The editor of Channel 4 News has said all broadcasters must have “regular access” to senior politicians “in order to protect media plurality” after yet another snub from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The broadcaster claimed Johnson cancelled a planned interview at the G7 summit in France at the weekend following criticism by Channel 4’s head of news that he “limits access to media like Putin”.
Ben De Pear said today that the number and duration of interviews with recent Prime Ministers, Cabinet members and the Leader of the Opposition had “drastically reduced”.
He said this amounted to an “undermining of political accountability” and that Channel 4 News was talking with Number 10 to resolve the issue.
The broadcaster tweeted on Sunday that Johnson had cancelled an interview with them despite its team, including Europe editor Matt Frei, having been told to travel to the summit in Biarritz.
Channel 4 News said a senior adviser told it the interview had been “scrapped” because of Dorothy Byrne’s speech at the annual MacTaggart Lecture at in Edinburgh last week.
Decision by @10DowningStreet was made following criticism from Dorothy Byrne that Mr Johnson limits access to media like Putin.
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) August 25, 2019
In the speech, Byrne labelled Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn “cowards” for avoiding TV interviews.
Byrne also claimed that despite “promising” to do so, Johnson never appeared on Channel 4 News during the contest and said that, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, he “also likes to talk directly to the nation”.
Asked by ITV’s Robert Peston if he had shot himself in the foot by again snubbing Channel 4 News, Johnson ducked the question by saying he had commitments to talk with French radio and TV “and lots of other outlets as well” after the summit.
Channel 4 News editor Ben De Pear said: “The important points made in the MacTaggart speech were about the role of all broadcast media in holding politicians to account.
“The fact that the number of interviews granted and their duration has drastically reduced, not only with recent Prime Ministers and Cabinet members but also with the Leader of the Opposition, is an undermining of political accountability.
“In order to protect media plurality it is necessary for all Ofcom-regulated broadcasters to get regular access, not just the national broadcaster, a point made by all those broadcasters including the BBC in a joint letter to No 10 in October last year.
“Channel 4 News goes to great lengths as an Ofcom-regulated news show to report fairly and with due impartially, to 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.
“We are talking to Number 10 about resolving this issue, who agree with all of these principles, and hope for a positive resolution soon.”
Number 10 declined to comment for this article.
Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire