British Politicians & Broadcasters Are Trading Blows In An Increasingly Fraught Election Campaign

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn Shutterstock

UPDATE, 11.50AM GMT: British politicians and broadcasters are at each other’s throats in what is becoming an increasingly fraught general election campaign in the UK.

There is currently a laundry list of disputes between the BBC, Channel 4 and the two main candidates to be prime minister: Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party.

The wrangles, which hit a new level on Thursday, are also raising serious questions about the impartiality of the BBC, with audience anger spilling over on Twitter as the hashtag #bbcimpartiality trended for most of the day.

Here’s a quick rundown of three live arguments:

Channel 4 replaces Boris Johnson with ice sculpture

Channel 4 hosted a televised debate about the climate emergency on Thursday. The leaders of all major parties were invited, with Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson turning up.

Johnson decided against attending, however, and sent minister Michael Gove in his place. But Channel 4 said the debate was for party leaders. It empty-chaired the prime minister by replacing him with an ice sculpture to “represent the emergency on planet earth.”

In response, a Conservative Party source threatened to review Channel 4’s broadcasting licence. “If we are re-elected we will have to review Channel 4’s Public Services Broadcasting obligations,” the source told BuzzFeed.

Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear said the Tories should “stop behaving” like Donald Trump with the media. He tweeted: “Stop playing games. Don’t refuse & then threaten our license it’s a slippery slope.”

On Friday morning, the Tories complained to UK media regulator Ofcom that the ice sculpture replacement was a “provocative partisan stunt.”

BBC demands Conservative Party kill Facebook ads featuring its presenters

The BBC has told the Conservative Party to remove Facebook adverts featuring edited clips of its political editor Laura Kuenssberg and news anchor Huw Edwards.

In one ad, available to view in the Facebook ad library, Kuenssberg says “pointless delay to Brexit” while Edwards says “another Brexit delay.” Both quotes are taken from BBC archive footage and are shorn of all context, but amplify Tory election slogans.

“We’re aware of Conservative Party Facebook adverts using edited BBC content. This is a completely unacceptable use of BBC content which distorts our output and which could damage perceptions of our impartiality. We are asking the Conservatives to remove these adverts,” the BBC said.

The timing of the ad is particularly awkward for the BBC after the corporation has faced criticism from some viewers who feel its coverage has been favorable towards Johnson.

Only this week, the corporation admitted it made a “mistake” for editing a clip of the prime minister in a news bulletin. It cut out audience laughter when showing footage of Johnson answering a question about the importance of telling the truth during BBC One show Question Time: Leaders Special.

BBC grills Jeremy Corbyn, but not Boris — yet

There’s also an ongoing argument over Johnson appearing on The Andrew Neil Interviews. Journalist Andrew Neil is a forensic and formidable interviewer, who is supposed to cross-examine all the major party leaders in a string of interviews on BBC One.

Corbyn submitted himself to the Neil grilling on Tuesday and did not receive good reviews for his performance, with his record on antisemītism spotlighted. His people said he took part in the interview on the understanding that Johnson would face the same scrutiny.

But the BBC does not have an agreement in place with Johnson and the prime minister could yet dodge Neil’s scrutiny. Johnson himself has refused to commit to the interview (see below).

On Thursday night, it was reported that Johnson had offered to do an interview with Andrew Marr, another BBC presenter, instead of Neil. But by Friday morning, BBC sources were briefing that he won’t be interviewed by Marr until he has sat down with Neil.

Although the matter is not yet resolved, it has angered Corbyn’s supporters who think the Labour leader was misled by the BBC.

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