Ofcom has warned ITV that relying on a “combative dynamic” between presenters, such as Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain, can prove risky in complying with the Broadcasting Code.
The warning came as the regulator published its response to more than 1,600 complaints into Morgan’s mimicry of the Chinese language using a “racist trope” during the programme on 21 January.
Morgan and Reid presented an item about the Queen’s grandson Peter Phillips starring in a TV advert for Chinese state milk.
During the discussion, Morgan referred to it as “yeng yeng dong dong yong ming ming milk” and “ching chang chong milk”.
In response, Reid told him repeatedly that “you can’t” say that, adding that “taking the mickey out of foreign languages is rather 1970”.
She added: “Piers, do you not realise the kind of woke times we’re living in?”
Morgan insisted he had been “trying to mimic the wording of that advertisement” and to mock Phillips rather than the Chinese people.
ITV issued an apology a month later, saying it “regrets any offence Piers’ comments may unintentionally have caused”.
Ofcom has now published its response to the incident as it decided not to pursue a full investigation.
It said Reid’s interventions “gave some challenge to Piers Morgan’s mimicry of the Chinese language and provided some mitigation to the potential offence”, and praised her attempt to point out that some viewers may have found his words offensive.
But the regulator went on to issue a warning over GMB’s presenting style.
“We remind ITV that there are compliance risks in relying on a ‘combative dynamic’ between presenters as a way to provide challenge and context for the broadcast of content which may cause offence,” Ofcom said.
“This approach can provide significant context, as in this case.
“However, depending on the particular circumstances, this may not always provide sufficient context to comply with the code.”
Ofcom welcomed the fact that ITV had issued an apology and discussed the complaints with Morgan to reduce the likelihood of a similar incident happening again.
Concluding that the programme did not warrant further investigation, the regulator said: “This was a finely balanced decision in which Ofcom had to take careful account of the right to freedom of expression, and the degree to which these comments had the potential to cause offence, particularly to viewers of Chinese heritage.”