BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese newspaper lashed out on Tuesday at the state broadcaster for crediting the country's choking air pollution with making the nation more equal, branding it a sycophantic stunt to curry favour with the communist authorities.
China Central Television (CCTV) carried a commentary on its website that claimed the smoggy haze, which has worsened in recent years and blanketed many Chinese cities last week, has "brought about five advantages to the nation and the individuals".
"The forcefulness of smog has given the disgruntled bottom rung of the society hopes of gaining equality... You nouveau riche cannot escape the smog that we plebs are inhaling," it said.
It also made the Chinese people "more united" because almost all cities and villages suffer, "more clear-headed" about the importance of sustainable development, "more humorous" given the number of jokes related to smog, and "more knowledgeable" about subjects including meteorology and chemistry, it added.
Dense, acrid smog shrouded China's commercial hub Shanghai and other eastern cities last week, delaying flights and spurring sales of face masks. Levels of PM 2.5 - tiny particles considered particularly hazardous to health - rose to as high as 24 times the World Health Organisation's safety guidelines.
The Beijing News on Tuesday slammed the CCTV piece as propaganda to curry favour with the authorities. The state broadcaster tried to "impose its own IQ on the people", it said.
CCTV displayed the "habitual sycophancy" of a Party mouthpiece and sought to pander to officialdom, the newspaper added.
"It can sing a tribute no matter how sad the matter is," it said.
The CCTV piece was one of the top topics on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
"The central government-run media is apparently badly harmed by smog," said one user.
Another, with the handle American Braveman, said: "Everybody is an idiot in the eyes of the idiot." The original article was no longer available on CCTV's website on Tuesday.
The Global Times, which is closely linked to the Communist Party, also deleted a Monday report on how smog could benefit a nation's defence, which also met a critical reaction.
"I strongly recommend interested countries target their missiles at the Global Times' headquarters to test the accuracy of the report," said one Sina Weibo user.