27 May 2020

UK watchdog finds China’s state TV CGTN violated impartiality rules


It’s not been a good week for China’s Communist Party-controlled overseas TV station China Global Television Network (CGTN).

UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom has found the channel in “serious failure of compliance” on due impartiality grounds over its coverage of the Hong Kong protests last year. Meanwhile, it also announced that it has launched yet another privacy complaint against CGTN (more on this below). This would be the fourth complaint accepted by Ofcom against CGTN in the last 18 months alone.

The ruling concerns violations over the channel's biased coverage of massive-scale protests in Hong Kong against a proposed extradition law with mainland China that evolved into a demand for police accountability and more democratic freedoms for the Special Administrative Region.

These were identified in five CGTN news programmes aired between August and November 2019. The shows were: The World Today and China 24. The World Today complaints were internally generated by Ofcom itself during “routine monitoring,” while the China 24 case was sparked by another fairness and privacy complaint about the broadcast of a forced confession of former UK consulate worker Simon Cheng. That complaint was filed by Mr. Cheng and supported by Safeguard Defenders. Ofcom accepted that complaint and is currently investigating it.

More background on Mr. Cheng’s case and that complaint can be found here and here.

Ofcom said it was “minded” to sanction the broadcaster. This could include a fine or for repeat infractions, revoking their license to broadcast in the UK.

In light of the fact Ofcom is also investigating at least four other complaints against CGTN and several additional requests for action, and the seriousness of all these violations, Safeguard Defenders urges the only response should be to remove its license.


Ofcom launches new investigation into CGTN

Ofcom has launched a formal investigation based on a complaint filed by former British journalist and corporate investigator Peter Humphrey for unjust or unfair treatment.

The complaint, filed 17 January 2020. is about a segment called Unwrapping the Truth of China’s Christmas Card Mystery which aired on CGTN on 27 December 2019 on a programme called The Point. It concerned a story about a British toddler who had discovered a handwritten note in a Xmas card from a foreign inmate at a prison in Shanghai who wrote he was forced to work against his will.

The program peddled lies about Mr. Humphrey and “constituted a serious, one-sided and personal attack which intended to damage his personal and professional reputation.”

"Ofcom's decision to officially investigate CGTN for its scurrilous and vicious attack against my person in a half-hour-long program at the end of December, containing deliberate lies, distortions and slanders, is an encouraging development. This is especially so as it comes within the same week that Ofcom has announced findings and sanctions against CGTN on a number of other investigations into CGTN's illegal behaviour," Peter Humphrey told Safeguard Defenders.


Other complaints against CGTN

These decisions come as CGTN faces an onslaught of other complaints both in the UK and in North America.

Two other complaints by Mr. Humphrey and the daughter of Swedish publisher Gui Minhai over forced confessions the channel broadcast are currently being investigated by Ofcom. A decision on these is expected soon. A similar complaint by Simon Cheng is also being investigated. 

This February, Safeguard Defenders sent an open letter to Ofcom requesting an investigation into allegations that CGTN is violating UK broadcasting law and Ofcom's own Guidelines that prohibit any media organization from being owned or controlled by a political body. We are also demanding that its license be revoked. CGTN is indisputably controlled (and arguably owned) by the Chinese Communist Party.

The US has already ruled that CGTN is a government entity under its Foreign Missions Act.

Last December, Safeguard Defenders filed a complaint and appeal in Canada for the license re-appraisal of CGTN and CCTV-4 (CCTV's Chinese-language international channel) to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Our complaints presented overwhelming evidence of the systematic practice of violations by both channels over the course of six years for multiple broadcasts of forced confessions.

So far, there’s been no evidence of any progress with this complaint.

A similar complaint was filed at the same time to the US media regulator Federal Communications Comission (FCC) for 50 broadcast violations made by CGTN and CCTV-4 on US airwaves over six years. This complaint focused on the broadcast of lies and intentional distortions and highlighted how China was using these broadcasts to influence both US public oninion and political decision-making.

And finally, in February, Safeguard Defenders helped Mr Humphrey file an ethics complaint with the World Health Organization (WHO) over the continued appointment of a former CCTV (the China-based parent of CGTN) journalist complicit in rights abuse in China as one of its goodwill ambassadors.

British-born James Chau was a reporter for several forced televised confessions of detainees before trial and without legal counsel broadcast on CCTV from Beijing. The WHO has yet to respond to our complaint, while UN Watch has criticized the international organization for its use of CCP-aligned goodwill ambassadors.