Languages

China’s state TV hires insider to battle Ofcom complaint

China’s state TV has been responding vigorously behind the scenes to five complaints against it made between November 2018 and April 2019 by Safeguard Defenders and victims to UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom for airing forced confessions.

 

 

Even though the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-controlled China Global Television Network (CGTN) has been muted about the accusations it broke UK broadcasting codes, within weeks of the first complaint being filed it had hired a former member of Ofcom’s board to handle the issue.

Yesterday, UK magazine Private Eye revealed that a former member of Ofcom’s board, Mr. Nick Pollard, was hired by CGTN the month after the first complaint was filed against it. Or as the story in Private Eye dryly noted:

“In December, Pollard took up a role as a consultant to CGTN Europe, the foreign language arm of Chinese state TV, which broadcasts out of Chiswick Park in west London. As chance would have it, just the month previously Ofcom had received a complaint from private investigator Peter Humphrey.”


The appointment of British journalist Nick Pollard in December 2018, is only one of several “hidden hand” actions CGTN has taken to defend itself against our complaints. Because of confidentially reasons, Safeguard Defenders cannot reveal any more details about these actions; the news about Pollard can only now be released because media have already broken the story.

 

Who is Pollard and why does it matter he was a former Ofcom board member?

 

Pollard is the former head of Sky News. He also famously led a BBC internal investigation into a BBC current affairs program on allegations that the British broadcaster's presenter Jimmy Savile (then deceased) had sexually abused minors had been shelved while tributes to him were aired.

While Pollard’s 2012 report criticised BBC management it did not conclude there was a cover-up. However, critics point to holes in Pollard’s investigation, including the omission of key evidence, which led to a less damning verdict on the British media company.

In April 2016 Pollard joined Ofcom as a member of the Board, and as chairman of the Content Board. He left Ofcom in May 2018. Ofcom board members are prohibited from working for media organizations for six months after leaving their post.

 

Seven months after leaving Ofcom, Pollard joined CGTN.

 

As an Ofcom Board member, Pollard was one of 10 people who was responsible for making key decisions on complaints. This is the same board that is now handling the complaints against CGTN.

The Board’s Code of Conduct stipulates: “There should never be any legitimate reasons for people outside Ofcom to question that Ofcom's decisions may be influenced by the private interests, or political interests and opinions, of Members, or that Members may be able to profit from information available to them through their work.”

The reality behind the CGTN broadcast and the basis for the complaint.

CGTN’s decision to hire Pollard shows just how seriously it is taking our two pending complaints against it for repeatedly broadcasting in English in the UK several “forced TV confessions” by former British journalist Peter Humphrey and Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai.

Mr. Humphrey told Safeguard Defenders:

“If CGTN has appointed a former recent Ofcom board member as a mercenary hired gun to fight these complaints against the extraction and illegal broadcast of forced and falsified confessions on UK airwaves, it would be a public outrage.” “It’s a reaffirmation that Chinese television is nothing but a weapon of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Safeguard Defenders has approached Ofcom and its Board for their comments on Pollard’s CGTN role. It has also made a similar request to Ofcom’s Contents Board, for which Pollard was the chairman.

As of the time of publishing, neither has responded.

Safeguard Defenders also made a Freedom of Information Request on 5 July 2019 to Ofcom for information about any decision taken, entertained or investigated concerning CGTN or its parent organization CCTV, during Pollard’s tenure as member of the board and as Content Board chairman.

Ofcom’s website clearly states that its code of conduct applies not only to current Board Members, but also to former Board Members (see below).

 

Ofcom Board Members Code of Conduct

 

  • Members of the Board will be expected to show complete confidentiality in respect of information or materials supplied to them for the purposes of and in connection with their duties on the Board.

  • Section 393 of the Communications Act sets out restrictions on individuals on the disclosure of any information without the consent of the person who provided the information.

  • Any disclosure of information in contravention of that provision is a criminal offence subject to up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine.

  • These restrictions continue to apply once Members have ceased being Members of Ofcom, in relation to information received while they held office. This is in order for people to avoid the risk that a particular firm might gain an improper advantage over its competitors by employing someone who, in the course of their Ofcom duties, had had access to technical or other information which those competitors might legitimately regard as their own trade secrets, or to information relating to proposed developments in Government policy which may affect that firm or its competitors.

 

Ofcom Content Board “sets and enforces quality and standards for television and radio”. It has 13 members. According to its website “charged with understanding, analysing and championing the voices and interest of the viewer, the listener and citizen.”

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