Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, has warned ITV of relying on a “combative dynamic” between presenters, after more than 1,600 people made a complaint about an incident involving Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain earlier this year.
Back in January, Piers irked his co-host Susanna Reid when he made a string of noises live on air, in what was apparently an imitation of a Chinese advert featuring the Queen’s grandson, Peter Phillips.
The divisive presenter then requested the ad be played again, after which he declared: “Ching chang cho jo”, again trying to repeat what was being said in the clip.
ITV apologised for the incident two months later, after Ofcom received more than 1,600 complaints, and the media regulator has now said they will not be taking the matter any further.
“It was legitimate for Piers Morgan to question Peter Phillips’ decision to appear in an advertisement for Chinese state milk and to use satire and ridicule in doing so,” they explained in a statement.
“However, part of Piers Morgan’s mockery included three attempts to mimic the Chinese language, including using the phrase ‘ching chang’. As ITV has itself acknowledged, this phrase is recognised as a racist trope aimed specifically at people of Chinese heritage.
“Our recently published research indicates that audiences have a particular concern about content which is discriminatory. In our view, the use of the phrase and variations of it had the potential to be particularly offensive to viewers.”
Referring to Susanna’s interjections, which included telling Piers that “taking the mickey out of foreign languages is rather 1970s”, they noted: “We accepted this was an attempt by Susanna Reid to point out that some viewers would find his imitation offensive.
“Having carefully considered the context within which the comments were broadcast and the action taken by ITV, including discussing these complaints with Piers Morgan and making a public apology, Ofcom concluded overall that this programme did not warrant further investigation under rule 2.3 of the Code.”
Ofcom’s statement concluded: “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.”
In their apology, shared last month, ITV said: “These comments were intended to mock a member of the Royal Family and were not intended to mock or denigrate Chinese people, their language or accent.
“ITV regrets any offence Piers’ comments may unintentionally have caused.”
The presenter later insisted on Twitter that he wasn’t “mocking Chinese people”, but was instead mocking a “a member of the British royal family appearing in an advert for Chinese state milk”.
Good Morning Britain airs weekdays at 6am on ITV.