04.02.2023

Hong Kong joins China with ban on BBC World Service radio in apparent retaliation for Ofcom ruling

Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) – the former British territory’s own publicly-funded broadcaster, founded in 1928 and supposedly guaranteed editorial independence by charter – said it was suspending its relay of the BBC’s radio news programming.

RTHK’s Radio 4 station previously carried World Service programming for eight hours a night, while its R1 station ran a one-hour BBC programme once a week.

But the private Hong Kong platforms Cable TV and Now TV were still showing BBC World News on Friday, according to Reuters.

The decision came after China’s National Radio and Television Administration claimed that BBC World News’s reports on the country had “seriously violated” a requirement to be “truthful and fair” and had risked harming China’s interests and undermining its national unity, particularly its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and on the treatment of Uighur Muslims.

Before the ban, BBC World News was not included in most TV packages in mainland China but was available in some hotels and homes.

Responding, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said it appeared that Beijing was seeking to force foreign media to adhere to its agenda.

Noting China’s stated rationale, the FCCC said in a statement it was “concerned that such language is intended to send a warning to foreign media operating in China that they may face sanctions if their reporting does not follow the Chinese party line about Xinjiang and other ethnic minority regions.”

For its part, the BBC said it was “the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster and reports on stories from around the world fairly, impartially and without fear or favour”.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab called the bans “an unacceptable curtailing of media freedom”, adding: “China has some of the most severe restrictions on media and internet freedoms across the globe, and this latest step will only damage China’s reputation in the eyes of the world.”

Beijing’s move comes after it expelled a dozen journalists working for American news outlets in 2020, also barring them from simply relocating to Hong Kong.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told a briefing on Thursday that it was “troubling that as China restricts outlets and platforms from operating freely in China, Beijing’s leaders use free and open media environments overseas to promote misinformation”.

This month, the State Department said it was “deeply disturbed” by a BBC report of systematic rape and sexual abuse against Uighur women and other Muslims in internment camps in Xinjiang, accusations the superpower denied by insisting the story was “wholly without factual basis”.

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