08 Mar 2021

New convictions for CGTN in UK for airing forced TV confessions

Today, March 8, the UK's TV regulator Ofcom released its final decisions on China's Party-state TV, CGTN, for airing the forced TV confession of a UK consulate general employee in Hong Kong, Simon Cheng, and two forced TV confessions by Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai. Minhai was kidnapped in Thailand by Chinese state agents more than five years ago.

Ofcom found that CGTN was in breach of the broadcasting code and that its violations were severe.  CGTN will face statutory sanctions for all three broadcasts. This mirrors the two convictions regarding the airing of forced TV concessions of UK citizen Peter Humphrey earlier, which were also found to be severe, and for which it will face statutory sanctions.

Ofcom has now found CGTN guilty of severe violations concerning a total of five forced TV confessions for these three individuals.


Separately, also today, Ofcom issued a notice that it has fined CGTN 100,000 British pounds as a penalty for airing the forced TV confessions of Peter Humphrey. The sanctions decision can be read below.


In addition, a further 125,000 British pounds was today issued as a penalty for partiality sanctions (breach of standards) for airing five broadcasts related to the Hong Kong protests. Sanctioning decisions for today's convicted broadcasts concerning Gui Minhai and Simon Cheng will likely take some time before being announced. Due to the more recent nature of these broadcasts compared with those of Peter Humphrey, and that they were made while CGTN was already put on notice that this practice was being officially investigated, and that these are repeat violations, we expect the fines to be significantly higher.


Cheng, originally from Hong Kong, now resides in the UK under the protection of political asylum. He was paraded on both Chinese- and English language State/Party media on 19 November 2019, after revealing the reality behind his disappearance in British media the day before. In its final decision, Ofcom notes that:

"Ofcom also considers that the breach of Rules 7.1 and 8.1 of the Code are serious. We are therefore putting the Licensee on notice that we intend to consider the breach for the imposition of a statutory sanction."

Ofcom makes the same conclusion regarding both Gui broadcasts. 

Ofcom further noted that, regarding Cheng:

  • The programme (China24) had the potential to materially and adversely affect viewers’ perceptions of Mr Cheng.
  • The Licensee had not provided Mr Cheng with an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond to the allegations of wrongdoing being made about him in the programme as broadcast.
  • Mr Cheng had a legitimate expectation of privacy in relation to the obtaining and subsequent broadcast of the footage of him in police detention without his consent in the programme.

Ofcom's decision can be read in full here.

On Gui, Ofcom noted that:

  • The News Desk and World Today programmes had the potential to materially and adversely affect viewers’ perception of him. The Licensee did not take sufficient steps to ensure that material facts had not been presented, omitted or disregarded in a way that was unfair to Mr Gui.
  • Mr Gui had a legitimate expectation of privacy in relation to the filming and subsequent broadcast of the footage of him without his consent in the two programmes.

Ofcom's decision can be read in full here.



A copy editor with CGTN at the time informed Safeguard Defenders that they were instructed by CCTV to produce an English language broadcast featuring Cheng's confession. The broadcast had to be rushed, with little to no time to edit it into shape. CGTN and CCTV both aired the "confession" within 24 hours of Cheng appearing on the BBC and in other British media detailing torture at the hands of his captors. 

The broadcast was significant because after Ofcom launched a formal investigation into the airing of forced TV confessions of Humphrey, CGTN stopped airing them. They would continue to be aired in China, and on CCTV-4 (CCTV's international Chinese channel) worldwide, but not on CGTN. In fact, the same day the complaint was filed, via a press conference in London by Humphrey and Safeguard Defenders' Peter Dahlin, back in November 2018, another CGTN source told Safeguard Defenders that an emergency meeting was called in the Beijing headquarters that evening that would last well into Sunday.

Shortly after Humphrey filed his complaint with Ofcom, Angela Gui, the daughter of Gui Minhai, also residing in the UK, filed a complaint regarding the treatment of her father in two separate broadcasts, in 2016 and 2018. 

It is believed that the airing of Cheng's "confession", when they were already under investigation, greatly increased the risk of them being found guilty for the practice. As a public authority, Ofcom is also bound to defend the European Convention on Human Rights, and this practice, besides often involving torture, prohibited under article 3, clearly undermines the right to a fair trial (article 6), and the right to privacy (article 8).

Ofcom stated that:

"By way of background, Mr Cheng said that he was detained by the police in China on 8 August 2019, and that on or around 20 August 2019, “after a prolonged period of both physical and mental torture”, he was made to record a number of videos by the Chinese Ministry of State Security (“MSS”) and the police.

On 20 November 2019, several months after his release, the BBC released an interview in which Mr Cheng discussed why he was detained, and his allegations of torture. The following day, on 21 November 2019, CGTN broadcast material previously recorded by the MSS and police, purporting to
show Mr Cheng confessing to offences

In its communication with Ofcom, CGTN has refused to promise to stop airing these broadcasts, and its director, when asked on camera, likewise refused to say whether they stop airing these confessions. The documentary, from ARTE, can be viewed here. With this in mind, Safeguard Defenders is set to call on Ofcom to declare CGTN "not fit and proper" as a broadcaster. In addition, CGTN has been convicted on due impartiality grounds by Ofcom prior to this and stands to face potential statutory sanctions for those as well. All in all, CGTN faces sanctions for 10 different broadcasts. 

This decision happens as Australia's SBS has taken CGTN and CCTV-4 (the international Chinese language) channels off the air pending an investigation into the systematic airing of forced TV confessions. CGTN resumed airing in Europe after the French TV regulator CSA on March 3 issued authorization for CGTN to air via French satellite, and while they could technically resume airing in the UK via such authorization, it is, for now, unlikely that any of the main TV providers in the UK (Sky, Virgin, Freeview) will carry its signal. This followed CGTN losing its license in the UK on February 4, based on a complaint from Safeguard Defenders filed a year ago. 

Safeguard Defenders report Scripted and Staged from 2018 exposed the reality behind this practice, and its book Trial By Media offers in-depth testimonies from victims of these forced TV confessions, available worldwide via Amazon