China’s state-owned TV channel could be banned from the UK after the broadcast regulator Ofcom found it had aired forced confessions.
China Global Television Network (CGTN), China’s English-language news network, faces statutory sanctions as a result of the ruling, which was based on a complaint from former British journalist Peter Humphrey.
“We have upheld Mr Peter Humphrey’s complaint about programmes broadcast on CCTV News, since renamed CGTN, after we found that he was unfairly treated, and his privacy was unwarrantably infringed,” an Ofcom spokesperson said.
“Among other things, the licensee failed to obtain Mr Humphrey’s informed consent to take part in the interviews. And the programmes left out facts that put the reliability of his alleged confession into serious doubt.
“These were serious failures to comply with our broadcasting rules, and we will consider this breach for the imposition of a statutory sanction.”
CGTN aired two reports on Humphrey’s arrest for “illegally obtaining personal information and selling it on for profit” in 2013, both of which featured footage of him speaking to camera in Mandarin, apparently admitting to, and apologising for, the crime.
Humphrey’s complaint, upheld on Monday by Ofcom, argued that the confessions were forced by the Chinese authorities, in order to “subvert due course of justice”, and that CGTN was aware of that fact. The network denied that, and said Humphrey “did not behave in any way during the interview to suggest that he was under duress or no longer consented to being filmed”.
As evidence of Humphrey’s consent, the broadcaster also gave Ofcom a note received via Chinese ministry of public security, allegedly from Humphrey himself, which said: “I agree to meet Chinese journalists for an interview … I have been told by the [Public Security Bureau] that the purpose of this interview is to obtain an outcome of our case which will be favourable and lenient.”
In its decision, Ofcom sided with Humphrey’s complaint, and found that the network had broken broadcasting rules requiring licensed channels to enforce privacy and fairness. The regulator described the breaches as “serious”, and said it would consider the breach “for the imposition of a statutory sanction”, which could go as far as banning the channel from the UK airwaves entirely.
Two other similar complaints are pending against CGTN, and if those are also upheld it could spell the end for the network in the UK, according to Peter Dahlin, the director of human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders. “With each conviction, the pressure for stronger statutory sanctions grows. It is about time China faces serious punishment for such a flagrant violation of the law and basic human rights,” Dahlin said. He also argued that sharing the note from the ministry of public security “shows without a doubt the collusion between the Chinese broadcaster and the country’s police”.
Ofcom has used its powers to impose sanctions on broadcasters in cases of forced confessions in the past. In 2018, it fined the Saudi-owned news channel Al Arabiya £120,000 for broadcasting “confessions” by an imprisoned Bahraini opposition leader without making it clear he had been tortured.
In 2011, Press TV, the Iranian state broadcaster’s English-language outlet, was fined £100,000 after the channel aired an interview with Maziar Bahari, an imprisoned Newsweek journalist, that had been conducted under duress. Bahari said he was forced to do a scripted interview with his captors, who threatened to execute him. A year after that, Ofcom revoked Press TV’s licence entirely.
Losing a licence to operate would cause particular trouble for CGTN, which operates all of its European activities from a purpose-built hub in Chiswick, west London.