China has threatened to retaliate after British regulators stripped its state TV channel of its UK broadcasting licence, a decision based on technical issues but rooted in complaints about its role in persecuting critics of the ruling Communist Party.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters that British media watchdog Ofcom had acted on “political grounds based on ideological bias, politicising technical issues, seriously harming the survival of Chinese media and severely interfering with normal exchanges between the two countries”.
“We urge the UK to immediately stop political manipulation and correct its mistakes. China reserves the right to make the necessary response to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese media,” Mr Wang said.
In its decision issued on Thursday, Ofcom said it had revoked the UK licence for China Global Television Network, or CGTN, an international English-language satellite news channel, because of a lack of editorial control and links to China’s Communist Party.
We have revoked China Global Television Network’s (CGTN) licence to broadcast in the UK, after our investigation concluded that the licence was wrongfully held by Star China Media Ltd. (SCML).
— Ofcom (@Ofcom) February 4, 2021
CGTN had been available on free and pay TV in the UK. Regulators started looking into the station after receiving a complaint from human rights group Safeguard Defenders that called for an investigation into its ownership.
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.
Ofcom is continuing to investigate a number of additional complaints that the station violated rules on fairness and accuracy, including the broadcasting of alleged forced confessions by a former British Consulate employee in Hong Kong and a British corporate investigator and long-time government critic, Gui Minhai, whose whereabouts are now unknown.
In a tweet, Mr Gui’s daughter Angela Gui said: “Finally, five years after first airing a forced confession by my father #GuiMinhai in the UK, Ofcom has revoked CGTN’s licence to broadcast. Thank you @SafeguardDefend and everyone else who’s filed complaints.”
Ofcom’s decision adds to friction between Britain and China, already strained by UK efforts to address allegations of human rights abuses against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang and widen residency rights for Hongkongers.
Big news yesterday with #China's @CGTNOfficial kicked out of #UK for knowingly breaking broadcasting rules on ownership. Here's the full story from our website. https://t.co/wkcxHj8tHc pic.twitter.com/2kyCeQ8pzT
— Safeguard Defenders (保护卫士) (@SafeguardDefend) February 5, 2021
Mr Wang gave no details on how China would retaliate, but the BBC, which is only available in some hotels, businesses and residential compounds for foreigners in China, could become a target.
The Foreign Ministry initially responded to the loss of CGTN’s licence with renewed criticism of the BBC, specifically a January 29 report on Covid-19 in China, calling it “typical fake news” and demanding a public apology. It said: “China reserves the right to take further measures.”
The BBC said it stood by its reporting and rejected the “unfounded accusations”.
Mr Wang said the British knew all along about CGTN’s ties to China’s ruling party and accused London of double standards in regulating the media. He said CGTN always adhered to regulations and upheld the principles of “objectivity, impartiality, truthfulness and accuracy in news reporting”.
“China is a socialist country led by the Communist Party. The British side has been well aware of the nature of the Chinese media,” Mr Wang said.
“The British side knew this clearly from the first day CGTN broadcasted in the UK 18 years ago. That the UK now makes an issue of Chinese media’s nature and obstructing CGTN in its broadcasting is purely political manipulation,” he said.
CGTN has been at the forefront of the party’s bid to seize the narrative from Western news media about human rights in China and its aggressive military and diplomatic moves amid a hardening of attitudes towards Beijing in countries from South Korea to Canada.