Conservatives’ complaint over Channel 4 ice sculpture stunt rejected by Ofcom

RETRANSMITTED WITH CORRECT CAPTION (left to right) Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymr
RETRANSMITTED WITH CORRECT CAPTION (left to right) Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Green Party Co-Leader Sian Berry, stand next to ice sculptures representing the Brexit Party and Conservative Party who didn't appear at the event, before the start of the Channel 4 News' General Election climate debate at ITN Studios in Holborn, central London.

Channel 4 has been cleared over its use of an ice sculpture to stand in for Boris Johnson during a debate on climate change, regulator Ofcom has said.

The watchdog’s Election Committee said the prop “was not a representation of the Prime Minister personally”, and that “little editorial focus was given to it, either visually or in references made by the presenter or debate participants”.

The Conservatives complained that the broadcaster failed to allow former environment secretary Michael Gove to be its representative for the debate, which saw party leaders face questions over how they would tackle climate change.

But the regulator rejected the Tories’ complaint.

General Election 2019
An ice sculpture is put in place for Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the studio before the start of the Channel 4 News’ General Election climate debate (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

In its ruling, Ofcom’s Election Committee said: “Broadcasters have editorial freedom in determining the format of any election debate.

“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 Conservatives’ 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.”

General Election 2019
Presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy with (L to R) Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Green Party co-leader Sian Berry, standing next to ice sculptures representing the Brexit and Conservative Parties (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Mr Gove turned up at the television studio with the Prime Minister’s father, Stanley Johnson, before the debate was due to kick off, on Thursday November 28, but was not permitted to take to the stage.

An ice sculpture of the world with “Conservatives” written on it was placed on a podium in place of the Prime Minister, while another was used for Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who also snubbed the event.

In a statement, a Channel 4 spokesman said: “We welcome the Ofcom Election Committee’s conclusion that the Channel 4 News Climate Debate did not raise issues warranting investigation under the Broadcasting Code.

“We’re pleased that the committee noted in the decision that Channel 4 had given due weight to the viewpoint of the Conservative Party on climate change and environmental policy.”

The Tories initially lodged an urgent complaint about Channel 4’s intention to “empty-chair” the party in the hours before broadcast, Ofcom said, which the Tories said “failed to comply” with Channel 4’s impartiality obligations as a broadcaster.

The party described the ice sculpture as “a provocative partisan stunt” in its submission to Ofcom, which it said would “constitute making a political opinion in its own right” and “suggested wider issues of alleged bias by Channel 4” against the Tories, Ofcom said.

Channel 4 said the decision to place an ice sculpture on the podium in place of Messrs Johnson and Farage was “a metaphor for the melting of the polar ice caps”.

Channel 4 considered these sculptures were “in no way pejorative of either party leader personally or the party which they represent”, Ofcom said.

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