Ofcom has revoked the UK broadcasting licence of Chinese state-backed channel China Global Television Network (known as CGTN).
The move, announced on 4 February, prompted China to retaliate yesterday (11 February) and ban BBC World World News from broadcasting in the country.
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The BBC reported that China’s State Film, TV and Radio Administration said BBC World News was found to “seriously violate” broadcast guidelines, including “the requirement that news should be truthful and fair” and not “harm China’s national interests”.
BBC World News broadcasts globally in English but is only available in a few international hotels in China as Chinese authorities limited its distribution and blacked out its reports on Chinese subjects.
A BBC spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the Chinese authorities have decided to take this course of action.
“The BBC is the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster and reports on stories from around the world fairly, impartially and without fear or favour.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said China’s ban on BBC World News “is an unacceptable curtailing of media freedom. China has some of the most severe restrictions on media & internet freedoms across the globe & this latest step will only damage China’s reputation…”
Ofcom said last week it had discovered the licence-holder for English-language CGTN, Star China Media Limited, had no editorial oversight of the channel’s output – which is a legal requirement.
The broadcaster then asked to transfer its licence to an entity called China Global Television Network Corporation (CGTNC), which is controlled by major shareholder China Central Television (CCTV).
CGTN, which airs on Sky and Freesat, opened its European headquarters in Chiswick Park, west London, in 2018.
CGTNC admitted its global editorial board was already the ultimate decision-maker for the selection and organisation of programmes on CGTN, exercising editorial control.
However CCTV is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and channels are not allowed to be controlled by political parties in the UK.
CGTN mooted restructuring away from CCTV but then stopped providing Ofcom with updates on its progress, forcing the regulator into its decision.
Ofcom 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.”
Ofcom said CGTNC failed to provide any evidence to counter the suggestion the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda department was exercising control over the channel.
“…it appears that the body exercising ultimate control over CCTV – and thus CGTNC – is an organ of the Chinese Communist Party and therefore a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature…” the regulator said.
Ofcom said it had taken the broadcaster’s and audience’s rights to freedom of expression into consideration before making its decision.
Ofcom will still conclude several ongoing content investigations it is running against CGTN, with three relating to fairness and privacy.
It will also decide whether to sanction the broadcaster for failing to preserve due impartiality in its coverage of the Hong Kong democracy protests, and for a serious breach of fairness and privacy rules after it broadcast a forced confession from a jailed British citizen.
CGTN has said it strongly opposes Ofcom’s decision, claiming the regulator “disregarded CGTN’s reputation as a professional international media organisation and its 18-year good record of broadcasting in the UK, and made a final ruling based on the so-called political nature of CGTN and related Chinese media organizations…”
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.”
LBC presenter Iain Dale responded to Ofcom’s decision tweeted: “Good. RT next, hopefully. Both just propaganda units of states which seek to damage British interests.”
Ofcom licenses the Russian state-backed news channel RT, formerly called Russia Today, which was fined £200,000 in 2019 for “serious and repeated” breaches of impartiality rules.
Press TV, the Iranian state broadcaster’s English-language channel, had its UK licence revoked in 2012 for running its editorial oversight from Tehran.