China: Chinese embassy criticises BBC reporting as biased

China’s embassy in the United Kingdom has issued a letter to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) critiquing its reporting on China and urging the national broadcaster to “abandon bias”. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its UK affiliate, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), reject Chinese authorities’ repeated targeted attacks on the BBC and call for respect for freedom of the press internationally.

A general view of the headquarters of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in London. Credit: Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS/ AFP

On March 11, a spokesperson from the Chinese embassy in the UK said the embassy had sent a letter to BBC’s Radio 4 to express “strong dissatisfaction” with the report “The Disinformation Dragon”. The spokesperson said the report, which aired on March 9, included “groundless accusations against China” and urged the public broadcaster to “abandon bias, correct its mistake and report China in [an] objective, fair and balanced manner.”

During an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on March 11, the embassy’s Chargé d'Affaires, Yang Xiaoguang, went on the record to say the BBC’s reporting of China was “full of prejudice” and its reports on Xinjiang were “packed with lies.”

A BBC spokesman later said, “We completely reject these claims and stand by our journalism.” The spokesperson added that the BBC’s reporting on Xinjiang was “accurate and impartial.”

The public broadcaster has come under repeated fire from the Chinese authorities in recent months due to its coverage of Covid-19 in China and reportage on internment camps in the Xinjiang region where more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslims are reported to face forced detention and inhuman treatment.

On February 12, Beijing authorities banned BBC World News, which was previously allowed to air in specific facilities and foreign households in China - a move widely seen as retaliation for the revocation of the broadcasting licence of China’s state-owned China Global Television Network (CGTN) on February 4 by the British media regulator, the Office of Communications (Ofcom).

The latest representation filed by the Chinese embassy came days after the British Ambassador to China, Caroline Wilson, penned an article posted on the British embassy’s WeChat account saying critical reporting on Chinese authorities does not imply hatred for China. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Wilson to Beijing on March 9, with the ministry’s spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, later denouncing Wilson’s article as reflecting her “deep-rooted ideological prejudices.”

Disputes on Covid-19, Hong Kong and mobile provider Huawei have continued to sour relations between London and Beijing over the past year. The British Foreign Ministry expressed its concern over China’s imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong and plan to push for electoral reforms in the city. The UK’s decision to phase out Huawei 5G kit installations has also strained relations.

The NUJ general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, said: “The latest wave of criticism and affected outrage pouring from the Chinese authorities is clearly part of a strategic upping of the ante against journalism and press freedom. Attacking as false the reporting in Radio 4’s ‘The Disinformation Dragon’ is predictable and baseless. Now more than ever, the world needs honest and trustworthy news and information. All who care about media freedom should stand firm in opposing the ongoing attempts by the Chinese government to impede and undermine reporting.”

The IFJ said, “News organisations are charged with the duties to report on current events and monitor government activities. This is a pattern of behaviour we are witnessing from Chinese embassies around the world. It is unacceptable that the Beijing authorities continue levelling arbitrary accusations against the media in this way.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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