The Conservative Party is embroiled in a pretty vicious row with Channel 4 over the broadcaster’s decision to “empty chair” Boris Johnson during its election debate on climate change last night, after he failed to turn up.
Michael Gove offered to take his place, turning up at the studio with the gutless wonder’s father, Stanley Johnson, but the broadcaster said the invitation was for leaders only. Johnson senior was apparently in the ‘spin room’ during the debate with the other party leaders. But he couldn’t make this go away.
The Tories wrote to Ofcom, saying that placing an ice sculpture on the PM’s podium was a “provocative partisan stunt”. The increasingly paranoid Tories have implied that Channel 4 conspired with and “did a deal” with Jeremy Corbyn. However, it was Johnson’s decision to avoid the debate and duck scrutiny.
The Labour party has also accused Johnson of “hiding from scrutiny”. Quite properly so.
Urging the regulator to take action against Channel 4, the Conservative Party accused the broadcaster of “breaking its duty to be impartial” and citing other alleged examples of bias. Seems the Tories are not getting all of their own way with the broadcast media, after all. (See also BBC row with the Tories over ‘misleading’ Facebook advert.)
In a letter to Ofcom, the party says Channel 4 News staged a “provocative partisan stunt, which would itself constitute making a political opinion in its own right” by substituting the PM with an ice sculpture.
However, there was no giant picture of the Kremlin in the backgound, with a photograph of Boris Johnson imposed on it, wearing a hat that had been photoshopped to look very Russian in the studio…
Meanwhile, #BorisJohnsonIsAMelt is trending on Twitter.
Conservative sources also briefed journalists at BuzzFeed News and the Telegraph that “if we are re-elected we will have to review Channel 4’s Public Services Broadcasting obligations”.
Channel 4’s public service broadcasting licence is up for renewal in 2024.
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said it was “deeply concerning for Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party to threaten Channel 4 in this way”.
Watson has written to Ofcom to urge the regulator to “call out this meddling”.
His letter adds: “Boris Johnson has banned the Daily Mirror from its battle bus, ducked the Andrew Neil interview and now attempted to bully Channel 4.”
Meanwhile, Gove, a former environment secretary, said he was disappointed not to be allowed to take part in the climate debate, adding: “We have a record we are proud of and we want to defend.”
Channel 4 also replaced Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage with ice in the hour-long programme, as he also declined to participate in the debate.
Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear said: “These two ice sculptures represent the emergency on planet earth, not in any human form but are a visual metaphor for the Conservative and Brexit parties after their leaders declined our repeated invitations to attend tonight’s vital climate debate.”
The Emergency On Planet Earth debate featured Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymru’s leader Adam Price and Green co-leader Sian Berry.
“Empty chairing” is where a debate or interview is conducted without one of its participants.
‘Hiding from scrutiny’
The debate’s presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy had urged the Tory leader to change his mind, assuring him he would get a fair hearing.
He said: “This debate has been called for by hundreds of thousands of people from all sorts of different walks of life.”
Guru-Murthy said the leaders would be grilled on how people’s lives will have to change – whether it would involve giving up red meat, going on holiday or ending fast fashion.
Meanwhile, Labour has published 60 questions it wants Boris Johnson to answer, including on sexism, the NHS, Brexit and his ministers.
The party has accused Johnson of “hiding from scrutiny” and its questions include: “Are you scared of Andrew Neil?”
On Thursday, Johnson refused to say whether he would agree to an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil, who has already grilled Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, and is planning to interview other party leaders.
When asked several times by the BBC’s Ben Wright if he would take part, Boris Johnson would not confirm it, saying he would have “all sorts of interviews with all sorts of people”. Johnson – who was interviewed by Neil during the Conservative leadership election in July – confirmed negotiations were still taking place, but he said it was “not my job” to make the final decision.
He added: “Other people than me are responsible for those discussions and negotiations, and I do not want to pre-empt what they may decide.”
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took part in 30-minute interviews with Neil earlier this week.
The BBC’s interview with Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson is set to air on 4 December and another with Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage will be shown on 5 December.
The BBC said it was “in ongoing discussions” with No 10, but said they had not “yet been able to fix a date” for the sit-down discussion between presenter Andrew Neil and the PM.
Looks like he’s frit.
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