An ITV executive criticized Martin Frizell’s remarks as being “extremely ill-judged” after the editor of This Morning made a reference to aubergines in response to a question regarding claims of a “toxic” work climate on the show.
Magnus Brooke, group director of strategy, policy, and regulation at ITV, was questioned about the program by MP John Nicolson during a Culture, Media, and Sport Committee hearing on the draft Media Bill on Tuesday.
Mr Nicolson called Mr Frizell’s remarks to a journalist “outrageously dismissive and flippant on camera about an immensely serious issue”.
Prior to Holly Willoughby’s return to This Morning and the controversy surrounding Phillip Schofield’s firing from ITV after admitting to having an affair with a younger co-worker, Sky News contacted Frizell.
Asked if there is a “toxic” work environment on the show, the editor replied: “I’ll tell you what’s toxic, and I’ve always found it toxic – aubergine. Do you like aubergine? Do you? Do you like aubergine, because I don’t like aubergine. It’s just a personal thing.”
Mr Brooke told MPs: “I wouldn’t endorse what he said.”
He said he would not use the word “bizarre” to describe the comments and that it was “extremely ill-judged to say what he did”.
Mr Brooke added: “I can reassure you on behalf of ITV that we do take all of these allegations very seriously precisely because we do have a culture where people’s conduct matters enormously.”
Asked if Frizell’s position is secure, he said: “That is not a question for me and not a question for now.”
According to Mr. Nicolson, an SNP MP, Mr. Brooke was also questioned if he was “OK” after Mr. Willoughby’s apparent reference to his comments from Monday. Mr. Brooke responded that he was “fine” to Mr. Nicolson’s question.
Mr Nicolson added: “It’s the question du jour at This Morning.”
In her first on-screen appearance since Schofield’s departure, Willoughby told viewers: “Firstly, are you OK? I hope so. It feels very strange indeed sitting here without Phil.”
In the committee hearing, Mr Nicolson said: “I spent some time at the weekend talking to whistleblowers from ITV, including people who work and have worked at This Morning. It seems like a very unhappy place.
“Are you satisfied with the duty of care that the editorial team and senior managers provide to staff, especially young staff working there and at ITV more generally?”
Mr Brooke said: “I think there is a very sophisticated and significant system of safeguarding and duty of care at ITV.”
Addressing the bullying allegations made by staff, Mr Brooke said: “We take our responsibilities in relation to safeguarding and duty of care very seriously.
“Bullying is absolutely in breach of our code of conduct, it’s very clearly set out.”
He added: “Bullying is unacceptable. If we find bullying it’s inconsistent with our policy and we expect people to report it and and we would expect it to be dealt with appropriately and it will be.”
Eamonn Holmes, a former This Morning host, and Dr. Ranj Singh, a former resident physician, have both accused the show’s staff of having a “toxic” atmosphere. The latter claims he voiced concerns about “bullying and discrimination” while he was working there two years ago.
Earlier in the meeting, committee chairperson Dame Caroline Dinenage said that MPs will not be discussing the problems related to the departure of former presenter Schofield, 61.
The ITV chief executive, Dame Carolyn McCall, was also mentioned by the Conservative MP. She was asked to appear before the committee on June 14 to respond to inquiries concerning the broadcaster’s complaint and safeguarding policies.