Words by Louise Oliphant
Following the exclusive Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview that had the nation tuning in to ITV at 9pm on Monday 8th, Piers Morgan had some- not exactly unanticipated- controversial comments to voice. As Piers Morgan’s journalistic approach has become somewhat iconic in how he employs criticism, character attacks or pessimistic inquiry as a tactic to uncover scandalous ‘truth’, his lack of sympathy or genuine human regard came as no surprise. Yet while the well-known lesson of ‘your actions will have consequences’ had been a long time coming, can Piers Morgan’s departure from Good Morning Britain really have been his own decision?
On Tuesday morning’s show, Morgan announced he ‘didn’t believe a word’ Meghan Markle had said to Oprah Winfrey about her mental health struggles. Picking up on the Duchess’s claim that following suicidal thoughts she requested help from senior Buckingham Palace officials only to be rejected, Morgan hurled unanswered questions at our screens: ‘Who did you go to? What did they say to you?’. Mere disagreement turned into an onslaught of disrespect and Morgan’s comments were not just limited to the broadcasting platform. Referring to Markle as the ‘Pinocchio Princess’ and incessantly calling for the royal couple to ‘speak the truth’ on Twitter, this time Morgan received considerable backlash, as the public seemed to deem this disagreement a step too far. Thus, whilst Morgan’s actual exit of Good Morning Britain was a prompt, dramatized walk-off set, following an on-air clash with weather presenter Alex Beresford who called out his colleague for ‘continuing to trash’ the duchess.
Although it seems as if it was Morgan’s choice to leave, a record number of complaints to Ofcom and an incongruity to ITV’s mental health campaign offer a range of motives that suggest Morgan may not have voluntarily left our screens.
Some 57,000 complaints have been made about GMB’s coverage of the interview or more explicitly about Morgan’s response, making it the most complained about moment in Ofcom history. Ofcom, which has regulated British TV since press freedom reforms in 2003, has further launched an investigation into Good Morning Britain that is ‘assessing the complaints against [their] broadcasting rules’. Although, it is worth mentioning that just under 5,000 complaints have been filed concerning the Oprah interview itself: opposing the ‘careless’ timing given the Duke of Edinburgh’s ill health and the purported misleading media headlines in the programme.
Furthermore, campaign partners of ITV, mental health charity Mind, were understandably involved in the backlash cohort, stating they were ‘disappointed’ by the presenters’ comments, the reflection it had on the broadcasting network and the messages it disseminated to wider audiences. They tweeted that it is ‘vital that when people reach out for support or share their experiences of ill mental health that they are treated with dignity, respect and empathy. We are in conversations with ITV about this at the moment.’ The ITV chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall in line with this concern further estranged Morgan’s comment from the platform’s policy in saying she ‘completely believed what [Megan Markle] says’, reasserting that ITV is ‘totally committed to’ mental health’.
Still, despite these coherent arguments against Piers Morgan’s brash opinions and the platform that allowed him such a powerful voice, media stories and ITV itself has portrayed the co-host as leaving on his own accord. An ITV spokesperson stated ‘Following discussions with ITV, Piers Morgan has decided now is the time to leave Good Morning Britain. ITV have accepted his decision and has nothing further to add’. It is worth noting that some entertainment sources have since suggested the wording of this statement is quite common when an individual has actually been asked to leave. A mellow approach to such a pertinent case of controversy, some might say. Surely there is more to the story than just a personal vendetta?
In fact, Piers having reflected on his ‘decision’ maintained his disbelief in Meghan’s claims, adding ‘freedom of speech is a hill I’m happy to die on’. The narrative of the ‘freedom of the press’, can be noted as an often-used default argument to sidestep implications of regulation, but more so this defensive plotline infers a rather adverse acceptance to the GMB exit. He concluded his impudence in saying ‘Thanks for all the love, and the hate. I’m off to spend more time with my opinions’. And so, a perplexing culture war nonetheless amounted to the outcome many were hoping for, but a declaration to what was really behind Piers Morgan’s (partial)defeat is still left to speculation.