Forced confessions – on UK TV
Victims paraded in handcuffs for show trials beamed into British homes – by China’s state broadcaster. The US says its staff are spies. So why ARE we letting Beijing spend millions building a huge UK operation?
ASHEN-FACED and manhandled by a burly policeman, a British fraud investigator thousands of miles from home admits to trumped-up ‘crimes’ in a Chinese courtroom before being sentenced to years in a hellhole prison.
The chilling forced confession from Peter Humphrey was seen on China’s state TV – but, shockingly, was also aired on the regime’s English-language news TV channel broadcast to millions of homes in Britain.
This is just one of many horrific instances of brutality and bias that The Mail on Sunday has found on Chinese Global Television Network (CGTN) as Beijing pours vast sums of money into an enormous expansion of the superficially respectable propaganda outlet on British soil. Our investigation has uncovered: At least nine forced confessions by prisoners paraded in Chinese courtrooms have been broadcast in Britain, only one of which has been investigated by broadcasting regulator Ofcom;
Despite claiming to be objective, CGTN news reports ignore criticism of China and its humanrights record while flattering autocratic President Xi Jinping;
In the US, security warnings have led the authorities to register CGTN and its employees as ‘foreign agents’, yet in Britain the channel is still being treated as an ordinary broadcaster.
The disturbing revelations about the channel, which critics have likened to Russian President Putin’s mouthpiece TV network Russia Today, come amid growing concern over China using its huge wealth and technological might to gain ever greater influence abroad.
Last week, the head of MI6, Alex Younger, said: ‘We need to decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies and these platforms in an environment where some of our allies have taken quite a definite position.’ And just days ago the boss of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei – which has a pivotal role in the next generation mobile network Britain will soon be using – was arrested over suspicions of fraud.
Mr Humphrey’s courtroom ordeal in 2013 came after he arrived in China to investigate corruption at Glaxosmithkline. He was arrested on trumped-up charges of breaking data laws. He was manacled and forced to read from a script as he admitted to his fictitious crimes.
In his forced confession in court, beamed to British TVs, he said: ‘I sometimes used illegal means to obtain personal information.
‘I very much regret this and apologise to the Chinese government.’
He spent the next two years in a Chinese jail where he was beaten, tortured and drugged.
Other disturbing cases of forced confessions shown on CGTN include a Swedish bookseller still in prison on bogus charges of drinkdriving and a journalist jailed for ten months for exposing corruption at a state-owned firm.
After his release from jail and return to Britain, Mr Humphrey was horrified to learn that his travesty of a trial had been broadcast in Britain. With the support of civilrights group Safeguard Defenders, he has gone to Ofcom calling for CGTN to be taken off air.
Safeguard Defenders’ director Peter Dahlin – a Swedish activist who himself was forced to confess on TV to ‘endangering state security’ by supporting human rights in China – said: ‘We’re not looking to close CGTN or stop it broadcasting, but we hope that Ofcom can apply enough pressure to put an end to the broadcast of forced confessions.’
But far from being cowed by the criticism, CGTN is pressing ahead with its plans for an enormous expansion. Earlier this year, the channel launched a major recruitment drive to hire 350 Londonbased journalists to fill a sprawling new production centre in West London. One advertisement for a director of news described CGTN’s mission as providing ‘objective, balanced, and impartial currentaffairs content, reporting the news from a Chinese perspective’. According to plans seen by The Mail on Sunday, the broadcaster intends to fill the entire 11th floor of a building in Chiswick and install an enormous satellite dish on the roof, with the help of property developers JAC.
The channel is currently available on Sky and Freesat – which together provide channels to about 10million British households – and broadcasts mainly from Beijing.
The station has huge ambitions to compete with global broadcasters such as the BBC and CNN and is central to China’s soft-power push. Since 2008, the state has ploughed more than £5billion into efforts to seize ‘discourse power’ from the West. Xinhua, China’s main news agency, has established more foreign bureaux in the past decade than any rival, boosting its total to 180. CGTN is just one arm of Voice
of China, a new media group that includes other television and radio services, and has been labelled the ‘tongue and throat’ of China’s ruling Communist Party.
The difference in the ‘Chinese perspective’ was most evident in CGTN’s coverage this year of disturbing plans to abolish presidential term limits in China’s constitution. While the Western media quickly pointed out that the plans could open the door to President Xi Jinping’s indefinite rule, CGTN reported that ‘leaders from around the world have been sending congratulations’. Last year, a series of CGTN broadcasts featured prominent Chinese journalists accusing Westerners of being ‘brainwashed’ by ‘Western values of journalism’, which were depicted as irresponsible and detrimental to society. Luo Jun, an editor at Xinhua, sang the praises of censorship, saying: ‘We have to take responsibility for what we report. If that’s being considered as censorship, I think it’s good censorship.’
But beyond the bias, the grand plans and the arrival of CGTN in London have horrified security experts who warn that Britain is abetting human right abuses and risks welcoming spies masquerading as journalists.
‘We should be vigilant of CGTN and not treat it as a media outlet but what it is: a part of the repressive Chinese Communist Party apparatus,’ said Jonas Parello-Plesner, a senior fellow at the Washington DC-based Hudson Institute. ‘Abroad, their employees have more in common with spies than with journalists.’
In September, the US Justice Department was so suspicious of CGTN and Xinhua that they were forced to register as ‘foreign agents’. The Hoover Institution, a leading Washington-based think tank, warned that ‘Britain’s response to China’s attempts to insinuate itself within Britain’s critical infrastructure, universities, civil society, political system and think tanks has been scattershot at best’.
In his Hudson Institute report, Mr Parello-Plesner wrote: ‘The People’s Republic of China has a distinctive system that blurs the lines between classical espionage, clandestine operations and influenceseeking. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) goal is to quell dissenting and negative voices at home and abroad and influence civil society and governments abroad. With deep coffers and the help of Western enablers, the CCP uses money, rather than Communist ideology, as a powerful source of influence, creating parasitic relationships of long-term dependence.
‘CCP interference and influence operations target the vulnerabilities in democratic systems. Retired Western politicians willingly peddle pro-CCP agendas for cash and other benefits.’
Ofcom has said it is examining Mr Humphrey’s show trial ‘as a priority’. It has previously ruled against channels named in similar complaints. In January, it fined Al Arabiya, based in Dubai, £120,000 after it broadcast footage of a Bahraini opposition politician confessing to offences while awaiting retrial.
In 2011, Iran’s Press TV was slapped with a £100,000 fine after it broadcast an interview with an imprisoned journalist conducted under duress. The following year, its UK licence was revoked.
A spokesperson for Ofcom last night told The Mail on Sunday: ‘We have received a complaint which we are assessing as a priority. If, following investigation, we find our rules have been broken we would take the necessary enforcement action.’
After he was paraded, handcuffed, in a Chinese court in 2013 on trumped-up charges of breaking data laws, Peter Humphrey endured two years in jail where he was tortured and drugged.
CHen YongzHou was accused of defaming the Communist Party after uncovering corruption at a state-owned company. He was forced to ‘confess’ before he was jailed for 22 months in 2013.
NEW HQ: CGTN will occupy a whole floor of this building in West London
IN 2015, socialite Guo Meimei was forced to confess to running an illegal gambling den and working as a call girl. She was jailed for five years. JAILED: GAMBLING
JAILED: CAR CRIME PublISher Gui Minhai vanished in 2015. When he reappeared it was on state TV ‘confessing’ to causing a death by drink-driving. he is still in jail.
JAILED: FRAUD lIu TAI-TING, 27, was cleared of fraud in a court in Kenya, but after being deported to beijing was forced to confess and jailed for 15 years.
JAILED: DRUGS ACTOr Ko Chen-tung was made to confess to drug use in 2014 after he appeared in an anti-drug campaign video. he was detained for two weeks.