ITV’s Good Morning Britain aired a segment about a homeless veteran and a petition with more than half-a-million signatures to get the local county council to help him find housing.
But Piers Morgan, the host of the segment, didn’t broadcast the Herefordshire County Council’s response to the claims, OfCom, the UK broadcast regulator explained. Because he didn’t air the council’s side of the story, the program broke OfCom’s guidelines and was unfair.
The Jan. 22, 2018 segment reported on Bob Curry, a UK veteran “who stormed the Iranian Embassy back in 1980 and freed 19 hostages,” and a popular petition to request council housing. In a follow-up segment, Morgan criticized the council at length for not providing him housing.
“The Council said that, as a consequence, the programmes represented the facts of Mr Bob 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’, all of which resulted in the story being one-sided,” OfCom reported. The council said it “does not hold any council house stock” and doesn’t make decisions about who gets housing, OfCom added, and claimed that Curry’s housing application lacked “supporting paperwork.”
Further, the council said the report upset the public and “led to abusive and unfair treatment of staff,” OfCom said.
The council complained to OfCom saying that it did provide a comment and statement prior to the Jan. 22 program and that neither the comment nor the statement were included in Morgan’s broadcast. The council said it also provided more comments for a follow-up story that weren’t broadcast.
In its defense, ITV pointed to the print news coverage of Curry’s case as context for its reporting and noted that it did several segments about Curry’s story. Further, ITV said that the council didn’t respond “to specific claims” raised by the program “until after the two programmes complained of,” OfCom reported.
While ITV had received the statement that it characterized as “general,” Morgan decided not to read it in an “entirely unscripted and spontaneous gesture” because he didn’t think it responded to ITV’s claims and concerns, OfCom reported. ITV also pointed to its attempts to interview the council’s chief executive in person about Curry’s case.
OfCom rule that it wasn’t unfair to not include the council’s defense that it can’t decide who gets housing because the council didn’t say that in the statement it gave ITV before the report. However, it was unfair to omit the council’s statement explaining Curry’s application couldn’t be processed because it didn’t have enough information and that Curry turned down two other properties.
“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,” OfCom ruled concerning the Jan. 22 original broadcast. OfCom rejected any complaint about the follow-up Jan. 23 program being unfair, though.
iMediaEthics has asked ITV if it will require all hosts to air any rebuttals moving forward. We’ve also contacted the council to see if it is satisfied with the results of its complaint.