Regulators are under increasing pressure to investigate China’s state broadcaster for airing forced confessions after a formal complaint from the British-based daughter of a high-profile detainee.
China Global Television Network (CGTN) is opening a European hub in London as Beijing invests large sums in promoting its agenda around the world. The channel has been described as the “tongue and throat” of the Communist Party.
Activists have called for the station to be stripped of its licence to broadcast in Britain for airing dozens of prisoners’ forced confessions and Ofcom has now received a formal complaint from Angela Gui, the daughter of a Hong Kong bookseller and publisher who vanished from his Thai holiday home in 2015.
Gui Minhai, who published books critical of China’s leaders, later emerged in police custody on the Chinese mainland. He was eventually released after recording video confessions that were broadcast on state media but was rearrested in 2018 and remains in detention.
His daughter lives in the UK and is studying at Cambridge University. Her complaint, filed with Ofcom last month, accuses the state broadcaster’s international English channel of breaching privacy and fairness clauses in the broadcasting code by airing two of her father’s forced confessions. One was shown as recently as last February.
“My father continues to be held by Chinese police, with no trial in sight. His whereabouts is unknown, and the Chinese government refuses to disclose where he is,” she writes. “Despite living all the way over here in the United Kingdom, I am forced to be confronted with these TV confessions that are done against my father’s wishes.”
Ofcom has received similar complaints from Lam Wing-kee, another Hong Kong bookseller who was abducted to the Chinese mainland and forced to denounce himself on camera, and Peter Dahlin, a Swedish human rights activist who was arrested at Beijing airport in 2016. Both their forced confessions were broadcast on China Central Television (CCTV), CGTN’s parent network. The three new Ofcom complaints follow an initial grievance lodged in November by Peter Humphrey, a former Reuters journalist who was paraded on CCTV in 2013 to “admit” his crimes after becoming caught up in the GlaxoSmithKline corruption scandal.
The media watchdog is assessing whether to launch a full investigation of CGTN and has pledged to take “necessary enforcement action” if broadcasting rules have been breached.
Mr Dahlin, whose civil rights group Safeguard Defenders is helping to co-ordinate the complaints, said they demonstrated the direct involvement of the state broadcaster. “It is now with Ofcom to prove itself to be an instrument of a country of rule of law and apply its rules also to China, whose systematic violation of some of the key points of the broadcasting code goes far beyond what we have seen in any other broadcaster,” he told The Times.
The Iranian state-controlled station Press TV was stripped of its UK broadcast licence by Ofcom in 2012, but Mr Dahlin said his goal was to embarrass China into ceasing coerced confessions rather than force its channels off air. CGTN is available on Sky and Freesat in the UK. It has recruited dozens of well-paid staff for its new European headquarters in Chiswick, west London, which is expected to become fully operational early this year.