The view from the presenter’s chair: Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Piers Morgan lock horns
When he sat down in Cambridge for a discussion about the vexed question of impartiality in television news presenters, Piers Morgan was clearly still licking his wounds from his abrupt departure in 2021 from ITV’s Good Morning Britain. He was quick off the mark, offering a “hypothetical” scenario:
“Imagine that members of the royal family get on Oprah Winfrey’s show and make a series of allegations, and most of the presenters that day entirely endorse what these two royals have said, and one presenter courageously stands up and says: ‘I think it’s a pack of lies.’ Perhaps that is due impartiality, you might argue. Then one of those presenters is invited to leave his job.”
This was the example he gave after being asked to provide his definition of impartiality, something he said was an out-of-touch concept: “I think the whole concept of it in modern media is pretty anachronistic. I look for where due impartiality lies on the airwaves, and I don’t really see it.”
Morgan’s fellow panellist, Channel 4 News anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy, was more circumspect. In his view, impartiality “is not about giving equal airtime to every kind of view, it’s about making assessments of the situation and giving a sense of fairness to the main arguments around the thing at the time.
“It doesn’t mean you have to have every fringe view reflected, but it does mean you have to have a broad view and you have to treat them the same way. You have to approach all those sides with the same rigour, the same sense of toughness, and give them the same respect.”
Moderator Barbara Serra suggested that, even if impartiality didn’t exist in perfect form, it remained something for presenters to aspire to. Guru-Murthy agreed but pointed out: “There’s a fundamental difference between what I do and what Piers does. The expectation is different on a talk show.”
The longtime Channel 4 presenter believed his role of protecting impartiality as a news anchor was valued by viewers: “I think due impartiality on the news is something that huge numbers of people want. There aren’t many moments where I go, ‘Oh, I wish I could say that’ – because I signed up to this 30 years ago.”
Guru-Murthy continued: “People want a sense of fairness. Due impartiality is not a precise science, it’s an art and people have different judgements about what it is. But all the evidence I’ve seen from surveys is that viewers want broadcast journalists to at least make an attempt to be fair to the main subjects. If I interview Keir Starmer, they want me to give him as hard a time as I would Rishi Sunak. I think it’s worth fighting for and trying to maintain that, and I accept it’s not perfect.”
Morgan disagreed, arguing: “I don’t think there’s real impartiality. I see people talk about it and then they get very highfalutin’ about what we do at TalkTV or what GB News does, but I don’t really see a problem with that.” He went on: “I come from a view that you should just have opinions about everything. The real problem is establishing what facts are, what truth is, because we’re living in a fake news era.”
He reminded the audience that he had been cleared of breaching the broadcasting code by Ofcom months after he “was invited to leave” ITV’s Good Morning Britain. He added: “I don’t think we need more regulation here. We’re regulated up to our eyeballs.”
Session Eleven of the Too Much To Watch convention, ‘Impartiality – what’s the point?’, was split into two parts, both chaired by journalist and presenter Barbara Serra. In this first part, the panellists were broadcaster Piers Morgan and Channel 4 News anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy. The producer was Louisa Compton. Report by Caroline Frost.