China Realpolitik does a very good job of explaining the fight between CCTV and Baidu, the most popular Chinese search engine, here. I think his analysis sounds spot-on:
Baidu used to be the government’s favourite, as they always censored controversial material without complaint. On the surface, it seems strange that the government would target them. Actually, the truth is far more complex.
Some commentators have pointed out that the People’s Daily (a patriotic State run newspaper) recently launched its own search engine. This isn’t actually a new development really, Xinhua did the same at the start of the year.
I would think the fact that CCTV has their own search engine would be far more relevant. The key difference between Baidu and these other search engines, is that Baidu is in essence, a foreign company. Although it was founded by Chinese nationals and widely viewed as a Chinese success story, it’s important to note that it was US venture capital funds which backed it. Funnily enough, in the early days, even Google had a share.
They would also need to consider this: Baidu occupies a powerful position by dint of their popularity with the public – at present, they control 63% of the market. By contrast, the market share occupied by the CCTV, Xinhua and People’s Daily search engines barely registers. In recent times, the public has been wary of government owned media – the outburst of public anger after the Wenzhou train crash combined with growing frustration over the government’s inability to resolve food safety problems clearly demonstrates that the public aren’t swallowing everything the government wants to feed them.
If they push Baidu, Baidu may be capable of pushing back.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to know who is behind CCTV’s attack on Baidu, but it’s looking more and more certain that a concerted smear campaign is taking place. It could just as easily however, be high-ranking executives at CCTV who are keen to carve themselves a larger slice of the search engine market, while the government is perfectly happy to let them do that.
It would be a strange sight, for Baidu to push back against an arm of the government. These attacks are just reckless enough, though, to possibly inspire that. We’ll see.