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CCTV has come out today to say a Tweet sent from its account yesterday was done illegally. The Tweet drew substantial attention because it announced that Zhou Yongkang, former PSB czar and Politburo Standing Committee member, was under investigation.

Not long after the Tweet was published, it was inexplicably deleted.  Today, CCTV posted this announcement:

It’s been several years since I worked at CCTV, but my guess is somebody simply made a mistake.

I once had the pleasure of working at China Radio International in Beijing in 2005. Every news item was carefully vetted by editors before the laowai news reader (me) headed to the studio. In one such case, a friend of mine printed off his pre-approved script and took his seat next to the microphone as he prepared to read the latest news update.  While going through his script, he came across the name “Chen Shui-bian”. New in China and unsure how to pronounce it, he ad-libbed (as we often do) and said “Taiwan President”.  That term went to air.

Not longer after, it seemed all hell broke loose in CRI. The President of CRI and department heads were gathered, meetings were held, people spoke in whispered tones, the producer was hauled in for a one-on-one meeting with leaders, and nobody was quite sure what the fallout would be.  Fortunately for my friend, he was left alone; the top brass at CRI figuring a silly foreigner probably didn’t know any better.

That brings me to the CCTV Tweet.  It’s highly unlikely the account was hacked, because if so, one could have a whole lot more fun with it than Tweeting second-hand news from the South China Morning Post. As Twitter user Vanessa Piao so aptly notes:

No, all signs indicate this was a simple mistake.

State-run news organisations are not bastions of efficiency and proper oversight. There are systems in place, sure, but it’s also easy for things to fall through the cracks.  Most likely, whoever runs CCTV’s Twitter found the news and either a) didn’t understand its significance so Tweeted it to keep “feeding the beast”; or b) was authorised to Tweet the news, but somebody higher up had inaccurate information or the information changed. Or perhaps the news is true, but it wasn’t ready for public consumption yet and somebody mistakenly gave the green light. Unfortunately (and embarrassingly), this happens sometimes.

The two things to remember about state-run media is it is disorganised and inefficient, yet content is also carefully vetted by political editors. We now know which trait is more dominant.


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