BEIJING — When Virgin founder Richard Branson made an April Fool's Day announcement about starting a glass-bottomed plane service, at least one major news outlet didn't see through to the joke. China's huge state broadcaster, CCTV, ran it as odd — but real — news.
The broadcaster reported it a day later on the nightly news program “World Express,” where Chinese Internet users quickly spotted the gaffe and spread the word.
By today, CCTV had pulled the clip from its website. When “World Express” producer Xu Qi was reached on her cellphone by The Associated Press, she asked for a callback later because she was in a meeting, but later repeated calls rang unanswered.
CCTV had reported that Branson's Virgin Atlantic airline would start flying the first-ever glass-bottomed planes between London and Scotland. It quoted as the source the British newspaper The Daily Mirror — which had made it clear it was in on the joke by reminding online readers that it was April Fool's Day.
CCTV also aired photos originally posted in Branson's blog on Virgin's official site Monday and carried by the British tabloid. Quoting The Daily Mirror, a CCTV news announcer said that passengers need not worry about safety because the see-through bottom would be aviation-grade glass.
“Maybe to spice up its programming for ratings, CCTV sometimes fails to check the source of the information,” Beijing journalism professor Zhan Jiang said.
It is not the first time China's state media have fallen for spoof news articles.
When the U.S. satirical website The Onion proclaimed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un the sexiest man alive in November, it ended up as real news on websites of several Chinese newspapers, including the Communist Party's flagship People's Daily.