Rui Chenggang is often in the limelight as a star anchor and journalist at China Central Television. Chen Chao / China Daily
TV anchor Rui Chenggang is a well-respected journalist who just happens to cause as much controversy as he covers. Sun Li reports in Beijing.
A director and anchor with China Central Television (CCTV), the nation’s biggest State-run network, Rui Chenggang is always in the limelight as he conducts interviews with international bigwigs on his weekly show, Leaders. But more often, Rui draws attention for his oft-quoted remarks at news events and his comments on social and cultural issues, which frequently arouse fierce debates.
Even so, he does not believe the public really understands the story behind every headline about him.
Rui recently became one of the 10 most searched names on Baidu for comparing the annual salary of former NBA star Yao Ming with that of Xie Zhengyi, Party secretary of Yangzhou city, Jiangsu province, when he hosted the Youth Leadership Roundtable at the Boao Forum for Asia.
“Yao earns tens of millions yuan a year, Xie, hundreds of thousands of yuan. Both work hard, but the gap is so astonishing,” Rui was quoted as saying.
Many people lashed out at Rui for talking nonsense, but he says the quote was “taken out of context by irresponsible journalists who tried to catch eyeballs”.
Rui responded by repeating a comment from someone with the Internet handle of Wangqin Linyu, who said the comparison was interesting as the topic of discussion that day was narrowing the wealth gap between rich and poor.
“We are in a pan-journalism era. People’s lives are largely connected to micro blogs and the instant messaging service QQ, and as a result everybody is a social media guy and news spreads very fast,” Rui says.
“Under these circumstances, where speed matters, people cannot wait to react to and report the news, and misinterpretation becomes inevitable,” he says.
The media celebrity who speaks fluent English comments on two videos centering on his interactions with US President Barack Obama, which caused a sensation.
The first video was filmed in London, 2009, when Obama attended his first G20 summit.
The video shows Rui constantly raising his hand at the news conference and demanding to ask two questions (it’s usually one) on the grounds that world leaders were then talking about giving developing countries more voice.
“The reality was that at that time, there were a lot of Q and As (question-and-answer sessions) about China, but what bothered me was, it was a whole bunch of American and European journalists asking questions related to China,” Rui recalls.
He adds that if China is the topic, Chinese opinions have to be part of the conversation. Having no China voice is not appropriate, he says.
“My motivation at that time was to make a presence and grab the opportunity to let foreign attendees hear something from China when they were talking about our country.”
In the second video, at the G20 meetings in Seoul, 2010, Rui stood up after no reporters from the Republic of Korea (ROK) responded to Obama’s offer that the host country should ask a question. Rui then claimed to represent the whole of Asia.
“Again, not many people knew what the reality was at that time,” Rui says, adding there were two reasons that caused ROK journalists not to raise their hands and ask questions.
“Obama didn’t announce there would be a Q and A section. It was improvised. So my ROK peers weren’t prepared.”
“The other thing is Obama spoke for some 20 minutes first. To shoot a question, one needs to fully understand the president’s speech. Missing a part leads to stage fright. “
A veteran journalist, Rui says he always does his homework and arrives at every news conference with questions, adding he grasped the essence of Obama’s speech.
Even so, he says his motivation at the time was not to make China’s voice heard, but rather to make good an awkward moment.
“As no one raised their hands to ask a question, Obama was in an embarrassing situation, and every second felt long,” Rui says.
“Saying ‘I get to represent all of Asia’ was following Obama’s logic of letting ROK reporters ask a question. Personally, I think I did the president a favor.”
Rui claims that though this is a media age, most people lack critical thinking skills and few among those who commented on the videos were at the scene.
“When a piece of news comes, the first thing people should be asking is why someone says something, what is the motivation and is the proof solid.”
“To people who thought I was aggressive, did they know the background? Have they watched my other programs,” Rui asks.
“At that time, it was not about being aggressive. It was about whether it was the right thing to do.”
Rui adds asking aggressive questions is a rookie’s way of dealing with the situation.
“The audience may think you really have the guts to challenge big names. But you will embarrass your interviewees, which is a cheap shot.”
“When you become verbally aggressive, a fence will be built between you and your interviewees, and you’ll never read their hearts.” Although Rui mentions the late NBC newsman Tim Russert and CNN host Fareed Zakaria as journalists he can learn from, he insists he is not influenced by them.
“I don’t affect a certain style when working, I’m, just the real me, myself. I prefer gradually opening up the discussion with disarming panache. I’m a mild person.”
As to comments on his blog and micro blog that often create news, Rui says every statement is evaluated and reflects the consistency of his critical thinking.
His latest comment to hit the headlines was his attack on Herms handbags, noting that many women buy the brand but do not seem to care whether the bags are genuine or not.
Rui says he considers the controversy his comments might trigger, but believes having different opinions is a good thing.
“My observations and arguments may not be completely correct, and I welcome debate, through which an issue could become clearer,” Rui says.
“But I did seriously think of the issue first and my comments are not reckless,” he says.