For a long time, and perhaps still today, 新闻联播 (News Live) might just be the most-watched television news program in the world. Aired daily at 7pm, the broadcast is the most direct mouthpiece of the Communist Party outside of the People’s Daily Newspaper. It is also, as many Chinese will tell you, quite boring. In the past ten years the Chinese news environment evolved very quickly and 新闻联播, to put it kindly, lagged behind. The show attracted few younger views as teenagers and young adults chose to get their information from other sources, bbs forums and especially weibo, the Chinese version of twitter. In fact, the program drew the scorn of most young people for its wooden anchors, stale content and reliance on cadre speak, 官话. That may change as the program has a new cohort of writers and producers in their late twenties and early thirties. The first program with this new crew aired on September 25th, introducing new graphics, new anchors and new content. Will these changes make much of a difference? To really answer the question it is important to judge exactly how much the program changed. Since the program started in the late 1970s, the show had essentially three sections. The first ten minutes chronicled the daily activities of the top members of the Communist party: the meeting they attended, the discussion the help and the agreements they reached. This section was interesting, but only to a point. Very few people in the world spend time thinking about Chinese relations with Namibia but 新闻联播 spent about ten minutes of the subject when Chinese officials visited the country. For the uninitiated and curious, this portion of the program can be valuable. The reason this segment got so dull is that the program recycled the same script night after night i.e “China and ______ will work to strengthen and deepen relations in culture, trade, educational exchange etc. China values ___________ as a friend and the two country’s have learned much from each other over the course of their _________ year relationship.” This segment, like the show itself, focuses on rhetoric and description at the expense of analysis. The second part of the program usually dealt with domestic issues with the not so veiled motive of showing progress and prosperity. This section of the broadcast focuses primarily on the countryside and rarely has news from the city. The point here is to show that certain government policies, especially subsidies, create greater opportunities rural Chinese. The third part of the show quickly went through the world news in short segments that more often than not focused on the bad things going one outside of China. This segment of the show is usually the shortest. To read a great satire of the 新闻联播 check out The Ministry of Tofu. The format that debuted on September 25th is actually quite difference. The first big change comes at the start of the program when the first several segments focus on domestic news rather than charting out the days of the top leadership, the meetings they held and the speeches they gave. Instead of spending the first ten minutes on these activities, the program only devotes two minutes to We Banguo meeting with representative from Khazakstan. Interestingly, the program does not mention Hu Jintao or Wen Jiabao at all, although this can mostly likely be traced to the new format airing on a Sunday. It will be important to follow whether this new format of focusing on domestic news at the outset of the program continues during the weeks ahead or if the show slowly goes back to devoting the first chunk of the broadcast official meetings. With the focus on domestic events, the program sends out journalist to conduct interviews with various men on the street (老百姓), a feature the older format completely lacked. On the premiere episode there are interviews with Chinese citizens on the cheaper price of railway tickets and a handful of other issues. That said, like on American new programs, the sound bites are not particularly informative or insightful but the step of asking questions in general does represent a change. However, it is necessary to note that the new emphasis on journalists asking question did not extend to the segments on Wu Banguo in Khazakstan. This metric is key. When journalists start asking question to senior leaders and those question and answer sessions are aired on television, we will know the Chinese news environment is fundamentally different.
The last ten minutes of so are still devoted to international news and the first episode actually covers the IMF meeting and several other international forums, particularly from the United Nations. The news from abroad, I was not surprised to find out, is not particularly good. The two news items from the United States were the protests on Wall Street and leaks on the New York Subway system. Beyond the structure of the show, the anchors themselves, 欧阳夏丹, the female anchor, and 郎永淳, the male anchor, are their mid 30s. Veterans of other CCTV programs, just looking at the screen gives the view a very different feeling than the previous anchors who were in their mid 50s. At a very superficial level, this change is significant. As one netizen proclaimed, “I will watch 新闻联播 just to see 欧阳夏丹!”At a broader level, however, the generational shift of both the anchors and producers represents an important but little understood aspect about the future of China. Namely, how will the Chinese government and Chinese society change as younger people come to positions of relative power? Here, the definition of “young people” refers to those party members under the age of 40, many of whom have studied abroad and grew up in a fundamentally different China than the senior leadership today and even the next generation of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. The answer, of course, is that no one really knows, probably not even these younger cadres themselves. Many people will most likely laugh at the changes to 新闻联播 but for those behind the new format it is an important point when they began to change China.