(This May 8 story has been refilled to correct day of the week to Thursday, not Wednesday, in paragraph six)
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s broadcasting watchdog has launched a formal investigation into whether a confession made by a British man and aired on China’s state broadcaster broke UK broadcasting rules when shown there.
The investigation relates to a complaint made by Briton Peter Humphrey and his American wife, Yu Yingzeng, who were both sentenced in China in 2014 for illegally obtaining private records of Chinese citizens and selling the information to clients including drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline.
Humphrey says China Central Television (CCTV), which broadcast the footage via its international subsidiary China Global Television Network (CGTN), may have breached British fairness rules by distributing what he said was a forced confession which prejudiced a subsequent trial against him.
“We have decided to investigate a fairness and privacy complaint about news programmes broadcast on CCTV News,” a spokesperson for the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom said.
“If we find our rules have been broken, we will take the appropriate action,” the person said, declining to comment further.
Speaking in Beijing on Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang referred specific questions to state television, but spoke of the need for international cooperation and support for the media.
“We believe that news organisations are the bridge and link to promote mutual understanding and friendly cooperation among people of all countries,” he told reporters.
“We hope that Britain can provide support and convenience for foreign media to conduct normal news reporting work in Britain.”
An official at the foreign affairs office of China’s state television, which is in charge of taking questions from foreign reporters, declined immediate comment when contacted by telephone.
The British regulator has the power to fine a broadcaster for breaching rules, and in the most severe infringements can revoke a licence.
Humphrey, a private investigator and former journalist who worked for Reuters in the 1980s and 1990s, says that CCTV collaborated with police to extract, record and broadcast a confession he was forced to make long before his actual trial.
Showing the footage on TV prejudiced Chinese and world public opinion against him and his wife, he argued in a complaint made to Ofcom last year.
The couple were deported from China in June 2015 after their jail terms were reduced.
The case was linked to an investigation of GSK in China that led to a $489 million fine against it for paying bribes to doctors to use its drugs.
Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Gao Liangping in BEIJING; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Robert Birsel