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March 13, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:07am

Misleading headlines removed from ITV version of Meghan interview but CBS remains silent

By William Turvill

Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers has demanded that CBS remove a “misleading montage” of newspaper headlines from its “Oprah with Meghan and Harry” broadcast.

The US network, owned by ViacomCBS, has so far refused to comment on the affair.

However, ITV – which aired the Meghan and Harry interview in the UK – has removed four misleading headlines from the version of the two-hour interview on ITV Player.

Associated Newspapers alleges that the programme does not, in its current form, “comply with the ViacomCBS editorial policies or align with its stated values”.

The publisher has called on CBS to investigate a section of the interview that apparently sought to demonstrate how the British media’s coverage of Meghan Markle may have been racist.

[Read more: Mirror pulls out of Press Awards diversity amid call for retraction of ‘press not bigoted’ statement]

In a letter sent to CBS on Friday, Associated Newspapers’ group editorial legal director, Elizabeth Hartley, said: “As a responsible broadcaster with integrity we believe… that you will deprecate, as we do, the deliberate distortion and doctoring of newspaper headlines in the misleading montage of British newspapers broadcast in ‘Oprah with Meghan and Harry’. 

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“Many of the headlines have been either taken out of context or deliberately edited and displayed as supporting evidence for the programme’s claim that the Duchess of Sussex was subjected to racist coverage by the British press. 

“This editing was not made apparent to viewers and, as a result, this section of the programme is both seriously inaccurate and misleading.”

The letter was sent after the Telegraph and Mail published articles that sought to demonstrate how some British newspaper headlines had been distorted to demonstrate racism. 

The Telegraph reported that a third of the headlines highlighted were in fact from non-UK gossip magazines. After analysing more than 30 headlines shown in the programme, the Telegraph found that stories from 11 American and Australian supermarket tabloids were included. In other cases, it found that headlines used by producers to allege racial bias by UK newspapers were actually reports exposing racial slurs made by others.

One headline used in the documentary during the section about newspaper racism was a Guardian report (pictured above) of a row over a tweet posted by former BBC radio presenter Danny Baker.

In the legal letter, Associated Newspapers included four examples to demonstrate wrongdoing. Hartley said the “most egregious” example was the use of the headline: ‘Meghan’s seed will taint our Royal Family’.

“The original, unedited, headline in fact was a report of the suspension from UKIP of someone over this and other racist texts about Meghan,” she wrote.

“The headline you have broadcast is neither accurate nor could it be said to be an expression of ‘creative integrity’. It is a thoroughly dishonest misrepresentation of a newspaper headline and article which was the opposite of racist. No one viewing the programme would have understood this from the montage. 

“Associated Newspapers unquestionably supports freedom of speech and the First Amendment. We do not believe in seeking to stifle debate or criticism based on accurate facts. That is however demonstrably not the position in relation to this montage.

“The programme makers seemingly felt the need to create these headlines in the absence of evidence to support their point on a subject the ramifications of which are extremely important and damaging. It reflects very badly on them and does the debate on the vital subject of racism considerable harm.

“In light of the above, and given that these inaccurate statements have been the subject of prominent public analysis in the UK, we anticipate that you will already be taking steps to investigate the montage and address how it came to be produced.

“In the meantime it continues to be made available by you to viewers on demand. If you are not making enquiries, then you must do so, if you stand by the principles of accuracy and integrity which you espouse, and remove the montage from the footage without delay.”

She added: “In conclusion, the programme in its current form, does not comply with the ViacomCBS editorial policies or align with its stated values. In terms of both accuracy and integrity, the programme is clearly compromised by the inclusion of this misleading montage.

“Accordingly, I should be grateful for your urgent confirmation that the offending content will be removed from the programme currently being made available to the public. We also understand that a further broadcast is being planned tonight. The montage should therefore be deleted prior to that broadcast.”

CBS has been asked for comment. Oprah Winfrey’s production company, Harpo Productions, issued a statement to Variety defending its journalism.

It said: “Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, shared in the interview their personal story. We stand by the broadcast in its entirety.”

ITV makes changes to headline montage shown during Meghan interview

ITV has removed four of the newspaper headlines shown during the Meghan interview as evidence of tabloid racism, three of which are from Associated Newspapers including the “Meghan’s seed” Mail on Sunday headline.

It has also removed The Guardian headline: “BBC’s Danny Baker on comparing royal baby to a chimp.”

The Guardian has said it can find no record of the latter headline appearing. And in any case it would have been a reference to a photo which the Radio One DJ shared on Twitter showing a couple holding hands with a chimpanzee accompanied by the message: “Royal Baby leaves hospital”.

Baker `has said the tweet was “a stupid unthinking gag pic” which was not intended to be racist.

The Mail on Sunday urged CBS and ITV to apologise.

It sad in a leader column: “The presentation on CBS contrived to suggest that we were expressing the very thing we were condemning.

“How could CBS, once the home of the greatest and most principled of all American broadcasters, Edward R. Murrow, have sunk to such depths of distortion?

“How could ITV, the inheritor of decades of superb news and current affairs broadcasting, have allowed itself to be used as a conduit for such televisual effluent?

“No interpretation of the principle of free speech permits such behaviour. Those responsible should be identified and held to account.

“The broadcasters should swiftly admit their wrongdoing, and apologise.”

An ITV spokesperson said: “Regarding the headlines the Mail on Sunday have drawn to our attention, we have taken steps to edit these on the ITV Hub.”

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