Channel 4 News has apologised after a subtitling error wrongly claimed Boris Johnson had discussed whether “people of colour” should be allowed into the UK, prompting the Conservatives to accuse staff at the channel of being campaigners rather than journalists.
In a clip of the prime minister uploaded to Channel 4’s social media accounts, Johnson was captioned as saying: “I’m in favour of having people of colour come to this country but I think we should have it democratically controlled and have it done that way.”
In reality, Johnson said he was in favour of having “people of talent” come to the UK, and did not discuss race.
The falsely subtitled clip went viral on Friday, prompting Channel 4 to issue a correction: “Boris Johnson says ‘people of talent’ not ‘people of colour’. Our earlier tweet was a mistake. We misheard and we apologise.”
Some people who had shared the clip continued to wrongly insist the prime minister had said the word “colour”. This suggested it may be an example of people’s hearing being influenced by visual cues – similar to the known phenomenon of the McGurk effect. It also echoes the confusion at the end of last year over whether a voice in a short audio clip was saying the word “laurel” or “yanny”.
While the Conservatives did not comment officially, a Tory source doubled down in the party’s battle with Channel 4, in which the Tories have already threatened the broadcaster with changes to its public service remit.
The party also unsuccessfully complained to the media regulator, Ofcom, about the broadcaster’s decision to replace the prime minister with a block of ice, while continuing to express fury at Channel 4’s head of current affairs, Dorothy Byrne, for calling the prime minister a liar.
The anonymous senior Conservative source said: “This shows why it has been impossible to cooperate with Channel 4 News. They are campaigners in this election, inventing the most damaging things possible to further their campaign against Brexit.”
The individual went on to criticise the entire media system, with the Conservative party having already indicated it has little interest in subjecting Johnson to a one-on-one interview with Andrew Neil because the party believes the interview format is outdated.
“This sort of thing is why so many media organisations have collapsing audiences. We sadly do not expect the senior management at Channel 4 to take this terrible mistake seriously and we expect more of the same,” they said.