China bans BBC news broadcasts in apparent retaliatory move


China has banned the BBC World News television channel in a diplomatic fight with Britain after British regulators revoked the licence of state-owned Chinese broadcaster CGTN.

The move late Thursday was largely symbolic, because BBC World already was limited to being shown on cable TV systems in hotels and apartment compounds for foreigners and some other businesses.

The National Radio and Television Administration said BBC World News coverage of China violated requirements that news reporting be true and impartial and undermined China’s national interests and ethnic solidarity.

The Chinese government has criticized BBC reports about the COVID-19 pandemic in China and about allegations of forced labour and sexual abuse in the Xinjiang region, home to the Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups.

“The channel fails to meet the requirements to broadcast in China as an overseas channel,” the Radio and Television Administration said in a statement dated midnight Friday.

Media expulsions last year

It gave no indication whether BBC reporters in China would be affected.

The communist Beijing government last year expelled foreign reporters for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times during disputes with the Trump administration.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, in a written statement, called the move “an unacceptable curtailing of media freedom” that would “only damage China’s reputation in the eyes of the world.”

In Hong Kong, government broadcaster RTHK said it would stop carrying BBC World broadcasts on Friday. It cited the main regulator’s order.

Links to ruling party cited

Britain’s communications watchdog, Ofcom, revoked the licence for CGTN, China’s English-language satellite news channel, on Feb. 4. It cited links to China’s ruling Communist Party among the reasons.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Ofcom had acted on “political grounds based on ideological bias.”

Losing its British broadcasting licence was a setback for CGTN, which is part of efforts by the ruling Communist Party to promote its views abroad. CGTN has a European operations hub in West London.

Police officers stand guard outside the CCTV (China Central Television) headquarters building in Beijing, home to its overseas arm CGTN (China Global Television Network), in this file photo from last May. (Nicolas Asfouri/FP via Getty Images)

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price called it troubling that media operations were restricted inside China while “Beijing’s leaders use free and open media environments overseas to promote misinformation.”

Price called on the Chinese government to allow its population free access to the media and the internet.

“Media freedom is an important right and it’s key to ensuring an informed citizenry, an informed citizenry that can share their ideas freely amongst themselves and with their leaders,” Price said.

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