Sending a signal. CTV switches channels on Premier League as China-UK row heats up

By Andrew Warshaw

July 23 – The burgeoning political and diplomatic feud between Britain and China has spilled over into top-flight football with English Premier League games reported to have been pulled from Chinese state television (CTV).

CTV is an official broadcasting partner of the league but apparently withdrew Liverpool’s thrilling fixture with Chelsea on Wednesday from its main scheduling on China Central Television’s sport channel and switched it to the less popular CCTV 5+.

The seemingly retaliatory move follows a series of bitter rows between China and the UK both over Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong and the decision to ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from Britain’s 5G network, regarded by some commentators as a justifiable security move but by others as potentially catastrophic and kow-towing to the United States at a time when Britain needs a trade deal with China because of Brexit.

The final round of Premier League matches that are due to take place on Sunday are reported to no longer appear on the CCTV programme schedule and apparently won’t be screened according to Bloomberg. But they could still be watched on streaming platforms, as Liverpool-Chelsea match was on the Chinese video app PPTV.

CCTV’s action “is symbolic of what else could come following decisions around Hong Kong and Huawei,” Bloomberg quoted Mark Tanner, founder of Shanghai-based research and marketing firm China Skinny, as saying.

China is the Premier League’s second most valuable overseas media rights market and there is no indication yet whether the blackout will extend into next season which is not due to start until September.

But this is not be the first time that CCTV has altered its Premier League programming for political reasons. Back in December, the broadcaster swapped Arsenal’s home defeat to Manchester City for Tottenham Hotspur’s game with Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Such is China’s sensitivity over human rights issues that they switched fixture in response to comments made by Arsenal’s German midfielder Mesut Ozil on social media relating to the alleged mistreatment of Uighur Muslims in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.

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