04 Feb 2021

Chinese TV kicked out of the UK

UPDATE 2020-02-12: Following the revocation of the license to broadcast in the UK, Chinese party-controlled TV CGTN goes dark across Europe. An agreement within the framework of the Council of Europe (not the EU) - the European Convention on Transfrontier Television - means that any TV channel given a license in any country may broadcast across Europe. CGTN held a license only in the UK, as a result, their right to air has been revoked Europe wide. In Germany, cable providers have already pulled CGTN from their offering

"We are currently informing cable providers that Ofcom has revoked this channel's UK license and that the program can therefore not be broadcast in Germany anymore"

Cable and satellite providers of CGTN is now contacted throughout Europe to ensure compliance with this law.


British broadcasting regulator Ofcom today (2021-02-04) revoked the license for CGTN to broadcast in the UK on the grounds that their license is unlawful, and that their proposed remedy to this (moving to a new license) would also be unlawful, as it would be controlled by a political body (the Chinese Communist Party). The significance of this goes beyond the UK, as their London base is also the headquarters for their entire European division.

This investigation by Ofcom was launched following an investigation and complaint filed by Safeguard Defenders in early 2020. 

Ofcom's letter to Safeguard Defenders.



It is likely that China will respond harshly to this, despite several pending investigations that are about to conclude. The threat of fines, which are most likely from these other investigations, means far less to CGTN and the CCP than having their license revoked.

It cannot be stressed enough how important CGTN is in the CCPs planned expansion of soft power and influence in Europe, which with the deterioration of the relationship with the US has only grown more important.

While CCTV and CGTN plan for their future new headquarters, likely in Brussels, this will cause severe disruption to Chinese TV-based influencing operations in Europe.

Far worse, for CGTN, Ofcom's decision may draw attention to a type of violation that has gone largely unnoticed and may commit other TV regulators to take a closer look at the operations of both CCTV and CGTN in other jurisdictions. The process in how CGTN has dealt with this, and the other complaints, are not surprising, but nonetheless shocking to any outsider, as they continue to act as if regulations do not apply to them, and that hostile and aggressiveness alone, would allow them to somehow escape punishment.

This is likely to be a wake-up call for CGTN and CCTV, but it is doubtful whether they will be able to change, as political control from the CCP is too strong. As seen in other instances, even when a change in action would clearly help China/the CCP, they are simply unable to make such changes.


The issue, illegal licensing, stems directly from an investigation carried out by Safeguard Defenders and filed as a complaint on 25 February 2020, almost a year ago. The key issue is that the UK broadcasting law forbids licensing TV stations controlled or owned by political parties.

Ofcom and many other TV regulators around the world have been seemingly unaware of the massive reorganization of Chinese State media in 2018, which in effect made them, even on paper, Party media, including CGTN. Safeguard Defenders' investigation provided proof from the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party, CCTV (the parent company of CGTN), and even from CGTN itself, that it was directly controlled by an organ of the CCP.

Technically, Ofcom strips the license from CGTN because the formal license holder, Star China Media Limited is not the entity that maintains editorial control, as proven by the Safeguard Defenders investigation. CGTN was then given time to change its registration to another entity, but the application, Ofcom says, was missing key information, and the proposed new license holder (owned entirely by CCTV) would be disqualified anyway, as it would be controlled by the CCP.

The decision by Ofcom sends a strong signal that UK regulations apply equally to all, and follows a similar decision against Iranian State TV many years back. It is also likely to set a precedence for stringent enforcement of the rules concerning license ownership and control by political parties, an issue that, as far as we know, has never been tested before.

CGTN, and CCTV, has, as is so common for Chinese State/Party entities in general, operated under the assumption that it stands above the rules, and, it is hard to fault them, as they are often given considerable leeway to flaunt the rules without consequence. This ruling however counters this trend and is a first step to ensuring that CGTN and CCTV adhere to basic rules, and stops participating in human rights violations.


We are pleased to note that CGTN still faces statutory sanctions for broadcasting multiple forced TV confessions of Peter Humphrey, a UK citizen, and his American wife. It addition, several other investigations near completion, concerning airing forced TV confessions of Swedish Gui Minhai and Hong Konger Simon Cheng will likewise continue, and likely yield to further statutory sanctions. This is a key point in Ofcom's decision, meaning that this revocation of license for licensing issues will not shield them from penalties for broadcasting such gross human rights violations. 

This practice of airing forced TV confessions, systematic in nature, has been filed by Safeguard Defenders to relevant UN organs for review.

The rushed broadcast of Simon Cheng’s “confession”, pushed by CCTV and which CGTN was made to rush to air– according to a source who was working there at the time  – is likely what doomed CGTN. Tactically, airing that confession, after remaining silent on these forced TV confessions for almost a year after the first, initial, complaint was filed, was a blunder of epic proportions.

That it chooses to broadcast yet more forced TV confessions, while it was already being investigated for several such instances, would have proven to Ofcom that it had no intention to change and that it paid little to no attention to the rules it is bound to operate by. The head of CGTN, when chased down by a reporter, as shown in a ARTE documentary, refused to answer whether CGTN would stop airing such confessions or not. Safeguard Defenders made sure to provide this information to Ofcom as it continued its investigations.


We also note that CGTN is unlikely to have informed Ofcom (or any other TV regulatory bodies) of changes to its control following the 2018 reorganization, which itself is a severe violation of the broadcasting law. It was this suspicion, that CGTN would not inform Ofcom about changes in control, that first started Safeguard Defenders' investigation and later its complaint. 

Over the last year, sources tell us, and documents seen by us prove, that CGTN has engaged in an ever more hostile and confrontational communication with Ofcom, while a source in a major global media support company informed us in late 2020 that CCTV hired it to prepare a move to Brussels, Belgium, to stand as the headquarters for all Chinese State/Party media (CCTV, CGTN, CRI, etc). The source said there was evidence that Chinese media executives were fatalistic about their chances of using the UK as their European base in the future.


We are now looking to see how Canada’s counterpart will respond. Despite promising to investigate wrongdoings by CCTV/CGTN in Canada, when they first gave CCTV its right to broadcast, CRTC has refused to do so, despite Safeguard Defenders providing evidence of nearly 60 broadcasts concerning such violations, all related to forced TV confessions. A similar complaint was sent to the US' FCC.

Here's a timeline summarising our out campaign to hold CGTN accountable and to force it to adhere to broadcasting rules, international human rights standards, journalistic ethics, and basic decency. 


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