A British journalist who rose to stardom on China’s state television is being investigated by the World Health Organisation over his role as one of its celebrity ambassadors.
James Chau, who counts Meghan Markle as a close friend, could be stripped of his ‘goodwill ambassador’ title for his involvement in the airing of an alleged forced confession on Chinese state television.
The Cambridge-educated TV anchor, who has interviewed a string of stars including Sir Elton John and Sir Bob Geldof, has spent more than a decade presenting the news on China Central Television’s English-language channel.
James Chau (pictured left), a British journalist on Chinese state TV who counts Meghan Markle (right) as a close friend, is being investigated by the World Health Organisation
Chau is believed to be involved in the airing of an alleged forced confession by Peter Humphrey (pictured) in 2013. Mr Humphrey said he was drugged and locked in an iron chair before admitting to crimes of illegally sharing personal data
In 2013, Chau presented a programme that aired a confession by Peter Humphrey, a British corporate investigator working in China, who claims it was obtained under duress and he was drugged and locked in an iron chair inside a steel cage before being forced to admit ‘crimes’ of illegally sharing personal data.
Mr Humphrey and his wife and business partner Yu Yingzen, who had been investigating alleged corruption at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, claim that they were paraded in front of a camera and forced to read from a script.
Introducing footage of the confession, Chau said: ‘The illegal acquisition and then the use of data is one of the fastest-growing crimes in this country. But police in Shanghai have knocked a chink into that.
They announced the owners of a foreign private investigation firm have been arrested on charges of illegally selling personal data belonging to Chinese nationals.’
Mr Humphreys and his wife were subsequently convicted and jailed for two years. Since being deported from China, Mr Humphreys has claimed he was forced to make the confession, although it is not apparent from the footage.
Mr Humphrey (pictured) and his wife (not pictured) were subsequently convicted and jailed for two years with the British corporate investigator maintaining he was forced to confess
Chau was appointed to the largely ceremonial and unpaid WHO role in February 2016 but appointments usually last for only two years.
His title has been renewed twice by the organisation’s controversial director general Dr Tedros Adhanom.
WHO ambassador appointments have not been without controversy in the past. Three years ago, the WHO was forced to strip Robert Mugabe, the former Zimbabwean dictator, of his role after a backlash from human rights groups.
Chau’s role as ambassador for sustainable development goals and health has seen him give speeches on behalf of the WHO and promote the organisation’s aims.
But civil rights activists claim that armed with the badge of legitimacy, Beijing has deployed Chau to peddle propaganda for the secretive state.
One such group, Safeguard Defenders, lodged a formal ethics complaint with the WHO in February but the organisation has only just said it will investigate Chau, according to the Financial Times.
Mr Chau could lose his ‘goodwill ambassador’ title given by the World Health Organisation (pictured), who are only investigating Chau on this matter
Peter Dahlin, the group’s director, said: ‘The newscasts James Chau has presented are not merely bad journalism, but have played a key part in removing suspects’ right to a fair trial, including for UK victims.
‘The ethics code of the WHO is clear. The WHO’s mandate to take action, namely to review such allegations and if proven right, remove the person from his post, is equally clear.’
UN Watch, another civil rights group, has also petitioned for Chau’s WHO title to be removed. Executive director Hillel Neuer said: ‘Chau is a paid mouthpiece for Beijing’s totalitarian regime.’
The WHO said in a statement: ‘The matter is taken seriously, as any such complaint would be. It is currently under internal review, and therefore cannot be commented on.’
Chau has also been accused of helping Beijing whitewash its handling of the coronavirus crisis with TV reports that have been entirely positive.
He has excused the state’s repressive measures, saying: ‘You do what you have to do. Not everything is “draconian”.’
Chau, 42, has also claimed that comparing Covid-19 with the Sars outbreak in 2002 exaggerated ‘the scale and severity of the Wuhan outbreak’.
In one show attacking critical articles from Western media, Chau spoke of the need to ‘trust’ leaders. In another, he was invited to provide ‘the WHO perspective’ and criticised America for its ‘institutional, systemic, structural racism’.
Chau also presents on CCTV’s global arm China Global Television Network, which broadcasts to British audiences and boasts a sprawling regional HQ in West London.
Last week, the channel was threatened with having its right to show programmes in the UK stripped after Ofcom said it had breached impartiality rules with its coverage of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Chau’s YouTube show lavishes praise on Dr Adhanom, who Chau claims has an ‘investment of trust in China’ and ‘confidence in its leadership’.
Despite the backlash from human rights campaigners, Chau – who went to City of London School before Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Music – has won praise from a string of famous faces, including Meghan Markle.
Referring to Chau on her blog The Tig, the Duchess of Sussex wrote in 2015: ‘Sometimes you meet a person and just click.
Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle (pictured) is believed to be a close acquaintance of Chau’s and wrote very positive words about him in her blog in 2015
‘You fall into an easy banter, find them equal parts inspiring and entertaining, and you feel absolutely tickled to have made a new friend. (Something that gets harder as you get older – if you were born after 1985, trust me on this). Such was the case when I met James Chau at One Young World last fall in Dublin.
‘Little did I know that this savvy and charming gent is a broadcaster and writer who has interviewed world figures to the likes of Winnie Mandela and Robert Mugabe; that he’s an award winning journalist and news anchor who captured an audience of 85 million (yes, 85 million) for over a decade at the helm of China Central Television’s CCTV.
‘Many moons ago, my friend Misan told me that James and I would connect some day, and the moment we did it all made sense. James is a UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador, a graduate of Cambridge, and a lover of culture and arts.
‘You know how I often rattle on about “being the change you wish to see in the world”. Well, he’s the guy that’s doing just that. Authentically, and passionately.’
Chau did not respond to a request for comment.