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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Mark Sweney Media business correspondent

ITV boss denies management turned ‘blind eye’ to Phillip Schofield affair

Phillip Schofield quit This Morning
Schofield quit This Morning after admitting that he had lied about an ‘unwise, but not illegal’ affair. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Reuters

The chief executive of ITV has denied that management may have been motivated to cover up Phillip Schofield’s affair with a younger member of staff to avoid potentially commercially harming its flagship This Morning programme.

Schofield quit This Morning after admitting that he had lied about an “unwise, but not illegal” affair, prompting accusations from former presenters such as Piers Morgan and Eamonn Holmes that the relationship had been known about throughout the broadcaster but no action had been taken.

Appearing before the Commons culture, media and sport committee, ITV’s chief executive, Carolyn McCall, was asked by the committee chair, Caroline Dinenage, if management had turned a “blind eye” to pursuing an investigation when rumours first emerged to protect against the potential commercial fallout for ITV.

“[Not investigating] had nothing to do with This Morning being commercially successful,” she said. “We were trying to ask and did ask questions, repeatedly and continuously, and we were repeatedly told there was nothing happening. No one here on the management board would ever turn a blind eye to something as serious as this. If we had known at the time we would have taken action swiftly.”

McCall repeatedly told the select committee of MPs that management had conducted an “ongoing review” whenever rumours emerged in the press or internally about Schofield, but there was never enough evidence to move to a formal investigation.

“People who have said they knew would only have heard rumours about it,” she said. “It is not in our interest in any way not to have investigated something if we had evidence. We didn’t have any legal grounds to do that.”

McCall said that comments by former staff such as Holmes, who tweeted that ITV management was “guilty” for knowing about Schofield but not taking action, were “actually defamatory, never mind anything else, but we would never say that as it would just inflame the situation”.

Kevin Lygo, the managing director of media and entertainment at ITV, said attacks by the likes of Holmes, Morgan and others were a case of sour grapes from disgruntled ex-presenters.

“Presenters of programmes have a slight feeling they have a divine right to stay there for ever. They have generally been loyal servants to ITV. It is not surprising, is it, that when they go it’s: ‘I hate ITV, it is awful,’ when for a decade or more they were enjoying the job, reaping the rewards?”

McCall said that in the time since management became aware of the rumours about Schofield’s relationship with “Person X”, after a December 2019 newspaper article suggesting a “close friendship” with a staff member on This Morning, the company had asked the young male runner 12 times formally and informally about the rumours.

“We have logs of the conversations; in each stage he categorically denied it,” said Kyla Mullins, the general counsel and company secretary at ITV.

Schofield was also asked about it on numerous occasions, directly and via his agents at YMU, which has dropped the presenter. Schofield repeatedly denied a relationship until late last month.

Lygo detailed a conversation minutes before Schofield went on air in February 2020 to reveal he was gay. “Is there anything you want to tell me that we should know that has prompted this?” he recalled asking the presenter. “He categorically said: ‘No, there is nothing.’ That was it really.”

McCall denied repeated accusations that there was a “toxic” workplace culture at ITV, not helped by a flippant remark by the This Morning editor, Martin Frizell, last week that he found aubergines toxic.

“It was ill-advised, Martin made a mistake,” said McCall. “I don’t think what Martin said in the heat of the moment is reflective of our culture.”

ITV said its human resources team had dealt with 128 complaints in the past five years across the whole business. Of those, five related to This Morning, with two of those for bullying or harassment.

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