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13 Jun 2022

Chinese TV found guilty of further violations in UK

British regulator Ofcom has completed an investigation into yet another complaint against Chinese Communist Party’s TV broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN) finding it once again breached broadcasting law. It ruled that it treated former British journalist Peter Humphrey unfairly and unjustly in a half-hour-long programme of character assassination over his exclusive reporting on forced prison labour in China.

Read the decision in full here

The 27 December 2019 broadcast on CGTN's The Point, came before its license was revoked in March 2021 due to it being illegally controlled by a political body. The show was a blistering attack in which presenters and talking heads accused Humphrey of fabricating a report in The Sunday Times and blackening his character. His report, about a little girl in London who had found a secret message from foreign prisoners in Shanghai’s Qingpu Prison hidden inside a box of Tesco Christmas cards, had gone viral just days before Christmas.

With support from Safeguard Defenders, Humphrey filed the complaint to Ofcom on 17 January 2020. Ofcom has taken two years and five months to find CGTN in breach of its regulations once again.

It is not clear from Ofcom’s ruling, published on 13 June 2022, whether the watchdog will issue statutory penalties for the offence, including a fine as it did for several previous CGTN violations.

This is the 11th Chinese broadcast that has been found in violation of the UK broadcasting law in a row, in addition to having its license revoked for being owned and controlled by a political party (the Chinese Communist Party), which is prohibited in the UK and which was concealed behind a front company when CGTN acquired its UK broadcasting licence.

Prior to this ruling, two broadcasts of Peter Humphrey’s two forced TV confessions, extracted under duress in conditions amounting to torture, were found to be severe breaches of the broadcasting law, as well as two similar forced TV confessions of Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, and one of Hongkonger and former UK consulate staff member, Simon Cheng. In addition, five broadcasts regarding the 2019-2020 Hong Kong anti-extradition protests were found to have broken the broadcasting law through violations of rules on bias.

The Point was aired to counter significant attention by media around the world to the packet of Christmas cards opened by six year-old schoolgirl Florence Widdicombe, which contained a handwritten note from a foreign inmate in Qingpu Prison. The widespread attention led to a debate about prison and slave labour in China, and  about how foreign companies were beneficiaries of that labour.

The note said: “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu Prison, China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation and Peter Humphrey”.

Credit: Sunday Times

Florence’s father carried tracked down Humphrey, who investigated and obtained confirmation from recently released prisoners that they had indeed been packaging Tesco cards as part of the forced labour program in prison. Peter Humphrey had himself been a victim of rough justice and arbitrary imprisonment in China, in the same prison.

‘It is good to see Ofcom once again found guilty of offences and punished for airing offensive content containing deliberate lies and distortions aimed at maligning people, in this case me,” Humphrey told Safeguard Defenders upon receiving a copy of Ofcom’s ruling.

“CGTN and its sister outlet CCTV are serial offenders in airing forced and false confessions from prisoners who have not been charged, indicted, tried or convicted in a court of law, and serial perpetrators of outright lies on many topics,” he continued.

“This is a classic Communist propaganda machine. Their broadcasting practices are a million miles from the civilized standards of countries under the rule of law. They have no respect for consent, fairness, ethics or the law, in their broadcasting,” he said.

“One thing we have in the UK is the finest broadcasting law and the finest regulator to police legal and ethical malfeasance on the airwaves, which is what Ofcom has done with regard to China in multiple cases,” he added.

Besides losing their license, which also led to CGTN being booted off the air in parts of Germany because it had used its UK license as the basis for transmissions across the whole of Europe under a Europe-wide treat regulation, CGTN has now been fined a total of 425,000 pounds (~540,000 USD) for multiple offences.


Safeguard Defenders was awarded the 2021 Magnitsky Award for outstanding Human Rights activism for its campaign against CGTN airing forced TV confessions abroad in violation of broadcasting rules. Since the start of the campaign, which plunged the CCTV/CGTN HQ in Beijing into panic and crisis meetings, the station has at least stopped airing confessions by foreign detainees.

The success of these complaints is almost certainly the reason why Canadian former detainees Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were not paraded on TV to confess, and Australian’s Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun, who are both still imprisoned, have not been subjected to this treatment so far.

Domestically, CCTV continues to air TV confessions, including so-called "proof of life" videos of Uighurs. Chinese TV also aired statements, almost certainly under duress, last year from tennis star Peng Shuai, who was gagged for speaking out about alleged sexual abuse by a former Politburo member and close crony of dictator Xi Jinping.

Following a campaign by Safeguard Defenders and a large group of victims of such TV confessions before trial, Norway, Sweden and Australia have also taken CGTN and CCTV-4 (its global Chinese language arm) off the air. Current complaints are pending in the US, Canada and France.  CGTN’s entire European broadcasting hinges on its French licence after it lost its right to broadcast in the UK.

The campaign to hold CGTN accountable for grave human rights violations was launched in London on 23 November 2018 by Safeguard Defenders founder Peter Dahlin and Humphrey, who filed the very first complaint. This was accompanied by the release of a Safeguard Defenders' book, the first of its kind, Trial By Media, detailing CCTV’s and CGTN’s involvement in forced and false TV confessions in collusion with China’s security apparatus, how victims are forced into making them,  often after prolonged torture, and how CGTN was expanding around the world.

As CGTN cannot broadcast to air conventionally in the UK anymore, no more complaints can be filed to Ofcom until Ofcom starts policing streamed content, an expansion that is expected soon. CGTN continues to maintain a significant London production centre, which was destined to be the hub of its new European division, a grand plan that has now been upended.