TV regulator Ofcom has rejected a complaint from the Conservatives after Channel 4 replaced Prime Minister Boris Johnson with an ice sculpture during a climate debate.
The Tories complained about a “provocative partisan stunt” and accused Channel 4 of effectively seeking to deprive the party of any representation at the debate.
Programme makers had rejected the Conservatives’ offer of senior cabinet minister Michael Gove as a replacement for Mr Johnson.
Instead, Channel 4 insisted the prime minister, as his party’s leader, should be the Tories’ representative.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price and Green Party co-leader Sian Berry all took part in the debate.
In a letter to Ofcom’s election committee, the Tories had also cited a “wider pattern of bias by Channel 4 in recent months”.
This included Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, Dorothy Byrne, branding Mr Johnson a “known liar” and a “coward” earlier this year.
But Ofcom concluded the climate debate, including the use of an ice sculpture, “did not raise issues warranting further investigation under our due impartiality and elections rules”.
The regulator added: “Broadcasters have editorial freedom in determining the format of any election debate.
“Depending on the circumstances, they may choose to proceed without having agreed the participation of a particular political party or politician, providing they take steps to ensure the programme complies with our due impartiality and elections rules.
“In this case, the election committee concluded that, across the one-hour debate and a subsequent news programme, Channel 4’s use of editorial techniques ensured that the Conservatives’ viewpoint on climate and environmental issues was adequately reflected and given due weight.
“The committee also took into account that the globe ice sculpture was not a representation of the prime minister personally, and little editorial focus was given to it, either visually or in references made by the presenter or debate participants.”
As well as an ice sculpture of the Earth to represent the absence of Mr Johnson, Channel 4 also placed an ice sculpture with the Brexit Party’s logo next to the attending politicians.
This was to signify the absence of their party leader Nigel Farage.
Ahead of the debate, the Brexit Party said they had “no faith that the broadcaster will conduct this debate in a fair and objective way”.
They added: “Brexit is the defining issue of our age and the fact that Channel 4 does not want to discuss it speaks volumes about their broadcaster and its Remain position.”
A Channel 4 spokesperson said: “We welcome the Ofcom election committee’s conclusion that the Channel 4 News climate debate did not raise issues warranting investigation under the broadcasting code.
“We’re pleased that the committee noted in the decision that Channel 4 News had given due weight to the viewpoint of the Conservative Party on climate change and environmental policy.”