Ofcom has concluded that Piers Morgan’s rant about the Duchess of Sussex’s mental health on Good Morning Britain did not break UK broadcasting rules after a six-month investigation.
In a “finely balanced” ruling today, the media regulator said Morgan’s comments on March 8 were potentially “harmful and offensive” to viewers, but the presenter had a right to share his views and was strongly challenged by his co-presenters.
Ofcom did, however, warn ITV that it needed to “take greater care” when transmitting discussions about mental health and suicide in the future.
Morgan’s remarks prompted a record 54,453 complaints to Ofcom after he questioned whether Meghan was being authentic when she revealed to Oprah Winfrey that she felt suicidal after marrying the Duke of Sussex and joining the royal family. The duchess was among those who lodged a complaint.
In her controversial CBS interview, which was aired in the UK by ITV, Meghan said that press scrutiny was so acute she “didn’t want to be alive anymore”. Reacting to her remarks, Morgan told Good Morning Britain viewers: “I don’t believe a word she says, Meghan Markle. I wouldn’t believe her if she read me a weather report.”
In a 97-page decision, Ofcom said that ruling against Morgan’s remarks could amount to an “unwarranted and chilling restriction on freedom of expression”. It added that his comments were robustly challenged by his co-hosts Susanna Reid and Chris Ship; Reid rebuked Morgan for being “unsympathetic”.
After welcoming the ruling, Morgan directed a question to his former ITV bosses: “Do I get my job back?”
The Times understands that ITV has no plans to restore the presenter to Good Morning Britain after he resigned in March, although there is insider speculation that the path has now been cleared for his return. “I’d put money on it,” one source said.
ITV does not usually comment on Ofcom rulings but made an exception for the Good Morning Britain decision, given its contentious nature.
A spokesman said: “We welcome the Ofcom ruling that Good Morning Britain did not breach the broadcast standards relating to harm and offence. The ruling sets out clearly that it was the balance and context the programme makers provided which was key in mitigating against the potential for harm and offence which could have been caused by Piers Morgan’s comments.
“It is because of the programme’s editorial decisions and the opposing views, which were forcefully expressed by other presenters and guests, that the programme did not breach Ofcom’s rules.”
Ofcom’s ruling said: “Given the significant challenge to Mr Morgan’s comments provided by other presenters and contributors in the programme, we considered that, overall, adequate protection for viewers was provided and the potentially harmful and highly offensive material was sufficiently contextualised.”
The media watchdog also dismissed concerns from viewers that Morgan denied and belittled the duchess’s account of her experiences of racism. It ruled that the Good Morning Britain discussion provided sufficient counter-arguments and was “justified by its context”.
Responding to the decision on Twitter, Morgan said it was a “resounding victory for freedom of speech”.
Morgan’s outburst ultimately led to his departure from Good Morning Britain. The comments sat uneasily with ITV’s mental health initiatives and Carolyn McCall, the chief executive, immediately distanced the company from Morgan’s tirade. He was issued with an ultimatum: apologise or resign. Morgan chose the latter. [J4MB: Carolyn McCall should now resign. Of course, she won’t.]
ITV declined to comment on Ofcom’s decision but in evidence, the broadcaster said that it had made efforts to stack Good Morning Britain’s line-up with experts who would provide a counterweight to Morgan. This included Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a supporter of the duchess, and broadcaster Trisha Goddard, who has spoken about her experiences of racism.
“Ofcom has previously accepted that regular [Good Morning Britain] viewers have come to expect Piers Morgan to have strongly held views on a variety of issues, which he often expresses uncompromisingly, and for those views to be routinely challenged by his co-presenter Susanna Reid,” ITV told Ofcom.
The broadcaster added that Morgan clarified his views on the duchess’s mental health during the next morning’s show on March 9. During the programme he said that people should seek support if they are feeling suicidal. The clarification was, however, overshadowed by an on-air row with co-presenter Alex Beresford, which resulted in Morgan storming off set.
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