Now for the good news – there isn’t any bad 

17 August 2017 tbs.pm/13173

From the TVTimes for 25-31 August 1979

Any day now the Chinese will be sitting in front of their TV sets watching programmes made by Thames Television, whose 18-month negotiations in the Orient are about to reach conclusion. And, although nobody’s saying what the Chinese are buying, it’s a fair bet that the programmes will be documentaries.

For the Chinese take their television seriously. And, as Cordell Marks discovered on his Thomas Cook tour of China, in last week’s Family Scene, their programmes reflect this austere approach.

The back page of the national newspaper, The People’s Daily, lists a typical evening’s viewing as follows:

  • 5.30    Mathematics lecture
  • 6.20    Lessons in English
  • 7.0      Local news
  • 7.15    International news
  • 7.25    Educational film on tree planting
  • 7.45    Opera
  • 10.0    Closedown

The Chinese first saw television in 1958. Six years ago they went into colour. Now there are more than 40 stations pumping out the rather inscrutable programmes.

With an average wage of around £20 a month and black and white sets costing £100, colour £400, few people can afford their own television. Instead, sets are placed in public places such as assembly rooms and parks. The viewing is free.

For a country that frowns on competition, it is a surprise to find they have television commercials. The first commercial went out at the beginning of this year—to promote a drink called Happy Cola. A thirsty basketball team was seen drinking the Cola and, apparently, feeling a lot better for it.

It took three days to arrange a meeting with a television producer. Language problems almost had Family Scene visiting a factory making TV sets instead of a studio making programmes—although they never did get to a television station. “Nobody has ever asked before,’ said our guide. “It is very difficult.” Finally a TV station controller agreed to an interview about television Chinese-style.

“The commercials,” said the controller, “are to show what new products are available. When something new is on sale, everybody should know about it. It’s good news.”

They are rather keen on good news in China. The same controller looked genuinely puzzled when I asked him why their news bulletins reported only pleasant events. Bad news, it seems, is no news in China. The controller said:

“We all firmly believe that good news is good for the country’s development. If, for example, a new scientific discovery is made, we would transmit that because it is encouraging news. We give the positive news, not the negative news. It is bad to tell of things going wrong.”

Supposing, the station controller was asked, there was a strike. Would TV report that?

“We wouldn’t broadcast such news because the strikers wouldn’t examine the situation and find the reasons behind it. Instead it would make them feel important — perhaps make other people strike. And that’s not good for modernisation. So no, I don’t think we would broadcast it… if it ever happens, that is.”

Some viewers in Britain might groan when a party political broadcast occupies our three channels, but they should be thankful they aren’t viewing in China. The Chinese get the party message every evening as part of the news bulletin, with viewers being encouraged to work hard and the real good guy workers being named as examples.

China has radio request programmes like ours, but there aren’t any dedications. “We do things here,” said the controller, “for the majority—not for one person.”

And cry your heart out Jack Good, but there’s little chance of selling your Oh Boy! scripts to the People’s Republic. China is very sniffy about broadcasting pop music.

The television controller said: “We do not like what you call rock ’n’ roll.”

You Say

1 response to this article

Mark Jeffries 17 August 2017 at 8:15 pm

How times have changed. Just about every big reality franchise has made it to China and Australia’s SBS’ flanker channel SBS Viceland screens at teatime every weekday the Chinese version of “Take Me Out,” with subtitles.

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