ITV boss Carolyn McCall has vehemently denied allegations of a toxic workplace on the broadcaster’s flagship daytime show, This Morning.
The head of the UK broadcaster appeared in front of a committee held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), where she was grilled about the scandal surrounding former ITV presenter Phillip Schofield’s affair with a younger male colleague.
Schofield admitted publicly in May that he lied to his employers, colleagues, friends and family about the affair, which took place while he was still married. He confirmed he met the man, who has not been named, when he was 15 years old during a school visit, but said the affair only began when he was in his early twenties and working on This Morning.
Following his admission, the 61-year-old was dropped by his longtime agent YMU and resigned from ITV altogether, having previously stepped down as This Morning co-host following reports of a feud with fellow presenter Holly Willoughby.
The revelation of Schofield’s affair sparked allegations from former ITV employees, including ex-This Morning presenter Eamonn Holmes and Dr Ranj Singh, of a “toxic” workplace environment, along with questions over how much ITV bosses were aware of regarding Schofield’s relationship with his colleague.
Singh, This Morning’s former resident doctor, hit out at an alleged “toxic” culture on the show, saying he raised concerns about “bullying and discrimination” two years ago when he worked there – and afterwards felt like he was “managed out” for whistleblowing.
Speaking at the committee on Wednesday 14 June alongside her colleagues – Kevin Lygo, managing director of media and entertainment at ITV, and Kyla Mullins, general counsel and company secretary – McCall discussed when ITV bosses first became aware of rumours of an inappropriate relationship between Schofield and his colleague, referred to as “Person X”.
“The imbalance of power, the imbalance of dynamics in that relationship, makes it deeply inappropriate, and we have policies that say that very clearly,” she said.
She clarified that ITV’s review into Schofield’s relationship was “not an investigation” but a review, which began when intense rumours about the former presenter began in February 2020. However, she said she was first personally made aware of rumours in 2019, after an article was published in The Sun on 6 December claiming Schofield had sparked a “civil war” on the daytime show.
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In the article, it was reported that a runner had left This Morning to work on another ITV morning show, Loose Women, “despite a previous close friendship with [Schofield]. ITV say he was promoted.”
The publication cited a source as saying: “It was odd because they were so close and then he up and went to Loose Women and they didn’t seem to be talking much anymore.”
This Morning editor Martin Frizell hit back at the claims at the time, insisting Schofield and Willoughby had a “genuine friendship” in response to reports of a feud between the two.
McCall told the committee that The Sun article sparked a “huge amount” of media speculation, prompting ITV’s head of daytime to speak with Person X because “he was being inundated by press contacting him and was aware of social media [speculation]”.
“He was traumatised by the intrusion into his personal life and so our priority became duty of care for him,” she said.
McCall said that she and her colleagues worked “very hard for many months” to ask Schofield, Person X and their colleagues about the rumours of an alleged affair.
“People who have said they ‘knew’ will have only heard rumours about it,” she said. “If any one of the individuals who’d named anyone or said there was evidence of a relationship… with evidence we would have been able to launch a formal investigation.”
“There was a lot of very horrible stuff out there,” she added, referring to remarks about Schofield after he came out as gay in February 2021. “We said we need to establish whether this is rumour and speculation and malicious, or if there is something we need to worry about here.”
Mullins detailed the process of the review, including HR becoming involved and dialogues between Schofield, Person X, and senior ITV management. “I think [Person X] was asked the question [of whether an affair was taking place] 12 times. At each stage, he categorically denied it.”
McCall said she had been very concerned for the welfare of both Schofield and Person X throughout the review into their relationship. “Phillip was not in a good state when he came out,” she said. “He was very anxious, very worried, very nervous. And Person X could not grasp the media intrusion that was [by now] so prevalent in hs life.”
She rejected the suggestion that ITV avoided an investigation out of fear that it could impact its success: “It’s nothing to do with being commercially successful, all our shows are commercially successful,” she said.
“It is entirely to do with how we were trying to look after people, but we were also trying to repeatedly ask questions, and we were repeatedly being told there was nothing happening.”
ITV bosses have been in touch with Schofield as recently as last week, McCall said, telling the committee that he was not made to sign any form of NDA that would prevent him from speaking with the press.
Schofield has not spoken publicly since giving a lengthy interview with the BBC’s Amol Rajan, in which he discussed the fallout from his admitting to the affair, and addressing how it transpired.
McCall was asked about how she felt when Schofield compared himself during the interview to late Love Island host Caroline Flack, referencing how she had been “hounded” by the press after being arrested for allegedly assaulting. She took her own life on 15 February 2020 after hearing she would be prosecuted.
“I don’t want to make those comparisons but I would say [Schofield] has been hounded, and he said if it were not for his daughters he wouldn’t be alive. I’m very concerned for him,” McCall said.
“We have been concerned about Phillip, and we have been extremely concerned about Person X.”
Addressing the “toxic workplace” allegations, McCall said she had been “deeply disappointed” by the claims and said there was “tangible evidence” to suggest the majority of employees felt “extremely engaged and very motivated”.
She said there had been two complaints in five years about the issue, and that both of them had been taken seriously, with one investigated internally. The other was an external investigation sparked by Dr Singh’s claims, which was “not able to be upheld”.
“Just because we don’t recognise that culture doesn’t mean we don’t take those allegations extremely seriously,” she said.
Asked if she believed she should keep her job, McCall responded simply: “I do.”
“We’ve told you we’ve taken this seriously,” she said in a closing statement. “And it has been about Phillip Schofield and Person X. We’ve spent an awful lot of time talking about that, and that is absolutely fine.
“We will take every allegation about our culture seriously, but I think it would be very wrong to depict ITV as having an issue on that. We have given you a whole load of tangible evidence that we take it very seriously, that we will listen, that we will act. We will be doing, as we always do, looking at what we do and trying to improve it.
“Thank you very much for listening to us and giving us the opportunity to put some facts straight.”