It's not the first time Apple has faced PR troubles in China, now one of its largest markets. Last year the company wrestled with a legal dispute over the iPad trademark in the country that soon escalated into a war of words with a Chinese company. In addition, Apple has also faced negative publicity for its working conditions and environmental record at its various suppliers in the country, including Foxconn.
But this time, the criticism against Apple's repair policies has generated conspiracy theories over why China's state-run press is targeting the company so harshly. Following CCTV's initial report, local internet users pointed to evidence that one celebrity was possibly paid to write a negative Internet post about Apple's customer service.
Whatever the motive, the criticism risks hurting Apple's reputation in China at a time when rivals such as Samsung are also building up their corporate brand, said Nicole Peng, an analyst at research firm Canalys. In last year's fourth quarter, Samsung was China's largest smartphone vendor, followed by domestic companies Lenovo, Yulong Computer Telecommunication Scientific, Huawei, and ZTE.
"The public doesn't really know if the (CCTV) report is true or not, but they will probably believe it, because they don't know what is happening in other markets," she said. "I think in this case if Apple doesn't respond, their corporate image will be damaged."
Apple declined to comment.