SINGAPORE – The U.K. Conservative Party accused Channel 4 News of breaking impartiality rules after the broadcaster used a melting ice sculpture of a globe to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson who failed to attend a live climate change debate on Thursday night.
The news program had asked the leaders of the key political parties to take part in the debate ahead of the Dec. 12 election but Johnson and Brexit Party head Nigel Farage chose not to attend. This prompted Channel 4 to replace the two politicians with ice sculptures rather than the empty chairs as is usually the case.
The decision by Johnson, who is expected to lead the Conservatives into a comfortable majority, drew derision on social media. Hashtags such as #WheresBoris and #borisisacoward trended in the U.K. as online users vented frustration with Johnson’s choice to refrain from debating on a topic that is seen to be one of the greatest issues for generations to come.
The Conservatives complained to broadcast regulator Ofcom, calling the news program’s action “a provocative partisan stunt” that had the potential to be seen as a political opinion in its own right. Unlike in the U.S., television broadcasters in Britain face strict rules on being politically impartial during election periods and can face fines if they do not comply.
The party’s director of communications Lee Cain, who wrote the complaint, said Channel 4 News prevented senior Cabinet Minister Michael Gove from representing Johnson. Gove, who showed up without invitation for the debate, accused Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of blocking his attempt to join them in a separate tweet.
Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear shot back, saying the channel had made it clear that the debate could only involve party leaders. He later told the Guardian that the two ice sculptures represented the emergency on planet Earth and were a visual metaphor for the Conservative and Brexit parties who declined the broadcaster’s invitations for the debate.
Broadcasters have faced an uphill task to convince Johnson to take part in interviews and debates. Johnson has so far avoided taking part in a sit-down with tough BBC interviewer Andrew Neil.
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