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SBS suspends broadcasts from Chinese state-run channels over 'forced confessions'

Helen Davidson in Taipei
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Australian public broadcaster SBS has suspended broadcasts from Chinese state media channels CGTN and CCTV, pending a review into human rights complaints.

SBS told the Guardian it was reviewing a complaint sent by human rights organisation Safeguard Defenders, which claimed CGTN and CCTV programs regularly shown on the multicultural broadcaster had in the past included dozens of forced confessions both domestically and internationally, in breach of the SBS code of conduct. It did not claim that SBS had aired any of the confessions.

SBS confirmed it had received a complaint from Safeguard Defenders, alerting it to “serious human rights concerns” surrounding its broadcast of Mandarin and English-language programs supplied by CGTN and CCTV.

Related: Death threats, distrust and racism: how anti-Chinese sentiment in Australia 'seeped into the mainstream'

“Given the serious concerns it raises, and the complexity of the material involved, we have made the decision to suspend the broadcast of the overseas-sourced CGTN and CCTV news bulletins while we undertake an assessment of these services,” an SBS spokesman said.

CGTN is the English and other languages broadcaster for state media broadcaster CCTV.

Programs from both stations that aired on SBS as part of its “Great Wall package” were among those found to have broadcast forced confessions of at least 56 people between 2013 and 2020, Safeguard Defenders said.

“These broadcasts involved the extraction, packaging and airing of forced and false confessions of prisoners held under conditions of duress and torture,” Safeguard Defenders said in its letter to SBS and Australian media regulator ACMA.

It said some subjects of the aired confessions were unable to consent to being filmed because they were arbitrarily detained. It said the lack of consent and the infringement of privacy breached SBS codes of conduct.

“In cases where the victim was aware that it may be released publicly, journalists from CCTV have themselves worked with police to extract and record the confessions, and not merely aired them, and CGTN has packaged them in English,” the letter said.

“As this violation of SBS’s code of conduct is not just an isolated occurrence but is systematic, intentional and widespread, in fact a deliberate policy, a complaint of a general character is being filed, with a request that SBS investigates CCTV-4 and CGTN’s failure to comply with regulation.”

The Guardian understands the letter was delivered to SBS on Thursday morning. By Friday, SBS had decided to suspend the broadcasts and initiate a review.

SBS’s decision follows a ruling by UK regulator, Ofcom, in February to strip CGTN of its local broadcast license after finding that the network was ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and had no editorial independence. Safeguard Defenders had also lodged complaints and provided evidence of CGTN’s practices to Ofcom.

In apparent retaliation, Chinese authorities subsequently banned broadcasts of BBC World News within mainland China and Hong Kong.