By Guy Faulconbridge and Tony Munroe
LONDON/BEIJING (Reuters) - Britain's media regulator on Thursday revoked a Chinese TV licence after it concluded that the Chinese Communist Party had ultimate editorial responsibility for the channel while Beijing lodged an official complaint over the BBC's COVID-19 coverage.
Britain and China have been exchanging barbs for months over Beijing's crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, concerns over the security of Huawei technology and the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China’s remote Xinjiang region.
After an investigation, the British regulator Ofcom concluded that China Global Television Network's (CGTN), an English language international Chinese channel, was ultimately controlled by the Communist Party.
"Our investigation showed that the licence for China Global Television Network is held by an entity which has no editorial control over its programmes," Ofcom said.
"We are unable to approve the application to transfer the licence to China Global Television Network Corporation because it is ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, which is not permitted under UK broadcasting law."
CGTN, in a statement early on Friday, said it "expresses its disappointment in and strong opposition to" the Ofcom ruling, and added that it complies with laws and regulations.
Within minutes of the Ofcom statement, China said it had lodged "stern representations" to the British Broadcasting Corp over what it said was "fake news" coverage of COVID-19, and urged the broadcaster to publicly apologise.
China's foreign ministry complained about coverage broadcast on Jan. 29 about the coronavirus, saying that the BBC had recently "linked the pandemic to politics" and "rehashed theories about covering up by China".
It said the publicly funded BBC used a clip to say the Chinese virus prevention department had used violence to enforce the law, when it was actually a clip about a anti-terrorism exercise.
"China urges the BBC Beijing bureau to take China’s position seriously," the ministry said. The BBC, it said, should "stop harbouring ideological bias, stop smearing China, uphold professional ethics, and do objective, fair reporting on China."
The BBC said it stood by its "accurate and fair reporting of events in China and totally rejects these unfounded accusations of fake news or ideological bias".
"The BBC is the world's most trusted international broadcaster, reporting to a global audience of more than 400m people weekly without fear or favour," its statement added.
(Reporting by Aishwarya Nair in Bengaluru, Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden in London and Tony Munroe in Beijing; Editing by Jon Boyle, Kate Holton and Nick Macfie)