Nick Pollard, former Head of News at Sky, who went on to become a member of the Board of broadcasting standards regulator Ofcom, is now advising CGTN, the Chinese state broadcaster based at Chiswick Business Park. The Chinese company established its European headquarters at the Business Park last December to broadcast services in English and several other European languages. It is currently under investigation by Ofcom for human rights abuses, and could lose its licence to broadcast. How handy to have a former Chairman of Ofcom’s Content Board in your corner.
CGTN – agent of the Chinese state
CGTN Europe, the European branch of China’s state TV company, the China Global Television Network, is expanding its coverage, enlarging its global presence online and on air, and over the past eighteen months has been employing staff to work at its west London base at Chiswick Business Park. According to its Linkedin profile, CGTN’s aim is ‘to provide objective, balanced, and impartial news and current affairs content. It seeks to cover the world, reporting the news from a Chinese perspective. CGTN aims to differentiate itself from leading Western media organizations by pursuing a larger international vision and focus on nations, regions, and stories often ignored by the Western media’.
This description is rather different from that given by Chinese leaders themselves, who have previously described CGTN and other state media outlets as the “eyes, ears, tongue and throat of the Communist Party.” Reporters Without Borders, whose London Director Rebecca Vincent came to speak to The Chiswick Calendar’s Media Club in January about the way in which journalists are continuously under attack from undemocratic regimes around the world, confirms that in China, both state and privately-owned media are required to follow the Communist Party’s instructions.
Photograph above: Peter Humphry’s ‘confession’ on CCTV; Chiswick Business Park
Investigation by Ofcom
Former Reuters journalist Peter Humphrey complained to the British broadcasting standards body Ofcom that they should not be allowed to broadcast in or from this country as their actions contravene our regulations governing fairness and privacy. He has given them his testimony that he was drugged, strapped to an iron chair, and locked in a cage and forced to confess to crimes, while being filmed. His ‘confession’ was later shown on Chinese state TV. He says CGTN Europe’s parent company was ‘working in active collusion with the police and the Chinese state.’ Peter Humphrey says he was interviewed once by a police inspector and the second time by a CCTV interviewer in circumstances tantamount to torture and that the public airing of the interviews prejudiced his ‘sham’ trial. ‘Neither of these instances qualify as journalism or true media activity’. In total, he was jailed in China for two years, along with his American wife.
Members of the National Union of Journalists working for the BBC World Service supported his complaint to Ofcom, saying the Chinese Communist party is seeking to deepen its control of news by such methods and that forced confessions, filmed and broadcast by CCTV, are now commonplace in China.
The Swedish Supreme Court has also just expressed its concern at the use of this tactic contributing to unfair trials in China. Last Tuesday it decided against the extradition of Qiao Jianjun, a Chinese state functionary currently fugitive in Sweden and wanted in China on corruption charges. After listening to testimonies from Eva Pils, Professor of Law at London’s Kings College and Peter Humphrey amongst others, the court decided that with China’s record of forced TV confessions, torture, political disappearances and appalling treatment of prisoners, it would be against not only Swedish law but the European Convention on Human Rights for him to be extradited.
After Peter Humphrey complained to Ofcom, several other people brought similar complaints against the company, which are now being investigated by the broadcasting authority. There have been five complaints against CGTN in all, made by individuals between November 2018 and April 2019, and coordinated by Swedish human rights organisation Safeguard Defenders. If their complaints are upheld the broadcaster could lose its licence to broadcast here. The Iranian state broadcaster PressTV had its licence to broadcast taken away in 2012. It too was accused of airing forced confessions.
Chiswick Business Park ‘a hub for global media companies affiliated to some of the world’s most repressive regimes’.
Matthew Moore, Media Correspondent for the Times, wrote in March that: ‘The landscaped gardens and ornamental waterfalls of a glistening suburban business park are an unlikely front line in the global information wars. Yet Chiswick Park in southwest London has quietly become a hub for global media companies affiliated to some of the world’s most repressive regimes’.
He noted that the offices for the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG) are just one storey up from CGTN in Building 7 and In Building 11 there are journalists working for the TV station Iran International which, as Matthew reported, has been accused of being funded by Saudis, apparently as part of the Gulf state’s efforts to destabilise its regional rival Iran. ‘Confusingly’, he wrote, ‘Chiswick is also home to a production company that does do work for the Tehran regime. Aparat Media, which makes online programmes for Press TV’.
He went on: ‘the build-up of media outlets tied to authoritarian states in a quiet corner of the capital has raised eyebrows in the local press’ (by which I think he meant us!) He couldn’t get CGTN to respond to his overtures for a comment.
Let’s see if Nick Pollard, who says quite openly in his own Linkedin profile that he is advising CGTN, gets them off the hook.