Was Phillip Schofield to blame for the way in which ITV’s This Morning programme handled the interview with Prime Minister David Cameron?
I won’t rehash the details – they are available all over the Internet if you want to read the story and watch the video. But I will comment on how this sort of scenario happens in TV and who holds responsibility.
As a former producer, editor and executive producer of This Morning, I have worked closely with Phillip Schofield and Fern Britton, John Leslie and with Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan. It won’t be the first time I’ve said this but a presenter is only as good as the production put behind him or her and the production only as good as the presenter you put in front of it. It is TEAM WORK.
Once the balance between presenter and production is lost the opportunity for things to go wrong, especially on live TV, is much higher. A presenter needs to feel confident that he has a strong management at his back, protecting him, producing him and guiding him according to good journalistic practise.
Phillip Schofield is NOT to blame for this furore. The management of the programme should take responsibility. The person running the show holds responsibility for the content of that show and the actions that everyone on the team performs. That is what management is all about and that is why senior management get paid well for what they do. Part of their big important pressurised and very hard job is to exert editorial control over the show. If you lose control you are heading for trouble – it’s on a matter of time before the proverbial hits the fan.
Who made the decision to write and present the Prime Minster with the list? Probably Phillip. So is it his responsibility? No. Because no presenter should be producing elements of any show without the producer or editor knowing and sanctioning it. If a presenter suggests an idea, as indeed they do and should, the editorial team should treat the idea exactly as they would if it came from any other member of the team – review it from all angles, creatively, journalistically and especially from a legal and compliance perspective.
Did Phillip present the list without the editorial team knowing? I suspect not but even if he did how has the show got to the point where the editorial team don’t know what is happening within an important live interview with the Prime Minister of the UK?
Did anyone alert the ITV legal department to their plans to waylay David Cameron? Not according to my sources. The legal and compliance department should sign off any features with potentially complicated legal or compliance issues on This Morning. They are there to steer the ship away from such nasty icebergs. If you don’t tell them what you are planning they can’t advise on how best to avoid legal problems.
Presenters generally only start taking control over a show when they don’t feel secure in the editorial skills of their producers. Presenters on long-running show like This Morning get to the point where they have seen many producers and editors come and go. They end up with far more experience of the show than the latest production team. But they don’t necessarily have far more experience of producing the show – which is a very different job to presenting it.
It is almost inevitable that they will start making editorial decisions; which is fine if they have strong management behind them supporting those decisions.
Where was the editorial team when all this was going on? What did they advise Phillip? What steps did they take to manage the situation and produce the item within the Ofcom guidelines?
Barney Newman, a fabulous producer I have worked with, left a comment on yesterday’s post suggesting they could have at least placed the list in a sealed envelope – losing nothing from the drama of ambushing David Cameron but protecting the list from prying camera angles. For that, my friends, is what the real issue is here. A basic rule of compliance was potentially breached and if it goes all the way then someone is heading for big trouble with the legal department.
Barney’s suggestion is what production is all about. As my previous post on this subject (referring to an incident with the lovely Fern Britton, Phillip’s former on-screen partner) explained it is vitally important that members of the production, to which presenters belong, keep coming up with bright ideas. If we become too scared to try out new ideas on TV we will stifle creativity. But the editorial team MUST provide a secure place within which these ideas can be developed by ensuring that they – the editorial team – will assume responsibility.
Simply putting the list in an envelope would have been an excellent way of producing this element of this item so that there was no chance of it falling foul of Ofcom.
Phillip wasn’t produced properly. So Phillip is not to blame. Producers must produce. Editors must edit. Executive Producers must ensure everyone is qualified to do their job and have the support to do it effectively, legally and safely.
Phillip must take some responsibility of course. (And he has – too much of it in my opinion.) It is the nature of daytime television that the presenters are highly motivated to conduct a strong and compelling interview when high profile political guests come on. We in daytime TV sometimes suffer an inferiority complex. Daytime TV is seen as ‘soft’, and daytime TV presenters as an easy touch for politicians. Neither is necessarily true but occasionally daytime TV presenters feel the need to prove they add a unique twist to an important interview. Much time will have been spent discussing how to conduct the interview to get maximum value out of it for the show and prove that the daytime TV sofa is not as comfy as it may look to the big guest! But I come back again to the role of the senior team in ensuring the item was compliant.
Oh – and before I end – we’ve been here before. Well I have. Phillip’s predecessor Richard Madeley also fell foul of Ofcom in a similar manner. Back in 1995 Richard took it upon himself to alter elements of a phone vote that made a balanced editorial feature and unbalanced one.
Richard Madeley and Phillip Schofield are the best male presenters I have ever had the pleasure of working with. They both have high standards and care passionately about the programmes they present. They want it to be the best. Their faces are fronting it. They take the flak in the press when things go wrong. They don’t suffer fools gladly and nor should they. If they don’t get suitably strong, sound management behind them, if they don’t feel a feature is being produced to its maximum potential they will take control. A good editor, a great producer needs the respect of their presenter and they need to make sure they have full control of the production.
The Clegg incident on This Morning in 1995 led to the dismissal of the then editor, Paula Trafford – a highly talented and successful TV producer (who continues to be a highly talented and successful TV producer).
It may not feel fair but that is where the buck stops. With the boss.
(PS: I am not a big fan of chopping off heads. Do heads need to roll? Mistakes happen and they are great learning opportunities. No doubt many people have learnt a very valuable lesson from this incident that will make them even better producers, editors, executives and presenters in the future! Good luck to all of them. Managing and presenting a show like This Morning is a very tough job and my respect goes to anyone who survives the experience!!)
(PPS: “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who strives valiantly.. because there is no effort without error or shortcomings.. who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
(I stole this quote from Ashley Pearson, excellent showbiz presenter – who stole it from whoever wrote it originally!)
If you’d like more information about compliance in TV read this article: You Have 20 Seconds to Comply!
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