CGTN’s Claims of Editorial Independence Questioned

Amid growing concerns over an expanding influence campaign being waged by Beijing through the global arms of state media outlets, the U.S. Department of Justice last year requested Xinhua and CGTN, the international branch of state broadcaster CCTV, to register as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Last month, CGTN submitted a filing, which declared it maintained “editorial independence from any state direction or control.” For The New York Times, Paul Mozur examines these claims and talks with employees in Washington about their relationship with Beijing:

Based in a glassy office building four blocks from the White House, CGTN America employs about 180 journalists — many of them Americans — devoted to covering the United States. It broadcasts seven hours of programming a day through cable and satellite providers like AT&T and Comcast. Its employees cover a wide variety of topics, from news to features to business, and occasionally win awards for their coverage.

[…] Current and former CGTN employees say editors in Beijing often dictated plans for covering China. American employees sometimes pushed back, they said, and Ms. Ma allowed some flexibility when Beijing’s orders didn’t specifically forbid or dictate content. But three people interviewed said they had little choice but to air clips when Beijing said so.

[…] The news organization “collaborates with the security and police organs to extract forced confessions from prisoners under extreme conditions of duress,” [Peter] Humphrey said, adding that the confession was packaged to “distort reality, intrude on privacy and fairness, and humiliate me.”

Chinese leaders get different treatment, said three current or former employees. During a 2014 visit by Mr. Xi to Greece, a clip that showed him getting off the plane with unruly hair was eradicated from broadcasts, one current employee said. [Source]

Humphrey is a British corporate investigator who spent almost two years in Chinese prison on charges of illegally obtaining and selling personal data. Humphrey’s “confession” had been broadcast on CGTN; before it was filmed, Humphrey claimed he was “drugged, chained to a chair, locked in a cage and then made to read out a statement written by the police in front of the cameras.” Such coerced and televised confessions have in recent years become a routine part of high-profile political cases. Humphrey is now leading an effort to get licenses for CCTV revoked in the U.K. Al Jazeera recently produced a video report on his campaign:

Some former detainees are now speaking up. They say their confessions were extracted under duress and that law enforcement officials dictated what they could or could not say.

These accusations come to light amid an ambitious expansion plan by CGTN, the international arm of China’s state broadcaster, CCTV. A global recruitment drive is under way, and a new European hub is set to open in London.

But there are now calls for the UK’s media watchdog to refuse the Chinese broadcaster’s request for a license because activists say it has collaborated with Chinese authorities to broadcast forced confessions. [Source]

On Twitter, Paul Mozur provides more details about his report on CGTN’s FARA filing, while others question whether CGTN is following all of FARA’s rules, even after filing:

Read more about Beijing’s evolving global media presence, via CDT.