China bans BBC after CGTN taken off air in Britain

Foreign Affairs

The BBC’s TV news broadcasts have never been available to ordinary Chinese households, but you could watch them via satellite in five-star hotels and luxury apartment complexes. No longer.

Modified from photo by Fran Jacquier.

In a statement time-stamped 00:00 on February 12, 2021 — Chinese New Year’s Day — China’s broadcast regulator announced (in Chinese) that the BBC’s satellite TV news channel had “violated the requirements of news to be truthful and fair, harmed China’s national interests and undermined China’s national unity,” and therefore would be denied “landing in the new year.” 

  • State-run propaganda tabloid Global Times immediately published a 1,000-word article celebrating the ban. 
  • British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called it “an unacceptable curtailing of media freedom.”

The ban is a widely expected retaliation: On February 4, the U.K. revoked the broadcast license of international Chinese state station CGTN after finding it was “ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”

  • The Chinese Foreign Ministry has also recently complained (in Chinese) about the BBC’s COVID-19 coverage, and a report alleging systematic rape in Xinjiang detention camps, which the Foreign Ministry called “lies and misinformation cooked up by anti-China forces” (English, Chinese). 

It could have been worse for the BBC. The ban won’t affect most Chinese households, which never had the BBC anyway — like CNN and other international broadcasters, the BBC’s programming was only available in a small number of high-end hotels and specially licensed venues in major cities. And so far, Beijing does not seem to be threatening to eject any BBC journalists. 

But the ban is another tightening of the noose. Things can always get worse for the news media in China, and they probably will. 

More: BBC News banned in China, one week after CGTN’s license withdrawn in UK / CNN; China bars BBC programs after British ban on Chinese broadcaster / NYT