UK Fines Chinese Broadcaster CGTN Over Forced Confessions, Hong Kong Coverage

March 8, 2021 Updated: March 9, 2021

Britain’s broadcasting regulator Ofcom on Monday imposed financial penalties on Chinese state broadcaster CGTN for airing forced confessions and biased coverage of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

CGTN, or China Global Television Network, is an international English-language satellite news channel owned by the Chinese regime and directly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

CGTN Peter Humphrey Ofcom
Journalists follow the progress on a television screen of the trial of British investigator Peter Humphrey (C), linked to beleaguered pharmaceutical giant GSK, and his wife, at the Shanghai Intermediate Court, on Aug. 8, 2014. (Johannes Eisele /AFP via Getty Images)

Ofcom imposed a fine of £100,000 ($138,359) on Star China Media Limited, CGTN’s former licence holder in the UK, after finding the broadcaster guilty of “serious” violations of British broadcasting regulations for airing a forced confession extracted from British citizen Peter Humphrey in 2013.

The regulator found that CGTN’s broadcasts constituted “unfair treatment” of Humphrey and “unwarranted infringement of privacy.”

Separately, Ofcom fined CGTN’s former licence holder £125,000 ($172,929) after finding the network in “serious failure of compliance” with UK impartiality laws during its coverage of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong
A resident is detained by riot police during a rally in Hong Kong, on Nov. 3, 2019. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

The regulator ruled in May 2020 that five news items on the protests that were aired by the channel between Aug. 11, 2019 and Nov. 21, 2019 were “not duly impartial on a matter of major political controversy and a major matter relating to current public policy.”

Also on Monday, Ofcom released its final decisions on CGTN’s broadcasts of the forced TV confessions by Simon Cheng (pdf), a former UK consulate general employee in Hong Kong, and Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai (pdf).

Cheng was tortured and forced to make a TV confession when he was detained for 15 days in August 2019 by mainland Chinese police.

“I feel very pleased, and that is a very significant moment for me,” Cheng told The Epoch Times.

Simon Cheng
Simon Cheng on March 31, 2020. (Courtesy of Simon Cheng)

Gui, who sold books critical of China’s political leadership while based in Hong Kong, was detained by mainland police in 2018 and was also forced to make TV appearances confessing his alleged offences.

Ofcom upheld complaints about the CGTN programmes’ “unjust or unfair treatment” and “unwarranted infringement of privacy,” and put the broadcaster “on notice” that it intends to consider imposing a “statutory sanction.”

“It’s been a very positive last few weeks when it comes to bringing attention to this issue, and bringing pressure on Beijing to start modifying their behaviour,” Peter Dahlin, head of human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders, told The Epoch Times.

Ofcom on Feb. 4 revoked CGTN’s UK licence after it concluded that the licence was unlawful, because the broadcaster is ultimately controlled by the CCP, rather than its UK licence-holder, Star China Media Limited.

On March 5, Australian broadcaster SBS announced that it would suspend its broadcasts of CGTN news bulletins after receiving a human rights complaint.

Reporting by Lily Zhou. Reuters and Katabella Roberts contributed to this report.