UK regulator revokes licence of China's CGTN news channel

Jitendra JOSHI
·3-min read
CGTN set up its European headquarters in London in 2019 and expressed 'indignation' at the decision

British regulators on Thursday revoked the licence of Chinese news network CGTN after finding its state-backed ownership structure broke UK law, and warned of punishment ahead for airing an alleged forced confession.

The move by Ofcom, which takes immediate effect, means UK broadcast providers must stop offering the channel to British audiences or face an unlimited fine.

The regulator said CGTN's licence holder, Star China Media Ltd, had failed to show it had editorial oversight over the network and that a proposed transfer to another media group would still keep it tied to the Chinese Communist Party.

"We have given CGTN significant time to come into compliance with the statutory rules. Those efforts have now been exhausted," Ofcom said.

"Following careful consideration, taking account of all the facts and the broadcaster's and audience's rights to freedom of expression, we have decided it is appropriate to revoke the licence for CGTN to broadcast in the UK."

The regulator added that an investigation into alleged breaches by CGTN of impartiality, fairness and privacy requirements would be completed "shortly".

CGTN, which opened its European headquarters in London in 2019, stated its "indignation" at the decision.

"CGTN English news channel is an internationalised media outlet with a good and professional reputation on a worldwide scope," the network said in a statement in Chinese on its Weibo page.

It blamed "the manipulation of far-right groups and anti-China forces" for the Ofcom ruling and said the regulator had ignored its "favourable record of 18 years of broadcasting in the UK".

"We believe that CGTN continuing to provide TV news services to UK audiences accords with the UK public interest," the network added.

- 'Stern representations' -

The English-language satellite broadcaster has long faced criticism for parroting the Communist Party line in its global broadcasts.

In the United States, CGTN is one of seven Chinese media outlets that have been designated as state-sponsored actors rather than as independent media.

Beijing routinely threatens retaliation against Western countries for acting against its media operations, which have grown in sophistication and reach down the years, warning of retaliation.

In a parallel development on Thursday, China's foreign ministry said it had lodged "stern representations" to the BBC, accusing the UK broadcaster of "fake news" in its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

In Britain, the BBC has been airing a hard-hitting documentary that accuses China of covering up the origins of the pandemic around the city of Wuhan in late 2019.

"We stand by our accurate and fair reporting of events in China and totally reject these unfounded accusations of fake news or ideological bias," the BBC responded in a statement.

Last July, Ofcom said it was considering sanctions against CGTN after upholding a complaint brought by a UK national, Peter Humphrey, who says he was forced to make a criminal confession aired by the broadcaster.

Humphrey was jailed for more than two years by a court in Shanghai in 2014 in connection with a corruption case involving pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

The Chinese broadcaster justified the controversial report to Ofcom on public-interest grounds, arguing it had obtained Humphrey's consent and was not aware of any mistreatment.

The regulator has the power to impose fines on UK-licensed broadcasters for breaches of media rules on impartiality and fairness.

British law also states that broadcasters must not be controlled by political bodies.

"Our investigation concluded that Star China Media Limited, the licence-holder for the CGTN service, did not have editorial responsibility for CGTN's output," Ofcom said.

Moreover, it could not transfer the licence to a replacement proposed by CGTN, called China Global Television Network Corporation, because it was "ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party".

In 2012, Ofcom revoked the licence of Press TV, the Iranian state broadcaster's English-language outlet, for failing to transfer general editorial control to London from Tehran.

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