“CCTV is boring, and even with new anchors the content remains the same,” said Li Jia, 24, a secretary living in Beijing. “They run these long reports on meetings and foreign dignitary visits that just don’t mean anything to my life.”
Media analysts said Monday’s decision to try out younger anchors was probably made by senior Communist Party officials given that few at the network would have the clout to push aside well-connected anchors with decades of experience.
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