ITV will not investigate Piers Morgan in the wake of a social media row that led more than 1,000 industry professionals to sign an open letter of protest to the broadcaster.
The letter, sent to ITV chief executive Carolyn McCall and director of television Kevin Lygo, referred to a heated Twitter exchange between Morgan and producer and campaigner Adeel Amini. In its response, ITV said both parties must take responsibility for their own posts.
Morgan, who presents ITV shows Good Morning Britain and Life Stories, took umbrage at a tweet by Amini, a freelance producer and the founder of the pan-industry Coalition for Change, to which ITV signed up at its launch last August.
Asking his freelance followers whether they would turn down a job based on a company’s output, a show’s presenter or the message the production sends out, Amini said that he had once been a researcher on Life Stories, but now would “very much say no”.
His comments elicited a range of responses from freelancers, collected at the end of this item.
Morgan responded that Amini’s two months on Life Stories 11 years ago represented the “pinnacle” of the producer’s career, adding: “You really don’t need to worry about getting any more job offers from me because I’d rather employ a lobotomised aardvark.”
Since working on Life Stories, Amini has worked on shows such as ITV’s Catchphrase and Channel 5’s Blind Date.
The presenter subsequently told his 7.7m followers that Amini is “an abusive hypocrite”.
The letter, organised by an anonymous group of freelancers, expressed alarm that Morgan had “repeatedly targeted and tagged a former staff-member in derogatory posts”.
In its statement, ITV reiterated that while "there is no room for bullying" at the broadcaster, it did not believe it should intervene in a social media spat.
"ITV takes any allegations of bullying and harassment in the workplace very seriously indeed," it stated.
"We have an independent whistleblowing helpline which we communicate through our induction process and which we monitor on an on-going basis, in addition to our internal grievance procedures channels, which are open to both permanent members of staff and freelancers.
The broadcaster said that Morgan is employed as a freelancer and it has no oversight or control of his social media - and that both parties are personally responsible for their own social media output.
"We understand some producers wish to express their views on their personal platforms, and we also think it is widely understood that Piers is a prolific and long-standing user of social media where he is well known for engaging in robust, heated exchanges, when criticism is levelled against him," ITV added.
Amini has shared his disappointment with the response, and said he expected to continue the debate at the Coalition's next meeting in April.
The open letter
Decrying Morgan’s “targeted abuse”, the open letter argued that the situation is symptomatic of wider problems within TV.
“As freelancers working within television, we feel a responsibility to speak out against bullying and harassment wherever we see it, including from on screen personalities who are all too often poorly reprimanded for unacceptable behaviour and abusive conduct,” the letter states.
“We believe silence in the face of harassment is complicity, which in turn allows abusive behaviour to continue behind the scenes at every level of programme making. In particular, the abuses of on-screen talent are all too often overlooked, at the expense of the dignity, health and safety of the freelancers they target.”
"It's easier to be ethical when work is plentiful": freelancers respond
Some freelancers responding to Amini's tweet pointed to specific decisions they said they had made on moral grounds. One said they turned down Top Gear after presenter Jeremy Clarkson's confrontation with a member of his team, while another declared that turning down Channel 4 series Benefits Street was "one of the highlights of my career".
Another said they turned down a well-paid job as the company had made shows with outspoken personality Katie Hopkins - although they acknowledge that "it requires a certain level of privilege to be able to do that".
This was echoed in another response: "I think it’s easier to be ethical when work is plentiful and you don’t have to worry about bills."
But the discussion was dominated by the practicalities of the TV career ladder: take what you can get on the way up, then learn to be more choosy once you have established yourself, as these three freelancers demonstrate:
"I worked on shows I never thought I would, I found them exploitative and felt bad for being part of it but I was a lot more junior then and when you're at that level you say yes to as much as you can, not only because you want people to know and remember you but also because the pay gap is huge and you can't afford to say no!"
"Biggest pitfall of freelancing is lack of security. Too often it’s a needs must. Early in careers and in times of uncertainty morals are tested. Fear of lost income, damage to reputation, desire to climb ladder are major pulls when deciding who & what to work on."
"I think now having the benefit of being more senior/experienced means I’m not afraid of making these choices. Generally speaking I make more considered decisions about the jobs I take now. I now also regret some of the previous projects I’ve worked on for a multitude of reasons."