Television

CCTV breaks free of govt intervention

MUMBAI: China Central Television, for long dominated by behind the scenes government intervention, is finally breaking free with the Iraq conflict.

Viewers are being treated to nonstop, nonideological coverage of the war in Iraq on CCTV, according to a report in the Asian Wall Street Journal. From Day 1, the network's two international-news channels have been running run nearly continuous coverage featuring footage of US troops, trucks and tanks streaming toward Baghdad, experts debating the merits of various bombs and missiles in the US arsenal and live broadcasts of world leaders. CCTV-1 has run similar footage in blocs of live coverage throughout the day, reports the AWSJ. 

The Iraqi war is one of the first times CCTV is being allowed to cover an event of world-wide importance with relatively little political interference. "We're following CNN and Reuters, and we're staying close to the facts," a CCTV producer has been quoted as saying. In his 13 years at the network, he says, this is one of the few times he has worked round-the-clock and with few directives handed down from "behind the curtain." 

The transformation stems from growing realization inside officialdom that the government's alternately wooden or strident response to news events has damaged the country's image abroad and turned off viewers at home, who increasingly look to Hong Kong broadcasts or the Internet for reports on breaking-news events. 

Though CCTV is by far the dominant player in the market with about $850 million in revenue last year, its ad sales in some cities have taken a hit from local competition. Phoenix Satellite Television Co., a Hong Kong network popular among China's urban viewers, has won fans with its stylish presentation and fast-off-the-mark news coverage, claims the ASWJ. With 12 channels and 1.1 billion potential viewers, CCTV has long been regarded as the most powerful news outlet in China. 

And now its ratings have jumped between twofold and fourfold in the country's three largest cities, while ratings for CCTV-4, one of the two international-news channels, have increased fourfold in Beijing and Shanghai and tenfold in Guangzhou, according to CVSC-Sofres Media, part of market-research group TNS Group. Advertisers have responded with CCTV-4 now running about three minutes of commercials every half hour. 

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