BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) – The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) came under fire from Chinese officials and social media on Friday (Feb 5) in an escalating diplomatic dispute, a day after Britain’s media regulator revoked the TV licence of Chinese state media outlet CGTN.
China’s foreign ministry issued a statement accusing the broadcaster of pushing “fake news” in its Covid-19 reporting, demanding an apology and saying that the broadcaster had politicised the pandemic and “rehashed theories about covering up by China”.
The BBC said its reporting is fair and unbiased.
Britain and China have been exchanging barbs for months over China’s crackdown on dissent in the former British colony of Hong Kong, concern over the security of Huawei technology and the treatment of ethnic Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.
On Thursday, Britain’s Ofcom revoked the licence of CGTN, the English-language sister channel of state broadcaster CCTV, after concluding that China’s ruling Communist Party had ultimate editorial responsibility for the channel.
Beijing hit out at the ruling on Friday, saying it was “based on ideological prejudice and political reasons”.
“China urges the UK to immediately cease political manipulation and correct its mistakes,” said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, adding that China “reserves the right to make the necessary responses”.
He said the news channel had played a role in “enhancing understanding and communication” between the two countries.
Ofcom said CGTN’s licence holder, Star China Media, had failed to show it had editorial oversight over the network and that a proposed transfer to another media group would still keep it tied to the Chinese Communist Party.
According to British law, broadcasters must not be controlled by political bodies.
“We have given CGTN significant time to come into compliance with the statutory rules. Those efforts have now been exhausted,” Ofcom said.
The regulator added that an investigation into alleged breaches by CGTN of impartiality, fairness and privacy requirements would be completed shortly.
CGTN opened its European headquarters in London in 2019, but the English-language satellite broadcaster has long faced criticism for parroting the Communist Party line in its global broadcasts.
CGTN blamed “the manipulation of far-right groups and anti-China forces” for the Ofcom ruling in a statement posted to the Twitter-like platform Weibo.
In the United States, CGTN is one of seven Chinese media outlets that have been designated as state-sponsored actors rather than as independent media.
China’s state media has ramped up attacks on the British public broadcaster in recent weeks.
“I highly suspect that the BBC has been closely instigated by the intelligence agencies of the US and the UK. It has become a bastion of the Western public opinion war against China,” Mr Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Communist Party-backed tabloid, the Global Times, said on Twitter.
The foreign ministry’s criticism of the BBC was among the top trends on China’s Weibo social media platform on Friday.
“BBC shall not become Bad-mouthing Broadcasting Corporation,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Twitter.
BBC broadcasts, like those of most major Western news outlets, are blocked in China.
Some people called for the BBC to be expelled in response to CGTN’s licence being revoked.
“The BBC has long been stationed in Beijing, yet has always held ideological prejudice and broadcast fake news from its platform, deliberately defaming China. After so many years, it’s past time that we took action,” one Weibo user said.
The BBC’s coverage of Xinjiang came under heavy criticism after it reported on Wednesday that women in internment camps for ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in the region were subject to rape and torture.
China’s foreign ministry said the report had no factual basis. The Global Times said in an editorial on Friday that the BBC had “seriously violated journalistic ethics”.