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Breaking: Chinese TV convicted for broadcasting forced confessions in UK

[6 July 2020] Today, the UK’s TV-regulator Ofcom found China Global Television Network (CGTN) guilty on all counts (privacy and unfair treatment) concerning an investigation launched after a complaint by former UK journalist Peter Humphrey. The complaint, filed on 23 November 2018, outlined a series of violations of UK broadcasting law by CGTN for airing his forced TV confessions. In recent years, CGTN has broadcast many similar confessions not only in the UK but also in Europe, the US, Canada and others. However, this is the first time that a media regulator has found the Chinese Party-State TV station guilty of broadcasting forced confessions.

We have prepared a backgrounder, including a detailed timeline, on this and all the many other complaints filed against CGTN here. Decisions on several other complaints are expected soon.  

 

Safeguard Defenders welcomes the decision of the Office of Communications (Ofcom), UK’s media regulator, which has found CGTN guilty of violations on all counts investigated concerning two broadcasts of forced TV confessions by Peter Humphrey. It furthermore welcomes that Ofcom has deemed those violations serious, and will now impose statutory sanctions (to be decided in a separate process).

Ofcom’s Adjudication (Final Decision) document can be downloaded here: 

 

Announced on Monday 6 July 2020, Ofcom’s decision to sanction CGTN comes more than 18 months after Peter Humphrey’s complaint in November 2018. That complaint covered two so-called “confessions” and “interviews”, broadcast on 27 August 2013 and 14 July 2014. Both were forced and false and obtained under duress by Chinese police in collaboration with CCTV journalists.

The footage, circulated on Chinese national television, was later edited and broadcast by CGTN in English in many countries, including the UK, the victim's home country.

"First, I want to express my relief that the facts that I exposed and the truth behind the broadcasts of my so called 'confessions' were accurately scrutinized by the Office of Communications," Peter Humphrey told Safeguard Defenders. "I appreciate the fact that Ofcom’s view is that the breaches of the Code’s rules 7.1, which states that ‘broadcasters must avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations in programmes’ and 8.1, which orders that ‘any infringement of privacy in programmes, or in connection with obtaining material included in programmes, must be warranted’) are ‘serious’."

Peter Dahlin, director of Safeguard Defenders welcomed the decision by Ofcom to sanction CGTN. As a victim himself of China's forced TV confessions, Dahlin said that the organization will continue its efforts to have Chinese media stop the practice of broadcasting forced confessions:

We’re glad our efforts to help Peter Humphrey expose the truth of this practice were successful. We’re now expecting an exemplary sanction from Ofcom in direction of CGTN. Such broadcast not only constitute a breach of the UK’s Broadcasting Code, but also a serious violation of the fundamental right to a fair trial. We hope CGTN will be held accountable in every country it broadcasts such images, and that those working with CGTN will realize how dangerous it can be to collaborate with a media that serves as a propaganda organ for a political party,” said Dahlin.

 

Proof of coercion and active collaboration between CCTV/CGTN and Chinese Police provided by CGTN itself

In its assessment of whether Peter Humphrey was subjected to an “unjust or unfair treatment” as well as of whether an “unwarranted infringement of privacy” was perpetrated by the media, Ofcom notably focused on the steps taken by CCTV to obtain “informed consent” from Peter Humphrey. Attempting to prove that it did take such measures, the broadcaster itself provided two handwritten messages to Ofcom, allowing the media to conduct interviews. In one of those messages, Ofcom found the following sentence:

“I have been told by the PSB that the purpose of this interview is to obtain an outcome of our case which will be favourable and lenient."

In Ofcom’s view, “this clearly implied that failing to consent to the interview would contribute to an outcome which was not ‘favourable and lenient’ for Mr. Humphrey, and this information was in the possession of the Licensee.

Additionally, Ofcom considered that the fact that Mr. Humphrey was confessing to offences in advance of trial and in the presence of those holding him in custody was sufficient to create “substantial doubt as to whether his consent was genuine and informed.”

After viewing the photos of those “messages of consent” (which were sent to him by Ofcom), Peter Humphrey responded that

the fact that CCTV has obtained two ‘consent’ documents from confidential Public Security Bureau (PSB) interrogation files from a file that is reported to be sealed by the PSB as state secrets, and which even I and my defence lawyers have been unpermitted to access, says a lot about CCTV's collaboration with the PSB and China’s police state.”

“After my release, I asked our former defence lawyers Mr. Wang Zhendong and Mr. Zhai Jian, to provide me with copies of our case documents and Mr. Wang told me that the case file was sealed as a state secret and that he had been ordered to destroy his firm’s (Dacheng Law Office) copies of any documents. Yet, CCTV is mysteriously able to access the PSB files. This situation demonstrates the intimate relationship and collusion between CCTV and the PSB and the pernicious and illegal nature of this collusion.”

 

CGTN’s lies to Ofcom exposed thanks to other Chinese State/Party media

In their desperate attempt to defend themselves against the obvious breach of founding principles of journalism and journalistic ethics, CGTN falsely claimed that the first “interview”, in 2013, was only led by journalists, including a female CCTV journalist. She was used as a witness in their response to the Ofcom inquiry, to confirm that “no police officers asked questions of Mr. Humphrey in the interview, and that the police did not provide [them] with a script."

Information supplied by Peter Humphrey showed that news articles by Chinese media - media also owned by CCTV, like China National Radio - [1], specifically mentions that a police officer were asking the questions, interrogating Peter Humphrey. 

It is now irrefutable that the so-called “interview of Peter Humphrey” was in fact a police interrogation. It was PSB’s Inspector Ding Zhidong who read out questions from a sheet on a clipboard that were exclusively designed to make Peter Humphrey incriminate himself and confess to crimes that he had not committed. Trapped in a cage, cuffed to a chair, and sedated, Humphrey tried to navigate between saying something that would get him out of there and something that would not incriminate himself for crimes that he had not committed. Ofcom took clear note in its Final Adjudication (decision) document to point out that Peter Humphrey provided evidence that countered CGTN’s repeated claim that police did not ask questions, and showed CGTN as intentionally lying to Ofcom during this investigation.

Additionally, CGTN claimed that the “CCTV journalist involved confirmed that Mr. Humphrey did not appear to them to be in distress or under duress.

Although this point was not addressed by Ofcom, Safeguard Defenders was able to find images on Chinese media websites of a similar cage to the one described by Peter Humphrey to the organisation. In pictures below, similar background (and shadows) can be observed in the case involving a Chinese woman who was filmed by Chinese television. Yet, CGTN argued that it did not have reason to believe that Peter Humphrey was in distress.

Snapshots of an unkown Chinese woman detained in a cage (left) and of Peter Humphrey’s first “confessions” (right). The shadows of the bars can be seen behind Peter Humphrey.

“It was while I was held in another such interrogation cage inside an interrogation cell inside the Shanghai Detention Centre, with no lawyer present, that I was made to agree to ‘meet the media’ and that I was forced to sign something and that I was forced to thumbprint it with red seal ink. I was told that ‘meeting the media’ would lead to my release. I was not allowed to take any legal counsel on this situation. Two days later, during the filming session I was given a sedative and I was led from my cell in handcuffs and in an orange prison vest to a large interrogation cell in the interrogation wing of the Shanghai Detention Centre where I was still handcuffed, placed in this steel cage in the photo, locked into a metal chair, facing a tribune of PSB officers, and was filmed by CCTV, who broadcast the scene to air”, Peter Humphrey told Safeguard Defenders.

Read the original complaint filed by Peter Humphrey here

 

Further violations and complaints

While Safeguard Defenders welcomes Ofcom’s decision, the first conviction by any regulatory body for the broadcast by CGTN of forced TV confessions, the organization calls for an exemplary sanction, in other words the revoking of its license, as CGTN deliberately breached all standards of ethics, and have done so systematically. In 2018, the daughter of Swedish writer and publisher Gui Minhai, filed a similar complaint against CGTN which broadcast her father’s forced confession in January 2016 and February 2018. The media also broadcast Simon Cheng’s forced confession in November 2019. Cheng, who worked for the UK’s consulate general in Hong Kong, filed a complaint at the end of the year which is similarly under investigation by Ofcom. Both cases are currently under active investigation by Ofcom.

CGTN was also convicted by Ofcom for airing biased reporting concerning the protests in Hong Kong (26 May 2020); a penalty decision is pending. China 24, the programme that aired one of Peter Humphrey’s broadcasts, is also implicated in this case.

Yet another complaint has recently been accepted by Ofcom and an investigation launched, concerning a 30-minute long program smearing Peter Humphrey. Ofcom confirmed it will soon decide on another complaint over a "documentary" on Xinjiang's mass detention camps, although not described as such in the programme, and which includes some 17 likely forced "confessions", filed by Safeguard Defenders in December 2019.

On 16 December, Safeguard Defenders filed two additional complaints against CGTN: one in Canada for the license re-appraisal of CGTN and CCTV-4 (CCTV's Chinese-language international channel) to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as well as an exhaustive complaint In the United States to the country’s media regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). That complaint outlined 50 broadcast violations made by CGTN and CCTV-4 on U.S. airwaves over six years.

On February 2020, Safeguard Defenders sent a letter to the UK's TV-regulator Ofcom, requesting an investigation into allegations that CGTN is violating UK broadcasting law and Ofcom's own guidelines, both of which prohibits any media organization being owned or controlled by a political body to have a license to broadcast. In the letter, irrefutable evidence, from CGTN itself, CCTV itselt, proves that the Chinese State and the Chinese Communist Party controls their organization. Ofcom has said it is actively investigating this rather complex issue. If deemed true, there is only one legally allowed decision; the revocation of their license.

Safeguard Defenders also assisted Peter Humphrey with filing an ethics complaint on 26 February with the World Health Organization (WHO) over the continued appointment of CGTN journalist James Chau – who anchored both of Peter Humphrey’s “confession” broadcasts - as one of its “Goodwill Ambassadors”.

In the Final decision, there is no mention of CGTN noting any kind of regret for its broadcasts, nor any promise to Ofcom that it will stop this practice, or broadcasts of such in the UK. This June, French-German television network Arte released a documentary on the broadcast of forced confessions by CGTN. In December 2019, the filmmakers seized the occasion of the 2019 Global Video Media Forum, an international event hosted by CGTN in Beijing, to approach CGTN’s English Channel Director, Liu Cong, to ask her if CGTN planned on continuing to broadcast forced confessions in the future:

“Well… I… I’m afraid I have no time!”, answered Liu Cong with difficulty (at the 21:30 mark).

 

 

Safeguard Defenders now calls on all media regulators to take a serious look at the Chinese State/Party television outlet which operates in their country, and to immediately launch investigations should they be informed of repeated breaches of ethics and broadcasting rules by CGTN.


 

 

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