The British communications regulator Ofcom’s broadcast ban on China Global Television Network (CGTN) in the UK will have significant political and economic repercussions.
Last week the Scotsman reported quoting an Ofcom spokesperson as saying: “Our investigation showed that the license for China Global Television Network is held by an entity which has no editorial control over its programmes. We are unable to approve the application to transfer the license to China Global Television Network Corporation because it is ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, which is not permitted under UK broadcasting law. We’ve provided CGTN with numerous opportunities to come into compliance, but it has not done so. We now consider it appropriate to withdraw the license for CGTN to broadcast in the UK.”
Before looking at the implications of the decision to ban CGTN, let’s briefly consider how Ofcom sells its products.
While technically an independent body on paper, the overview of the socio-political environment in which Ofcom operates clearly points to the fact that it is not free of political influence.
Also, Ofcom’s powers are granted by the British government and under the doctrine of Parliamentary Supremacy, the British regime can overrule its regulations at any time.
It is widely known, for instance, that Al Jazeera English is a TV channel of the Qatari regime.
Unless, of course Ofcom can argue that an autocratic regime in Doha does not interfere in Al Jazeera’s journalistic work, it gives the network money without strings attached.
Even moderately informed people would find such an argument laughable.
The primary reason Al Jazeera’s operations are not deeply scrutinized by Ofcom is because the Qatari regime is an ally of Britain.
Remember, last year Digital Secretary Baroness Morgan said: “We will give the regulator [Ofcom] the powers it needs to lead the fight for an internet that remains vibrant and open but with the protections, accountability and transparency people deserve.”
Those familiar with how state institutions function understand that they do not simply grant additional powers to “impartial” organizations.
In 1985, the Observer newspaper reported that the BBC staff appointments were regularly vetted by the security service MI5.
The BBC itself admitted to such practice and stated that “vetting had been going on since 1937.”
While the BBC now makes the claim that such vetting no longer takes place, are we to simply accept it?
Why hasn’t Ofcom instituted a rigorous monitoring process to make sure that the BBC no longer functions as a tool of British intelligence services?
Why doesn’t the BBC get banned from broadcasting until it proves that it ended its cooperation with the MI5?
A lot more can be said about Ofcom’s on paper “impartiality”, but we need to focus on the political dimension of CGTN’s ban.
The broadcasting ban is not a simple policy pressure tactic on China.
The political symbolism of the ban is far greater than it appears.
Essentially it is a strategic decision that China is going to be treated as a rogue state and subjected to all sorts of pressures.
Beijing is unlikely to accept public humiliation without exacting a price.
It is, therefore, likely to retaliate politically and economically.
China will do its outmost to reverse the ban and if successful, Ofcom’s mask of being free of political influence will fall and it will be publicly humiliated.
In order to reverse the ban, China will most probably impose stringent rules on British media organizations working in China.
Beijing is also likely to use its economic power to punish the decayed empire to remind London that it is just a little island state with a weak economy to boot.
Given that the West’s business elites are eager to do business with China—that is where the money is—it will not be surprising to find that in the coming months British businesses will experience difficulties operating in China.