UK watchdog mulls sanctions against Chinese state broadcaster

LONDON: British broadcasting watchdog Ofcom said Monday it was considering sanctions against China’s state broadcaster for airing an alleged forced confession by a UK national.

Peter 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.

After his release, he complained to Ofcom, alleging unfair treatment and breach of privacy in two news reports on the case aired on CCTV, which has since been renamed CGTN.

The programmes included footage of him appearing to confess to a criminal offence, and reported his conviction and an apology. He was identified in both but his face was blurred.

In a ruling published on Monday, Ofcom said it had upheld the complaint, calling it a “serious” breach of its code of conduct.

“We are therefore putting the licensee on notice that we intend to consider the breach for the imposition of a statutory sanction,” it added.

The regulator has the power to fine broadcaster for breaching its code, and can revoke licences in the most serious cases.

In 2012, it revoked the licence of Press TV, the Iranian state broadcaster’s English-language outlet, for failing to transfer general editorial control to London from Tehran.

Privacy not respected

CCTV was renamed China Global Television Network Channel (CGTN) on Dec 31, 2016, and continues to operate in the UK under the same licence.

Ofcom’s ruling in the Humphrey case said CCTV’s airing of footage of him in custody “had the potential materially and adversely to affect viewers’ perception of him”.

It “did not take sufficient steps to ensure that material facts had not been presented, omitted or disregarded in a way that was unfair to Mr Humphrey”.

He was also not given an “appropriate and timely opportunity” to respond to the claims and had a “legitimate expectation of privacy” because he had not given consent.

“In the circumstances, Mr Humphrey’s legitimate expectation of privacy was not outweighed by the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression and the audience’s right to receive information and ideas without interference,” it added.

“The licensee had therefore unwarrantably infringed Mr Humphrey’s privacy in respect of the obtaining of the material included in the programmes and in the programmes as broadcast.”

Humphrey ran an investigative firm with his wife Yu Yingzeng, a naturalised US citizen. They had been hired by GSK to probe a sex tape of the firm’s then-China boss and other issues.

GSK then became the target of a Chinese government investigation.

Humphrey accused Chinese authorities of drugging him and locking him in a chair inside a small metal cage to conduct the confession to illegally obtaining and using personal data.

CCTV justified its reports to Ofcom on public interest grounds, as it was the first case with foreign suspects, said it had obtained consent and was not aware of mistreatment.