Asia-Pacific News

TV anchor detained as China graft crackdown widens

Gabriel Wildau in Shanghai
The CCTV Tower, designed by Rem Koolhaas, in Beijing
Eric Gregory Powell | Stone | Getty Images

A prominent television anchor at China's state broadcaster known for his nationalist commentary has been detained, in a sign that the country's anti-corruption campaign is reaching deeper into the media industry.

Rui Chenggang, host of high-profile financial programs on China Central Television (CCTV), was abruptly taken away by prosecutors on Friday evening, the Communist party's official newspaper, People's Daily, said on its Twitter account late on Saturday.

Li Yong, CCTV's vice-director for financial news, was also detained, according to the newspaper. The detentions follow the arrest last month of CCTV's advertising director and director-general of its finance and economics channel, Guo Zhenxi, on suspicion of bribery.

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A sweeping anti-graft campaign launched by President Xi Jinping last year has shown little sign of winding down. Widespread corruption threatens the legitimacy of the Communist party's rule and Mr Xi has vowed to punish both "tigers and flies" – high- and low-level offenders – who are found to be corrupt.

CCTV is a centerpiece of China's propaganda apparatus and its news programs are closely watched for signs of the Communist party's policy and messaging priorities. The broadcaster is also at the forefront of Beijing's efforts to project influence abroad, with programs in six foreign languages and an English-language channel available in 100 countries.

CCTV has become increasingly aggressive in recent years in criticizing high-profile foreign brands. Mr Rui's detainment came on the same day that CCTV warned that Apple's iPhone could track users via its positioning technology, claiming the phones could reveal "state secrets" by passing the data to US intelligence agencies. Apple denied the claims over the weekend.

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State-run media said authorities were investigating allegations Mr Rui used a public relations firm established by family members to extract payments in exchange for positive coverage on CCTV and for arranging meetings with senior officials with whom Mr Rui maintained relationships.

Read More What's behind China's graft crackdown?

Neither CCTV nor the prosecutor's office could be reached for comment on Sunday.

"Pay-to-play" is common in China's news industry, where journalists often receive red envelopes with "transportation money" in return for attending press conferences. Last year police investigated six PR firms that collected fees for deleting negative articles and social media posts on behalf of clients, in part by bribing website administrators.

Mr Rui, who is fluent in English and has 10 million followers on the Twitter-like microblog service Weibo, has positioned himself as a standard-bearer of China's political and economic systems for foreign audiences. At a Group of 20 summit in South Korea in 2010, he prefaced a question to US President Barack Obama by declaring that he "can represent the entire Asia".

He has had one-on-one interviews with Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, and George Soros, and former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has described Mr Rui as "an old friend." A 2009 New York Times profile called him "the media face of Chinese capitalism."

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In 2007, a post by Mr Rui on Weibo denouncing a Starbucks outlet in Beijing's Forbidden City as an affront to Chinese culture generated a huge online outcry, eventually resulting in its being replaced by a Chinese-owned coffee shop.

Caixin, a leading business magazine, cited sources at CCTV as saying the 36-year-old Mr Rui was scheduled to host Economic News at 8.30pm on Friday but that shortly before airtime colleagues were unable to reach him. An empty microphone was visible on Friday's program at the anchor's desk where Mr Rui normally sits, and a co-anchor hosted the program alone.

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