Apple was accused of jerking Chinese consumers around in a 3-hour expose aired by China Central Television last week, but a celebrity’s foolish mistake on Chinese social media revealed that the so-called investigative journalism from the broadcaster was nothing but a PR offensive against the wrong targets. Each year on March 15, the Consumers’ Rights Protection Day in China, the state broadcaster runs a special TV show that takes to task shoddy products or substandard services in the name of alerting the nation and laying bare corporate evils. In this year, the show said that Chinese customers are not provided with the same customer service from Apple as it does to users in other countries. China Central Television had even gathered a number of journalist, they were wearing red color vest that look like Red Guards from the Cultural Revolution, ‘attacking’ the Apple store in Beijing to question the employees for the unfair warranty policy …
According to the program, consumers in China who asked for the replacement of iPhones have been finding that their renewed iPhones still kept the old back cover. In addition, the guarantee period was not extended to another year as stipulated in China’s after-sale policy but remained the same as with the former device. Under Chinese law, replaced mobile phones should be covered by another one-year guarantee period after the replacement, which, for producers, can mean heavy burdens on their after-sale services that they are unwilling to bear. The “old back cover” tactic was used to shirk the repair obligation as the changed device could not be defined as a replacement if it incorporates an old component from the previous device. The practice results from the company’s reconsideration of prompting buyers to spend more on Apple’s products. Apple consumers in other parts of the world meet no such awkwardness in their after-sale process.
All seems fine and fair up to this point. In fact, many Chinese netizens were already ready to bite, with many claiming that they will never buy Apple products again given its unequal treatment to Chinese consumers. Sina Weibo, the country leading micro-blogging platform which is similar to Twitter, is where the story got a sudden twist. During the broadcasting night, a Taiwanese celebrity, Peter Ho, was caught to post a message on his Weibo that he would soon regret. He wrote, “Apple played so many tricks in customer service ? As an Apple fan, I am really hurt … Is what you’ve done worthy of Steve Jobs ? Worthy of the young man who sold one kidney ? So you bully customers just because you are big ! To be posted at around 8:20.” The last sentence, “To be posted at around 8:20,” sounds very much like an instruction to him about timing of his attack on Apple. It’s properly a careless copy and paste from a PR person and forget to leave out the telltale message.
Peter Ho has about five million followers on Sina Weibo. Two hours later, he deleted the post and claimed that his account was hacked and it was not him who post the Apple-bashing tweet. During the airing of the show, at least five other similar posts were published at the same moment by various influential people on Weibo which only lead more to believe that Apple had been set up in a carefully orchestrated smear campaign that ended in a fiasco only because of this Peter Ho who let the cat out of the bag. And guess what, the biggest iron is that all these people used Apple products to send out their Apple-bashing posts. Seeing the sudden turn, many people started to question the credibility of the consumer rights show which produced by the state broadcaster. The authorities abused its media power by mobilizing so much manpower behind the scenes to beleaguer one corporate. The gathered of local journalists to visit Beijing Apple store on the spot were to echo the criticisms of Apple.
Kaifu Lee, the former president of Google China, admitted he had been invited by show organizers to post appointed comments on his Weibo. He didn’t accept the offer because the topics was not as important as the air and food safety in China. Recently Kaifu Lee was banned for three days from posting on his Chinese micro-blogging sites because he was speaking too much of the truth on controversies. According to insider source, professionals with million of followers will be paid up to 100,000 yuan (US$16,030) per day for posting appointed comments on Weibo.
During 2008, the China Central Television reported on Baidu.com for running ads paid by illegal and unlicensed pharmaceutical companies. Baidu’s stock price took a terrible tumble afterwards. But in 2009, Baidu plunked down US$5.7 million as the sponsor of the Chinese New Year Gala, one of the most watched TV program in the world produced by China Central Television. It was noted as a public relations campaign to repair its reputation. But that led to accusations of media corruptibility–that either Baidu was paying for positive coverage or the state broadcaster was extorting companies for advertising spend. The smear campaign against Apple might be another extorting of advertisement.
In an official statement responding to China Central Television’s report, Apple said that they have been striving to exceed consumers’ expectations, and highly value every customer’s criticism and suggestions. Apple’s repair policies led to a number of complaints last year and caused some provincial consumer watchdogs to include the brand on a “company integrity” blacklist. Apple fine-tuned parts of the controversial repair policies but some unfair practices still remain. Apple is a bit of a shitty company, but China Central Television just can’t use its public power to get rid of big clients who don’t buy their ads. CCTV is a highly influential Chinese state broadcaster that frequently influences both government and corporate policies. Seems like it was a coordinated effort to wreck Apple’s business in China.
[UPDATE] Apple China has made another response on the issue. Apple said that while its after-sale services in China are somewhat different from those in other countries, they comply with Chinese laws. The company posted a statement on its website pledging to replace all parts but the cover if an iPhone 4 or 4S has quality issues within the warranty period, and to replace all defective iPhone 5s entirely because of the model’s special design. (SOURCE-1)
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