UK regulator investigates China's state broadcaster for airing TV confession

LONDON, May 8 (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, which broadcast the footage via its international subsidiary China Global Television Network (CGTN), may have breached UK 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 Ofcom said.

“If we find our rules have been broken, we will take the appropriate action,” the person said, declining to comment further.

Representatives of CGTN could not immediately be reached for comment.

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, 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; Editing by Hugh Lawson)