The Breakfast TV Debate Needs to Die

It’s 8:24am. “Cancel Cancel Culture” is stamped on a banner across the bottom of the screen in big block capitals. The debate this morning is about the parameters of cancel culture in relation to JK Rowling’s recent controversy over transgender comments and themes in her latest book. The segment begins, and in what Susanna Reid asserts to be a “divided debate” is immediately contradicted by the debate itself. In a panel of five, only Benjamin Butterworth, a cisgender political journalist, argues for Rowling to be held accountable. The bias is already clear. 

Not only are the cards stacked so unfairly against Butterworth in this battlefield, it’s difficult to ignore the absence of a transgender voice that’s also in favour of holding Rowling accountable. The debate bias is further asserted as the opponent to Butterworth is Rose of Dawn, a transgender YouTuber known for her objections to ‘identity politics’. This paints an unconscious impression on the audience. It questions why we should hold JK Rowling accountable, when a transgender representative maintains that her comments have been blown out of proportion?

The debate is relentless. Butterworth is repeatedly shut down by uncomfortable questions which prove difficult to answer. Rowling’s villain in her book dresses as a woman as he preys on his victims. Morgan asks “if your battle is for equality, surely criminals could be transgender?” George Galloway makes obtuse statements disguised as common sense viewpoints. When talking about Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho; in relation to Norman Bates dressing as a woman, he states “no one at the time sought to cancel him for that because murderers come in all shapes and sizes”. The debate appears rigged from the start. Insidiously masked behind this debate lies a dangerous undercurrent, the audience are victims of the undertow, destined to find themselves drowned in a sea of misinformation and bigotry. 

We find ourselves in a crisis of biased debate, and it’s individuals from vulnerable communities who find themselves on the firing line. The Rowling debate is emblematic of this crisis – debates that create an illusion of a “balanced argument,” designed to confuse the public and create controversy. Whilst these “debates” present themselves as essential by enabling constructive dialogue about identity-politics, we are immediately set up for division by proxy of every argument being binary in the format of “yes” or “no”. It wasn’t uncommon for Morgan to bark “it’s a simple question, yes or no” to force an answer that is void of nuance from his opponents. It’s this mode of thinking which creates division; the binary “yes” or “no” debate needs to die.

Black and white thinking isn’t necessarily always bad. Some issues demand clear condemnation, such as racism or misogyny. However, under the umbrella of shows like Good Morning Britain, it’s clear the push for binary answers carries nefarious intentions. This forces people into two sides and encourages division rather than unity. British media is becoming increasingly bigoted. At the helm of all of this, these televised morning debates are hidden in the shadows as providers of misinformation. With transphobic hate crimes quadrupling over the past five years, the consequences of these vicious morning debates are clear. When the validity of someone’s existence is put on the pedestal for debate, we must ask, who really benefits? 

There are profits to be made from the production line of bigotry, where hatred seems to be the new currency of politics. In a media landscape that’s ever evolving, the digitalisation of opinion capitalises on provoking strong emotions. Pundits such as Katie Hopkins recognise this, and when social media algorithms are designed to detect opinion but be indifferent to the truth, it’s no wonder falsehoods are perpetuated on such a global scale. For many who seek to weaponise misinformation, their hustle can often be traced back to a cushy sofa or rigid chair, where they partake in yet another morning debate, discussing the validity of someone’s existence. The post-truth era is winning, and its contributors don’t care what they leave in their wake. 

This aversion from truth becomes dangerous when it threatens the safety of others. In the wake of Piers Morgan leaving Good Morning Britain, many argued that his departure was a direct attack on freedom of speech. However, with his ruthless debate tactics of forcing a binary answer from his opponents, constantly interrupting, and disguising falsehoods as “common sense,” it’s worth asking— should someone’s freedom of speech permit them to spread false narratives at the expense of at-risk communities? Furthermore, when will the production behind these theatrics be held to account?

It’s hyperbolic to insinuate that morning television debates are the sole root of our society’s problem with prejudice and discrimination. Televised morning debates are the theatre curtain of a far more sinister production. Whilst the news of Morgan’s departure will be a sigh of relief to many, it’s important to recognise that he was merely the face of an industry that goes beyond his incitement of hatred and confusion. The complicity of the mainstream media to give a platform to a voice responsible for encouraging homophobia, transphobia, racism and sexism is damaging. One may think back to the debate about JK Rowling, and how in the face of such obvious unbalance, it’s Morgan who was championed for his unbridled victory against Butterworth. The intentional bias may be invisible to the casual viewer. With the issue of transphobia becoming increasingly rampant in the UK, alongside LGBTQIA+ issues being debated so frequently, it’s finally time to push for more open and honest conversations about who these debates really serve, and advocate for media literacy. There is a beast that growls beyond Piers Morgan, and it’s time to open conversation about the structural oppression which feeds the soul of programmes such as Good Morning Britain.

Words by Harry Phillips

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