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Boris Johnson complaint about Channel 4 climate debate ice sculpture rejected by Ofcom

Watchdog says broadcaster was balanced in its approach in face of Tory threats

Jon Stone
Tuesday 03 December 2019 12:44 GMT
Channel 4 News unveils ice sculptures in place of absent Conservative and Brexit parties ahead of Climate Change debate

A complaint by the Conservative Party about Channel 4’s election climate debate – in which Boris Johnson was replaced by a melting ice sculpture after refusing to turn up – has been rejected by Ofcom.

The broadcasting watchdog said Channel 4 took steps to ensure the programme was balanced and that the Conservative Party’s viewpoint was “adequately reflected” despite the prime minister’s refusal to take part in the debate.

The Tories had accused the broadcaster of “conspiring with Jeremy Corbyn” and briefed journalists that they would review its broadcasting licence if they won the election, apparently in revenge.

“Broadcasters have editorial freedom in determining the format of any election debate,” Ofcom said in a statement released on Tuesday morning.

“Depending on the circumstances, they may choose to proceed without having agreed the participation of a particular political party or politician, providing they take steps to ensure the programme complies with our due impartiality and elections rules.

“In this case, the Election Committee concluded that, across the one-hour debate and a subsequent news programme, Channel 4’s use of editorial techniques ensured that the Conservative’s viewpoint on climate and environmental issues was adequately reflected and given due weight.

“The committee also took into account that the globe ice sculpture was not a representation of the prime minister personally, and little editorial focus was given to it, either visually or in references made by the presenter or debate participants.

“The committee therefore considered that this programme, including the use of the ice sculpture, did not raise issues warranting further investigation under our due impartiality and elections rules.”

Mr Johnson faced a backlash for refusing to participate in the debate, which was attended by Jeremy Corbyn and other party leaders. Naturalist David Attenborough described the prime minister’s non-participation as “shameful” and said his excuse should have been “very, very important”.

Instead of the prime minister the Conservatives sent underling Michael Gove to the studio in which the debate was taking place, despite the broadcaster saying it was for leaders only. Mr Gove was refused entry and berated by youth climate change protesters outside the building.

The Conservatives have been contacted for comment on this story.

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