A former employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong who claimed he was tortured by mainland Chinese police says he has filed a complaint with the UK’s media regulator, accusing China’s state broadcaster of airing “lies”.
If the complaint is upheld by Ofcom, China Global Television Network, the overseas arm of CCTV, could face a fine or the withdrawal of its licence to broadcast in the UK. The company is already being investigated for four alleged breaches of the UK broadcasting code for the way it presented other detainees’ reportedly forced confessions.
Hong Kong resident Cheng Man Kit, also known as Simon Cheng, last week claimed police in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen blindfolded and beat him during a two-week-long detention as they attempted to learn about the territory’s protesters and UK diplomats.
CGTN, which two months ago launched a European hub in London, responded to the allegations by claiming that Mr Cheng was arrested for buying sex. It also aired a video of him confessing that he had committed a crime.
In his complaint to Ofcom, Mr Cheng argued that CGTN had violated UK broadcasting rules on fairness and privacy by having “pasted together” clips of a “forced” confession to support the station claim of the alleged crime.
“The broadcaster states that I am guilty of soliciting prostitutes, despite no evidence [ . . .] other than an alleged ‘confession’ film recorded by the police themselves while I was held incommunicado and under duress at an unknown location,” Mr Cheng wrote in his complaint.
He said he was forced under “duress and torture” to write “repentance letters” about the police’s allegations and read these out on camera. He claimed that police officers had threatened him with two years of “re-education imprisonment” unless he complied with their demands.
Ofcom could not immediately confirm it had received the complaint. After it receives a complaint, the media regulator has 25 working days to decide whether to launch a formal investigation.
CGTN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The accusation against CGTN is the latest in a list of similar complaints, four of which are under investigation by Ofcom for potentially breaching its rules on privacy and fairness. These were triggered after representatives for British citizen Peter Humphrey, Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing Kee, Swedish human rights activist Peter Dahlin and Chinese-born publisher Gui Minhai accused the network in the past year of airing confessions they had made under alleged duress.
A similar Ofcom investigation into Press TV, an Iranian news network, ended with its UK licence being revoked in 2012. The decision, along with a £100,000 fine, was imposed after the network had broadcast an interview with an imprisoned British journalist, Maziar Bahari, which Ofcom concluded had been conducted under duress.
The network has been dogged with problems after it chose London as its centre for European expansion, where it has about 100 journalists reporting what it has called “objective” news “from a Chinese perspective”.
The London hub is CGTN’s third global offshoot, alongside operations in Nairobi and Washington, where it was last year forced to register as an agent representing the interests of a foreign power.
The channel has been accused of being the mouthpiece of the Beijing authorities and was in September hit by four separate Ofcom probes into whether its coverage of protests in Hong Kong had breached UK broadcasting rules on impartiality. Ofcom is expected to announce its conclusion in these cases before the end of December.
The media regulator’s decision to investigate those cases came from its media monitoring team, rather than as a result of complaints. It followed CGTN being banned from advertising on Twitter over concerns that it was spreading misinformation about protests in Hong Kong.