(CNN Business)UK media regulator Ofcom has cleared TV host Piers Morgan of breaching British broadcasting rules with his criticism of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, rejecting more than 50,000 complaints from viewers.
In a March 8 edition of ITV’s “Good Morning Britain” show, Morgan questioned whether Meghan was being truthful about having suicidal thoughts — a major revelation from her blockbuster interview with Oprah Winfrey. His comments sparked a huge controversy in Britain, and he was rebuked by mental health charity Mind.
A spokesperson for Ofcom told CNN Business on Wednesday that it was “the most complained about” program.
Justifying what it described as a “finely-balanced” decision, Ofcom said the comments were potentially “harmful and offensive to viewers” but it took into account freedom of expression and the “strong challenge” of Morgan’s co-host on the show, which prompted him to walk off set.
Meghan made a formal complaint to ITV relating to Morgan’s comments about her mental health, CNN learned at the time. Her complaint to ITV concerned the impact Morgan’s comments could have on others and how it could degrade the seriousness of mental health issues. The complaint did not relate to the personal nature of Morgan’s attacks.
Following the backlash from members of the public and Mind, Morgan stepped down from his role on March 9, with a statement from ITV saying he had “decided now is the time to leave Good Morning Britain.”
UK media regulator Ofcom published a 97-page report on Wednesday and found that the case was “not in breach of its broadcasting rules.”
More than 50,000 complaints were received, Ofcom said, the majority of which said that comments about mental health and suicide made by Morgan were “both harmful to the audience and highly offensive” as were discussions on issues relating to race and racism.
The regulator said: “We were particularly concerned about Mr Morgan’s approach to such an important and serious issue and his apparent disregard for the seriousness of anyone expressing suicidal thoughts.”
“But we also took full account of freedom of expression. Under our rules, broadcasters can include controversial opinions as part of legitimate debate in the public interest, and the strong challenge to Mr Morgan from other contributors provided important context for viewers,” it said.
“Nonetheless, we’ve reminded ITV to take greater care around content discussing mental health and suicide in future. ITV might consider the use of timely warnings or signposting of support services to ensure viewers are properly protected,” Ofcom warned.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Morgan called Ofcom’s ruling a “vindication of me” a “resounding victory for freedom of speech and a resounding defeat for Princess Pinocchios who think we should all be compelled to believe every fork-tongued word they say.”
CNN has contacted ITV for comment.
— Max Foster and Niamh Kennedy contributed reporting.
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