UK strips Chinese state TV channel CGTN of broadcast license

LONDON (AP) : U.K. regulators stripped China’s state TV channel of its national broadcasting license on Thursday, after an investigation cited lack of editorial control and links to China’s ruling Communist Party.

The communications watchdog, Ofcom, said it revoked the U.K. license for China Global Television Network, or CGTN, an international English language satellite news channel.

CGTN had been available on free and pay TV in the U.K. It did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Regulators started looking into the station after receiving a complaint from a human rights group, Safeguard Defenders, calling for an investigation into its ownership.

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk past the CCTV Headquarters building, the home of Chinese state-run television network CCTV and its overseas arm CGTN, in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Ofcom is also continuing to investigate a slew of other complaints that it violated rules on fairness and accuracy. One was from a former British Consulate employee in Hong Kong who said he was detained and tortured by Chinese police for information on protesters. Another was by a British corporate investigator who said he was forced to confess while imprisoned in China. CGTN did not respond to requests for comment on those claims at the time, and Ofcom said its rulings are still pending.

In Thursday’s decision, the watchdog said it found that the entity that held the station’s license, Star China Media Limited, didn’t have editorial responsibility for CGTN’s output, which is a licensing requirement. Star China was merely the channel’s distributor and none of the employees involved in day-to-day operations or decision-making were its employees.

An application to transfer the license to China Global Television Network Corporation as part of a planned restructuring was rejected because “crucial information” was missing, Ofcom said. But it also failed “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,” it said.

The watchdog said it gave CGTN “significant time” to comply but those efforts “have now been exhausted.”

“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 U.K.,” Ofcom said.

In a separate case, Ofcom said it expects to decide soon on sanctions for CGTN for breaching impartiality rules in coverage of Hong Kong pro-democracy protests.

Losing its British broadcasting license is a major setback for CGTN, which has been a key element of the Chinese government’s push to expand its soft power and burnish its image abroad. The channel had established a European operations hub in West London and had gone on a hiring spree for journalists to staff it.

The license loss is also part of broader tensions between China and the West over news media. Last year the U.S. designated five Chinese state-run news outlets operating in the United States as “foreign missions,” requiring them to register properties and employees in the U.S. Days later, China revoked press credentials for three Wall Street Journal reporters over an opinion-column headline the government said was racist.

It’s not the first time Ofcom has revoked a state-owned channel’s broadcast license. In 2012, the regulator stripped Iran’s Press TV’s license after a complaint it aired a scripted interview with a detained journalist carried out under threat of execution.

AP News

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