Bai Yansong: A journalist rebellion or wild rumour?

Famed CCTV reporter Bai Yansong appears to have stirred up quite the controversy and may have led a number of reporters to threaten resignation, but it’s hard to tell at this early stage as the censors have been to work. Weibo comments I observed a few hours ago have vanished. I’ll start by explaining the rumours, then see what we can find to corroborate them.

But, to begin with, I should probably  introduce Bai Yansong. He’s one of CCTV’s star news reporters. During the reunification process with Hong Kong, he was the one who provided the live commentary. He was one of the major news anchors for the Olympic Games.

He’s also one of the more liberal news anchors. In 2008, when the Olympic torch was passing through France, there were protests about oppression in Tibet. In response, citizens all over China boycotted Carrefour. Bai Yansong, notably, did not take part in the protest. In many ways he’s regarded as one of the ‘liberal elites’ and disliked amongst the more nationalist masses of netizens. Were he an American, I imagine Fox News would be tarring him as a lefty elitist.

Censoring information about someone of this stature is going to be tough. He is after all, a reporter in the public eye. Crucially, his show is often broadcast live.

As the rumour goes, during a recent CCTV news program, Bai bluntly asked certain sensitive questions – namely, why is it that despite China’s attempts at soft power around the world, other countries still give it the cold shoulder. He also made comments about the fact that Chinese State owned companies had provided more money to Japan in the wake of the recent disasters than they had in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake. He also said that China had one way of doing things and other countries did things differently and that this meant that even if China helped other nations, because China had a different approach, it would always be treated differently.

Make of that what you will.

The aftermath, as the rumour goes, was if anything, even more explosive. Bai, apparently, was asked to resign. In protest, a number of other reporters said that they would resign as well. Most netizens seemed to think that Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV would offer them a job.

I’d like to point out that at this stage, it’s all just rumour, but something would appear to be afoot.

Ok, the first thing to point out is that Bai Yansong doesn’t use Sina Weibo or anything of the like. He’s said he thinks it’s a great invention, but that he prefers to express himself more fully. Fair enough. This means there isn’t an official feed that can be be blocked. This also means that rumours have the chance to run rampant as there’s no feed to go to for the official line.

This however (in Chinese) is quite suggestive. It records comments made a little over a week ago, where Bai said that if he was ever pressured to ‘sign a confession letter’ about his program’s content, he would resign. Oh dear. Still, it’s far from conclusive.

Next, I googled ‘Bai Yansong’ ‘Japan’ and ‘Wenchuan’ 白岩松‘ ‘日本‘ ‘汶川‘ to see what I could find.

The first entry had this intriguing byline:

前几天,中石油给日本捐款3000万,昨天又向日本无偿提供3万吨汽油,真是大手笔!总价已经接近2个亿!日本人感叹了:真是一个不错的慈善家

“A few days ago the China National Petroleum Corporation gave 30 million to Japan, yesterday offered 30,000 tonnes of petrol. That’s a lot of money! Together that’s nearly 200 million in RMB. The Japanese people said ‘What a generous (not bad) philanthropist!”

Naturally, I tried clicking on the link. No dice, it’s gone.

That would appear to tally with the rumours of what he said on the show. Using those comments I was able to google a great deal more, but most of it was anger about the donations to Japan compared to the donations in the wake of the Wenchuan earthquake – there wasn’t as much about Bai Yansong though some people were asking whether this means he’s going to lose his live news program.

So far it all fits. It remains a rumour and there’s unlikely to be any way to conclusively prove that he’s been asked to resign. The fact that most of this has been blocked would appear to back it all up.

I guess we’ll just have to see whether he still has a TV show in the near future. In the meantime, I’ll see what else I can find.

 

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