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Is the Chinese State Media Out to Knock Apple Down?

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Two weeks ago, state-run China Central Television (CCTV) ran a corporate exposé program, called 3.15, that slammed Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).

According to the broadcaster, Apple charges its Chinese customers a fee to replace back covers of faulty iPhones, whereas the service is offered for free elsewhere.

This segment on Apple quickly became a much-discussed topic on China's social networks with many chiming in to criticize Apple for its alleged discriminatory practices.

One critic, according to the South China Morning Post, was Zheng Yuanjie, a popular Chinese children's literature author, who posted this message to his nearly 5 million followers on Sina's (NASDAQ:SINA) Twitter-like micro-blogging service Weibo:

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.

The tide began to turn against CCTV, however, when Hong Kong actor Peter Ho, with 5.3 million Weibo followers, posted this message at around 8:26 p.m. in China on 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], this is an example of big-name shops bullying customers. To publish around 8:20 p.m. (emphasis added)"

Sharp Chinese netizens quickly noticed the notorious final line of Ho's message, and theorized that Ho, along with Zheng and many others, could be part of a concerted CCTV public relations effort to slam Apple and that he had forgotten to delete the last line in a message that he probably copied from other sources.

At around 10 p.m., Ho deleted the above message and posted: "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!"

But Weibo users did not buy Ho's explanation. "Stop pretending," one user commented, "I guess CCTV will now ask for a refund, huh?"

"CCTV has been working really hard to try to get Apple to buy their advertising," said another, according to Offbeat China.

A leading Weibo social commentator who goes by a fake name that would be translated as "Notebook" summarized the situation with his post: "3.15 has been a weapon to strike down competitors. It uses dirty tricks, bribes big shots from all sectors on Weibo, assigns them tasks of posting content on Weibo at around 8:20 to work with CCTV in a concentrated fire on the target CCTV presets. It makes people sick." This post was retweeted more than 20,000 times in ten hours.

Besides questioning the veracity of CCTV's criticism of Apple, many Weibo users also slammed the broadcaster for coming down so harshly on Apple while ignoring the shortcomings of domestic companies.

""The 3.15 consumer rights show is much more disgusting than the companies it [has] exposed. At least Apple still offers post-sale customer service. How about those victims of Sanlu's toxic baby powder? Has anyone taken care of them?" said Notebook.

Check out Offbeat China and Ministry of Tofu for more Weibo reactions to CCTV's Apple exposé.
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