China’s state media broadcasts compulsory propaganda on the first day of school every year for millions of schoolchildren and their parents. But when the public turned to social media to criticize this year’s program, their comments were quickly censored.
All elementary- and middle-school students, as well as their parents, were mandated by China’s education ministry to watch the program, “First Lesson of New Semester,” on state broadcaster CCTV. Students were also asked by some teachers to write a report about what they learned from the program, as homework.
The program, produced by CCTV and the education ministry annually since 2008, is aired every Sept. 1 to mark the start of the new school calendar after a two-month summer break. This year, the program focused on the “spirit of creativity.” A notice issued by China’s education ministry said the purpose of having children watch the program was to “cultivate and put into practice core values of socialism.”
But before the program’s start, TV viewers were forced to sit through 12 minutes of non-stop advertisements on cars and scooters, home appliances, toothpaste, and stationery.
There were also many commercials for after-school tutoring services, clearly geared toward the parental viewers. Many of China’s middle-class families are able to afford extra classes for their children that are aimed at improving their chances of getting better grades and a stab at scholastic glory.
On Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, many Chinese netizens expressed their anger at the ads, the program, and CCTV.
A netizen with the moniker “Changqu Hongchen” wrote, “CCTV has traded its conscience for money.”
A netizen from Chengdu, the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan Province, wrote, “The school asked us parents to watch with our child. But we simply couldn’t stand the program. We decided to switch to another channel and see something else.”
CCTV has since issued an apology on its official Weibo account, stating, “We sincerely apologize to parents and students for the long TV commercials ahead of the program.”
In addition to the ads, the content of the program also drew a lot of criticism online. Parents disliked the presence of Jackie Chan in the program, questioning whether he was an appropriate role model for children, given his son’s widely reported drug use. In January 2013, Chan’s son Jaycee Chan was convicted on charges of “sheltering others to use drugs.” A court in Beijing sentenced him to six months in prison.
The overwhelming criticism by Chinese netizens has since prompted Chinese authorities to impose censorship on online discussions of the program. By press time, the comments section on several CCTV posts about the program displayed an error message, presumably after the comments were turned off.
Weiboscope, a website that tracks censorship on China’s social media run by the University of Hong Kong’s journalism school, revealed that when searching the keywords “CCTV” and “First Lesson of New Semester” in Chinese, many online posts about the program have indeed been deleted.
Reuters contributed to this report.