On February 4, Ofcom, the media watchdog, revoked the UK broadcast licence of China Global Television Network (CGTN), the Chinese state’s English-language television channel. The grounds were that it is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and not the licence-holder, Star China Media Limited. That the licence-holder has editorial oversight of the channel’s output is a legal requirement.
Fiona Edwards, of the “No Cold War” international organising committee, responded in the Morning Star (6-7 February) that the decision was “an outrageous act of censorship which reveals that the West’s claim to be the global champion of ‘free speech’ is utterly hypocritical.”
The paper’s editorial (same date) also took the free speech angle, claiming that the ruling “is likely to have to have consequences for media outlets far smaller and more vulnerable [than CGTN].”
Leaving aside the sheer chutzpah of these uncritical supporters of the Chinese state and Chinese Communist Party invoking “free speech” as an argument, it might seem that the editorial has a strong point when it argues that “banning [CGTN] on these grounds is pure hypocrisy from a regulator that upholds the BBC’s laughable claims of impartiality.”
But is the BBC really no more independent of its government than the Chinese state broadcaster? Tom Mills is a sharp critic of the BBC and author of a highly critical book The BBC: The Myth of a Public Service (Verso). He describes the BBC as “a broadcaster with an ambiguous kind of independence that in some cases has enjoyed substantive freedom, but which has always been kept under some degree of political control, and often enormous political pressure.”
Does this mean it’s independent? “Well, really the BBC’s not so different to various state institutions that are afforded operational autonomy but ultimately answerable to ministers or to parliament through various mechanisms, such as the police or the Bank of England”, says Mills (interview, Open Democracy, 25 January 2017).
For the sake of argument let’s accept what he says: it’s still a million miles from the direct control over the media operated by the Chinese state.
Of course the Chinese ruling class wasted no time in hitting back: theMorning Star of 8 February reported that “A new report has accused the BBC of peddling anti-China propaganda, saying that analysis of its reporting of Xinjiang stories has revealed news manipulation by the state broadcaster.”
Xinjiang is the province in China where the treatment of the Uyghur mostly-Muslim population is widely recognised (for instance, by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International) as amounting to racial persecution and probably genocide. And, just to be clear, by “state broadcaster” the Morning Star means the BBC.
The “new report” cited comes, so it turns out, from the Global Times, a news outlet that operates as the sensationalist, “tabloid” manifestation of the Chinese Communist Party’s main mouthpiece the People’s Daily. It specialises in aggressive attacks that get it noticed, and quoted, by foreign media around the world as the unofficial “voice” of Beijing, even as the Party’s official statements are more circumspect.
The report, we’re told “raises concerns at a lack of professionalism by consistently commissioning anti-communist Adrian Zenz as an ‘expert’ to comment on Xinjiang region, using his reports to make allegations of a genocide against the Uyghur population.”
The denunciation of Zenz as an “anti-communist” (which he is: but does that make his meticulously sourced research invalid?) is the only response that the Chinese state and its apologists can ever come out with, ignoring the numerous other sources of damning information, including eye witnesses.
So it would seem that the Chinese state and Chinese Communist Party have lost one outlet for its propaganda in the UK, but can still rely upon the Morning Star to defend genocide in Xinjiang and to defame human rights campaigners and truth tellers.