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The U.K.’s media regulator has stripped Chinese state-backed television channel CGTN of its broadcast license, a move that is certain to escalate state-level tensions with Beijing.
British communications watchdog, Ofcom, said it revoked the license after an investigation into the Chinese channel raised questions about its editorial independence and links to the Chinese communist party.
China Global Television Network, or CGTN as it’s known, is an international English-language news channel. It had been available in the U.K. on free and pay TV.
“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 license for CGTN to broadcast in the U.K.,” Ofcom said in a statement.
British regulators began investigating the channel in response to a complaint from human rights group Safeguard Defenders.
The U.K. watchdog said it found the entity that held CGTN’s broadcast license, Star China Media Limited, didn’t have editorial control over the channel’s reporting. Under a planned restructuring, CGTN had asked for its license to be transferred to a company called China Global Television Network Corporation, but Ofcom said that “crucial information” was missing from the Chinese channel’s application. Ofcom added that the request also was rejected because “it is controlled by a body which is ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” a violation of local laws.
The U.K. requires Ofcom to prevent organizations whose goals are primarily political from holding television broadcast licenses. The watchdog said it gave CGTN “significant time” to comply with local regulations but those efforts “have now been exhausted.”
Ofcom is investigating various other complaints against CGTN involving violations of rules on fairness and accuracy. One case involves British corporate investigator Peter Humphrey, who alleged that he was forced to confess while imprisoned in China and that CGTN aired his forced confession in violation of his rights. In a second case, a former British consulate employee in Hong Kong said the channel aired his forced confession after he was detained and tortured by Chinese police for information on pro-democracy protesters.
Last year, Ofcom found CGTN breached impartiality rules in its coverage of Hong Kong protests. The regulator said it was considering sanctions against CGTN over the two new cases, which could have included a ban. Although the Chinese channel already has been stripped of its license, a decision is still pending in those cases.
Although the U.K. had been eager to enhance trade relations with China, diplomatic ties with Beijing have been fraying since last year. Britain’s decision to ban Huawei Technologies from its 5G wireless networks over security concerns raised tensions, and U.K. scrutiny of China’s early handling of the coronavirus have only upped the tensions. The U.K. also has offered support to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, providing residents of the former colony with a path to becoming British citizens.
Shortly before the Ofcom decision on Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry complained about a story broadcast by the BBC investigating China’s early handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak. The ministry called the news piece “typical fake news” and demanded an apology, saying that “China reserves the right to take further measures.” The BBC stood by the story, saying it rejected “these unfounded accusations of fake news or ideological bias.”
Many China watchers expect Beijing to retaliate against Ofcom’s CGTN decision, possibly by targeting the BBC’s operations in China.
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