Swedish activist Peter Dahlin has filed a complaint with the British telecommunications regulator against Chinese state media China Central Television (CCTV) for allegedly contravening the broadcasting code and violating the Human Rights Act.

In his complaint to the Office of Communications (Ofcom) on Monday, Dahlin – who is director of human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders – cited his own appearance on Chinese state television in 2016. In it, he gave an apparent “confession” for inciting “opposition to the government,” though was not arrested or put on trial. If the complaint is upheld, CCTV will have its UK licence and credentials revoked and will no longer be able to operate within the country.

China Central Television Building in Beijing
China Central Television Building in Beijing. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

CCTV-4 is a Chinese-language channel that broadcasts to around 121 countries in the world including the UK.

Broadcasting standards breach

Dahlin said in his complaint that the production and airing of his televised “confession” violates a significant part of the privacy and fairness provisions of the broadcasting code, since no consent was given. He added that all statements made during his appearance were done so under duress and were pre-written for him: “I was given a paper with prepared questions and answers, and told to memorise,” he said.

“I, like many victims who have later spoken out, was never told or informed, that this was to be a public TV recording, but that it was for internal use only.”

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“Even when CCTV staff has been involved in making these, police would, as victims have testified this year, been told it is merely for higher production value,” Dahlin added.

Other potential violations noted in the complaint included CCTV’s use of “derogatory material,” lack of partiality, a failure to issue a correction, “unfair treatment” of the participant, editing that presented allegations as facts, a failure to fact-check, a failure to give the participant his right-of-reply, privacy infringement, and the use of recordings of people in distress.

Human rights violation

The complaint stated that CCTV violated paragraph 6 of the Human Rights Act, which governs the acts of public authorities, by denying Dahlin the right to a fair trial. It also states that CCTV violated article 8 of the act, which protects the right to privacy.

Peter Humphrey
A drawing of Peter Humphrey’s forced confession. Photo: Handout.

The complaint also said that CCTV knowingly produced “lies and [the] intentional distortion of facts…” with the help of the Ministry of State Security in China.

Chinese authorities routinely use televised “confessions” that are reportedly extracted under duress. The practice has drawn widespread criticism from organisations, including Safeguard Defenders, who say that it amounts to a gross human rights violation.

A British fraud investigator also filed a complaint to Ofcom last November. Peter Humphrey said he was forced to confess on CCTV for crimes he had been not convicted of in 2013 and 2014. He urged the regulator to revoke the UK licence and credentials of both CCTV and its international arm CGTN.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.