The UK’s media regulator has opened an investigation into Chinese state broadcaster CGTN following a complaint over its airing of a “forced confession.”

Ofcom received a complaint last November from ex-journalist and fraud investigator Peter Humphrey, citing regulations over privacy and fairness. Humphrey says he was made to record an extra-judicial “confession” under duress, following charges of illegally trading in personal information. It was then broadcast worldwide by CCTV’s international arm, CGTN.

Peter Humphrey
Peter Humphrey’s two confessions on CCTV. Photo: Screenshot.

NGO RSDL Monitor welcomed the move in a statement on Wednesday: “The violation is considered so grave that Ofcom has exempted Mr. Humphrey’s complaint from a normal time limit of having to file a complaint within 20 days after an accused broadcast, given the fact that at the time, he was incarcerated and not allowed to communicate with the outside world and that after his release he has battled cancer, PTSD and other illnesses caused by deliberate rough handling in captivity.”

Last year, Humphrey said that filing the complaint was “part of [his] path to exoneration,” for an ordeal that will forever haunt him: “I continue to suffer from nightmares, flashbacks and bouts of depression over my ordeal, my entire family’s ordeal. The forced TV appearance [in] the cage is a trauma that will never leave me. I just have to learn how to manage my trauma,” he told HKFP, three years after he was released from prison alongside his wife Yu Yingzeng.

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The channel risks a ban or a fine if regulations are found to have been broken. Section seven of Ofcom’s broadcasting codes says that broadcasters must avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations in programmes, while section nine says that broadcasters must avoid any unwarranted infringement of privacy in programmes and in connection with obtaining materials included in programmes.

An Ofcom spokesperson confirmed to CNN that an investigation had been opened: “If we find our rules have been broken, we will take the appropriate action.”

CGTN has expanded its reach across Europe by recruiting over 300 new employees for its new London office. The Beijing-owned channel was initially known as CCTV-9 before it was relaunched in 2016 as a 24-hour English-language news service.

televised confessions
An artists’ impression of how Peter Humphrey’s televised confession was set up. Artwork: Alexey Garmash.

A complaint against CGTN’s airing of a “confession” by Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai was also filed last year by his daughter, though no investigation has yet been launched.

Iran’s Press TV broadcast a confession on UK airwaves by the then-jailed Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari. Bahari filed a complaint to Ofcom, and in 2011 PressTV lost its license to broadcast in the UK.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.