Bribery Probe for Chinese State TV Exec Who Slammed Apple, McDonald's

He Tackled Foreign Companies But Also Made Enemies Locally

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As the head of China's state-owned CCTV financial channel, Guo Zhenxi oversaw an annual show notorious for accusing foreign companies -- including Apple, McDonald's and Volkswagen -- of mistreating Chinese consumers.

Less well-known outside China is that Mr. Guo's programs tackled Chinese companies, too. He infuriated several high-profile Chinese entrepreneurs, and one real estate developer complained to his millions of followers on social media that the state broadcaster was "the dumbest pig on earth."

Now the tables have turned on Mr. Guo, a CCTV official for two decades: He has been detained and is being investigated for suspected bribery. And though some on the mainland saw his program's attacks on foreign companies as a patriotic defense of Chinese consumers, he also had powerful enemies inside China.

A Background in the Ad Department

The arrest came as China is cracking down on corruption: President Xi Jinping has vowed to go after both powerful and low-level corrupt bureaucrats (he called them "tigers and flies.") CCTV is the country's biggest TV network, though many younger people see it as old-fashioned and are increasingly getting news online and from social networks.

Mr. Guo, a former journalist and longtime force in CCTV's ad department, is being investigated on bribery charges, the Supreme People's Procuratorate said in a statement online. A CCTV producer, Tian Liwu, is also being probed. Details on the specific allegations against them were not clear.

Local media have put a heavy focus on Mr. Guo's clashes with top Chinese business leaders.

Online, the People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, reported Tuesday that Mr. Guo allegedly angered one leading businessman by asking for a bribe, and then when he was refused, retaliating with negative coverage. The report said Mr. Guo also maintained a top role in working with advertisers, which gave him unusual power.

Neither Mr. Guo or CCTV could be reached for comment. One former representative of a top multinational had positive recollections of Mr. Guo.

Alfonso de Dios, a Beijing-based media consultant and a former China media director for Procter & Gamble from 2001-2009, worked closely with Mr. Guo during his P&G years. He said Mr. Guo, then head of the ad sales department, never offered him or solicited a bribe and was "all work, work, work."

"He is a very action-driven guy, very open-minded to solutions," and was willing to try innovations involving branded content programs or public service announcements with brand integration, Mr. de Dios said.

"Whenever we had ideas, he was there ready and able to make those ideas happen."

Consumer Rights

After Mr. Guo was promoted as head of the CCTV-2 financial news channel, he oversaw the annual March 15 "World Consumer Rights Day" investigative report, which took on companies it accused of bias against Chinese customers.

In 2013, it said the iPhone's warranties in China weren't up to international standards, and Apple CEO Tim Cook offered an apology to China's consumers and a policy change. CCTV also accused Volkswagen of putting cars on the market in China with faulty gearbox systems -- afterward, Volkswagen issued a major recall.

A year earlier, the program had attacked McDonald's, accusing it of serving products past their expiration date. McDonald's also apologized. Other targets have included Nikon and Carrefour.

Going After Chinese Companies Too

In November, Mr. Guo's channel tackled the China real estate sector with a report accusing property developers of failing to pay years of land appreciation taxes. The Wall Street Joural quoted analysts who were skeptical of the report, saying the channel had misunderstood how the system works.

When CCTV continued to attack developers, property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang called CCTV "the dumbest pig on earth" in a post to his 16 million followers on Weibo, China's Twitter.

Entrepeneur Shi Yuzhu was angered by a negative CCTV report in March about the company he founded, game developer Giant Interactive Group. On Weibo, he said Mr. Guo was "shameless." Later, he said he asked for appointments to apologize in person but was refused.

"I wish him a quick arrival home after the bribery investigation," he wrote on Weibo this week, with a hint of sarcasm.

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