First Class for New Semester Photo: China  Central Television
First Class for New Semester Photo: China Central Television

It is often difficult to keep the kids happy, but sometimes it is even harder to please their parents.

Which may be why China’s state broadcaster had no option but to apologize to viewers after being inundated with complaints from parents for having too many commercial advertisements attached to the beginning of a high-profile educational TV show.

Thirteen unbroken minutes of commercials featured at the beginning of its popular “First Class for New Semester” program. Broadcast on the weekend at 8 pm, the program on China Central Television (CCTV)’s Channel One is deemed by the Ministry of Education to be so important that it instructs primary and secondary schools to “inform every parent about the broadcast time” and “require them to watch the program with their children”, according to Global Times.

As such, millions of parents received notices from schools requiring them to send photographic evidence they had watched the program with their kids.

But what they had to endure before the real program began was was 13 minutes of non-stop commercials for beds, soya bean machines, ceramics, gelatins, home appliances, children’s toothpaste and tutoring services and after-school classes, according to the Beijing News.

One of the ads was even sponsored by a liquor company.

The commercials, which flew in the face of the Chinese government’s stated intention to lower the financial burden on schoolkids, prompted many parents to take their anger to China’s Weibo social network.

They claimed that the show, which was compulsory viewing, ran late because of the adverts, on the subject of which one parent noted: “You can’t claim to intend to reduce the burden on kids while trying to persuade them to buy things. This is ridiculous.”

Criticism was also made of the choice of guests. The program’s opening musical act New F4, a quartet of Taiwanese male pop idols, were not deemed masculine enough. And asking Kung Fu movie star Jacky Chan, who is not known for doing a good job of educating his own kids, to talk about children’s education, was seen as unconvincing.

In an attempt to assuage the discontent, CCTV posted an apology on its WeChat account Sunday, saying “the excessive advertisements had an influence on both parents and students viewing the program, for which we sincerely apologize.”

The “First Class for New Semester” was first launched on Sept. 1, 2008 to soft-sell the Communist Party of China’s achievements in education. Since then, the back-to-school TV program has become a routine propaganda platform that is broadcast every year on the first day of September. This year’s theme was innovative technology.

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