News | Published November 29 2019

Conservatives issue complaint to regulator over climate debate empty chairing

The Conservative party has issued a complaint to Ofcom after Channel Four empty chaired prime minister Boris Johnson for its live debate on climate change.

The complaint centred around the broadcaster’s decision to place an ice sculpture on the vacant Conservative podium, calling it a “provocative partisan stunt” which went against Channel Four’s obligations of impartiality.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who also did not attend, was replaced by an ice block in the same manner.

Former environment secretary Michael Gove had offered to represent the Conservatives in lieu of Johnson but Channel Four rejected his approach, saying that the invitation for the debate was exclusively for party leaders.

Johnson's refusal to appear on the programme has led to widespread criticism and a debate about the need to scrutinise candidates standing to be prime minister. 

Justifying Channel Four's move, its 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 Labour Party, whose leader Jeremy Corbyn attended the debate, accused the prime minister of “hiding from scrutiny”.

Labour has published 60 questions regarding issues such as sexism, the NHS, Brexit and media scrutiny that they want the prime minister to answer, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell saying that putting himself forward for questioning in the public eye a “matter of honour” for Johnson.

Sources from the Conservatives spoke to journalists at the Telegraph, saying that if Johnson is elected then the government will need to “review Channel Four’s Public Services Broadcasting obligations”.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson did later reassure that the Conservative government had “no plans in terms of changing what Channel Four does” in an interview with BBC Radio Four, adding that the broadcaster had an “important role” in British media output.

The climate debate attendees also included Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, SNP leader and Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymru head Adam Price and Greens co-leader Sian Berry.

Meanwhile, the BBC confirmed that discussions were "ongoing" with the Conservative party over a suitable date for Boris Johnson to be interviewed by renown journalist and broadcaster Andrew Neil.

On Thursday, Johnson refused to confirm whether he would specifically agree to a sit-down with Neil, saying it is "not my job" to make such decisions and that he will have "all sorts of interviews with all sorts of people".

Johnson said: "Other people than me are responsible for those discussions and negotiations, and I do not want to pre-empt what they may decide.”

Both Corbyn and Sturgeon have already had their interviews with Neil broadcast this week, while Neil's Q&A sessions with Swinson and Farage are set to air in early December.

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
November 29 2019

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