Blow for Boris Johnson as Ofcom rejects complaint over Channel 4 ice sculpture stunt

Posted On: 
3rd December 2019

Watchdogs have cleared Channel 4 over Tory claims it had breached impartiality rules by replacing Boris Johnson with an ice sclupture after he refused to take part in a climate change debate.

Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were represented by the ice sculptures after failing to attend the debate
Credit: 
PA

The Conservatives had accused the broadcaster of a "provactive partisan stunt" over its actions last week.

Mr Johnson had been invited to attend the live discussion alongside other party leaders, but had declined.

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His offer to put up former Environment Secretary Michael Gove was rejected by the show's producers after they insisted only party leaders could participate.

Both Mr Johnson and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage were replaced by the melting sculptures which Channel 4 said were a "metaphor" for their parties.

In a letter to Ofcom, Lee Cain, Mr Johnson's top spin doctor, said: "It is clear that denying the Conservative Party any opportunity to contribute to this cross-party event is unfair and breaches the requirements to 'preserve' impartiality and does not offer an 'appropriately wide range of significant views' to the public."

But in a ruling announced on Tuesday, Ofcom said the Conservatives' stance on climate change had been "adequately reflected" during the one-hour debate.

"Broadcasters have editorial freedom in determining the format of any election debate," they said.

“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."

The watchdog added: "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 Tories have threatened to "review Channel 4's Public Services Broadcasting obligations" if the party wins a Commons majority.

A party source told Buzzfeed News: "Broadcasting organisations are rightly held to a higher standard - and particularly Channel 4 which has a special role enshrined in legislation.

"Any review would of course look at whether its remit should be better focused so it is serving the public in the best way possible.”