EXCLUSIVE: A British lawmaker and member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China has urged the BBC to rethink its commercial decision to produce ads for organs of Chinese state media.
Lord David Alton has written to Tim Davie, the director-general of the BBC, demanding that he review the activity of commercial unit BBC StoryWorks after Deadline exposed its links to China.
In an investigation published on Wednesday, we revealed that StoryWorks has partnered with at least 18 Chinese clients, including nine state-affiliated bodies, despite protests from the BBC’s own journalists.
StoryWorks produced a glossy ad campaign for China Global Television Network after it was banned from broadcasting in the UK. Xinhua, the state media news agency, and Huawei, the controversial tech giant, were among StoryWorks’ other clients.
In a letter to Davie, Lord Alton said: “I write to request that you review this arrangement. It is difficult to see how it can be legitimate to provide revenue to a state credibly accused of genocide and crimes against humanity (let alone the imprisonment of journalists and pro-democracy advocates).”
The BBC defended StoryWorks’ relationship with the Chinese propaganda machine, saying StoryWorks was “entirely separate” from its newsgathering operations and that contracts with state media do not stop journalists from reporting on the country “without fear or favour.”
Lord Alton told Deadline: “It’s simply not realistic to believe that commercial relationships with the Chinese Communist Party have no bearing on behaviour. His bread I eat, his song I sing. The BBC say that contracts with Chinese state media do not stop journalists from reporting on the country ‘without fear or favour.’ Really? This either represents a worrying naivety or a sleight of hand.”
Lord Alton was among a group of nine UK lawmakers banned from entering China last year after criticising Xi Jinping’s regime. Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister at the time, said he had played a role in “shining a light on the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uyghur Muslims.”
The crossbench peer has shared platforms with Uighurs and helped give voice to dissidents and activists who he said had been “intimidated and bullied” by the Chinese government. He also monitored Hong Kong’s last free elections, researching the plight of pre-democracy leaders.
Lord Alton sits on the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international group of lawmakers who focus on relations with the Communist superpower.
The BBC said: “Hosting advertising outside of the UK allows us to generate income to invest in the BBC, including in our world class, independent and impartial journalism. All ads comply with our strict advertising and sponsorship guidelines. Commercial work is entirely separate to and has no bearing on our journalistic output, which continues to cover matters relating to China extensively without fear or favour.”