Chinese broadcaster denies host spent US$865,800 on lavish light show for birthday

  • But Jiangsu radio station says it has given Deng Huang a warning for breaking the rules
  • Rumours of decadent 10-hour celebration have been circulating online for months
PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 October, 2018, 8:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 October, 2018, 8:37pm

A provincial state broadcaster in eastern China has denied online rumours that its star radio presenter spent 6 million yuan (US$865,800) on a lavish light show to celebrate her birthday in Nanjing last year – even though it said Deng Huang was warned for breaking the rules.

Rumours emerged on social media that Deng arranged a 10-hour light show – involving military helicopters and drones – in the Xinjiekou business district and a decadent birthday feast at the nearby Jinling Hotel, China News Service reported on Sunday.

It began with a post on microblogging site Weibo in May, with photos of skyscrapers lit up with Deng’s image that quickly went viral, and many people reported the high-profile celebration to the local authorities in Nanjing.

Deng is the host of popular morning radio show Sunshine City on the Jiangsu People’s Broadcasting Station.

But in a statement on Weibo on the weekend, the broadcaster said Deng had actually been filming a commercial that also celebrated her birthday on July 28. As part of the shoot, major skyscrapers including the Nanjing International Finance Centre were lit up for two hours that evening. It added that Deng’s assistant had organised the light show, which cost 100,000 yuan.

The broadcaster acknowledged that drones were used to film the spectacle, but said it was an illegal activity and had been dealt with by air traffic authorities.

It denied that Deng held a lavish birthday banquet at the Jinling Hotel, saying she had gone to a restaurant on the 57th floor to view the light show for 20 minutes before leaving.

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But the network said it had given Deng a disciplinary warning since she broke official guidelines by taking part in commercial activities without permission. It added that Nanjing police were investigating the media outlets that published the original rumours.

The broadcaster’s explanation, however, did not convince many on social media.

“It happened a year ago, and the network has taken this long to respond. Jiangsu People’s Broadcasting Station doesn’t even allow comments [on its statement],” one person wrote.

“Deng Huang is a DJ at a tiny radio station, but Jiangsu’s internet police, cyberspace administration and relevant government departments have gone to such lengths to prove her innocence,” said another comment.

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The statement, which was carried by several state media websites, appears to be part of a coordinated national campaign to stamp out the spread of rumours on social media.

Creating and spreading false rumours online was criminalised by Beijing under its new cybersecurity law introduced last year.

Earlier this year, it ordered blogging platforms such as Weibo and WeChat to set up an “anti-rumour mechanism” to debunk rumours when they arise. Regulators punished 180,000 WeChat public accounts for spreading false information in 2017 alone, according to a March report from the social network.

Some analysts have voiced fears that these “anti-rumour” systems may be used as a censorship tool on Chinese social media.