Should opinion have a place in news reporting? In an ideal world, objective reporting would allow people to make up their own minds about current affairs. But from the off, this isn’t realistic. There’s a sliding scale when the media engages with political and personal biases, and Sky, Channel 4, and BBC’s news programmes are not immune to this. Openly political news reporting such as Good Morning Britain go one step further, opening the floor to a range of voices reflecting their political agenda. Beyond that is political satire, such as recently-cancelled The Mash Report, the BBC show that poked fun at the obvious political biases in our allegedly objective news. In order to meet the BBC’s standards of impartiality, front man Nish Kumar was accompanied every week by right-wing comedian Geoff Norcott (this was an unusual but effective arrangement) which allowed The Mash Report to be aired. There is a huge range when it comes to reporting the news, making it tricky to know where your news presenters stand, and I’d suggest this ambiguity only causes problems.
Whatever guidelines are in place, it’s inevitable political bias affects the way that news is reported. Newspapers are divided into left and right, and because of the way news is shared, often tailor their social media headlines to a culture of sensationalism purely to garner engagement. Likewise, programmes like Good Morning Britain will tailor their content towards interaction and engagement. As a breakfast talk show hosted on ITV, it’s not held to the standards of impartiality that news programmes on the BBC are – and it’s this allowing people like Piers Morgan a platform. In comparison to the BBC’s Naga Munchetty, who was formally warned for giving her opinion on Donald Trump, Piers Morgan’s comments are opinionated to the extreme and border on, in some cases, hate.
A 2018 column written by Morgan for the Daily Mail is a vitriolic tirade accusing Meghan Markle of ‘ghosting’ him after a meal together. Adopting terms like ‘ghosting’ into his vocabulary immediately engages with a younger audience; it’s emotionally charged language, designed to get his readers on side and caters to sensationalist culture. Fast-forward to 2021 and Meghan opens up about the treatment she’s received from the royal family. Instead of taking her words at face-value, Morgan takes the opportunity to vent his stung pride, live on Good Morning Britain, to an audience of hundreds of thousands.
His commentaries have the strange attraction of a car crash: you hate to watch but you can’t look away. The line between theatricality, politics and personal bias is blurred. Where programmes like The Last Leg have produced iconic examples of political rants (think Adam Hills) their brand is openly entertainment-focused. Morgan’s performances on Good Morning Britain are even more well-known, but so much of what he says strays from fact and enters the realm of personal opinion and grudges. Like a comedian, however, he has adopted a kind of stage persona which he uses to inflame and sensationalise. This garners fame (or perhaps notoriety) no matter what we all think of him. His privilege and confidence allow him to act this way without any serious consequence – let’s not forget he wasn’t even fired for his comments, he willingly resigned and crafted a political martyr of himself. With an alleged net worth of $20million, he will not feel the financial consequences of his actions either.
In a statement following Morgan’s on-air reaction to the royal interview and the 40,000-odd subsequent complaints to Ofcom, the chief executive of ITV Dame Carolyn McCall said ITV was trying to represent ‘many voices’ and there is ‘not just one opinion.’ But does this excuse Morgan’s behaviour? You could cite free speech and agree he should be given the floor – but what are Morgan’s criticisms founded upon? Is it an analytical discussion of Meghan’s experiences, taking into account the past record of the Royal Family? Or was it someone too prideful to put aside his personal connection to the story in order to listen to a mixed-race woman opening up about something incredibly traumatic? If he can’t put his bias aside – as he has now proved he cannot – should he have even been part of the team reporting on the story? Probably not. And more disturbingly, could he increase his own fame from his reaction to a mixed-race woman’s trauma?
Piers Morgan is the perfect example of when fact, opinion, and bias are blurred, and sensationalism takes hold.
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