Wwhen the next history of the British media is written, there should be a chapter that will explain why it ends so often about Piers Morgan. Within 48 hours after Meghan and Prince Harry focused a much-needed focus on racism in the industry, Morgan’s sudden departure from ITV’s breakfast diverted attention not only to him, but to the issue of free speech. His comments tested the tension between freedom of expression and truth, just as two news channels should be launched that could test the boundaries of Britain’s regulated, impartial TV media.
It’s not about whether Morgan will end up working for Rupert Murdoch News UK’s streaming service or for Andrew Neil’s GB News (although the chance to work on the channels undoubtedly made it easier for him to switch from ITV), but about whether it might be okay to publicly renounce the truth of another’s mental distress.
The pretty obvious answer is that he can’t – and yet Morgan’s departure still somehow managed to spark an argument over what impartiality means in the broadcast news. It may be tempting to ignore this, but failure to re-establish the principle of impartiality will make it easier for broadcasters to succumb to the economic and political pressures that push them toward the type of party TV media common in the United States.
But first, a summary for those struggling with the insane news of the last few days. The morning after Meghan told Oprah Winfrey that she was contemplating suicide and did not receive help from the royal family, Morgan called her a liar. “I don’t believe a word she said, Meghan Markle. I wouldn’t believe her reading my weather forecast. “
The charity Mind, which supports the ITV mental health campaign, has joined many others, including his colleagues, accusing him of being irresponsible and harmful. Meanwhile, 41,000 people complained to media regulator Ofcom. When a hoarse verbal comment about not disputing real mental health issues failed to stop his own colleagues criticizing him on the air, Morgan stumbled.
In a note posted on Twitter on Wednesday morning, Morgan wrote, “I said I didn’t trust Meghan Markle in her interview with Oprah. I’ve had time to think about this opinion, and I still don’t. If so, fine. Freedom of speech is a hill on which I gladly die. “Inevitably, he posted a picture of Churchill with an old saw: ‘The idea of some people about free speech is that they can say what they like freely, but if someone says something back, it’s outrageous.”
Some of Morgan’s old colleagues on CNN gathered in his defense. Anchor Jake Tapper called the reaction “crazy” and tweetao: “It happens when you live in a country where there is no first amendment.” Tapper suggested that it would be better for complainants to “tweet Piers what you think of his comments” than to address the regulator, part of whose job it is to prevent public services from causing damage and insults.
Tapper is a great presenter (as is Morgan in many ways), but his idea that Twitter is a place for correction underscores how much the American idea of freedom has led us to a nasty rabbit hole: to a place where conspiracy and hate theories can be distributed by American social media giants any sanctions. Finally, almost exactly a year ago, presenters like Sean Hannity on Fox News were given the freedom to accuse the media of scaring the “new hoax” of the coronavirus.
The rules regarding damages and infringements regulated by the Ofcom Broadcasting Code are written in a legal way that would never go viral. Yet, along with public opinion, they are more or less the last ramparts to ensure that British broadcast media remain committed to providing as unbiased a version of events as possible, unlike newspapers that do not have such a mandate.
The UK system is far from perfect, of course. Rumors that Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail is the most popular candidate for prime minister at the helm of Ofcom and the very history of BBC license fee negotiations show this. But in a world where the news business model is torn, broadcast regulation means influential media are not just driven by commercial interests.
Still, Morgan’s latest show, Good Morning Britain, was watched by 1.29 million viewers on Tuesday, more than his much calmer BBC rival with 1.25 million. The problem is that indignation is selling, just look at the history of tabloid newspapers in the UK. Murdoch, who may have made more money from the British media than anyone else, knows that. My money goes to the new Piers Morgan morning show on the soon-to-be-broadcast News UK program. The good news is that brilliant color reporters like Ranvir Singh and Clive Myrie have already received a tip to replace the former host of Good Morning Britain.