China has banned the BBC World News television channel from the few outlets where it could be seen in the country in possible retaliation after British regulators revoked the license of state-owned Chinese broadcaster CGTN.
The move Thursday was largely symbolic, because BBC World was shown only on cable TV systems in hotels and apartment compounds for foreigners and some other businesses. But it draws foreign news outfits deeper into Beijing’s growing conflict with Western governments following last year’s expulsion of reporters for American newspapers.
The National Radio and Television Administration said BBC World News coverage of China violated requirements that news reporting be true and impartial. It accused the BBC of undermining China’s national interests and ethnic solidarity.
The Chinese government has criticized BBC reports about the COVID-19 pandemic in China and about allegations of forced labor and sexual abuse in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, home to Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups.
“The channel fails to meet the requirements to broadcast in China as an overseas channel,” the Radio and Television Administration said in a statement dated midnight Friday.
It gave no indication whether BBC reporters in China would be affected.
The Communist Beijing government last year expelled foreign reporters for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times during disputes with the Trump administration.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, in a written statement, called the move “an unacceptable curtailing of media freedom” that would “only damage China’s reputation in the eyes of the world.”
The Chinese Embassy, responding to Raab, defended the decision as “legitimate and reasonable” and accused the BBC of “malicious attacks” against China’s ruling Communist Party.
“We urge the BBC to abandon the Cold War mentality, stop fabricating and spreading disinformation,” the embassy said in a statement.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China expressed concern about the accusation the BBC hurt “national interests” and “national unity.”
That might be 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,” the group said in a statement.
In Hong Kong, government broadcaster RTHK said it would stop carrying BBC World broadcasts on Friday. It cited the main regulator’s order, which applied to all Chinese territory.
The move reflects the Communist Party’s increased control over the former British colony over the past two years. That has prompted complaints that Beijing is violating the autonomy and Western-style civil liberties Hong Kong was promised when it returned to China in 1997.
Britain’s communications watchdog, Ofcom, revoked the license for CGTN, China’s English-language satellite news channel, on Feb. 4. It cited links to the Communist Party among other reasons.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Ofcom acted on “political grounds based on ideological bias.”
Losing its British license was a setback for CGTN, which is part of the party’s efforts to promote its views abroad. CGTN has a European operations hub in London.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price called it troubling that media operations were restricted inside China while “Beijing’s leaders use free and open media environments overseas to promote misinformation.”
Price called on the Chinese government to allow its population free access to the media and the internet.
“Media freedom is an important right and it’s key to ensuring an informed citizenry, an informed citizenry that can share their ideas freely amongst themselves and with their leaders,” Price said.