The ban comes exactly a week after the U.K. media regulator Ofcom ruled to revoke the U.K. broadcast license of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV’s English-language service CGTN.
China’s National Radio and TV Administration (NRTA) said that BBC World News was found to have “undermined China’s national interests and ethnic solidarity” because of its China-related reports that “went against the requirements that news reporting must be true and impartial,” said Xinhua.
According to Xinhua, the NRTA wrote in a statement: “As the channel fails to meet the requirements to broadcast in China as an overseas channel, BBC World News is not allowed to continue its service within Chinese territory. The NRTA will not accept the channel’s broadcast application for the new year.”
Australia-based BBC World News presenter Yalda Hakim tweeted that the particular points of contention were reports on the ongoing genocide of ethnic Uighurs in the western Xinjiang region and China’s handling of the coronavirus.
“We are disappointed that the Chinese authorities have decided to take this course of action,” a BBC spokeswoman told Variety in a written statement. “The BBC is the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster and reports on stories from around the world fairly, impartially and without fear or favor.”
U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called Beijing’s move “an unacceptable curtailing of media freedom.”
“China has some of the most severe restrictions on media & internet freedoms across the globe, & this latest step will only damage China’s reputation in the eyes of the world,” he tweeted.
Since Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the U.K. in 2015, the two countries have trumpeted a “golden era” of Sino-U.K. relations. Ties have since soured, however, over issues such as Beijing’s crackdown on dissent in the former British colony of Hong Kong, the debate over whether to allow Chinese tech champion Huawei to provide 5G services, the U.S.-China trade war, Xinjiang, and China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The tit-for-tat banning of state broadcasters is the latest diplomatic tussle between the two nations.
CGTN established its huge European production hub in London two years ago. However, Ofcom determined last Thursday that its editorial content is ultimately controlled by the ruling Communist Party, not the registered license holder, Star China Media Limited (SCML) — a violation of the latter’s legal obligations in that role. British law also states that license holders cannot be control by political bodies.
Minutes after Ofcom announced its ruling against CGTN, the Chinese foreign ministry requested the BBC publicly apologize for “fake news” in its COVID-19 reporting, particularly for “rehashing theories about a cover up by China.”
At a regular press conference later that day, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin further accused Ofcom of “oppressing CGTN for political reasons based on ideological bias” and of “politicizing technicalities,” before foreshadowing the new BBC ban with a warning: “China reserves the right to make necessary reactions to uphold the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese media.”
Wang also had strong words for the BBC in the wake of its new graphic account of the systematic rape and torture experienced by Uighur women held in China’s Xinjiang “re-education” camps, published last week.
He slammed BBC for “unjust, subjective and irresponsible reports on Xinjiang,” asking the outlet to be more “objective” and “avoid being deceived or misled by disinformation or biased reports.” The latest description of female detainees’ experiences was a “sensational report made without verifying the facts” marking “a serious breach of professional ethics,” he said.
The BBC — which, unlike CGTN or CCTV, is editorially independent of the British government despite being publicly funding — countered that its reporting is unbiased.
Last week, it also emerged that the U.K. had in 2020 quietly expelled three Chinese spies for Beijing’s Ministry of State Security who had posed as journalists to remain in the country. The issue of expelled spies amounted to another “unjustified political crackdown on the Chinese media out of ideological bias,” according to Wang.
China has for years limited the BBC’s distribution within its borders by allowing its World News program to play only in international hotels, not local homes or elsewhere. Despite the channel’s limited accessibility, authorities would still black out China-related programs or reports deemed overly sensitive.