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March 19, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:08am

Journalists among 4,000 to make Ofcom complaints over ITV’s Harry and Meghan interview

By Charlotte Tobitt

Newspaper and TV journalists are among more than 4,000 people who have made complaints to Ofcom about Oprah’s Winfrey’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

The complaints included that inaccurate and misleading allegations about the press and the Royal family had been broadcast by ITV as facts without giving any right of reply.

Ofcom had received 4,398 complaints about the 8 March broadcast, it said on Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the regulator said: “We are assessing the complaints against our broadcasting rules, but are yet to decide whether or not to investigate.”

Press Gazette understands at least one ITV journalist and half a dozen national tabloid and broadsheet journalists were among the people who complained.

One journalist, who shared their complaint with Press Gazette on the condition they remain anonymous, described the programme as a “two-hour PR puff”.

“Over the two-hour broadcast, Ms Markle made slanderous comments about the Royal family, inaccurate allegations about the UK media – one-third of the  headlines shown in a montage were from out of the UK – and false statements re Archie not having a title,” they told Ofcom.

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“Who did you give a right of reply to and when? The programme was a PR puff for the couple. ITV should have fact-checked – did it re the ‘wedding’ days before? Did it ask the Royal family, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Markles, newspaper companies for a response? If so, when? If not, why?

“It was an unbalanced piece of theatre. You allowed incorrect statements such as the title to be broadcast without checking. Very sloppy standards of journalism shown by ITV and CBS.”

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Separately, retired Newcastle Evening Chronicle production editor Jane Young told Press Gazette she had decided to complain because she believed Oprah, CBS and ITV had “ignored basic journalistic good practice by failing to balance the interview”.

She said: “Any junior reporter on the smallest weekly knows to fact check and provide the right of reply to damaging allegations but there was no attempt to provide balance.

“ITV broadcast a follow-up a few days later with some talking heads but it was too little too late.

“Oprah was content to allow the British newspapers to be trashed by Meghan. Her ‘truth’ was accepted without question.”

Her complaint noted that the programme contained “extremely serious allegations” that were “unsubstantiated yet went unchallenged”.

Among them, she said, were claims relating to the behaviour of the British press, alleged remarks about the skin colour of Meghan’s unborn child, the failure of the Royal household to offer support when she suffered mental health problems, a row with her sister-in-law Kate and her and Harry’s “secret wedding” officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the legitimacy of which has been questioned.

Young told Ofcom: “I am not disputing the right of the Duchess and Duke to speak out on these matters. My complaint is that unsubstantiated and controversial claims were accepted as fact without challenge. There appeared to be no attempt by the broadcasters, CBS in the US and ITV in the UK, to fact check the accuracy of anything that was said. No right of reply appeared to have been given.”

Young told Press Gazette she believed “one or two” headlines at the start of Harry and Meghan’s relationship could be construed as racist “but the vast majority were positive”.

“She was welcomed into the UK and the Royal family until she blew it and that had nothing to do with race,” she said.

“Of course, as glamorous young royals Meghan and Harry were the subject of press attention but they seemed unable to handle legitimate criticism. For example their use of private jets while preaching about saving the planet and their spending such as the famous baby shower in New York.

“Race relations in the UK and America are at a very low point and this interview has fanned the flames, which is not only damaging to the Royal Family but to all of us in the UK.”

[Read more: Mirror pulls out of Press Awards diversity categories amid call for retraction of bigotry statement]

Section five of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code requires news to be reported with due accuracy and states that views and facts must not be misrepresented.

ITV faces 57,000+ Ofcom complaints over Piers Morgan response to Meghan interview claims

Ofcom revealed on Wednesday that 57,121 people had lodged complaints about Piers Morgan’s behaviour on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on 8 and 9 March, when he first said he “didn’t believe a word” of what Meghan had said in her interview and then stormed off the set when challenged by weather presenter Alex Beresford.

Morgan tweeted in response: “Only 57,000? I’ve had more people than that come up and congratulate me in the street for what I said. The vast majority of Britons are right behind me.”

Ofcom confirmed the programmes had attracted the highest number of complaints since its reporting began, knocking the 2007 Celebrity Big Brother race row between Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty off the top spot which had 44,500.

UK ‘bigoted’ media debate

Prince Harry’s claim that the “UK press is bigoted, specifically the tabloids” and Oprah’s voiceover referring to “constant criticism, blatant sexist racist remarks by British tabloids and internet trolls” has led to a row within the UK news industry.

Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray resigned after a backlash to his blanket denial that “the UK media is not bigoted”.

Former Sun executive editor Fergus Shanahan told Press Gazette he was “saddened” that Murray, as a “lifelong defender” of the free press, had been “hounded out of his job”.

“As he rightly said, the UK press – particularly the tabloids – bent over backwards to give Meghan a warm welcome,” Shanahan said. “It bent over backwards to indulge whining Harry. It did not deserve their kicking, for which the couple continue to offer no evidence.

“The artfully-edited headlines displayed during the Oprah interview to suggest racism in the British Press were deceitful as everyone knows.

“In 35 years on Fleet Street I never saw the bigotry and racism alleged. If Meghan and Harry and their fellow woke travellers want to go around spraying unfounded allegations and destroying careers, let them put up or shut up.”

However, many journalists and members of the public share Harry’s belief that the UK tabloid press is bigoted.

Nadine White, race correspondent for The Independent, said: “Something is clearly amiss. The Society of Editors said it was untrue that sections of the UK press were bigoted. Evidence – the actual coverage – suggests otherwise and, also, how does one explain the UK media industry’s appalling diversity statistics?”

Former Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson said: “A huge section of the UK’s national press is as bigoted as ever, and at times outright racist.”

And former Times journalist Katherine O’Donnell said: “The claim that no section of the UK press is bigoted is as absurd as it is untrue. As a national newspaper journalist, I have seen every kind of prejudice and bigotry at work in UK newsrooms.”

Editors including Katharine Viner of The Guardian, Roula Khalaf of the FT, Rochel Oldroyd of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Jess Brammar of Huffpost UK have expressed concerns about the Society of Editors statement that the press is not bigoted.

ITV has removed five headlines from a montage used misleadingly in the Oprah broadcast to back up the allegation that press coverage was racist.

[Read more: CBS renews attack on UK tabloids but ITV removes five headlines from Meghan montage]

Picture: Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images

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