The Economist examines recent attacks by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on search giant Baidu, which has been accused of ducking around advertising regulations and profiting from online slander.
So what might the criticism signify? Is CCTV attacking Baidu for political reasons, or commercial ones? CCTV has a search engine, too, which hardly anyone uses. So do two other big government-run media outfits—the People’s Daily newspaper and the Xinhua news agency. CCTV, though state-run, is not just a propaganda outfit. It is also expected to make money through advertising (and it does). It must be tempting to nobble a rival.
That no other state-run media outlets carried stories on Baidu suggests this is not a government-orchestrated campaign against the company or the internet more generally. However, the Communist Party is wary of the influence of private internet companies, and no doubt keen to see that Baidu doesn’t get too big for its boots ….
Perhaps the most likely motive for CCTV’s attacks on Baidu is that its journalists are trying to do their jobs. Public anger about toxic food, corporate mismanagement and official corruption has emboldened reporters. Journalists at CCTV led the extensive media coverage of a high-speed-rail crash at Wenzhou in July that killed 40 people, until the censors curbed them.
Such reporting embarrasses the party, which likes to boast that China builds big infrastructure projects faster and better than anyone else. The CCTV attack on Baidu could reflect a decision to go after a less protected target. Or not. This being China, no one knows for sure.
Google’s withdrawal from China initially gave Baidu room to grow, but this has turned out to be something of a mixed blessing. Duncan Clark, of technology consultancy BDA China, told the New York Times in July that “Baidu’s biggest enemy is itself. Now that it has vanquished the bogeyman, it’s gotten so large it’s bumping up against the Party.”
Bashing Baidu – The Economist
Baidu Apologizes over Unlawful Promotion Activities on its Web – Caijing.com
Building Trust? CCTV Steps Up Attack on Baidu – China Real Time Report – WSJ