Image courtesy of Tim Loudon
BBC World News will be banned from broadcasting in China, the country’s National Radio and Television Administration announced Feb. 12. The announcement came one week after Ofcom, Britain’s broadcasting regulator, rescinded the broadcasting license of a Chinese state-owned media news channel, China Global Television Network (CGTN).
Ofcom’s decision to withdraw CGTN’s license came after an investigation into the license holder for CGTN, Star China Media Limited (SCML). The investigation concluded that SCML did not meet the U.K.’s legal requirement that the company have “editorial oversight” over CGTN.
Under these laws, license holders cannot be controlled by political bodies. Ofcom stated that they couldn’t grant an application to transfer the license over to China Global Television Network Corporation (CGTNC) as its investigation concluded that CGTNC is being controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.
The Chinese Radio and Television Administration said that since the network “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.” However, the statement does not mention any specific rules that BBC allegedly breached.
BBC World News was mainly viewable through cable TV in certain locations, such as hotels and apartments mainly occupied by foreigners. Still, the move to fully ban BBC from broadcasting received pushback from many concerned with press freedom.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted that China’s decision was an “unacceptable” move against press freedom. The European Union also released a statement saying they’re dedicated to “safeguarding media freedom and pluralism”, calling on China to reverse the ban.
China’s decision to ban BBC World News in mainland China is 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.— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) February 11, 2021
BBC Director-General Tim Davie stressed the importance of press freedom as well in a statement on Twitter and called the decision from China “deeply worrying.”
Statement from Tim Davie, BBC Director-General, on media freedom in China and the banning of @BBCWorldService in Hong Kong: https://t.co/MtXR1VoJYq pic.twitter.com/uVlDXAkxys— BBC Press Office (@bbcpress) February 13, 2021
In response to this pushback, the Chinese Embassy in the U.K. claimed the ban was put forth because of BBC’s “relentless fabrication.” An embassy spokesperson repudiated the “so-called ‘media freedom,’” saying that it is “nothing but a pretext and disguise to churn out disinformation and slanders against other countries.”
The ban on BBC also came after Chinese officials criticized BBC’s reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic in China, saying that the BBC had “rehashed theories about covering up by China.” Officials also criticized BBC reports of allegations of sexual abuse, forced labor and torture against the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the western region of Xinjiang.
Just days before Chinese officials made the announcement about the ban on BBC, the social media app Clubhouse was blocked in China. Before access to the app was restricted, a range of sensitive topics were discussed on Clubhouse, including censorship by the government, human rights abuses against the Uighurs, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. The discussions largely occurred between those in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, as well as members of the Chinese diaspora located around the globe.
Soon after Clubhouse was banned, some users continued to use the app through virtual private networks, or VPNs.
Clubhouse has also been a source of controversy after concerns about user privacy surfaced. A recent report by the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) said the app relied on software infrastructure provided by Agora, a Shanghai-based technology company. The report warned that the company potentially has access to audio from Clubhouse, and under Chinese cybersecurity law, might have to comply with requests for data from the Chinese government.
“Over the next 72 hours, we are rolling out changes to add additional encryption and blocks to prevent Clubhouse clients from ever transmitting pings to Chinese servers,” Clubhouse said in response to the SIO report.