MPs Won't Conduct Phillip Schofield "Witch Hunt" As ITV Bosses Face Grilling
Phillip Schofield has resigned from ITV's This Morning over his previous affair with a younger colleague (Alamy)
Chair of the culture, media and sport select committee Caroline Dinenage has said the committee’s grilling of ITV bosses in parliament will not be a “witch hunt” against disgraced This Morning presenter Phillip Schofield.
Instead MPs plan to focus their line of questioning on wider issues around work culture and processes at the network in the wake of the scandal.
ITV bosses will appear in front of MPs over the next couple of weeks as part of standard scrutiny of the draft Media Bill. At the second meeting, MPs will specifically ask questions about ITV’s handling of former This Morning presenter Phillip Schofield’s affair with a much younger colleague.
Conservative MP and chair of the committee Dinenage said she and fellow MPs will quiz ITV and other broadcasters on how they intend to move forwards with safeguarding procedures and learn lessons from the incident.
"I think there's some real lessons to be learned from this individual case," she told PoliticsHome.
“But I'm not interested in conducting a sort of witch hunt, particularly towards Phillip Schofield. That's not the purpose of the inquiry at all.”
ITV, as a public service broadcaster, is expected to not only serve commercial interests but also act for the benefit of society. Dinenage argued this was why it was particularly important that they be held to account on allegations of misconduct.
“The general thrust of our committee is around the duty of care towards staff, and the fundamental issues around safeguarding and complaint handling,” she said.
“This is something that we're concerned about more widely because public service broadcasters have to be open to scrutiny, people have to have confidence in them.”
Schofield resigned from ITV’s This Morning after admitting he had a consensual affair with a younger colleague, and ITV has announced it will conduct an external review into its handling of the issue.
Schofield has since given frank interviews to the BBC and the Sun in which he revealed he has had suicidal thoughts as a result of the scandal coming to light, while insisting the affair was consensual and that his younger colleague was 20 years old when they first had any sexual contact.
"I see nothing ahead of me but blackness, and sadness, and regret, and remorse, and guilt. I did something very wrong, and then I lied about it consistently,” Schofield said, adding that he believes his television career is now over.
“It's very clear that this is a very broken man here,” Dinenage said, reflecting on Schofield’s interviews.
“This is two lives blown apart, two careers devastated, with a knock on effect on all their family and loved ones as well.
“This is not about an individual, this is about the lessons that must be learned. The public must have confidence in public service broadcasters.”
Although Schofield said he was not aware of the younger man signing any non-disclosure agreements, the culture committee intends to press for details on whether there had been any unusual financial arrangements between ITV and the young employee.
“I am interested in whether money has changed hands in this case and also whether non-disclosure agreements have been signed,” Dinenage said.
“In this case and and others, if people are prevented from whistleblowing by legal documents or by financial arrangements, that is a matter of concern.”
Former This Morning presenter Eamonn Holmes claimed there was an ITV “cover-up”, including paying for cars to bring Schofield and the other man to the studio seperately after staying overnight together. ITV continues to deny it was aware of the affair.
Complaints towards ITV go further than Schofield; TV doctor Ranj Singh, who also previously worked on This Morning, this week denounced the show as “toxic”, claiming he was “managed out” of the programme after trying to raise concerns about the work culture.
Dinenage added that she would be looking for "reassurance" from ITV that they have the right systems in place for whistleblowing and to ensure young staff members are not taken advantage of.
"These are some of the 'Gods' of broadcasting and they have phenomenal power over the careers and futures of young and potentially very impressionable staff members, and if there are not the right systems or processes in place within a workplace, it has massive potential to be exploited," she continued.
Representatives from ITV and other major broadcasters will answer questions from MPs at the committee hearings on 6 June and 14 June, with the latter session focusing on safeguarding and complaint handling.
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