China’s prosecutors are investigating a prominent news anchor with the country's national broadcaster CCTV, in a case that has ignited a buzz on social media about the fate of the anchor and the width of an ongoing anti-corruption crackdown.
Rui Chenggang, a 36-year-old presenter at the financial channel CCTV 2, was taken away from his studio on July 11 just before going on air, along with the vice director of the network’s financial news and a producer, according to state media.
The investigation into the well-known TV personality came shortly after the state TV was caught in a dragnet of an intensifying anti-graft crusade, with a senior executive being investigated last month.
Rui, a bilingual host in English and Chinese, has 10 million followers on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. He started out as a host at CCTV’s English channel in 2003, and gradually rose to national prominence to become a celebrity-like figure who attends book signings packed with admirers and imparts his secrets to success in public speeches.
A profile in The New York Times in 2009 described the host as “young”, “smart”, and “deeply nationalistic.”
Indeed, Rui’s nationalistic tendency during interviews has been a hallmark of his career. In 2010, at the G20 meeting in Seoul, he defied U.S. President Obama’s call for questions from the Korean press and said: “I hate to disappoint you, President Obama, I am actually Chinese, but I think I get to represent the entire Asia.”
In 2011, at the World Economic Forum in Dalian, China, Rui asked the then American ambassador to China if his choice of flying in economy class was a reminder that the U.S. owes China money.
This interviewing style has won him supporters who speak of him as the face of China as it grows stronger economically, as well as detractors who think he is unprofessional and cocky.
Rui was also instrumental behind the exit of Starbucks from the historic Forbidden City in Beijing. He penned a blog article in 2007 titled “Starbucks, Please get out of the Forbidden City.”
“If there is anything that college students and my young audience can relate to in my story, it's that they can see their future in me, I am like them, educated in China…. the track of my growth is very typical of Chinese students,” he said of his success during a TV interview last year.
The anchor’s career trajectory has coincided with CCTV’s pledge to increase its influence overseas and hold its various news programs to higher standards. But as a state-controlled broadcaster, its popularity has been declining over the years.
Last month, state news agency Xinhua was also implicated in the broad anti-graft campaign. The country’s anti-corruption watchdog lashed out at the news agency and said some of its provincial bureau chiefs are “chief correspondents” and “chief salesmen” at the same time, a reference to widespread paid news at some localities.
It's not clear if Rui will be charged of any wrongdoings, but Chinese news portal Tencent reported that he once held shares in a public relations company which had been involved in CCTV 2's coverage of several Davos World Economic Forum meetings. The company was acquired by international public relations conglomerate Edelman Public Relations in 2007. Rui withdrew his shares in 2010.
Yi Hong, a professor of journalism at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, wrote on Sina Weibo:
This was once CCTV's most innovative channel, also China's leading platform for China's entertaining programs. But now…. Ever since its leader focused on things outside its media functions, its deviation from the normal track has become destined. I hope there are less people involved in this.
A Beijing-based netizen called “CCTV” by the common mocking expression “CCAV”（AV stands for adult video):
The time has finally come to clean up CCAV!
Independent economist Kelisifu-jin was angry at the state broadcaster:
Guo Zhenxi was arrested, and Rui Chengang was taken away by the prosecutors. CCTV, the corrupt channel that preaches every day to teach Chinese how to be patriotic, turns out to be a corrupt worm that erodes our country. Under a social atmosphere that is corrupt and without rule of law, only rule by will, people need super power to stay clean, those who do not want to commit corruption will gradually have the desire to be corrupt. Do not believe in anyone who preaches using inspirational speeches in a widely corrupt environment.
Others, like Beibeibei Jueding Geiziji, showed their support:
You gave me a lot of courage and strength since I was in middle school, you are my model. So many years have passed, please continue to be my model! Hang in there, I believe the sky will clear up after the rain.