China’s state-owned broadcaster stripped of UK licence

Sherna Noah, PA Senior Entertainment Correspondent

China’s state-owned broadcaster has had its licence to broadcast in the UK withdrawn.

TV regulator Ofcom launched an investigation into China Global Television Network (CGTN) last year.

It has now revoked its licence, under laws which state that any licensee must have editorial control of the programmes shown and must not be controlled by political bodies.

CGTN is an international, English-language satellite news channel.

Ofcom’s investigation concluded that Star China Media Limited (SCML), the licence-holder for the service, did not have editorial responsibility for the news channel’s output.

An application to transfer the licence to an entity called China Global Television Network Corporation (CGTNC) was denied.

This was because “crucial information was missing from the application, and because we consider that CGTNC would be disqualified from holding a licence, as it is controlled by a body which is ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” Ofcom said.

It said it had given the satellite news channel “significant time to come into compliance with the statutory rules. Those efforts have now been exhausted.”

And “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,” it said in a statement.

In 2020, Ofcom found CGTN had breached the broadcasting code  by failing to preserve due impartiality in its coverage of the Hong Kong protests.

The regulator is due to reach a decision about sanctions for the breach shortly.

An Ofcom spokeswoman said: “Our investigation showed that the licence for China Global Television Network is held by an entity which has no editorial control over its programmes.

“We are unable to approve the application to transfer the licence to China Global Television Network Corporation because it is ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, which is not permitted under UK broadcasting law.

“We’ve provided CGTN with numerous opportunities to come into compliance, but it has not done so. We now consider it appropriate to withdraw the licence for CGTN to broadcast in the UK.”

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs later released a statement accusing the BBC of “fake news” in its coronavirus reporting.

The statement was issued shortly after Ofcom announced its decision on CGTN.

The BBC said in response: “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 is the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster, reporting to a global audience of more than 400 million people weekly without fear or favour and in accordance with our editorial standards.”

Julian Knight MP, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, welcomed Ofcom’s decision.

“Today’s ruling is confirmation that the Chinese Communist Party is the ultimate controller of its broadcasts which is not permitted under UK law,” he said.

“CGTN had already breached broadcasting codes with a forced confession, and failure on impartiality over coverage of the Hong Kong protests.

“It should be seen as a strong warning that the power to broadcast carries with it responsibility and accountability. Failing this bar will not be tolerated.”

In 2018, a British corporate investigator filed a complaint to UK regulators about Chinese state TV, saying its British licence should be revoked because it broadcast his forced confession when he was imprisoned in China.

Ofcom’s move comes after Labour called last year for the broadcast watchdog to review the operating licence of Russian news outlet RT.

The Kremlin-backed broadcaster, formerly Russia Today, was fined £200,000 for “a serious breach” of impartiality rules in 2019.

The programmes were mostly in relation to major matters of political controversy and current public policy – namely the UK Government’s response to the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury and the Syrian conflict.

In 2012, Ofcom revoked Iranian state-owned Press TV’s licence to broadcast in the UK.

It was also fined £100,000 after broadcasting an interview with a journalist while they were being held in an Iranian prison, which Ofcom said was “obtained under duress”.

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