24 Aug 2021

No, CGTN is not really back on the air in the UK

On Friday, August 20, Chinese State media triumphantly declared that China Global Television Network, CGTN, was "back on the air" in the UK, following it having had its license revoked earlier this year. Their license was revoked after a Safeguard Defenders investigation showed CGTN to be directly controlled by a political party, which is illegal under UK broadcasting law. BBC, which was banned from China in return for CGTN having its license revoked remains blocked in China.

So is CGTN back on the air? Well, kind of, but also, no, not really.


Legally, due to the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ECTT), which applies to almost every country in Europe, CGTN has and has always had had, the right to air in the UK using a license from any country bound by that agreement. Within weeks of losing its license in the UK, CGTN secured authorization to air from French TV regulator CSA (CGTN is already under investigation by CSA after complaints received for broadcasting in violation of French law).

The problem for CGTN to air in the UK has therefore not been a licensing issue but rather that none of the main TV providers in the UK have been willing to air CGTN after it both lost its license and were convicted for a long list of ‘severe’ breaches of UK broadcasting law. In some of these cases, significant fines have been levied, with more punishments (and likely fines) to come, based on cases where CGTN has already been found guilty and now awaiting decisions by its sanctions committee.


According to CGTN, it has managed to get Freeview (UK) to take on CGTN and, it is implied but not explicitly stated, air it over its digital terrestrial platform. Interestingly, in this regard, is that Freeview is partially owned by the BCC, which is blocked in China. It has long been common practice for UK TV providers to not air TV channels that have had their license revoked or denied a license.

However, CGTN has not been added to Freeview channel list, nor has Freeview signed any agreement with CGTN at all.

Instead, CGTN is available for some select TV devices for those choosing to seek out the channel via Internet-TV (IP-TV) using a service called VisionTV. CGTN has previously been available as IP-TV via VisionTV too, in addition to its regular broadcasting. VisionTV is located at Chiswick Business Park, London, in the same compound as CGTN.

So, in reality, while CGTN and CCTV have touted this as the return of CGTN to the UK, in reality, they have made themselves available using a domestic service for IP-TV. 

In a request for comment, Ofcom, the UK’s TV regulator, stated:

CGTN does not hold a UK broadcasting licence. On certain devices, Freeview viewers can choose to navigate through to internet streams - including CGTN - using services like Vision TV. But these are delivered over the internet, not Freeview, and do not require a broadcasting licence.”

Freeview (UK), in responding to inquiries, stated their own internal rules did require a license for any content aired via Freeview (UK), saying “Our rules stipulate that any content available on the platform must have a valid licence. CGTN has secured a licence from France and it can be delivered in the UK”.

It also clarifies how Freeview (UK) airs CGTN:

“CGTN is available as an IP stream on some TV devices through an internet delivered portal service called VisionTV. This service is launched using a small amount of broadcast capacity at channel number 264. The broadcast capacity is held by Strategy & Technology Ltd (S&T), a streaming technology company which has bought the capacity from mux operator, SDN. “

VisionTV, also known as Vision247, responded to inquiries stating that "Vision247 have launched CGTN channel on its IP TV Service, VisionTV [and] online... and via Apps for iOS and Android", while also citing them being aware that CGTN's license was revoked this year. 

To clarify the rather complicated chain between these many actors: Freeview (UK) is owned by the UK’s major media companies, including the BBC and Sky. Strategy & Technology (S&T) buys capacity/bandwidth from Freeview (UK), and S&T, in turn, provides that to VisionTV, which in turn has added CGTN as one of its many channels on offer. 

Freeview (UK) also stated in a follow-up communication that “a warning sign appears when launching the content via the internet explaining that it is not regulated in the UK.”

For now, CGTN, the English-language arm of CCTV, the world’s largest media company with 14,000 staff, remains limited to airing over IP-TV over a little-known platform, in the country where it has placed its European production headquarters.


Victims of CGTN’s use of forced televised confessions, most often procured via torture, have approached TV providers in other countries, asking them to not be complicit in these severe human rights violations. As the actual airing of these confessions, always before any trial, is part of the violation itself, not to mention a gross violation of the right to privacy - as none of the victims are in a position to give consent - also means the TV providers that air CGTN is indirectly involved in carrying out these human rights violations. One of Freeview (UK)’s owner (Sky) is a party to the UN Global Compact, a set of 10 rules to ensure minimum corporate social responsibility, and on which the signatories need to report to the UN annually. Article 2 states “to ensure that the company is not complicit in human rights abuses/violations".


This article will be updated if responses are received from VisionTV, S&T, or other related actors.