Schools across China ordered their pupils to sit down in front of the television at 8pm on Saturday night, only for them to be subjected to a lengthy series of commercials.
Notices were sent to pupils and their parents instructing them to watch a government-made programme called The First Lesson before school classes resumed on Monday.
But the programme on China Central Television, the state broadcaster, began with 12 minutes of advertising – prompting an outcry from parents.
“Please take your children to watch it on time,” one primary school in Beijing told parents. “A photo showing the student watching the programme must be submitted to the online chat group.”
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Thousands of parents used social media and news websites to complain about CCTV’s non-stop commercials after schools had notified them that the public-interest educational programme made by the Ministry of Education would be broadcast at 8pm sharp.
“It has no credibility … The First Lesson has taught students that they do not need to keep time,” a parent from Jiangsu province in eastern China commented on the news portal NetEase.
Another added: “As this shows, money is the most important.”
The state broadcaster apologised on Sunday via the social media platform Weibo. “We sincerely apologise to parents and students for the long TV commercials and the delay of the programme,” it stated.
The screening of the adverts, mainly promoting online tutoring courses or stationery sales, is the latest controversy to hit the programme, which education authorities have deemed must-see viewing since its launch in 2008.
Many parents also questioned the choice of celebrities used in the programme – on this occasion action movie star Jackie Chan – to share their thoughts about study, success and life.
Xu Mei, the education ministry’s spokeswoman, said the schedule had been in the hands of the state broadcaster.
“We were told that there were some special circumstances for this programme,” she told The Economic Observer. “The preceding news programme was more than 20 minutes longer than usual, so all the subsequent programmes were delayed accordingly.”
Xinwen Lianbo, a daily news programme broadcast at 7pm, had devoted a lot of time to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, a prearranged summit which will be attended by 53 African leaders and begins in Beijing on Monday.