by James Pheby

British regulators on Monday imposed fines of £225,000 (US$311,000) on Chinese news network CGTN, having already revoked its licence, and upheld a further two complaints made by Hong Kong dissidents.

Ofcom fined the network £100,000 over a complaint brought by a UK national, Peter Humphrey, who says he was forced to make a criminal confession aired by China Global Television Network (CGTN) in 2013.

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

The regulator ruled that CGTN, which was called CCTV News before 2016, “ought to have been aware that, in light of the fact he was confessing to offences in advance of trial and in the presence of those who were holding him in custody, there were reasons to doubt whether Mr Humphrey’s consent was genuine and informed.”

Humphrey was jailed for more than two years by a court in Shanghai in 2014 in connection with a corruption case involving pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

The Chinese broadcaster, whose licence was owned by Star China Media Limited, justified the controversial report to Ofcom on public-interest grounds, arguing it had obtained Humphrey’s consent and was not aware of any mistreatment.

CGTN must also pay £125,000 after Ofcom ruled that five programmes aired in 2019 covering the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests “had failed to maintain due impartiality”.

The English-language satellite broadcaster has long faced criticism for parroting the Communist Party line in its global broadcasts.

Ofcom revoked its licence last month after finding the state-backed ownership structure broke UK law. However, it is still liable for penalties over programs aired while it had a licence.

‘Forced’ confessions

It could face further fines after Ofcom upheld the complaints of two high-profile dissidents, Simon Cheng and Gui Minhai.

Gui Minhai, known for publishing gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders in Hong Kong, disappeared while on holiday in Thailand in 2015 and resurfaced in China, where he served two years in prison.

gui minhai
Gui Minhai appears on Chinese state TV. File photo: CGTN.

A few months after his October 2017 release he was again arrested, this time while on a train to Beijing with Swedish diplomats.

He was hit with a 10-year jail term earlier this year on charges of illegally providing intelligence abroad.

CCTV News show News Desk aired footage of Gui appearing to express regret over the drink-driving charges for which he was initially imprisoned. 

He complains that he was “forced into taking part in the interviews in circumstances where he was being held incommunicado.”

Ofcom found that the programme did not take sufficient steps to ensure that footage given to them “had not been presented, omitted or disregarded in a way that was unfair to Mr Gui”.

The regulator also upheld a complaint made by Simon Cheng, a former British consulate staffer in Hong Kong, who was granted asylum in the UK after allegedly being tortured in China.

Cheng, a Hong Kong citizen, disappeared while on a 2019 business trip to the neighbouring Chinese city of Shenzhen, ramping up tensions between London and Beijing.

He said he was tortured and interrogated by Chinese secret police while he was detained there for 15 days.

Chinese police said Cheng had been detained for “soliciting prostitutes,” and CGTN published a video purporting to show him confessing.

simon cheng hk shadow parliament
Simon Cheng. Photo: Screenshot from press conference via TMHK.

Ofcom ruled that CTGN had not respected Cheng’s privacy nor done enough to uncover and report on the circumstances of the confession.

Last month, China’s broadcasting regulator banned BBC World News, accusing it of flouting guidelines over a hard-hitting report about Beijing’s treatment of the country’s Uighur minority.

The move was widely seen as retaliation for Ofcom’s ban on CGTN.

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