Ofcom, the UK media regulator, has launched a formal investigation into China Global Television Network, the Chinese state broadcaster, after it allegedly aired forced confessions in Britain.
The investigation could lead to a fine and a withdrawal of CGTN’s licence to broadcast in the UK.
“We have decided to investigate a fairness and privacy complaint about news programmes broadcast on CCTV News,” Ofcom said. “If we find our rules have been broken, we will take the appropriate action.”
The media regulator opened the probe following a complaint filed last November by Peter Humphrey, a British citizen who accused CGTN and its parent network CCTV of airing a confession that Mr Humphrey said he had made under duress.
In his initial complaint, Mr Humphrey accused journalists from the broadcaster of having filmed him reading a confession prepared by Chinese police, as he sat locked to a chair inside a small metal cage, in order to prejudice an upcoming trial.
In 2014, Mr Humphrey and his wife Yu Yingzeng were convicted of illegally obtaining private records of Chinese citizens and sentenced to two-and-a-half and two years in prison in China, respectively, after becoming embroiled in a bribe investigation into the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. Their jail terms were later reduced, and the two were deported from China in 2015.
Mr Humphrey and his wife are contesting the verdict.
The case is unusual as Ofcom has exempted Mr Humphrey from its usual requirement that complaints be lodged within 20 days after a broadcast, given that he was incarcerated and later battled post-traumatic stress disorder, which Mr Humphrey said was caused by his jail term.
Safeguard Defenders, a human rights advocacy group, has previously accused the Chinese broadcaster of helping to “extract, edit and produce” forced confessions to discredit dissident voices.
A similar Ofcom investigation into Press TV, an Iranian news network, ended with its UK licence being revoked in 2012. The decision, along with a £100,000 fine, was imposed after the network had broadcast an interview with an imprisoned British journalist, Maziar Bahari. Ofcom concluded the interview had been conducted under duress.
Separately, last December, Ofcom found that the Kremlin-backed RT news channel had broken UK broadcasting rules by “failing to preserve due impartiality”. Ofcom is currently waiting to hear from the broadcaster before considering potential punishments, which could include a fine.
Mr Humphrey is not the only individual to lodge a complaint against CGTN and CCTV with Ofcom.
Lam Wing Kee, a bookseller from Hong Kong, and Peter Dahlin, a Swedish human rights activist, have both lodged complaints against CCTV. UK-based Angela Gui has also accused CGTN of broadcasting several public “confessions” made by her father, Gui Minhai, who is currently detained at an unknown location.
Ofcom confirmed it had launched a “privacy and fairness” investigation into CGTN, but said it would not comment on individual complaints.
On Thursday, Ofcom confirmed it had launched a second investigation into CGTN based on the complaint filed by Ms Gui.
CGTN did not respond to a request for comment.
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