Why UK’s ban on CGTN is a danger to the people of China and the West

By John Ross

An open letter against the British ban on TV broadcasting by China’s CGTN has been signed by well-known British and Western journalists and media figures. They include multiple award-winning journalist John Pilger, three-time Oscar winner screenwriter and director Oliver Stone, prominent international anti-war campaigner Tariq Ali and other editors, journalists and media personalities. These individuals are only able to do this because they are sufficiently eminent that it is impossible for them to be effectively victimized. It is well understood by other less eminent journalists and media figures that were they to protest against the ban on CGTN, which they oppose, their careers would be brought to a halt by their present or potential future employers.

Both Britain’s ban on CGTN, and these well-understood threats of victimization, show clearly that the claim that what exists in the West is a “free media” is entirely untrue. The struggle against the British ban on CGTN is important not only as an issue in itself but as part of more general situation in the West.

The Western governments and media claim that they support a “free media.” But in reality, this is only maintained provided that views outside the policies of Western governments are considered marginal. The moment critical voices begin to achieve significant support efforts will be made to suppress outlets for them.

Britain’s ban on CGTN illustrates this. China’s economic development has been so rapid that a relatively short period of time ago China was not considered an important market and its population was considered as very low-paid by Western standards. At that time British companies were not very concerned to do business with China and the British people were not very interested in the issue of China. Therefore, as those in Britain who were interested in China were marginal, there was no need to suppress CGTN.

But this situation has now changed. China is the world’s second largest economy and by far the most rapidly growing major one. In 2020 it was the only one to experience positive growth. Under these conditions numerous British companies are extremely interested in doing business with China. China has become the world’s greatest source of outward-bound tourism – of great interest to such a frequently visited country as Britain. Chinese students are a mainstay of British universities.

It was only a few years ago that prime minister David Cameron was promoting a “golden” period of Britain-China relations. Facts related to China’s rapidly rising living standards, such as its world leading position in e-commerce, are becoming better known. Under these conditions, interest in China in Britain is no longer confined to extremely marginal groups. Consequently, a policy of a “free media” in regard to China could no longer be tolerated by the British government.

A witch hunt against groups giving objective information on China has therefore been growing for some time. Writers presenting alternatives to anti-China narratives in the British press, who in the past were published, are now excluded. Business organizations promoting relations with China have been presented in the British media as malign agents of foreign influence, rather than companies wanting to make profits. British telecommunications companies, which wanted to do business with China’s Huawei, have been forbidden to do so by the British government. The ban on CGTN broadcasting in Britain is therefore only the culmination of a process.

It is an indication of the purely political character of this government decision that Britain is the only European country to ban CGTN. France, for example, even after the UK decision, ratified the broadcasting license for CGTN.

The difference between these two decisions is clearly that France has been pursuing the EU policy of seeking good economic relations with China as symbolized by this year’s signing of the comprehensive China-EU investment treaty. Britain, in contrast, has increasingly pursued a policy of subordination to the U.S. – for example, under U.S. pressure, overturning its previous decision to allow Huawei to participate in the development of Britain’s 5G telecommunications system.

But this suppression of the British broadcasting rights of CGTN is damaging not only to China but to the British people. As the open letter notes we are in “the context of the threat of a new cold war against China. At such a moment, it is crucial to… accurately comprehend the positions of the chief actors in the global situation. Denying a voice to China’s CGTN hampers this.”

Experience shows that very dangerous policies, in countries such as the U.S. and UK, are accompanied by attempts to suppress information regarding the international situation. This was seen in the run up to both the U.S. Vietnam War and the equally disastrous invasion of Iraq. In such cases the fight against the suppression of information in the media was part of the fight against these dangerous policies. The same applies to the attempted new Cold War against China.

That is why the No Cold War campaign strongly welcomes leading media figures speaking out against the British ban on CGTN.

The above article was initially published as an opinion piece here on CGTN. John Ross is a senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.