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China threatens retaliation over UK TV license cancellation

February 5, 2021 GMT
FILE- In this Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021 file photo, people wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, walk past the CCTV Headquarters building, the home of Chinese state-run television network CCTV and its overseas arm CGTN, in Beijing. The U.K. has stripped China's state-owned TV channel of its broadcasting license in the country, after an investigation found the license holder lacked editorial control and had links to China's ruling Communist Party. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
FILE- In this Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021 file photo, people wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, walk past the CCTV Headquarters building, the home of Chinese state-run television network CCTV and its overseas arm CGTN, in Beijing. The U.K. has stripped China's state-owned TV channel of its broadcasting license in the country, after an investigation found the license holder lacked editorial control and had links to China's ruling Communist Party. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

BEIJING (AP) — China on Friday threatened to retaliate after British regulators stripped China’s state TV channel of its U.K. broadcasting license, a decision based on technical issues but rooted in complaints about its role in persecuting critics of the ruling Communist Party.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters that British media watchdog Ofcom had acted on “political grounds based on ideological bias, politicizing technical issues, seriously harming the survival of Chinese media and severely interfering with normal exchanges between the two countries.”

“We urge the U.K. to immediately stop political manipulation and correct its mistakes. China reserves the right to make the necessary response to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese media,” Wang said at a daily briefing.

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In its decision issued Thursday, Ofcom said it revoked the U.K. license for China Global Television Network, or CGTN, an international English-language satellite news channel, because of a lack of editorial control and links to China’s Communist Party.

CGTN had been available on free and pay TV in the U.K. Regulators started looking into the station after receiving a complaint from human rights group Safeguard Defenders that called for an investigation into its ownership.

Ofcom is also continuing to investigate a number of additional complaints that the station violated rules on fairness and accuracy, including the broadcasting of alleged forced confessions by a former British Consulate employee in Hong Kong and a British corporate investigator and longtime government critic, Gui Minhai, whose whereabouts are now unknown.

In a tweet, Gui’s daughter Angela Gui said, “Finally, five years after first airing a forced confession by my father #GuiMinhai in the UK, Ofcom has revoked CGTN’s license to broadcast. Thank you @SafeguardDefend and everyone else who’s filed complaints.”

Ofcom’s decision adds to friction between Britain and China, already strained by U.K. efforts to address allegations of human rights abuses against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang and widen residency rights for Hong Kongers.

Wang gave no details on how China would retaliate, but the British Broadcasting Corp., which is only available in some hotels, businesses and residential compounds for foreigners in China, could become a target.

The Foreign Ministry initially responded to word of the loss of CGTN’s license with renewed criticism of the BBC, specifically a Jan. 29 report on COVID-19 in China, calling it “typical fake news” and demanding a public apology. It said “China reserves the right to take further measures.” The BBC said it stood by its reporting and rejected the “unfounded accusations.”

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In his defense of CGTN, Wang said the British knew all along about its ties to China’s ruling party and accused London of double standards in regulating the media. Wang said CGTN always adhered to regulations and upheld the principles of “objectivity, impartiality, truthfulness and accuracy in news reporting.”

“China is a socialist country led by the Communist Party. The British side has been well aware of the nature of the Chinese media,” Wang said.

“The British side knew this clearly from the first day CGTN broadcasted in the U.K. 18 years ago. That the U.K. now makes an issue of Chinese media’s nature and obstructing CGTN in its broadcasting is purely political manipulation,” he said.

CGTN has been at the forefront of the party’s bid to seize the narrative from Western news media about human rights in China and its aggressive military and diplomatic moves amid a hardening of attitudes toward China in countries from South Korea to Canada.