CCTV’s News Probe (Xinwen Diaocha) is a Chinese TV series representing the independent research of the relevant social problems and scandals. The direction of the program significantly deviates from the traditional course of Chinese media, such as political and ideological propaganda, and outlines the societal worries and questions of human development (Yi, 2014, p. 2). Emerging in the late 1990s, News Probe has become the symbol of the oppositional ideology with the purpose to identify the political injustices and corruption and, consequently, eliminate them (Yi, 2014, p. 2). The program is vastly focused on the investigation element, promoting rational thinking and objective fact representation (Yi, 2014, p. 4). The current paper examines the history of News Probe, explores its mission and environment, and analyzes the impact of the series on Chinese media.
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Before analyzing the current state of the program and its impact on the general media, it is essential to review the history of News Probe. The first episode of the series was aired on May 17, 1996 on China Central TV Station (CCTV) (Yi, 2014, p. 3). The 1990s indicate the significant change in the ideological representation in Chinese Media with several oppositional programs promoting media neutrality (Chang & Ren, 2016, p. 16). Alongside News Probe, the notable oppositional programs included Television News Simulcast, Oriental Horizon, and Topics in Focus (Chang & Ren, 2016, p. 16). Even though not all these TV series withstood the political pressure, they shaped the Chinese media reform and demonstrated the possibility of positive change towards the objective news representation (Chang & Ren, 2016, p. 16). The development of News Probe has also been obstructed by controversies and criticism; however, the program has been consistently growing since 1996 and became the flagman of oppositional media in 2006 (Yi, 2014, p. 4). From that point on, the series concentrated on empirical investigative reporting and revealed a large number of political and social scandals.
As mentioned briefly before, News Probe is an investigative type of television series, which attempts to reveal relevant social and political injustices, such as bribery, corruption, environmental scandals, etc. As a consequence, rational thinking, objective representation, and media neutrality have become the major factors in the approach to news coverage (Yi, 2014, p. 16). In 2000, the executives announced the slogan ‘hunt the truth’, which represents both the mission and direction of the program (Yi, 2014, p. 4). The founder of News Probe, Zhang Jie, is one of the critical figures constantly advocating for media being the mediator between the public and the government (Chang & Ren, 2016, p. 16). In this sense, the company should act as a neutral source of information and provide only reliable facts. Since its foundation, News Probe has been following the aforementioned principles and has successfully revealed a large number of financial fraud schemes and political bribery incidents (Yi, 2014, p. 4). The ideology of investigation sense, rationality, and objective manner of news coverage have been central to the program (Yi, 2014, p. 4). Ultimately, News Probe is an example of an investigative TV program that plays a major role in Chinese media.
Audience Reception and Criticism
Unsurprisingly, News Probe has caused a significant resonance among the Chinese public, with some people protecting the policy of the company and others criticizing the opposition. Due to the influence (or propaganda) system and recent policies, the number of people supporting the government has significantly increased in the 21st century. As a result, the objective representation of information, which frequently reveals the evident injustices of the political system, has received great portions of criticism (Chen, 2017, p. 2). Nevertheless, the opposite dynamics are also true; namely, many influencers and media figures openly support investigative journalism and their opposition to mainstream propaganda (Chen, 2017, p. 2). The oppression of free expression is particularly evident when journalists, producers, critics, and scholars support TV programs like News Probe and detest political propaganda (Chen, 2017, p. 2). Ultimately, it is complicated to judge the audience reception of News Probe due to the variety of public opinions; nevertheless, the program has received a large amount of support from key media figures.
Throughout the history of the program, the production team has examined a variety of political controversies and relevant social topics. Some of the notable episodes revealing the deficiencies of China’s economic systems and fraud organizations are 4 Billion Donations and The Truth of World Pass (Yi, 2014, p. 22). In 4 Billion Donations, the production team investigated the social controversies regarding the donations to a private foundation from a famous Chinese billionaire, Cao Dewang (Yi, 2014, p. 28). This event has caused a great resonance among the public, and many people have accused the businessman of financial fraud; nevertheless, the News Probe has presented a media-neutral report indicating the legitimacy of Cao Dewang’s actions (Yi, 2014, p. 29). In The Truth of World Pass, the production team investigated an economic fraud scheme, revealing the saddening state of bureaucracy in the country, and demonstrated how it might promote harmful financial machinations (Yi, 2014, p. 29). Despite the variety of cases, News Probe presents information from a neutral perspective, supported by reliable facts rather than emotions, thus, gaining popularity among the Chinese people.
Contribution to Chinese Media
Media Reform 1990-2014
From the Western point of view, Chinese media is generally believed to be restrictive, utilizing various means of propaganda to ensure the direction of public opinion. Naturally, this presupposition is based on objective facts, such as the existence of xuanchuan xitong (China’s propaganda system); nevertheless, the emergence of programs like New Probe has indicated definite change. The developing investigative journalism has paved the way for the positive dynamics concerning media censorship and has significantly affected the television coverage during the period of 1990-2014 (Chang & Ren, 2016, p. 19). News Probe has been promoting social equality by exposing corruption and political controversies since its foundation in 1996 and has vastly contributed to Chinese media by providing a different perspective. Furthermore, the decisive actions of the production team have uncovered a large number of inequities; thus, indicating the golden days of objectivity in Chinese Media.
Present State 2014-2021
Unfortunately, the amount of television and online censorship has seen a drastic increase in recent years. The Chinese government has been pressuring the independent media, and investigative journalism has gradually disappeared since the ‘Ten Years of In-depth Investigative Reporting in China’ forum (Tong, 2020). The space for journalism freedom has experienced additional control from the officials, thus, limiting the original ideas and principles of objective news coverage (Tong, 2020). The issue is further complicated by the development of ‘plot twist news’ in the mainstream media, which is equivalent to ‘fake news’ in the West (Xu, 2021, p. 158). Basically, some sources provide controversial and unsupported information concerning the subjects that programs like News Probe investigate, thus, introducing bias for the viewers (Xu, 2021, p. 158). This is frequently implemented to reduce the public support of independent organizations, and News Probe has also been affected by this trend.
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The regulatory environment has become more restrictive during the analyzed period as well. There have been many incidents of television and online censorship in the Chinese media, such as the prohibition of many international online applications and a lack of access to political information on websites (Roberts, 2020, p. 412). Nevertheless, despite the large number of ‘plot twist news’, the internet still provides many opportunities for independent researchers advocating for the truth. The production teams of some TV programs have already switched to digital media (online sources, in particular), and this trend may become more prominent in the future (Svensson, 2017, p. 441). While the Chinese government attempts to control the online space, it is impossible to completely eliminate access to the information on the internet (Roberts, 2020, p. 414). Therefore, there is a possibility that investigative journalism will regain its prior relevance in the future.
The current paper has examined the history of News Probe, the primary objectives and principles of the program, and the overall contribution of the series to the perception of Chinese media. Since its foundation in 1996, News Probe has been actively advocating for freedom of thought and social equality by revealing financial fraud schemes and investigating corruption in politics. The program has significantly contributed to the media reform in China and has been one of the strongholds of objective journalism during the period of 1996-2014. The current state and popularity of News Probe are considerably lackluster compared to its golden age; nevertheless, there are prospects for the development of investigative journalism in the future.
Chang, J., & Ren, H. (2016). Television news as political ritual: Xinwen Lianbo and China’s journalism reform within the Party-state’s orbit. Journal of Contemporary China, 25(97), 14-24.
Chen, D. (2017). “Supervision by public opinion” or by government officials? Media criticism and central-local government relations in China. Modern China, 43(6), 1-16.
Roberts, M. E. (2020). Resilience to online censorship. The Annual Review of Political Science, 23, 401-419.
Svensson, M. (2017). The rise and fall of investigative journalism in China: digital opportunities and political challenges. Media, Culture & Society, 39(3), 440-445.
Tong, J. (2020). Investigative journalism in China: Pushing the limits between the 1990s and 2013. In K. Latham (Eds.), Routledge handbook of Chinese culture and society. Routledge.
Xu, N. (2021). Digital media and investigative journalism in China. Media Asia, 48(3), 158-174.