CCTV singled out technology giant Apple Inc. and German automaker Volkswagen among several other companies in its annual exposure of corporate scandals on March 15, World Consumer Rights Day. While the public was pleased to see the exposure, they also blasted CCTV itself after the channel was caught in a publicity stunt.
Peter Ho, a Taiwan-based American singer and actor who has 5 million Weibo followers, put up a post on Friday evening supporting CCTV's lashing of the substandard service provided by Apple to Chinese users. The post ended with the short, and presumably mistakenly copied, line "to be published around 8:20 pm," which stirred up netizen's suspicions that it was a pre-arranged post.
Besides Ho, other Weibo celebrities such as children's author Zheng Yuanjie and popular blogger Liujishou echoed CCTV's criticisms immediately after the episode was screened, raising suspicions of media collusion. Although those under suspicion denied a comments-for-money deal, Kai-fu Lee, another Weibo opinion leader, admitted many TV producers had asked him to publish comments on Weibo.
CCTV's annual consumer rights' program is now in its 23rd year and has revealed scandals at multiple companies. The once-a-year spotlight has revealed various sales traps and shoddy products in the past, but has also drawn controversy. Some even suspect that enterprises can avoid being exposed by purchasing advertisement time from the station.
CCTV's defenders argue there is nothing wrong in mobilizing opinion leaders to stir up more public attention and put more pressure on enterprises. Weibo has provided a platform for freedom of speech. Some celebrities on Weibo have millions of followers, and their influence is much bigger than the traditional media.
It's true that traditional media and public figures, especially those online celebrities, should interact honestly if they're going to drive public opinion and play a role in supervising power and business. But if there is truly collusion, the good work is destroyed.
Traditional media nowadays often report on the opinions of the celebrities on Weibo. Traditional media could make use of online opinion leaders to build publicity for programs or features.
But traditional media shouldn't give too much attention to online opinions and be forced into a passive position. Foolishly hankering after online support may come at the cost of credibility.
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