Chinese news channel dealt blow as former Ofcom regulator quits

Exclusive: Nick Pollard’s resignation could hit CGTN’s UK expansion plans

China’s state-owned global news channel CGTN has been dealt a blow to its UK expansion plans following the resignation of a former regulator hired in the wake of Ofcom’s investigation into allegations the broadcaster aired prisoners’ forced confessions.

Nick Pollard, a former non-executive member of Ofcom’s board, was taken by CGTN last year as a consultant to help it abide by television rules as it built a new European base, but has left due to his concerns about the impartiality of the broadcaster’s coverage of the protests in Hong Kong.

CGTN is the international channel of China Central Television and is currently the subject of an Ofcom investigation that could end in sanctions or the loss of its licence following claims that it aired forced confessions.

They include one complaint made by Angela Gui, the daughter of a Hong Kong bookseller who vanished in 2015, and another by Peter Humphrey, a British corporate investigator who is claiming CGTN’s UK licence should be revoked because it aired his forced confession when he was imprisoned in China.

After Humphrey’s case emerged last November, Pollard, who also oversaw the BBC’s 2012 Jimmy Savile inquiry, was hired to help CGTN as it geared up for the launch next month of an expanded European operation based in Chiswick, London.

The base comes under Ofcom’s jurisdiction so the hiring of Ofcom’s former content board chairman was seen as a wise move by CGTN to ensure it navigated UK broadcasting regulations.

At the time the Financial Times said: “The move could help China Global Television Network’s battle to avoid being stripped of its UK licence and to preserve its ambition of breaking into Europe’s news market.”

But according to newsroom sources, Pollard was unhappy with some of CGTN’s coverage – which the broadcaster describes as “reporting news from a Chinese perspective” – particularly of the recent protests in Hong Kong.

Earlier this month his concern was evident when he objected on Twitter to a comment made by one of CGTN’s presenters, Liu Xin, about Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford. Crawford was filmed recently confronting a Hong Kong police officer in riot gear for questioning someone who was marked clearly as a member of the press.

Xin commented: “She has the right to report the news but not the right to confront the police, obstructing their work in essence. In that sense, she has lost her neutrality as press.”

On 1 September Pollard, who worked with Crawford at Sky News, tweeted back: “I think you are completely wrong, Liu Xin. Alex Crawford is one of best, bravest and fairest reporters in the world.” He said her coverage of events in Hong Kong had been outstanding, adding: “Very fine journalism and NO loss of neutrality.”

Pollard’s departure will raise new questions about the actions of the broadcaster, which could prove awkward this week when it hosts an event designed to boost its profile at a conference held by the Royal Television Society.

The launch of the new UK base for CGTN Europe is designed to expand the network’s coverage.

According to CGTN’s website: “The European production centre based in Chiswick Park, London, joins centres in Beijing, Washington DC and Nairobi, Kenya, to form a truly diverse, global media platform.

“Our mission is to create a better understanding of international events across the world, bridging continents and bringing a more balanced view to global news reporting. Ultimately, we believe facts should speak for themselves and are committed to neutral, objective reporting.”

Pollard declined to comment. CGTN had not commented at time of publication.

• This article was amended on 18 September 2019. The original version incorrectly referred to Nick Pollard as a former Ofcom executive. He was actually a non-executive member of Ofcom’s board.


Tara Conlan

The GuardianTramp

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