China’s CGTN is attempting a backdoor attempt to return to UK screens, as Ofcom’s licence revocation has consequences in Europe.
CGTN had its licence revoked due to a breach in UK broadcasting rules, prohibiting political entities from directly controlling a channel. As a result of new post-Brexit rules, where an Ofcom licence remains valid in some European countries, CGTN has also been pulled from some European networks.
The Financial Times first reported at the weekend that CGTN is attempting to register a licence with the French regulator CSA. As France is part of the Council of Europe, in addition to the EU, any licence awarded would also be valid in the UK, which is also part of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the Council’s European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ECTT).
Following Brexit, the UK regressed to the ECTT, which pre-dates EU rules. This means that a UK Ofcom licence is still valid in most European countries (see below), but no longer in Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Sweden. In turn, broadcasters licensed in ECTT signatory countries may broadcast their channels to the UK without needing an Ofcom licence. Since the ECTT is a decades-old treaty, it only applies to linear channels.
In France, the Chinese state broadcaster is hoping to convince the CSA to give a licence for its English news service. France does not have the same restrictions over state licence ownership as Ofcom.
Under ECTT rules, country of jurisdiction is affected by how and where a broadcaster is established. This may also include where a channel is uplinked from. As CGTN already operates a French language channel on Astra 19.2E, and is uplinked by French company Globecast, the broadcaster may hope to persuade the CSA that it is sufficiently established in France for it to be licensed there. A French licence will give CGTN full access to all EU states, plus EEA states such as Norway as well as the UK through the ECTT.
European viewers affected by Ofcom’s decision
Following Ofcom’s licence revocation, Vodafone announced it had pulled both CGTN and CGTN Documentary from its cable networks in parts of Germany. At first, programmes were replaced by a ‘technical fault’ caption. A caption indicating ‘licensing issues’ replaced it a few days later. The company confirmed an investigation over the legal status of the channels is ongoing. CGTN Documentary was also pulled, despite the channel not being affected by Ofcom’s decision, and despite the fact the channel was not licenced by Ofcom, nor distributed on UK TV platforms. CGTN continues to broadcast on Astra 19.2E and Hotbird, where it is not affected by the licence revocation.
Should CGTN succeed in obtaining a French licence, it will be a setback for Ofcom’s attempts to regulate linear TV channels sponsored by foreign states. Foreign on-demand and streaming services fall outside of Ofcom’s scope. As a result, CGTN can continue broadcasting online to the UK.
Council of Europe countries that are signatory to the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ECTT)
Countries in bold are also EU member states
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Czech Republic,
- North Macedonia,
- Republic of Moldova,
- San Marino,