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Business

Chinese state TV drags Muji through the mud

Chain of cool, no-brand fashions committed sin of not being Chinese

A Muji store in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province

GUANGZHOU -- The annual World Consumer Rights Day special on the state-run Chinese Central Television (CCTV) never disappoints. This year, one of the hapless victims was Muji, or Ryohin Keikaku, the Japanese retail chain known for its design prowess.

The popular program ostensibly carries out its muckraking duties in the interests of Chinese consumers. Every year, it looks at certain products or services from a consumer's point of view, deems them shoddy and drags the maker through its own brand of investigative journalism.

On March 15, this year's show argued that Muji's operator in China imports and sells two products made in Tokyo in violation of an import ban on all goods made in the city due to concerns following the meltdowns in Fukushima Prefecture six years ago.

Tokyo is almost 300km from the prefecture.

But the two products are actually made much farther away, in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan, and Osaka Prefecture, western Japan. CCTV apparently mistook the products' birthplace for Tokyo because Ryohin Keikaku is headquartered in the Japanese capital.

Nevertheless, Ryohin Keikaku's share price plunged the day after the report.

Muji is one of the most popular Japanese brands in China.

Did CCTV air the program without bothering to pick up the phone to confirm where the products in question are made? Sensible Chinese media followed up on the story. Reporters contacted authorities in Shanghai, where Ryohin Keikaku's China operations are headquartered, and were promptly told that "the two products had been tested and have no problems."

After stoking consumers' emotions, CCTV issued no apologies.

CCTV seems to like its cudgel. A public relations representative of a big advertising company said the agency, which is not Chinese, has been grudgingly paying large sums to air commercials on CCTV so as to avoid becoming the program's next target.

The yearly public execution of foreign companies based on scant evidence may get high ratings. But one has to wonder how much longer it will be taken seriously.

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