Will the British be able to watch China Global Television Network (CGTN) again? The battle has been raging since, on February 4, Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, withdrew its broadcasting license from the Chinese international channel, pushing the two satellite packages Sky and Freesat to remove it. Accused by the NGO Safeguards Defenders of propaganda, the channel, emblem of soft power Chinese, obviously trying to find a legal loophole in the European regulatory millefeuille.
In France, the Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA) has planned to discuss it at its plenary meeting on Wednesday March 3. In December 2020, CGTN wrote to her asking if it could come under its jurisdiction. Yet most of its audience is in the UK, although a French version of CGTN does exist.
But taking advantage of the CSA allows, for any extra-European channel broadcast on satellite, to be freely retransmitted in Europe and the United Kingdom, in accordance with the directive on audiovisual media services and the European Convention for Transfrontier Television. (which falls under the Council of Europe and not the European Union, and therefore includes the United Kingdom). For this, no need for a specific license, according to French law, as the CSA reminds us. It suffices to fulfill two technical conditions: to be broadcast on a French satellite and to transmit a signal from France. Editorial criteria are not taken into account.
Dissemination of forced confessions
However, CGTN fulfills these two conditions. “The channel is broadcast by several Eutelsat satellites, and in particular through its pan-European satellite. And the signal is emitted from France ”, confirms a spokesperson for the company. If the regulator has planned to provide a response to CGTN in the coming days, it should only be lip service.
“We fear that CGTN intends to use the license application in France to circumvent the illegal nature of its programs now established in another European jurisdiction”, expressed concern to the French regulator, Safeguards Defenders, on February 24.
The NGO has, since 2018, filed numerous complaints against CGTN and succeeded in obtaining its ban across the Channel by demonstrating its membership of the Chinese Communist Party. In its letter to the CSA, the NGO recalls its grievances and the shortcomings pinned by Ofcom, citing the treatment of demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2019 and the dissemination of forced confessions “Journalists, lawyers, NGO workers or other political targets ”.
On February 5, a Chinese government spokesperson called Ofcom’s withdrawal of the license as “Political manipulation”, reserving “The right to make decisions to safeguard the rights and interests of Chinese media”. On February 12, China banned the broadcast of the BBC news channel.
Even if it does not have a prior license to grant, the CSA, which says “Particularly vigilant against incitement to hatred, violence, the protection of minors and human dignity”, controls the content a posteriori. In 2004, the council banned Al-Manar, the Hezbollah channel.
Would a blessing from the CSA be an automatic pass for the UK to CGTN? “A priori, CGTN cannot bypass Ofcom with a license from the CSA, answers Gill Hind, of Enders Analysis, an audiovisual consultancy. Even though there is a pan-European transmission agreement, each country can impose additional restrictions, if they wish ”, she concludes.