A bitter dispute between Channel 4 News and the Conservative Party turned public last night as Boris Johnson was replaced by an ice sculpture after refusing to appear on a leaders’ debate about the climate crisis.
The stunt prompted the party to file a complaint with broadcast regulator Ofcom while a Tory source told Buzzfeed they would review the public service broadcaster’s licence should they regain power next month.
Ofcom has received 124 complaints about the climate debate, including one from the Tories, which it is now assessing. Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage was also represented by an ice sculpture after failing to attend.
Johnson’s no-show last night was the latest in a series of snubs against Channel 4. His refusal to appear on its leaders’ election debate last Sunday resulted in the programme being cancelled.
The Tory leader has also refused interviews with Channel 4 News in recent months, frustrating editor Ben de Pear who confirmed to Press Gazette ahead of the climate debate that he would empty chair no-shows.
He accused the Conservatives of “behaving like Donald Trump with the press” and “playing games” as the programme went on air at 7pm, replacing the usual evening news bulletin.
“Don’t refuse and then threaten our license it’s a slippery slope,” he tweeted in reply to Tory chairman James Cleverly. “All the parties complain about us but they’re here.”
Then stop behaving like @realDonaldTrump with the press and media. Put your leader @BorisJohnson alongside the other leaders and stop playing games. Don’t refuse & then threaten our license it’s a slippery slope. All the parties complain about us but they’re here #ClimateDebate https://t.co/aqQ3PcJC7K
— Ben de Pear (@bendepear) November 28, 2019
The climate debate was attended by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Green Party co-leader Sian Berry and Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price.
Conservative Environment Secretary Michael Gove appeared at Channel 4 News’ headquarters in central London in an attempt to join the panel before the show went on the air, but the other leaders refused him.
Channel 4 News has insisted the debate was for party leaders only.
— Michael Gove (@michaelgove) November 28, 2019
Asked by Nick Ferrari on his LBC radio show this morning why he didn’t attend the debate, Johnson said: “I’ve done plenty of debates, I can’t do absolutely everything…
“We made it clear ages ago that we weren’t going to do that one [the climate debate].”
LBC was forced to debunk a claim that Johnson signalled for Ferrari to move off a topic by gesturing with a finger across his throat, seen on the radio show’s livestream video.
Johnson addressed the matter on air, telling Ferrari he did it “only because I was imitating you”, with Ferrari having made the gesture to silence a producer who was talking to him in his headphones.
LBC has confirmed Johnson was “simply mimicking Nick Ferrari”.
Ferrari himself tweeted: “To clarify the PM’s gesture this morning on LBC, this is sign language between me and my producer to signify he needs to stay quiet in my ear. It’s been in common use for over ten years.”
Picture: Channel 4 News