ITV warned against relying on ‘combative dynamic’ after Piers Morgan complaints

ITV has been warned against relying on a "combative dynamic" between presenters, such as Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain, because it risks breaching the broadcasting code.

Ofcom issued the warning after there were more than 1,600 complaints after Morgan used a "racist trope" and mimicked the Chinese language during an episode of the breakfast TV show on January 21.

During a discussion about Peter Phillips, the Queen's grandson and son of the Princess Royal, starring in a TV advert for Chinese state milk, Morgan mimicked the dialect and used the phrase "ching chang".

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Piers Morgan (centre), editor of The Mirror, leaves the High Court in London after supermodel Naomi Campbell won 3,500 damages from the newspaper following a ruling that it acted in breach of confidence in publishing details of her therapy at Narcotics Anonymous.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson (left) with Piers Morgan during a party to celebrate the 180th Anniversary of weekly politics magazine The Spectator, held at the Churchill Hyatt Hotel in central London.
Piers Morgan, former Daily Mirror Editor and Arsenal fan
2019 British Academy Britannia Awards - Arrivals - Beverly Hills, California, U.S., October 25, 2019 - Piers Morgan. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Broadcaster Piers Morgan arrives at the BBC to appear on The Andrew Marr Show in London, Britain, January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Britain Golf - British Masters - The Grove, Hertfordshire - 12/10/16 Piers Morgan tees off at the 12th hole during the Pro-Am Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
TV personality Piers Morgan and actor Gerard Butler (R) arrive on the red carpet at the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington April 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENTERTAINMENT)
Piers Morgan of CNN arrives for a party thrown by Google and the Hollywood Reporter, on the eve of the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, at the W Hotel in Washington, April 27, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT MEDIA POLITICS)
British talk show host Piers Morgan and former News of the World editor arrives for work at CNN after his British judicial inquiry in Los Angeles, California December 20, 2011. Morgan told a British judicial inquiry on Tuesday that he had never approved phone hacking during his time as a tabloid newspaper editor, and that his published boasts had merely been repeating rumours about journalistic ``dark arts.'' REUTERS/Gus Ruelas (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW ENTERTAINMENT MEDIA)
Piers Morgan, host of "Piers Morgan Tonight," poses during the Turner Broadcasting Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, California January 6, 2011. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
Model Naomi Campbell (L) walks down the catwalk with British television personality Piers Morgan during the Fashion For Relief Haiti fashion show and auction in London, February 18, 2010. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett (BRITAIN - Tags: FASHION)
Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan takes his seat ahead of the English premier league soccer match between Arsenal and Leicester City at Highbury, London, May 15, 2004. Morgan was sacked after the newspaper conceded that photos they had published of British soldiers abusing an Iraqi were fake. NO ONLINE/INTERNET USAGE WITHOUT FAPL LICENCE. FOR DETAILS SEE WWW.FAPLWEB.COM REUTERS/Mike Finn-Kelcey MFK/DBP/ACM
Editor of Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper Piers Morgan leaves his home in London, May 14, 2004. Morgan, editor of London's Daily Mirror newspaper, was ousted on Friday over publication of pictures of alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British troops that proved to be fake. "The Board of Trinity Mirror has decided that it would be inappropriate for Piers Morgan to continue in his role as Editor of the Daily Mirror and he will therefore be stepping down with immediate effect," the newspaper said in a statement.
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Lucie Donlan and Piers Morgan at the ITV Palooza at the Royal Festival Hall, South Bank (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid arriving for the ITV Palooza held at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London.
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Embargoed to 2030 Wednesday March 1 Piers Morgan arrives at the Design Museum in London for the launch of the new Range Rover Velar.
Eamonn Holmes and Piers Morgan (right) attending the ITV Gala at the London Palladium. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday November 19, 2015. See PA story SHOWBIZ ITV. Photo credit should read: Ian West/PA Wire
Kevin Pietersen (left) and Piers Morgan take part in the BGC Annual Global Charity Day at Canary Wharf in London.
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Piers Morgan (L) and Andrew Neil attending the Grand Final of Miss Great Britain 2007, held at Grosvenor House hotel in central London.
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He also referred to it as "yeng yeng dong dong yong ming ming milk... milk".

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They were discussing an advert starring Peter Phillips, seen here with his daughters Isla (left) and Savannah (right) (Joe Giddens/PA)

When Reid told him: "Taking the mickey out of foreign languages is rather 1970," Morgan replied: "I'm sorry you can take the mickey out of it. It is ching chang chong milk, right?"

Reid replied: "You can't."

As his co-presenter continued to tell him it was inappropriate, Morgan insisted he was mimicking the wording of the advert, rather than the language.

He said: "I can't speak Chinese. I'm trying- I'm trying- I am trying to mimic the wording of that advertisement."

He added: "Sorry, are people now going to be more annoyed at me trying to mimic the Chinese state milk ad than they are about a member of the royal family flogging Chinese state milk?"

Reid replied: "Yes, Piers do you not realise the kind of woke times we're living in?"

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Susanna Reid questioned Morgan's actions (Ian West/PA)

ITV later apologised for the incident, saying in a statement: "GMB is known for its lively and robust discussion of the news agenda and recently covered Peter Phillips' appearance in a Chinese milk advertisement.

"The discussion was focused on whether it was appropriate for members of the royal family to endorse products abroad in this manner, and was live and unscripted.

"Piers Morgan's comments, and his mimicking of the Chinese language in the advertisement, was a spontaneous reaction to the advertisement.

"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."

In its assessment and decision not to pursue a full investigation, Ofcom said that during a discussion of this nature, "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.

"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."

Ofcom also referred to Reid's interjections, saying: "We accepted this was an attempt by Susanna Reid to point out that some viewers would find his imitation offensive.

The regulator added: "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.

"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."

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