‘Detoxify the working environment of the media’

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Categories: News

“FIRST of all, are you okay?” That was Holly Willoughby’s knuckle-bitingly-excruciating opening to camera, addressing her This Morning audience at home when she returned to the studio sofa, Phil-less.

As I write, the papers are filled with gossip. What does Eamonn think of Holly, and why is Holly hurt by Phil? I’m getting e mails from constituents furious about the airtime devoted to hot air when there’s a war in Ukraine and a cost of living crisis at home.

So should we care about the presenter stooshie, with one set of TV stars slagging off their colleagues? In my view, absolutely not. Because it’s not the story.

The real story centres around the toxic work environment which seems to exist at ITV, with multiple allegations of bullying, and serious questions about vulnerable staff safeguarding.

The programme’s editor was doorstepped by a journalist and asked for comment. “You know what I think is toxic? Aubergines!” I think he thought it was funny. It wasn’t. It was surreal. He was asked a serious question, and responded with arrogance. An ITV executive later told me the response was “ill judged”.

I sit on the Commons Culture and Media Select Committee and we’ve summoned the chief executive of ITV to appear before us. She has already announced a barrister led inquiry into bullying claims.

I suspect she may try to deflect questions by saying she’s waiting for the KC’s report. But I won’t be having that.

I’ve already used social media and the press to ask whistleblowers to contact me, in confidence, to tell me about their experiences. I’ve had a substantial number of replies.

There’s a recurring theme – folk bullied and belittled at work and complaints going unaddressed. Those complaining often end up leaving whether willingly or unwillingly.

Folk sometimes see the media as a glamorous career. And it can be. But for every high-paid Huw Edwards or Fiona Bruce there are hundreds of freelancers working long hours on minimum pay. Or, if they’re young unpaid “work experience”.

That encourages disproportionate numbers whose parents can help them out. As a result the media is too often led, especially at the upper levels, by privileged and privately-educated men.

Indeed the current chair of the BBC secured his job after donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservative Party and having helped facilitate a loan for Boris Johnson – the prime minister who then appointed him.

When this was revealed he was forced to announce his resignation.

I’m a big fan of public service broadcasting. We don’t want to slip down an Americanised route with channels like GB News and TalkTV filling the air waves with angry intolerance.

As we try to counter disinformation in what’s sometimes called the world of “post truth politics” we need trustworthy news sources.

So, to answer Holly’s question… yes, I’m okay. But are her junior colleagues? We need to detoxify the working environment in much of the media. Whether for jobs, exports or news it’s a vital part of our national life.