Insight: China CCTV Starbucks report set off storm inside network

Thu Dec 12, 2013 4:10pm EST
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By Megha Rajagopalan

BEIJING (Reuters) - A China state television investigative report accusing Starbucks (SBUX.O: Quote) of overcharging local customers for coffee triggered enormous disquiet among journalists at the network and even some soul-searching after it aired.

The October segment - the brainchild of a network executive who noticed Starbucks coffee cost more in China than in Britain - was mocked by Chinese Internet users and criticized by economic experts.

But the reaction inside China Central Television (CCTV), which has targeted numerous foreign firms this year, was just as harsh, said a person with direct knowledge of how the Starbucks report came together, and a former employee who left weeks ago.

However, those misgivings were all expressed in private or on a Chinese mobile phone chat application, illustrating how journalists in China are still reluctant to challenge editors in a system beholden to the ruling Communist Party.

"I couldn't find you a single person at CCTV who genuinely agreed with that report. Everybody thought it was very silly," said the person with direct knowledge of the segment. "Of course, during meetings, the higher-ups all said it was right to do the report and no one disagreed." The person didn't want to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

CCTV did not respond to requests for comment.


The network has taken many foreign firms to task this year over pricing, poor quality and shoddy customer service. They include Apple (AAPL.O: Quote), Samsung Electronics (005930.KS: Quote), the KFC restaurants of Yum Brands Inc (YUM.N: Quote) and British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK.L: Quote).   Continued...

A man walks past an advertisement board of Starbucks in Wuhan, Hubei province, in this October 29, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer