Piers Morgan may have been “particularly offensive” when he mimicked the Chinese language, but his behavior wasn’t a breach of broadcast guidelines, the UK broadcast regulator OfCom ruled.
Morgan, a host of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, upset many viewers with his mimicking of Chinese during a segment on a Chinese advertisement for milk featuring Queen Elizabeth’s grandson Peter Phillips, as iMediaEthics previously reported. ITV apologized and said Morgan’s comments were “spontaneous” and “intended to mock a member of the Royal family…not intended to mock or denigrate Chinese people, their language or accent.” More than 1,600 people complained to OfCom.
ITV told OfCom, “Piers Morgan does not speak Chinese and was trying to mimic the wording of the advert, in order to comically juxtapose the advert’s Chinese language voiceover with Peter Phillips’ claim in the advert, delivered incongruously in English, to drink this milk.” ITV also pointed out that Morgan’s co-host, Susanna Reid, confronted Morgan about his comments. This, according to the network, helped “mitigate to some extent the potential for offence.”
OfCom found that it was “legitimate” for Morgan to “question” and “use satire and ridicule” when talking about Phillips’ participation in the ad. OfCom noted that Morgan’s mimicking use of the phrase “ching chang” was a “racist trope” but found that “the degree of challenge and context given to the potentially offensive comments” helped mitigate.
“We also took into account that the focus of Piers Morgan’s ridicule was Peter Phillips’ appearance in the advert, not Chinese people nor the Chinese language that he attempted to mimic,” OfCom found.
ITV declined to comment to iMediaEthics.
OfCom added that its decision was “finely balanced” between freedom of expression and degrees of offensiveness but ultimately dismissed the complaint. “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. 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 added.
iMediaEthics has written to ITV.