China's netizens ridicule CCTV over fire
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 China's netizens ridicule CCTV over fire

February 12, 2009.

Chinese bloggers are defying censorship efforts and taking delight in ridiculing China's state television station over its spectacular fireworks debacle that burnt down part of its new headquarters.

One joke rippling through the nation's heavily monitored Internet is that CCTV, one of the ruling Communist Party's main propaganda arms, created one of the biggest stories of the year, and then failed to cover it.

China's official media have tried to restrict coverage of Monday night's blaze caused by an illegal fireworks show by CCTV staff at their futuristic headquarters being built in Beijing.

But members of the public armed with camera phones, text messages, email and acerbic wit have sought to fill the void.

"Even though the fire was up to their eyebrows, they were still trying to hide the truth... in this breaking news, the official media was defeated by the citizen media," prominent blogger Wang Xiaofeng wrote.

The blaze engulfed a nearly completed 30-storey cultural centre that was to house a luxury hotel, a television studio and an IT centre. One firefighter died trying to contain the blaze.

The building is next to the CCTV tower, which is due to open in October.

China's propaganda authorities quickly sent out a directive to media demanding no photos, video or in-depth reports, and that they rely only on the version put out by the official Xinhua news agency.

But even that command was leaked and appeared on the Internet.

On web forums, gleeful Internet users digitally edited Internet photos to add giant robots and fire-breathing dragons attacking the broadcaster's building.

Xiao Qiang, head of the University of California's China Internet Project, told AFP the online response reflected frustration among Chinese people about having to endure CCTV's propaganda-driven agenda.

"Many of the 'critical comments' that the authorities are busy deleting actually reflect a popular antagonistic attitude among netizens toward CCTV," Xiao said.

Twenty-two academics last month launched an online boycott campaign condemning CCTV's "brainwashing" and failure to report sensitive news such as the contaminated milk scandal that led to six children dying and nearly 300,000 falling ill.

Separately, another website called "Anti-CCTV" dedicated to highlighting the broadcasters mistakes has attracted more than 178,000 visits since April last year.