China's government detains its own popular news anchor as it probes corruption

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Carol Hills: Now in China, a popular TV news anchor was about to go on air last friday when something unexpected happened: he was detained by Chinese authorities. When his program started, there was just an empty chair. Rui Chenggang is a well-known anchor for CCTV, China's Central Television. He's known for his interview, conducted in English, of corporate and world business leaders. Officials have not given a reason for Rui's detention but it comes just a month after his boss was suspected of corruption. Edward Wong is the Beijing reporter for The New York Times. He says this is a high profile case. Edward Wong: Rui Chenggang is considered to be, by his fans, the face of a new modern China. He speaks fluent English, he goes around the world attending sessions of the World Economic Forum. You'll see him in Davos, you'll see him hobnobbing with foreign leaders as well as corporate executives and he drives a Jaguar to work and wears Italian suits. Hills: So he's kind of flamboyant, it sounds like. What is his personality like, how does he come across on air? Wong: On air he's a very smooth talker and on some occasions he tries to strike a very nationalistic tone. Several times he's tried to confront American officials with questions that are aimed at getting at the weakening of America and the growing strength of China, like the former American ambassador Gary Locke, at a meeting of the World Economic Forum, he stood up during a press conference or a PNO (?) at which ambassador Locke was appearing and he said "Ambassador Locke, I heard you flew here on economy class, is that a reminder that the US owes China a lot of money?" At a meeting of the G20 in Seoul, President Obama prompted the Korean media to ask him a question but Rui Chenggang stood up and said "I know I'm not Korean, I'm Chinese, but I feel like I can represent all of Asia here" and then he went ahead and asked a question, which a lot of people mocked him for afterward. Hills: It sounds like he's a proud Chinese, like he's pretty patriotic. Any indication why he's being detained? Wong: Everyone I've talked to about him says he's very well connected. He knows a lot of the top leaders, a lot of the top political families. He operates very similar to how a Chinese business executive would operate, which is they try to get to know everyone and try to get on the good side of all the people in power. Our conclusion would be that he got on the wrong side of a powerful political personality. Some of his patrons in CCTV have already been detained and so there was a lot of talk in recent weeks that Rui Chenggang himself would also be detained soon. Hills: Is there any indication of what the other people are being charged with? Wong: We don't know exactly. We know it's a corruption investigation and bribe-taking is involved. What people who understand how CCTV and other Chinese media work say that it's very likely that they took money in exchange for getting airtime on CCTV or taking money to insure that no negative stories or investigative pieces were done on these people. Hills: It's kind of interesting - we've got this flamboyant, outspoken TV guy but he happens to work for a state-run TV stations, CCTV, and he's now been detained for possibly we don't really know what. So it's sort of kind of a funny story of new China/old China. Wong: In some ways, some people are comparing the very broad anti-corruption campaign that's been going on right now throughout China in the last year or more to like an older style politics in which the leadership wants to really bring the party back into a disciplined form. So they feel that the party membership has become too lax over the years, that people are not being as strict with themselves as they should be and that's leading to weaknesses within the Communist party and this could be one example of that. They might feel like people like Rui Chenggang and his bosses have let their guard down. They've grown lax. All the talk of corruption around CCTV is undermining the legitimacy of the party since CCTV represents, in some ways, the public face of the party. Hills: Edward Wong is the Beijing reporter for The New York Times. He's been covering the case of Rui Chenggang, a well-known Chinese TV news anchor on CCTV who's been detained. Thanks so much, Edward. Wong: Thanks a lot for your time.