UK regulator fines China state-owned broadcaster for breach of privacy rules
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UK regulator fines China state-owned broadcaster for breach of privacy rules

The Office of Communications (Ofcom), UK’s communication services regulator, on Friday imposed two fines of £100,000 on Chinese state-owned broadcaster Star China Media Limited (SCML) for failing to comply with the country’s broadcasting rules on fairness and privacy.

In January 2016, the SCML’s CCTV News service (later renamed the China Global Television Network, or CGTN) had broadcast a news program that reported on Gui Minhai, who, after being a “fugitive” for over 10 years, had apparently voluntarily returned to China to serve his prison sentence. The program included footage where Gui was shown to express regret for his actions. A similar program was broadcast in February 2018 with footage of Gui describing his experience prior to his arrest and after being released from prison. His face was shown unobscured. In December 2018, his daughter complained to Ofcom on his behalf about the “unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy” arising from the material obtained and broadcast in these two programs.

In the adjudication, OfCom found that CCTV and CGTN’s program had the potential to materially and adversely affect viewers’ perception of Gui, and SCML as the licensee did not take sufficient steps to ensure that material facts were not disregarded or omitted in a way that was unfair to him. Further, they had violated his legitimate expectation of privacy, by filming and broadcasting footage of him without his consent.

Similarly, in another case, CGTN broadcast a report on the Chinese police releasing CCTV footage of a Mr. Cheng that showed him “soliciting prostitutes” and his trial in August. CGTN reported that while Cheng had claimed he was tortured in detention during a BBC interview, he acknowledged that he had violated the law. The program included footage of Cheng making this acknowledgement as well as portions of the CCTV footage released by the police. Cheng was also named in the programme and his face was shown unobscured. Upon adjudication, Ofcom upheld Cheng’s complaint about unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy.

SCML has thus been sanctioned for its services CCTV News and CGTN with a financial penalty of £100,000 payable to HM Paymaster General for each case. The move follows OfCom’s decision to withdraw CGTN’s license for broadcasting in the UK in February 2021.