ITV has been cleared by media regulator Ofcom, which has rejected a record 58,000 complaints about Piers Morgan’s criticism of the Duchess of Sussex.
The ex-Good Morning Britain host said he didn’t believe what Meghan said in her Oprah Winfrey interview in March.
The duchess herself filed complaints with the regulator and ITV.
Ofcom said restricting his views would be a “chilling restriction” on free expression but criticised his “apparent disregard” for the subject of suicide.
Morgan said he was “delighted” with the ruling, which he described as “a resounding victory for free speech and a resounding defeat for Princess Pinocchios”.
Speaking outside his home, the 56-year-old journalist said he “wasn’t really sure why I lost [my job] in the first place”. He said Ofcom had “emphatically endorsed my right to not believe what the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were saying”.
Ofcom said its decision was “finely balanced”, but that ITV had “provided adequate protection to viewers from potentially harmful and highly offensive statements about mental health and suicide”.
The 57,793 complaints – the highest in Ofcom’s 18-year history – related to Good Morning Britain on 8 and 9 March, the mornings before and after the Oprah interview with Meghan and Harry was broadcast in the UK.
In the in-depth interview, the duchess revealed her mental health became so bad she “didn’t want to be alive any more”, that she did not receive the help she asked for from Buckingham Palace, and that an unnamed member of the Royal Family had queried “how dark” their son Archie’s skin might be.
The following day, Morgan said he did not “believe a word she said”, that he “wouldn’t believe it if she read me a weather report”, and “the fact that she’s fired up this onslaught against our Royal Family I think is contemptible”.
He briefly walked off the programme after clashing with weather presenter Alex Beresford, and was later criticised by mental health charity Mind.
His departure from the show after six often confrontational and controversial years was announced that evening.
Morgan later conceded that it was “not for me to question if she felt suicidal”, but has defended his “right to be allowed to have an opinion”.
He has continued to refer to her as “Princess Pinocchio” and was recently nominated for the National Television Award for best TV presenter.
Ofcom said: “Consistent with freedom of expression, Mr Morgan was entitled to say he disbelieved the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s allegations and to hold and express strong views that rigorously challenged their account.
“The [Ofcom broadcasting] code allows for individuals to express strongly held and robustly argued views, including those that are potentially harmful or highly offensive, and for broadcasters to include these in their programming.
“The restriction of such views would, in our view, be an unwarranted and chilling restriction on freedom of expression both of the broadcaster and the audience.”
However, the regulator said it had concerns over his comments about suicide and mental health.
“We were particularly concerned about Mr Morgan’s approach to such an important and serious issue and his apparent disregard for the seriousness of anyone expressing suicidal thoughts,” it said.
Ofcom “would have been seriously concerned” if he had not been challenged by co-hosts Susanna Reid and Chris Ship, which provided “adequate protection for viewers”, it added.
Morgan didn’t refer to that part of Ofcom’s report in a column about the ruling for the Mail, saying the overall decision “came down to an unequivocal and emphatic endorsement of my right to an opinion”.
He wrote: “It was preposterous that I had to leave a job I loved because I didn’t believe a demonstrable liar.
“But it happened because the corporate world has been cowed into surrendering to the woke mob whenever it bays for blood.”
Speaking later, he added: “The conclusion says I was entitled to not believe them… and by the way you’re all entitled to not believe me.”
ITV said it was Morgan’s decision to leave GMB and it has no plans to invite him back to the programme, but it will keep working with him on his Life Stories series.
The broadcaster welcomed Ofcom’s decision. “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 said in a statement.
“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.”
The duchess has not commented on the ruling.
‘Important discussion on race’
Ofcom’s report added: “While we acknowledged that Mr Morgan’s questions about the nature of racism had the potential to be highly offensive to some viewers, the conversations about race and racism in this programme provided open debate on the issues raised by the interview.
“We also considered that the programme allowed for an important discussion to be had on the nature and impact of racism. ITV had clearly anticipated that racial issues would be discussed at length as part of the coverage of the interview and had taken steps to ensure context could be provided during the discussions.
“Despite strong opinions expressed during the programme, in Ofcom’s view any potential offence was justified by the context and the comments and discussions about race and racism were not in breach of rule 2.3 of the code.”
A further 6,480 people complained about the original Oprah interview. On Wednesday, Ofcom said it would not investigate those complaints.
“In our view, the interview was clearly presented as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s personal testimony, which would be open to viewer interpretation,” a statement said.
Also on Wednesday, Ofcom rejected more than 36,000 complaints about the latest series of ITV2’s Love Island, including almost 25,000 about Faye’s behaviour towards Teddy.
“We assessed a high number of complaints from viewers who were troubled by a contestant’s behaviour and language,” an Ofcom spokeswoman said.
“Although we recognise that emotionally-charged confrontation between couples can make for uncomfortable viewing, we consider the scenes were within viewers’ likely expectations of this programme’s established format.
“We also took into account that the programme showed other contestants supporting Teddy, and that Faye resolved to apologise for her actions.”
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