Boris Johnson accused of 'trying to restrict free press' over Channel 4 debate

PUBLISHED: 08:40 29 November 2019 | UPDATED: 08:55 29 November 2019

(left to right) Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price and Green Party Co-Leader Sian Berry, stand next to ice sculptures representing the Brexit Party and Conservative Party at a Channel 4 climate debate. Photograph: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire.

(left to right) Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price and Green Party Co-Leader Sian Berry, stand next to ice sculptures representing the Brexit Party and Conservative Party at a Channel 4 climate debate. Photograph: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire.

Labour has accused the prime minister of 'trying to restrict the free press' by threatening Channel 4 after it empty-chaired him with a block of ice.

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A Tory source suggested the party may review Channel 4's public service broadcasting position after it replaced the PM with an ice sculpture when he refused to take part in its climate change debate.

The party also made a formal complaint to broadcasting watchdog Ofcom's election committee over what it said was "a provocative partisan stunt, which would itself constitute making a political opinion in its own right".

An ice sculpture is put in place for prime minister Boris Johnson in the studio at the Channel 4 News debate.

A Tory source told the Daily Telegraph: "If we are re-elected we will have to review Channel 4's public service broadcasting obligations."

But Channel 4 hit back, saying Gove was not allowed to take part in the debate because it was for party leaders.

And Labour's shadow culture secretary Tom Watson said it was "deeply concerning that a governing party would wish to restrict the free press".

He added: "Decisions on granting, reviewing or revoking broadcasting licences are a matter for Ofcom.

"It is not for government to seek to impose its will on an independent regulator.

"It is deeply concerning that a governing party would wish to restrict the free press.

"I'm urging you to call out this meddling and demand that whichever political party wins the next general election, allows Ofcom to operate freely from political interference."

Former Tory culture secretary Ed Vaizey added to the criticism, saying it is "not a sensible strategy for political parties to threaten broadcasters".

Before the debate, the editor of Channel 4 News, Ben de Pear, tweeted a picture of Gove and the prime minister's father Stanley Johnson, who were both at the studio.

Gove also posted footage of himself arriving and asking if he could be the Conservative voice in the debate.

After the programme, de Pear said: "It was very kind of Michael Gove to offer himself to appear on Channel 4 News this evening, and we always welcome him on the programme.

"However, as we made clear to him repeatedly, because he is not the leader of the Conservative Party, his participation was not required at tonight's £climatedebate - which was strictly for party leaders only."

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