The Washington Post

China responds to WaPo questions, mysteriously

CCTV complex in Beijing (Franko Lee/AFP/Getty Images)

Then there’s the strangeness into which Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi recently bumped. In a feature for yesterday’s Style section, Farhi took a deep look at the Washington studio for China’s state-operated international broadcasting arm, China Central Television (CCTV). The new entity, according to the piece, will beam English-language “broadcasts produced by a staff of more than 60 journalists hired in recent weeks from NBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox News and other Western news organizations.”

It all sounded routine enough, till this paragraph:

CCTV wouldn’t permit any of its officials or journalists to speak on the record for this article. Instead, the network offered a series of responses to e-mailed questions. It said its replies should be attributed to “a representative of CCTV News’ Broadcast Center” in Washington, with no names or titles attached.

That comes off as black boxy. So did Farhi even know who was answering his questions? He says:

I’m pretty sure I know who answered those questions, but I’m not really certain. I also think I know where/how they were answered, but again, it’s not entirely clear.

I had a number of preliminary (off the record conversations) with people there. It was clear that they weren’t going to speak for the record unless I submitted my questions to them. Once I sent them, I got a reply pretty quickly--within 24 hours, I think.

And, yeah, this was really a first for me. I don’t know how most reporters feel, but I don’t like to interview anyone this way. There are several problems with it: 1) You don’t really know who is answering; 2) When you submit questions in advance, it robs the interview of spontaneity or follow-up questions, both of which are important and revealing.

But as I said, in this case, there wasn’t much choice. They weren’t going to comment on the record any other way. And by disclosing the terms of the interview in the story, the reader could draw their own conclusions.

I’m working on getting some comment from CCTV on how they handle comments for stories and will update with any feedback I get, which I expect to be minimal to none. After all, CCTV authorities aren’t even letting their top stateside exec open his trap:

CCTV’s top adviser for its American news operation is Jim Laurie, a former NBC and ABC reporter who has been a consultant to several international broadcasters in Asia. Laurie referred questions to CCTV’s management.

And to wrangle information that any other broadcast outlet would release fully on the record under the name of its news boss, Farhi had to deploy investigative techniques:

As described by several of its Washington hires, CCTV’s new Washington operation will produce original news reports and locally produced talk shows. It intends to broadcast an hour of programming a day from Washington starting next month, increasing to four hours this summer.

What sort of programming will air on those shows is anyone’s guess. But we do know the sort of stuff that won’t air on those shows.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Making family dinnertime happen
How to make Sean Brock's 'Heritage' cornbread
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Play Videos
Drawing as an act of defiance
In search of the Delmarva fox squirrel
The most interesting woman you've never heard of
Play Videos
This man's job is binge-watching for Netflix
The Post taste tests Pizza Hut's new hot dog pizza
5 tips for using your thermostat
Play Videos
Philadelphia's real signature sandwich
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul