China's state broadcaster CCTV appears to have fallen victim to one of its own shows, according to Chinese netizens.
For the 23rd consecutive year, the annual show on China Central Television exposed substandard products in order to promote consumer rights and improve service. And on Friday night, it attacked Apple for allegedly providing Chinese users with inferior service.
Among allegations made by CCTV’s investigation, Apple was accused of charging its Chinese users a fee for replacing back covers of faulty iPhones - which they do for free in other countries.
Apple usually replaces phones for free instead of repairing parts, said CCTV. But for Chinese customers, the replacement doesn’t include the back cover - it costs 580 yuan (HK$724) for a new one.
The investigation also questioned Apple’s warranty policy, which doesn’t renew warranty periods for replaced phones.
About 8.20pm, after the Apple espisode was aired, celebrities and internet opinion leaders discussed it on Sina Weibo, China's twitter-like service . Among them was one of China’s leading writers of children's literature, Zheng Yuanjie, who has nearly 5 million followers on Weibo. Zheng said:
“Chinese customers choose Apple not just for its technology, but also for its thoughtfulness, justice, care and value. I am shocked to hear Apple adopts double standards with Chinese customers and those in developed countries. After spending the same and an even greater amount of money, they receive a lower standard of service in return. I hope the missing part on Apple’s logo isn’t their conscience. “
Zheng was joined by well-known journalist Deng Fei and popular blogger “Liu Jishou” - who echoed CCTV’s criticisms of Apple.
The public mood seemed to be favourable for CCTV until around 8:26pm, when Taiwanese actor Peter Ho, posted the following message on his Weibo: “Apple plays so many tricks with their customer service? I feel hurt as an Apple fan. Have you done right by [Steve] Jobs? Have you done right by boys who sell their kidneys [to buy iphones], he asked, adding: "this is an example of big-name shops bullying customers.”
Ho’s message ended with a short line which soon became notorious: “To publish around 8.20pm.”
But it was nothing to be missed by sharp-eyed netizens and eager fans.
Minutes later, criticism, speculation and theories were posted on Weibo about Ho’s 8.20pm statement.
One theory was that Ho was part the CCTV’s plan to criticise Apple. Yet he was either too lazy or too trusting as he had obviously copied and pasted the texts without deleting the cue line meant only for him -“To publish around 8.20pm.” - instead of his 5.3 million Weibo fans.
It took two hours for Ho to “come clean” on Weibo. At 10.08pm, he deleted the previous message and posted this:
“Now it’s me in person. Someone stole my Weibo account and posted the previous Weibo. Will someone tell me what’s going on? This is ridiculous!”
Yet, Ho’s disclaimer wasn’t well received by Weibo users.
“Your post is ridiculous,” replied one blogger.
“Stop pretending,” commented another. “I guess CCTV will now ask for a refund, huh?”
On Saturday morning, Zheng Yuanjie denied on his Weibo that he had taken money from CCTV for either attending the show or posting Weibo messages regarding Apple.
Kai- fu Lee, a founder of technology Innovation company Works and former president of Google China, admitted he had also been invited by show organisers to post comments on Weibo. He said he would have accepted the offer if the topics had been as important as “air, water, and food safety in China.”
Online debate heated up on Saturday after more netizens and celebrties criticised CCTV for sidestepping more serious issues at home and attacking a foreign company.
In a blog titled “CCTV, you are no longer qualified to talk morals to me,” outspoken writer Li Chengpeng wrote:
“CCTV, you are blind to Chinese children being attacked at schools, but you see school massacres abroad; you never criticise fake elections at home, but always report shoe-throwings in foreign parliaments; you don’t pressure officials to disclose their assets at home, but you are so excited when a foreign official gets caught drinking a bottle of wine paid by taxpayers’ money.
“And you just can’t use your public power to get rid of big clients who don’t buy ads from you,” Li said.
In an official statement responding to CCTV’s report, Apple said: “We have been striving to exceed consumers’ expectations , and we highly value every customer’s criticsm and suggestions .”
On Saturday morning, a popular Chinese Apple fan website also posted on Weibo, using the now famous #8.20# hashtag, a comparison of the different return policies of Apple, Samsung, Nokia and Lenovo phones.
“You can tell the good from the bad easily,” its Weibo post said.