Rights Group Calls on FCC to Investigate Chinese State-Run Media

March 24, 2021 Updated: March 24, 2021

A human rights organization is urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate China’s state-owned media for broadcasting fake news in the United States. 

Safeguard Defenders, a Madrid-based nonprofit, submitted a complaint to the U.S. regulator back in 2019 with evidence showing “systematic airing of lies and distortions” by state-run media China Central Television (CCTV) and China Global Television Network (CGTN).

On March 17, the group wrote to the FCC renewing calls to launch a probe into the communist state-backed media outlets. 

An FCC spokesperson said it was reviewing the complaint from Safeguard Defenders, and declined to comment on whether the regulator was investigating the outlets. 

CGTN is an news channel run by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) Central Propaganda Department to reach an international audience. It has aired forced confessions and distorted coverage of issues such as the pro-democracy, anti-CCP movement in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Safeguard Defenders. 

The 30-page complaint submitted to the FCC includes testimonies from people who were forced to record “confession” videos after they were detained by Chinese authorities without access to legal help.

“They drugged me, locked me to a tiger chair, and placed me and the chair inside a small metal cage. China Central Television (CCTV) journalists then aimed their cameras at me and recorded me reading out the answers already prepared for me by the police. No questions were asked,” British citizen Peter Humphrey said. Humphrey, a former journalist turned corporate investigator, was sentenced to two years in a Chinese prison in 2014 after being convicted by the state of illegally acquiring personal information of Chinese citizens—a crime which he says he didn’t commit.

CGTN, a division of CCTV, reaches 140 million households in more than 100 countries. It is available in 30 million households in the United States, according to CGTN America.

Western countries have taken measures to limit China’s state-own media in recent months.

The British Communications Authority (Ofcom) in March fined CGTN 225,000 points ($310,000) for violating broadcasting policies by airing forced concessions and biased coverage of the Hong Kong protests. In February, Ofcom also revoked CGTN’s UK broadcast rights after finding its license was unlawful

Further investigations are pending in Canada, the European Union, and the Asia-Pacific region, according to Safeguard Defenders. The French government agency CSA has also warned CGTN that it would be subject to tighter scrutiny due to its history of violations.

CGTN is a registered agent of a foreign government under U.S. law. Both CGTN and CCTV were also designed by the Trump administration as foreign missions, which restricted some of its operations in the United States. The designations do not impact editorial independence. 

Given the increase in disinformation by state actors targeting the United States, the FCC is duty-bound to investigate violations by the Chinese regime’s media outlets, Safeguard Defenders said. 

“Where found to have been committed, appropriate punitive action must be taken against all abuses,” the group said in a March 22 press release.