BBC World News Off the Air in China

By Debbie Cho | February 18, 2021
Debbie has worked in corporate accounting and holds degrees in the social sciences and financial economics. She writes on topics regarding China and finance which brings together her educational and work interests.
This photo shows the BBC logo at their Beijing bureau office on February 12, 2021. China's broadcasting regulator on February 11, 2021 banned BBC World New

China’s National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) announced it would prohibit BBC World News from airing in China, as they claim the media outlet, “violated the requirement that news be truthful and fair, and has harmed Chinese national interests and damaged Chinese ethnic unity.”

It was also announced that BBC World Service radio programming will also be restricted from broadcasting over the air by Radio Television Hong Kong. The announcements came shortly after China Global Television Network (CGTN) had its license revoked in the UK for violating the British Office of Communication’s (Ofcom) rules of broadcasting.  

China’s foreign ministry asked that the BBC issue a public apology over its “fake news” coverage of COVID-19. The BBC had been covering the human rights violations currently happening in Xinjiang, China, as around one million people in the region, mostly ethnic minorities, have been forced into detention in concentration camps. The coverage has been criticized by Chinese officials as they deny allegations of violations at the camps, instead calling them reeducation centers.  

Act of retaliation by China

The BBC World News ban in China is seen as an act of retaliation after Ofcom deemed CGTN in violation of it’s broadcast rules which state, “licensees must have control over the licensed service – including editorial oversight over the programmes they show. In addition, under these laws, licence holders cannot be controlled by political bodies.” CGTN, who’s European headquarters were opened in London back in 2019, broadcasts English language news through an agreement between Ofcom and Star China Media Limited (SCML).

The CCP is erasing the identity of the Uyghur people, sending them to concentration camps for “re-education.” (Image: jun jin luo via wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

SCML, the licensee, did not demonstrate they have editorial control over the content aired on the channel. but instead acted as a distributor of programming. Ultimately it was determined that China Global Television Network Corporation (CGTNC) controlled day to day operations and decision making of the network but could not be separated out from China Central Television (CCTV), which operates under the control of its sole proprietor, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  

In addition to being found in violation of broadcasting rules requiring the channel to be independent from a foreign government, CGTN was also found at fault for bias reporting and privacy breaches such as ‘broadcasters must avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations in programmes’ and ‘People in a state of distress should not be put under pressure to take part in a programme or provide interviews, unless it is warranted.’ CGTN has been accused of airing inaccurate accounts of the Hong Kong protests and forced confessions of alleged lawbreakers on the network.  

The most prominent case of forced confessions involved a British Consulate employee, Simon Cheng, who was sent to mainland China by the UK government. On his return from the mainland, Mr. Cheng was detained by police and held for 15 days in solitary confinement. In detention he was questioned by police over any possible involvement the British government might have during the Hong Kong protests. The Associated Press reported that Mr. Cheng experienced torture including being, ‘held in a “tiger chair,”’ a metal seat with arm and leg locks, ‘shackled in a spread-eagle position for hours’ and ‘forced to assume stress positions for lengthy periods.’ He was then forced to read a confession that he had solicited prostitutes while on his trip to mainland China that was later aired on CGTN.  

CGTN off the air in Germany

After CGTN’s license was revoked in the UK, the network found it had been pulled off the air in Germany as a result of the Ofcom license dispute. CGTN had been broadcast by Vodafone in Germany but had distributed the channel through a multicountry agreement through Ofcom’s deal under the Council of Europe. Because the multicountry deal was signed by EU members as well as the Ukraine and many Balkan states, CGTN may soon be pulled from broadcast in those countries.  

The cancellation of CGTN’s license with Ofcom follows the U.S. move in 2020 to designate many Chinese media outlets operating in the country as foreign missions. The State Department, under former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, had classified 15 Chinese media entities, such as CGTN, Xinhua News Agency, and the Global Times, as foreign missions and limited the number of journalists under the entities to 100, down from 160. As a foreign mission, the outlets are to be treated similar to foreign embassies and must report to the U.S. on personnel and real estate holdings. When the U.S. Department of State cut the number of Chinese journalists allowed to work in the U.S., China retaliated by expelling several American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post from China in March 2020.

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