Beijing has lashed out at the UK, accusing its media regulator of “political manipulation” after it stripped China’s state broadcaster of its licence to air.
Ofcom announced on Thursday that China Global Television Network would immediately be stopped from broadcasting in the UK, after an investigation by the regulator found that the channel was editorially controlled by the Chinese Communist party.
The move was expected to spark retaliation by Beijing, which has faced growing scrutiny of the expansion of its state media outlets, an important part of China’s international soft power push.
China’s foreign ministry on Friday said it was considering “further measures” against the BBC, which has recently become a target of allegations regarding “fake news” on matters such as China’s response to the pandemic and its repression of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang province.
These grievances have coincided with probes into CGTN by the UK’s media regulator. Ofcom found last year that the network had breached its rules on impartiality and privacy, having aired an allegedly forced confession and failed to produce balanced coverage of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
China has previously responded to scrutiny of its media outlets in Washington by expelling journalists from US media groups, but the targeting of one specific broadcaster, as is the case with the BBC, is unusual.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, said on Friday that “the UK knew clearly the nature of our media from CGTN’s first day of reporting in the UK, which was over 10 years ago”, adding that “China is a communist country led by the [Chinese Communist party]”.
“Now [Ofcom] talks about the nature of Chinese media and interferes with CGTN’s reporting in the UK. It’s complete political manipulation. We urge the UK to correct its mistake,” Wang said at the ministry’s daily press briefing.
Ofcom on Thursday concluded that Star China Media Limited, the entity that held the licence to broadcast in the UK as CGTN, was a front with no editorial control over programmes, going against rules that prohibit governments from holding broadcasting licences. The regulator said it had offered CGTN a chance to put up a firewall between the government and the corporation that controls the international arm of the state broadcaster, but argued it had failed to do so.
The ruling is the latest blow to the Chinese state broadcaster, which has made a big bet on the UK, choosing London for its third main global office alongside bases in Washington and Nairobi.
Ofcom’s decision to ban CGTN from being aired in the UK does not stop the network from having reporters in the country. It also only applies to the airwaves, with CGTN broadcasts still available in the UK over the internet.
Wang went on to call Ofcom’s decision “typical double standards and political oppression”, citing the UK’s commitment to “the freedom of the press”.
“We urge the UK to immediately stop political manoeuvres and China reserves the right to necessary reactions,” he added.
The BBC declined to comment on the latest allegations but on Thursday said it stood by its “accurate and fair reporting of events in China”, adding that its directors “totally reject these unfounded accusations of fake news and ideological bias”.
Ofcom would not comment further on its investigation. A UK government spokesperson said: “This was a decision taken by Ofcom, which is fully independent of the UK government, in line with existing regulations on broadcast licensing. All broadcasters must be compliant with the law.”
Additional reporting by Xinning Liu