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The EU is calling on China to reverse the ban on BBC World News.

Reuters, BEIJING

Thursday's change by China was largely symbolic, as BBC World was seen in hotels and apartment compounds for foreigners and some other businesses only on cable TV systems.

On Saturday, the European Union called on China to lift its ban on the television channel BBC World News, imposed in apparent retaliation for Britain's withdrawal of the license of the Chinese state-owned broadcaster CGTN.

In a statement, the EU said that the move by Beijing further limited "freedom of expression and access to the information within its borders," and violated both the Chinese Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The statement also claimed that the announcement by Hong Kong that its public broadcaster will also stop transmitting BBC broadcasts added to the "erosion of rights and freedoms ongoing" in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory after a sweeping new national security law was implemented last year."The EU remains strongly committed to safeguarding media freedom and pluralism, as well as to protecting online and offline freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and distribute information without interference of any kind," the statement said.

Although Britain is no longer part of the EU, it remains a member of the Council of Europe, which regulates the 1989 Broadcasting License Linking Agreement. China-based British, the US, and international correspondents have also expressed dismay at the BBC ban. Thursday's change by China was largely symbolic, as BBC World was seen in hotels and apartment compounds for foreigners and some other businesses only on cable TV systems. It comes, however, against the backdrop of the increasing dispute between Beijing and Western governments over a range of issues ranging from human rights to trade and the Covid-19 pandemic in which Chinese criticism of international media coverage has played a prominent role. The National Radio and Television Administration of China said the country's BBC World News coverage breached requirements that news reporting be true and unbiased, reflecting concerns about BBC stories about the initial response of the government to China's virus outbreak.

In the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang, home to Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, other complaints were about claims of forced labor and sexual assault. Specifically, the EU statement related the ban to BBC reporting on those subjects. It wasn't clear whether it would affect BBC reporters in China. In the midst of conflicts with the Trump administration and concerns about media criticism of the ruling Communist Party, Beijing ousted international reporters for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times last year.

On Feb. 4, Britain's media watchdog, Ofcom, revoked the license of CGTN, China's English-language satellite news channel, citing, among other factors, ties to the Communist Party.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that Ofcom operated on "political grounds based on ideological bias."

Losing its British license was a big blow to CGTN, which is part of the party's global campaign to spread its views and question China's Western media narratives, which it has poured massive resources into. CGTN has a London hub for European activities.

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