The BBC also came under renewed fire from Chinese officials after Britain’s media regulator concluded that China’s Communist Party was the ultimate editorial authority for CGTN.

People arrive and depart from Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, in London, Britain, July 2, 2015.
People arrive and depart from Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, in London, Britain, July 2, 2015. (Reuters)

The BBC has come under renewed fire from Chinese officials in a diplomatic dispute a day after Britain's media regulator revoked the TV licence of Chinese state media outlet CGTN.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Friday criticised Britain's Ofcom ruling as "politicising the issue on a technical point" and warned that China reserves the right to make a "necessary response."

Britain and China have exchanged barbs for months over China's crackdown on dissent in the former British colony of Hong Kong, concern over the security of Huawei technology, and the treatment of ethnic Uighur Muslims in China's Xinjiang region.

On Thursday, Britain's Ofcom revoked the licence of CGTN, the English-language sister channel of state broadcaster CCTV, after concluding that China's ruling Communist Party had ultimate editorial responsibility for the channel.

Minutes later, China's Foreign Ministry accused the British Broadcasting Corp of pushing "fake news" in its Covid-19 reporting, demanding an apology and saying that the broadcaster had politicised the pandemic and "rehashed theories about covering up by China."

The BBC said its reporting is fair and unbiased.

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'Bad-mouthing Broadcasting Corporation'

China's state media has ramped up attacks on the British public broadcaster in recent weeks.

"I highly suspect that the BBC has been closely instigated by the intelligence agencies of the US and the UK. It has become a bastion of the Western public opinion war against China," Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Communist Party-backed tabloid the Global Times, said on Twitter.

The Foreign Ministry's criticism of the BBC was among the top trends on China's Weibo social media platform on Friday.

"BBC shall not become Bad-mouthing Broadcasting Corporation," ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Twitter.

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Media freedom

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesperson declined to comment directly when asked if it was appropriate for the Chinese government to criticise the BBC.

"The UK is committed to the promotion of media freedom internationally, and to championing democracy and human rights, around the world," the spokesperson said.

BBC broadcasts, like those of most major Western news outlets, are blocked in China.

Some people called for the BBC to be expelled in response to CGTN's licence being revoked.

"The BBC has long been stationed in Beijing, yet has always held ideological prejudice and broadcast fake news from its platform, deliberately defaming China. After so many years, it's past time that we took action," one Weibo user said.

The BBC's coverage of Xinjiang came under heavy criticism after it reported on Wednesday that women in internment camps for ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in the region were subject to rape and torture.

China's Foreign Ministry said the report had no factual basis. The Global Times said in an editorial on Friday that the BBC had "seriously violated journalistic ethics."

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Chinese spies

Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper separately reported on Thursday that Britain had in the past year expelled three Chinese spies who were there on journalism visas.

The three were understood to be intelligence officers for Beijing's Ministry of State Security, the paper said on Thursday, citing an unnamed senior government source.

"Their true identities were uncovered by MI5 and they have since been forced to return to China," it said, referring to Britain's domestic intelligence agency.

All three had claimed "to work for three different Chinese media agencies," the source said, adding they had all arrived in the country over the past 12 months.

It did not name the Chinese media agencies.

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Parroting the Communist Party

UK-China relations have become increasingly strained as Britain has criticised Beijing over its crackdown in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and barred Huawei from its domestic 5G networks over security concerns.

On Thursday, British regulators revoked the licence of Chinese news network CGTN after finding its state-backed ownership structure broke UK law.

The regulator said CGTN's licence holder, Star China Media Ltd, had failed to show it had editorial oversight over the network and that a proposed transfer to another media group would still keep it tied to the Chinese Communist Party.

The English-language satellite broadcaster has long faced criticism for parroting the Communist Party line in its global broadcasts.

In the United States, it is one of seven Chinese media outlets that have been designated as state-sponsored actors rather than as independent media.

READ MORE: UK bans China's Huawei from 5G network 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies