Resignation of popular sports commentator directs audience frustration to CCTV’s political culture

Since his resignation from China Central Television (CCTV) last week, celebrity sports commentator Huang Jianxiang (黄健翔) has topped news headlines in China, and some media have suggested popular animosity toward CCTV and its political culture lies at the heart of interest in what might otherwise be a story of relative insignificance. [IMAGE: Screenshot of Sina.com homepage today. Huang Jianxiang coverage circled at right, directly below coverage of Hu Jintao].

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Since his resignation on November 16, Huang has tried to quell rumors that he was forced out and insisted he was leaving CCTV for “personal reasons”. But whispers in the media and on the Internet have suggested there are deeper reasons for Huang’s departure. Hao Hongjun (郝洪军), a sports journalist and former editor of Football Daily, wrote on his blog shortly after Huang’s resignation that “XXX of the Sports Channel [at CCTV] wrote a letter informing on Huang Jianxiang”. This blog posting fanned speculation that Huang had indeed been the victim of internal political battles at CCTV. [NOTE: Letters of this kind were a common feature of work units under the state-controlled economy. Often politically driven, they concerned not necessarily work-related matters, but could also be criticisms of personal lifestyle.]

Huang Jianxiang, seen by many football fans in China as a youthful and energetic alternative to the dry and wooden commentators often associated with state television, has lately been the source of much controversy. Huang provoked anger from some football fans back in June when he expressed clear bias for the Italian side after it ousted Australia from the tournament in a last-minute penalty kick. He later apologized to Australian football fans for his outburst. [Huang commentary during Italy-Australia match via YouTube]. [BELOW: Special feature page at Sina.com devoted to Huang Jianxiang and news of his resignation].

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Taking issue with a statement by a CCTV official that Huang Jianxiang had resigned under increasing pressure brought on by negative media coverage (or “spoofing”), an editorial in today’s Southern Metropolis Daily suggested the real problem was CCTV’s culture of “rigid correctness”, or zhenggao (正搞), a term the author coined to contrast with the concept of “spoofing”, or e’gao (恶搞). This is a problem that has been argued repeatedly in recent years, as CCTV has attempted to balance its role as a key propaganda mouthpiece with its need to be more commercially savvy in a changing media marketplace [ESWN on CCTV versus Super Girl]:

Southern Metroplis Daily
November 21, 2006, A31
pdf_southern-metro-daily-on-huang.pdf


Up to this point a number of details about Huang Jianxiang’s resignation are still foggy … Huang Jianxiang has written on his blog that “it owes entirely to personal reasons and has nothing whatsoever to do with other people or other matters”. Clearly, this [explanation] amounts to a kind of “official line” (官方表态) [on Huang's part], and fails to convince the public. According to the head of CCTV’s Sports Channel, Huang Jianxiang’s letter of resignation points to media spoofing (恶搞) [of Huang] as the principle reason for his resignation, that while Huang wished to get on with his work a number of media persisted in reporting malicious rumors, quoting Huang out of context, fabricating stories and putting him under a great deal of stress … (November 20, Beijing Star Daily). I don’t know whether this was truly Huang Jianxiang’s intention [in resigning], but this focusing on media spoofs avoids the important and dwells on the trivial. If there were indeed “malicious and fabricated news” involved, CCTV or Huang Jianxiang could have dealt with these through legal means. [The news of Huang's] resignation, far from putting an end to rumors, can only set them off.

Regardless of what relationship the resignation does or does not have with storm over [Huang's] words during [the recent] World Cup, the controversy surrounding Huang Jianxiang must be the starting point for any discussion of what’s happening here in this most recent case. There were more than a few storms [surrounding Huang] last World Cup …

Huang Jianxiang has said he wishes to “lay low for a short time” but contrary to his state wishes he has become the central figure in the news. Saying [Huang's resignation] was sparked by media attacks is not as accurate as saying it was due to long-standing [culture of] “rigid correctness” at CCTV – that is to say, [the network's] persistent stance of self-righteous superiority. What the public is interested in is not perhaps any particular commentator so much as [what the situation] reveals about differences over news concepts [at CCTV]. When CCTV recently announced it would switch out news anchors for “News Relay” [CCTV's nightly newscast] people had hope that these changes signaled the rise of a new concept of journalism in China, but in fact they were due purely to considerations of the age of ["News Relay"] anchors [and signaled no real change]. While the public made too much of the changes at News Relay, their reaction underscored their desire to see change to a new concept of journalism [or media]. The Huang Jianxiang Case can be seen as the latest installment in the conflict between old media values and new media values.

Whether or not the media have spoofed [Huang Jianxiang] is in question; but the fact of CCTV’s “rigid correctness” has long left viewers dissatisfied. Perhaps Huang Jianxiang does object to spoofing [by the media], but the the reason viewers love him is possibly also because he has distanced himself [in his work] just a bit too far from CCTV’s “rigid correctness”.

In a November 18 editorial, Southern Metropolis Daily criticized the “work unit” culture at CCTV, saying the network was locked in a contradiction between its traditional role as a propaganda tool and agent of the serious and the needs of commercialization:

From these two incidents [Huang's resignation and his controversy back in June] we can see the China Central Television is not only a “work unit” lying somewhere in between the administrative agency and the corporate enterprise, but that it is also a unit lying between the propaganda agency and the media enterprise. This kind of work unit with naturally display a degree of division in the language it broadcasts, for example the strict and sober “News Relay” versus the “Happy Dictionary” [game show] so well liked by ordinary people, and to boot investigative programs with a strong sense of social responsibility [like "News Probe"]. But compared with the media domain as a whole, CCTV has a definite air of self-righteous superiority. This is precisely why “China Dream” [an American Idol-style singing contest] is always compared [unfavorably] against “Super Girl” [a very successful program from Hunan Satellite Television].

During the controversy surrounding his commentating [for the World Cup] many people felt that Huang Jianxiang’s behavior was unprofessional. But many of those who got worked up about the incident were still able to step back and see that his actions were the product of “enthusiasm”. For the sake of enthusiasm and entertainment value they were willing to support him and accept his apology. “Enthusiasm” and “entertainment” should be par for the course in television programming, particularly for football matches. Why should people be overly guarded about such things? Clearly, in the view of some there is a power in wider society that stands against enthusiasm and entertainment.

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[Selected Web postings from Sina.com]

[IP:219.154.211*]
I can’t stand any other commentators on CCTV 5. I won’t be able to stand not having Huang’s commentating. Huang, come back please! Don’t worry about what those petty people said. The football fans of China will stand beside you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[mobile user 135****2568]
Huang’s departure means the end of an age.

[IP:202.101.38*]
Huang Jianxiang doesn’t even speak clearly. How can he be a commentator??? And these people even want to open a “commentating school”!

[IP:218.25.77.*]
Without Huang Jianxiang, football isn’t worth watching!

[mobile user 135****1010]
I support Huang Jianxiang’s leaving CCTV, because no matter where he goes he’s a talent, and his leaving is a big loss for CCTV … This whole thing just shows how bad things are in China.

[sunli790822]
Without Huang Jianxiang I’m not sure I’ll bother to watch football anymore!!

[xiepeng65]
You should have gone a long time ago. Your commentary is shameful for the world of football. Ive always muted the sound when I’ve watched CCTV-5. Your commentary wears me out.

[IP: 221.219.60*]
I’ve watched European football [on CCTV] for some many years, and last week suddenly watching it made my head hurt — the reason is the changing of anchors! You people at CCTV, you can go to hell!!!

OTHER LINKS:
Italy-loving Chinese football announcer gets the boot (Nov. 21)
Sports host to tackle rumours (Nov. 19)
China’s anti-Aussie rant commentator quits (Nov. 18)

[Posted by David Bandurski, November 21, 2006, 6pm]

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