The European Union has called on China to reverse its ban on the BBC World News television channel imposed in apparent retaliation for Britain’s withdrawal of the licence of state-owned Chinese broadcaster CGTN.
The EU said Beijing’s move further restricted “freedom of expression and access to information inside its borders”, and violated the Chinese constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The statement said Hong Kong’s announcement that its public broadcaster would also stop carrying BBC broadcasts added to the “erosion of the rights and freedoms that is ongoing” in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory since the imposition last year of a sweeping new national security law.
“The EU remains strongly committed to safeguarding media freedom and pluralism, as well as protecting the right to freedom of expression online and offline, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information without interference of any kind,” the statement said.
While Britain is no longer in the EU, it remains a member of the Council of Europe, which oversees a 1989 agreement linking broadcasting licences. Britain, the US and foreign correspondents based in China have also expressed dismay over the BBC ban.
China’s move on Thursday was largely symbolic because BBC World was shown only on cable TV systems in hotels and apartment compounds for foreigners and some other businesses.
However, it came against the backdrop of growing conflict between Beijing and Western governments over a range of issues ranging from human rights to trade and the Covid-19 pandemic in which Chinese criticism of foreign media coverage have played a prominent role.
China’s National Radio and Television Administration said BBC World News coverage of the country violated requirements that news reporting be true and impartial, reflecting complaints over BBC reports about the government’s initial response to the virus outbreak in China.
Other complaints were over allegations of forced labour and sexual abuse in the north-western Chinese region of Xinjiang, home to Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups. The EU statement specifically linked the ban to BBC reporting on those topics.