Monday, June 16, 2014

Caixin Report Provides Context for Baidu's 2011 Censorship of Search Resutls for "CCTV Baidu"

On August 15, 2011, China's state-run television broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) launched the first in a series of critical reports about Baidu. As described in an August 18 report on the state-sponsored website:
Over the past few days, CCTV has broadcast a series of reports showing Baidu helped unlicensed pharmaceutical companies circumvent government regulations to appear at the top of its search results.
CCTV has also criticized "slanderous posts" by Internet users on the company's Tieba forums, which Baidu has allegedly refused to delete.
Within days of CCTV’s reports, Baidu (and only Baidu) began censoring results for "CCTV Baidu" (both "CCTV 百度" and "央视 百度"). The screenshots below were taken on August 21, 2011, and show that at that time searches for these terms on Baidu web search and news search returned a notice saying "Search results may not comply with relevant laws, regulations, and policies, and have not been displayed" (搜索结果可能不符合相关法律法规和政策,未予显示。).

On June 1, 2014, the state-sponsored China Daily published a report entitled “CCTV Exec Suspected of Bribery: Procuratorate.” According to that report: “The two suspects are Guo Zhenxi, director-general of CCTV finance and economics channel and advertising director concurrently, and Tian Liwu, a producer of the channel.”

On June 16, 2014, the state-sponsored Caixin Magazine published a report entitled “A Peace Offering From CCTV’s ‘Big Boss’ Guo Zhenxi” (央视“大管家”郭振玺折戟). Some excerpts:
In August 2011, for four days several CCTV programs including "Economy Half-Hour," "Economics and Law," and "Economic Information Broadcast" saw a tectonic shift in their programming, launching verbal attacks about a flood of fake information on Baidu search that led to consumers being misled and suffering financial losses. This continuous stream of reports led the public to doubt Baidu's impartiality and business ethics, and caused Baidu's stock price to drop.

The consensus has been that the cause of that concentrated media bombardment was bad blood between Guo Zhenxi and Baidu. But a former CCTV employee has confirmed to Caixin that it was not Guo who initiated the affair. This source says that the four-day's of continuous reports was not some plot of the economic programs, but rather came about as a result of a document from the "National Leading Group on Rectifying and Regulating Market Economic Order," and that the primary goal was to regulate Internet order, which was growing more chaotic by the day. But what surprised him was that, after submitting what he originally took to be just another report, it would broadcast in such an "explosive" format.

A source at CCTV told Caixin that internally it was said that prior to this Guo had harbored a grudge against Baidu. It related to an incident where the Internet was plastered with reports and posts about quality problems with a certain company's pork products. This company sought out Guo, and paid him to help out. Guo personally approached Baidu, hoping to comprehensively block relevant posts from Baidu search. Baidu tactfully declined.

A website operator has confirmed to Caixin that Guo did in fact use his personal influence to appoach major websites to delete posts on behalf of certain companies, and that he had helped people who were friends of his programs' hosts to make calls to websites to delete posts.