The last line of the legendary Peter Sellers film Being There could have been written about the UK’s media in our new age of uncertainty: “Reality is a state of mind”. It may be the only way that the right-leaning part of our free and fearless press can justify standing by while alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson claims to be a champion of free speech, while ducking scrutiny and threatening to shut down inconvenient voices.
While Bozo The Clown and his fellow Tories have largely emasculated the now craven and defensive BBC, they enjoy no such subservience from Channel 4, where a failure to turn up for debates means being empty chaired, no ifs, no buts.
So it was that yesterday’s Climate Debate featured the leaders of Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the co-leader of the Green Party, but not those of the Brexit Party or Tories, neither of whom had accepted the invitation to take part. Jeremy Corbyn appearing on the same day that the increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph claimed he was “dodging TV debates” showed that the press is now flat-out lying.
Only at the last minute did the Tories suddenly decide that they would take part. But being accustomed to fiddling the rules, they sent a delegation of Bozo’s Dad Stanley, and Michael “Oiky” Gove, neither of whom was the party leader. For this easily understood reason, Gove was not allowed to stand in for Bozo and the empty chairing continued.
Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear noted “In a last ditch attempt [Boris Johnson] has sent his two wing men best friend [Michael Gove] and dad Stanley Johnson to argue their way into a programme intended only for leaders. they were lovely and charming but neither are the leader”. Krishnan Guru-Murthy added “This #BorisTheCoward hashtag can be easily disproved by [Johnson] turning up at 7pm tonight (and by doing Andrew Neil too)”.
Gove, meanwhile, tried to spin his way out of it. “Tonight I went to Channel 4 to talk about climate change but Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon refused to debate a Conservative”. Bullshit. ITV political editor Robert Peston added “Classic Vote Leave tactics this whole ‘Gove turns up’ while CCHQ complains to regulator Ofcom about Ch4 barring him. It is all about proving to supporters that the London media establishment are against them (don’t laugh) while trying to intimidate all broadcasters”.
In fact, there was not just a complaint to Ofcom - good luck with that one, Tory people - but a threat of censorship. As the BBC has now reported, “the Conservative Party accused the broadcaster of breaking its duty to be impartial and citing other alleged examples of bias … the party says Channel 4 News staged a ‘provocative partisan stunt, which would itself constitute making a political opinion in its own right’”. And then came that threat.
“Conservative sources briefed journalists at BuzzFeed News and the Telegraph that ‘if we are re-elected we will have to review Channel 4's Public Services Broadcasting obligations’”. And the rest of the press just nods along. As Sunny Hundal put it, “If Corbyn had threatened Channel 4's license over climate change debate, every newspaper in Britain would rightly be calling it ‘Stalinist'. Yet the press is silent and BBC is treating it as a legit story”. Quite. Same with the Tories banning the Mirror from their campaign bus.
Tory commitment to free speech does not include dissent. Who’s being Stalinist now?
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