UK watchdog fines Chinese state broadcaster over footage of ‘forced confessions’
China’s state-owned broadcaster has been fined a total of £225,000 by a UK watchdog for serious breaches of fairness, privacy and impartiality rules.
Ofcom sanctioned China Global Television Network £125,000 for failing to uphold “due impartiality” in five broadcasts relating to protests in Hong Kong in 2019, it was announced on Monday.
A second fine of £100,000 was levied on the state-owned company for breaching fairness and privacy requirements in two reports, aired in 2013 and 2014, on the arrest of Peter Humphrey, a British citizen.
Mr Humphrey had lodged a complaint with Ofcom arguing that the reports included footage of him which gave the false impression that he was voluntarily confessing to crimes.
He and his wife were detained during a probe into corruption at pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline. He said he became “collateral damage in a wider dispute” between the company and the Chinese authorities.
After being released from prison, he told the BBC: “I was constantly harassed in prison over signing a thing they call an admission of guilt and a statement of remorse. I never signed those documents because I did not admit to having committed that offence as charged.”
Ofcom’s latest rulings were published after it last month revoked CGTN’s licence to air programmes in Britain after finding it was “ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party”.
CGTN held a licence in the UK under Star China Media Limited, which “did not have editorial responsibility” for the channel’s output, Ofcom found. Organisations broadcasting in the UK are required to exercise editorial oversight over programmes and must not be controlled by political bodies.
In retaliation, China banned BBC World News from broadcasting in the country. Beijing had been critical of the BBC’s reporting on Covid-19 and the regime’s persecution of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang province.
Separately, Ofcom announced on Monday that it found Star China Media had made two further serious breaches of fairness and privacy rules.
The first breach related to a programme broadcast in 2019 which featured Simon Cheng, a former employee of the UK consulate in Hong Kong, offering a confession that he said he was forced to make.
Mr Cheng, who was detained for 15 days during a trip to mainland China, said he was forced to “confess” to soliciting prostitution. He claimed he was questioned during his detention about Britain’s role in pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
The other breach related to two broadcasts in 2016 and 2018 featuring Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong publisher who has printed books about Chinese Communist Party members and was last year sentenced to 10 years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence overseas”. Broadcasts of forced confessions by Mr Minhai were aired by the channel, according to his daughter Angela, who lodged the complaint with the regulator.
A spokesman for the regulator said: “We found the individuals concerned [Mr Cheng and Mr Gui] were unfairly treated and had their privacy unwarrantably infringed. Among other things, CGTN failed to obtain their informed consent to be interviewed.
“In addition, material facts which cast serious doubt on the reliability of their alleged confessions were left out of the programmes.”
Ofcom is considering further statutory sanctions against Star China Media. This could include fines or compelling CGTN to air a statement of the regulator’s findings.