Channel 4 hopes for resolution to spat after news boss brands Boris Johnson a 'known liar'

PUBLISHED: 15:00 27 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:27 27 August 2019

Boris Johnson during a press conference at the conclusion of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Boris Johnson during a press conference at the conclusion of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Channel 4 is hoping to resolve a spat between the programme and Downing Street after its boss called Boris Johnson a 'known liar'.

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Johnson has refused to give an interview to Channel 4 at the G7 summit in Biarritz, after he was criticised by the station's news chief Dorothy Byrne.

Byrne called Johnson a "coward" and compared him with Vladimir Putin for his preference for a "jolly statement" over a grilling on television, at the Edinburgh TV Festival, saying: "What we all need to decide: what do we do when a known liar becomes our prime minister?"

"I've talked to journalists from several television organisations about this issue. They said they would be loath to use that word 'liar'.

"Remember when Andrew Marr told [former defence secretary] Penny Mordaunt her claim that the UK couldn't stop Turkey from joining the EU was 'strange'?

"It was strange, but it was also untrue - a lie. Is it time for us to start using the L-word? I believe that we need to start calling politicians out as liars when they lie. If we continue to be so polite, how will our viewers know that politicians are lying?"

She continued: "Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are cowards. If they really believe in the policies they promote, they should come onto television to explain them, to allow them to be scrutinised and to justify them."

The comments appear to have prompted a backlash from Downing Street, who cancelled a meeting between the broadcaster and Johnson at the G7 summit in France.

Channel 4 News tweeted: "Decision by @10DowningStreet was made following criticism from Dorothy Byrne that Mr Johnson limits access to media like Putin.

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"@10DowningStreet's reasons for the cancellation have varied. One senior advisor said the interview was scrapped because of Dorothy Byrne's recent speech."

"Mr Johnson told @itvnews' @Peston it was because he didn't have time."

Questioned about cancelling the Channel 4 interview by ITV News' political editor Robert Peston, who said he was not allowing himself to be "held to account", Johnson said: "I'm delighted to be interviewed by you Robert, it's the highest honour that, one of the high honours that a politician can have.

"But I have to, I'm afraid, once this ceremony is over, I have to go and talk to French radio, French TV and lots of other outlets as well."

Former Downing Street communications boss Robbie Gibb, who once edited some of the leading BBC political programmes, claimed that "it remains one of great mysteries of our age how Channel 4 is not now drowning under a sea of complaints to watchdog Ofcom, so flagrant, in my opinion, is its political bias."

He added: "When she talks about truth, what she really means is her truth. This is the truth of the liberal and Left-wing elite, so quick to dismiss the views of millions of people who don't agree with the Channel 4 political agenda."

Channel 4 News' editor Ben de Pear said the programme "goes to great lengths as an OFCOM regulated news show to report fairly and with due impartiality, too present all sides of an argument, and to interview politicians from all parties.

"Access to those politicians - whether they be Labour or Conservative is vital to achieve this balance and for a show with a large and loyal TV audience, and the biggest social media engagement of any TV news show in the UK. Our viewers deserve to see all politicians held to account, and criticism of lack of access should not result in a closing down of that access to any broadcaster."

He continued: "We are talking to No 10 about resolving this issue, who agree with all of these principles, and hope for a positive resolution soon."

It is not the first time the programme has been banned from accessing politicians. The Brexit Party banned the broadcaster from events in May, following its report into Arron Banks' funding of Nigel Farage's lifestyle.

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