The United States has condemned China for banning the broadcast of the BBC World News, saying China should allow the public full access to the internet and media.
The ban is the latest in a string of disputes between Beijing and overseas media, including the arrests of an Australian journalist and a news assistant for Bloomberg News in China, and the expulsion of journalists from several American outlets.
“We absolutely condemn [China’s] decision to ban BBC World News. [China] maintains one of the most controlled, most oppressive, least free information spaces in the world,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday.
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“It’s troubling that as [China] restricts outlets and platforms from operating freely in China, Beijing’s leaders use free and open media environments overseas to promote misinformation.”
China’s National Radio and Television Administration said BBC World News was not allowed to continue its service “within Chinese territory” because it failed to meet the country’s broadcasting requirements and the regulatory body would not accept the channel’s broadcast application for the new year.
Hours later, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), the special administrative region’s public broadcasting service, said it would suspend relay of the BBC World Service from Friday. It had previously been aired daily from 11pm until 7am.
RTHK’s ban triggered debate in mainland China, with some online users saying that under the “one country, two systems” principle that governs Hong Kong, the special administrative region was supposed to have a high degree of autonomy of its internal affairs.
“Hong Kong and Macau broadcasters need the approval of China’s National Radio and Television Administration? Please make sure you understand what is one country, two systems first,” a Weibo user named Quan Ruzhe said.
In a tweet on Friday, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also criticised China’s ban, saying it “will only damage China’s reputation in the eyes of the world”.
BBC News expressed disappointment with the decision.
Beijing said BBC reports had damaged China’s interests and ethnic unity. But the ban was widely seen as retaliation for Britain revoking the broadcasting licence of China Global Television Network (CGTN) last week, after an investigation found the state-owned Chinese channel was ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and therefore violated British laws.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said the reasons given by Beijing for the ban seemed to send a warning to foreign media.
“The FCC is concerned that such language is intended to send 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,” it said.
The BBC has published a series of reports that allege Beijing’s policies in the far western region of Xinjiang against Uygurs and other ethnic minorities included detention, indoctrination and forced labour. One report early this month alleged that women detainees in Xinjiang were subjected to sexual abuse and torture.
Beijing says the camps in the region are vocational training centres and its policies are meant as counterterrorism and poverty reduction measures.
The BBC has long been banned from broadcasting news to the general public in China and was only available at some hotels and homes. It was not clear how big of an impact the latest ban would have.
Beijing was also involved in a tit for tat over journalists’ access with the US last year, with the Trump administration changing visa rules for Chinese journalists and state media organisations in the US. China retaliated by expelling the journalists from three American outlets.
Tensions have also been high over the arrest of two news employees in China. Australian-Chinese journalist Cheng Lei, who worked for CGTN, was formally charged on Monday with “illegally supplying state secrets overseas” after almost six months of detention, and Haze Han, a Chinese national who worked for the American outlet Bloomberg, has been detained on suspicion of “national security” offences.
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