10 Jun 2020

Resource: Chinese TV forced confessions campaign timeline

It’s been a year and a half since Safeguard Defenders started assisting victims to hold China’s Party-State TV station, CCTV, responsible for broadcasting illegal and human rights-abusing forced confessions across the globe.

We’ve targeted CCTV’s two international channels– CGTN (English) and CCTV-4 (Chinese)-- as well as CCTV staff and journalists who helped make and present these confessions in the UK, US and Canada and filed ethics complaints with the United Nations. Our goal is to get these stations off the air and hold CCTV accountable to reduce the chance such rights abuses are repeated.

We've presented these complaints and their outcomes in a graphic timeline. Please note that all complaints filed against CGTN in the UK were made by the victims themselves, and specifically concern the broadcast of forced confessions, unless otherwise stated.

It’s been a long and busy process (the UK’s TV-regulator Ofcom has had at least 14 complaints to assess), but the results are beginning to bear fruit.  

We’ve created a regularly-updated background document that details all the campaign’s developments and its timeline (downloadable as a PDF).

This PDF document contains more in-depth detail on this campaign, including responses by CCTV and some behind the scenes drama. 

What are forced TV confessions? 

Since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to power in 2013, likely hundreds of human rights defenders, Uighurs and other detainees have been paraded on TV to read a “scripted” confession made to look like a voluntary interview.

Our research, laid out in a comprehensive report, Scripted and Staged, revealed how these were extracted by police through torture, threats to loved ones and promises of lenient treatment. With no lawyer access, many even in incommunicado detention and well before they had been tried in a court of law, these violate the fundamental right to a fair trial and the right to remain silent. Chinese media were complicit in both helping to make some of these confessions and in packaging them as “news”. 

What did we do?

We kicked off this campaign in November 2018 by publishing Trial by Media, a moving book of first-hand stories from victims of forced confessions and assisting former UK journalist and businessman Peter Humphrey file the first complaint against CGTN for broadcasting his two forced confessions.

Since then we’ve assisted in five more complaints against CGTN to Ofcom; filed three complaints about CGTN to Ofcom; filed complaints about CGTN and CCTV-4 and Magnitsky sanctions submissions about senior CCTV staff, in Canada and the US; and lodged ethics complaints with the World Health Organization and UNAIDs for their choice of a CGTN journalist, who presented forced confessions on the channel, as their “goodwill ambassador”.

Several of those complaints are currently being investigated; a few were rejected, while others are pending. Most recently, Ofcom found CGTN had seriously violated its standards on due impartiality concerning broadcasts relating to its coverage of the Hong Kong protests. While this originated from internal monitoring, it said that in part its attention was focused on CGTN because of another complaint related to a forced confession. In its report, Ofcom said it is “minded” to impose a penalty.

CGTN’s response

The same day we held our press conference back in 2018 to launch the campaign, senior CCTV staff at CGTN headquarters back in Beijing called an emergency meeting that went on all weekend.

Shortly afterwards they hired UK journalist Nick Pollard as consultant for their European operations. Mr Pollard had earlier served on Ofcom’s board where he would have helped decide on similar complaints. He later resigned from his post; media reports said he had been disheartened by the channel’s biased coverage of the Hong Kong protests.

Now, according to multiple sources, Mr Pollard is once again acting as their consultant. 

CGTN's grand plans to have a huge new media centre in London with 350 journalists seems unlikely to be realized. Sources say that less than half that number were hired, and now the channel is worried it may lose its license.

For the full story please see our downloadable PDF above.