ITV forced to remove headlines which were doctored to smear UK press in Harry and Meghan interview

1 month ago 9

ITV was last night forced to edit part of Oprah Winfrey’s explosive interview with the Sussexes after it was revealed that it included misleading and distorted headlines which portrayed British press coverage of the couple as racist.

Headlines that were flashed on the screen during the controversial interview with the US chat show host were cynically manipulated to back up the couple’s assertion that they were the victims of bigoted coverage.

Associated Newspapers, the publisher of The Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail and MailOnline, complained to Viacom CBS – the US TV giant which aired last week’s two-hour programme – about ‘the deliberate distortion and doctoring of newspaper headlines’.

ITV was last night forced to edit part of Oprah Winfrey’s explosive interview with the Sussexes after it was revealed that it included misleading and distorted headlines which portrayed British press coverage of the couple as racist. Pictured: Analysis of the headlines

It also demanded that ITV remove the ‘misleading and inaccurate headlines’ from the programme, which remains available on its ITV Hub catch-up service. ITV last night said it would remove two of the misleading headlines but not all of them.

During the interview, which was watched by 11.1 million viewers in the UK and 17.1 million in the US, Ms Winfrey said Meghan had been the victim of racism by the British press.

‘There were undeniable racist overtones,’ she said. ‘There was constant criticism, blatant sexist and racist remarks by British tabloids.’

To illustrate the point, viewers were presented with montages of supposedly bigoted headlines. However, analysis showed 11 of more than 30 headlines were from American and Australian publications, including tawdry gossip magazines.

In a complaint to CBS on Friday, Liz Hartley, editorial legal director at Associated Newspapers, said: ‘Many of the headlines have been either taken out of context or deliberately edited and displayed as supporting evidence for the programme’s claim that the Duchess of Sussex was subjected to racist coverage by the British press.’

She added: ‘This editing was not made apparent to viewers and, as a result, this section of the programme is both seriously inaccurate and misleading.’

Headlines that were flashed on the screen during the controversial interview with the US chat show host were cynically manipulated to back up the couple’s assertion that they were the victims of bigoted coverage

The programme makers seemingly felt the need to create the headlines in the absence of evidence to support the point they were trying to make about racism, Ms Hartley said, adding: ‘It reflects very badly on them and does the debate on the vital subject of racism considerable harm.’

In a second letter sent last night, Ms Hartley said: ‘It is hard to conceive of anything more socially inflammatory, or of more morally irresponsible journalism.’

The most egregious example involved a story published by The Mail on Sunday in January 2018 which revealed how the girlfriend of the then Ukip leader Henry Bolton had made racist remarks about Meghan. 

Producers chose not to show the newspaper’s headline about the ‘Vile Racist Attack’ but instead used a small part of a MailOnline headline which quoted one of the woman’s vile messages – but omitted the rest of the headline.

‘In doing so, it removed all context and inaccurately suggested that MailOnline made or agreed with the statement, which it plainly did not,’ Ms Hartley said in her complaint. 

Another example in the headline montages featured a supposed Guardian headline reporting on an incident when radio DJ Danny Baker posted a picture of a chimpanzee on Twitter after the Sussexes’ son Archie was born.

Associated Newspapers, the publisher of The Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail and MailOnline, complained to Viacom CBS – the US TV giant which aired last week’s two-hour programme – about ‘the deliberate distortion and doctoring of newspaper headlines’

The Guardian said it did not believe it ever headlined an article ‘with the specific phrasing shown in the montage’, and The Mail on Sunday has established that it came from an article published by the New York Post, a US tabloid.

Confirming it would remove the MailOnline and Guardian headlines, an ITV spokesman said: ‘Regarding the headlines The Mail on Sunday have drawn to our attention, we are now taking steps to edit these on the ITV Hub.’ 

A source said it would examine any other complaints that were received, although other distortions do remain on the programme which is available on catch-up.

For example, the programme showed a headline from The Daily Telegraph that read: ‘The real problem with Meghan Markle: she just doesn’t speak our language.’ 

The second line of the headline, which was not shown, made clear the newspaper’s sketch writer was not mocking her ethnicity, but her habit of what he later called ‘hippie corporate management speak’.

A front-page headline from the Daily Mail was also shown with the innocent word ‘niggling’ blanked out. Ms Hartley said the word ‘carries no colonial or racist undertones’ and by blanking it out viewers could reach ‘a false and damaging conclusion that it was racist’. 

During the interview (pictured) which was watched by 11.1 million viewers in the UK and 17.1 million in the US, Ms Winfrey said Meghan had been the victim of racism by the British press

Conservative MP Giles Watling, a member of the Commons Media Select Committee, last night described the broadcast as ‘fake news’ and demanded that ITV broadcast a disclaimer.

‘This kind of distortion of the facts is utterly appalling,’ said Mr Watling, a former actor.

‘We should call it exactly what it is: fake news. What is really disturbing is that because of social media, these lies become true once they are repeated enough online.

‘Any future broadcasts of this interview should come with a health warning for viewers. People need to know that what they are watching is not necessarily the truth and, in the use of newspaper headlines, a complete distortion of the facts.’

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘This is another example of a stage-managed and set-up interview. It is extremely sad that the facts have been manipulated to make these kinds of allegations.’

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom last week launched an investigation after TV presenter Piers Morgan dismissed the Duchess of Sussex’s account of suffering suicidal thoughts and experiencing racism. 

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom last week launched an investigation after TV presenter Piers Morgan (pictured left on ITV's Good Morning Britain following the broadcast) dismissed the Duchess of Sussex’s account of suffering suicidal thoughts and experiencing racism

The watchdog received more than 41,000 complaints, including one from the Duchess herself. Toby Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union, called on Ofcom to also investigate the doctored headlines controversy.

‘Ofcom was very quick to open an investigation into Good Morning Britain because Piers Morgan questioned the truthfulness of Meghan’s claims,’ he said. 

‘It now looks very much as though Piers Morgan was quite right to raise those questions. Ofcom should be investigating ITV for disseminating this fake news, not Good Morning Britain for challenging it.’

Ms Winfrey’s company, Harpo Productions, said: ‘Prince Harry and Meghan shared in the interview their personal story. We stand by the broadcast in its entirety.’

CBS did not respond to a request for comment. 

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