Good Morning Britain breached the broadcasting code when presenter Piers Morgan refused to read out a council’s response to a feature about a homeless SAS veteran, telling them to “stick your statements”.
ITV told Ofcom Morgan’s decision not to read out the statement from Herefordshire County Council – he also said he “can’t be bothered” to read it out – was an “entirely unscripted and spontaneous gesture”.
The council complained to Ofcom about two GMB programmes in January featuring then homeless ex-military man Bob Curry after a petition was set up calling on the local authority to provide him with social housing.
On 22 January, GMB interviewed Curry and another former SAS soldier who was also involved in the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege, Rusty Firmin.
Curry told Morgan and co-presenter Susanna Reid he had ended up homeless after the collapse of his business and his relationship alongside money troubles, adding that he had been facing a “constant battle” with Herefordshire council.
Morgan was vocal in his support for Curry, saying he was a “really great hero and he needs to be treated better”.
At the end of the interview, he said: “I think it’s absolutely disgusting, I’m sure the viewers think it’s disgusting. There’s a statement from the council, I was going to read it, but you know what? I can’t be bothered.
“Here’s the reality Herefordshire Council, you can come up with all the statements you like, this guy is a national hero, they both are, he’s homeless because you have not seen fit to take care of him.
“So rather than issuing stupid little statements to us, why don’t you do your jobs and give this guy a proper council house right now? I.e. today. And show that this country values what he did, and what Rusty Firmin did, that day.
“That day alone should justify them being taken care of for the rest of their lives. Not selling their medals and living on park benches. It is reprehensible, so stick your statements and get action and get him to a council home today.”
The local authority told Ofcom it was treated unfairly because although it was provided with an opportunity to respond to the claims, its views were not represented.
The council said GMB had therefore represented the facts of Curry’s case incorrectly, failed to make clear to viewers the “limits of the council’s capability”, provided a negative view of the council, and did “not allow for proper consideration of the facts”, making for a one-sided programme.
ITV told Ofcom it had made multiple efforts to obtain a response from the council in the three days preceding the interview, and that the night before it received only a general statement, with no specific reference to Curry.
The statement was provided to the presenters in their briefing before the interview for inclusion in the story and ITV said Morgan’s refusal to read it out had to be considered in the broader context of the interview, as it did not respond to any of Curry’s specific claims.
ITV added that the show’s producers ensured the council’s statement was included in an online article about the interview.
Although the council’s position was given in a number of subsequent GMB programmes, Ofcom said it was not sufficient to rely on this when it was not covered at all in the 22 January broadcast.
Upholding the complaint on this programme, Ofcom said: “In our view, the programme focused on Mr Curry’s version of events and therefore, Mr Morgan’s decision to dismiss the Council’s statement outright and not read it, or to reflect in summary what it said in response, meant that at no point in this programme was the council’s view reflected.
“As a consequence, we considered that viewers were not provided with an opportunity to understand the council’s position and that this had the clear potential to materially and adversely affect viewers’ opinions of the council in a way that was unfair.”
Herefordshire County Council also complained about the next day’s GMB programme on 23 January, in which Morgan said Curry had not “heard a word all day yesterday” from the council, adding:: “We have tried to go to the council”.
A pre-recorded report was then aired which had been filmed inside the council’s offices where reporter Nick Dixon asked to speak to chief executive Alistair Neill.
A member of the council’s communications team was heard repeatedly telling Dixon “we don’t comment on individual cases” and pointing him online for more general information about how the council supports veterans.
After the report aired, Morgan said: “They don’t want to know, they don’t want to help, they don’t want to do anything.”
However Ofcom said Dixon’s interview “fairly reflected the council’s position” and that it was reasonable for the programme makers to take this as its most up-to-date response, even though it did not use previous statements which had been provided.
The regulator did not upheld a breach on the 23 January programme.
Curry has since been found a bungalow to live in after a campaign to find him a home led by author Andy McNab and backed by The Sun.