End With An Error: ITV Broadcaster Alastair Stewart Resigns
ITV broadcaster Alastair Stewart and his decades-long tenure at ITV/ITN is over. The hammer officially came down Thursday 30 January, though it was one of a mutual understanding variety.
Stewart officially decided to stand down by way of resignation following the fallout from a post on Twitter that “breached ITV’s editorial guidelines.”
Stewart himself stated that his conduct in a recent row on Twitter with a black man displayed “errors in judgement”. Both ITN and ITV supported Stewart’s decision to quit, bringing to end a career that began in 1980.
Stewart had more recently served in a freelance capacity as a news presenter, often seen at lunchtime and weekend programmes on the network. He has been a stalwart for the network’s news department, helming the desk during various general elections, including 2005 and 2010.
ITN chief executive Anna Mallett said:
“We would like to recognise Alastair’s contribution as one of the UK’s foremost journalists and TV presenters and to thank him for his commitment to delivering high-quality broadcast news over many years.”
In recognition of his career in broadcast news, Stewart was awarded an OBE in 2006. In 2005, he was named presenter of the year by the Royal Television Society Award. One noteworthy milestone was his hosting the UK’s first-ever televised Prime Minister debate in 2010 for candidates Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
So what happened?
Stewart, 67, used a questionable passage on Twitter in response to a dialogue with a black man, which he has since admitted was “misjudgement which I regret.” He has expressed regret for his part. Quoting a William Shakespeare line from Measure for Measure, the passage sent in January had been sent more than once by Stewart on Twitter including the phrase “angry ape”.
Early respondents – including media industry colleagues – leapt to Stewart’s defence and even went so far as to offer death threats to the recipient. But there’s more to the story than this singular Tweet, as ITN claims the situation extends further than just a single post.
Below are some real-time answers to the frequently asked questions about the end of ITV broadcaster Alastair Stewart’s time on air.
Who is the man on the receiving end?
Martin Shapland, 34, is a political adviser and the target of Stewart’s fateful social media post. The tweet in question came amidst a continuing row between the two men. It took place solely on Twitter on and around 13 January.
The exchange is no longer visible to the public save for screenshots of original posts. That’s in part because of Shapland’s decision to remove all Tweets on his timeline prior to 30 January. No one post is available on his timeline prior to that date.
What was the nature of the conversation?
For ITV broadcaster Alastair Stewart, it is inconclusive. In fact, it’s entirely possible that what was actually said between he and Martin Shapland may never been truly known.
Since the exchange in question, both sides took the time to remove the Tweets at the centre of the issue.
Those moves by both Shapland and Stewart further complicate matters. The essence of the discussion, essentially, has been minified; furthermore, there is the loss in identity of other questionable Tweets in the exchange that may or may not have led to Stewart’s ultimate downfall.
Thursday 30 January: The Kate Maltby Thread
One writer, Kate Maltby, has indicated the struggle to get to the bottom of what happened masks what appears to have been an apparently contentious row between both men. In a thread, she revealed the following:
I’ve admired Alastair Stewart for years, and really enjoyed getting to know him a bit on here.
BUT: I watched the actual exchange in REAL TIME, because I also follow and like his interlocutor. And it was much, much nastier than has been reported. It wasn’t just the ‘ape’ quote.
I've admired Alastair Stewart for years, and really enjoyed getting to know him a bit on here.
BUT: I watched the actual exchange in REAL TIME, because I also follow and like his interlocutor. And it was much, much nastier than has been reported. It wasn't just the 'ape' quote.
— KateMaltby (@KateMaltby) January 29, 2020
I was surprised. As I say, I like Alastair and watching this exchange didn’t change that, in so much as it made me think this intemperate bullying was totally, TOTALLY out of character.
Maybe he’d had a bad day. Maybe he was tired and emotional. There’s no way to know.
Most of the tweets have now been deleted, so people now commentating think it’s *just* ‘the ape thing’. As I recall, AS went on a rant about Martin’s education level, dismissed the possibility he could have a degree, really picked on him by quote-tweeting & encouraging a pile-on.
Most of the tweets have now been deleted, so people now commentating think it's *just* 'the ape thing'. As I recall, AS went on a rant about Martin's education level, dismissed the possibility he could have a degree, really picked on him by quote-tweeting & encouraging a pile-on.
— KateMaltby (@KateMaltby) January 29, 2020
I still wouldn’t have sacked AS. Partly because I’m a free speech fundamentalist, partly because we all make mistakes on social media. (I’ve made lots!)
But we don’t know if there were other incidents that ITN took into account. There’s lots we don’t know.
I still wouldn't have sacked AS. Partly because I'm a free speech fundamentalist, partly because we all make mistakes on social media. (I've made lots!)
But we don't know if there were other incidents that ITN took into account. There's lots we don't know.
— KateMaltby (@KateMaltby) January 29, 2020
For the record, Shapland retweeted Maltby’s thread 30 January.
Critics seek more details
Maltby is one particular Shapland defender. Even there, respondents say they want more detail about the conversations than just hearsay. In contrast, the BBC reports that ITV presenters took up for Stewart. In recent days, they’ve asked ITN for more details that led to the mutual agreement that Stewart quit.
Some commentators on the decision used Twitter to state that ITV/ITN should be extending this decision to other on-air personalities. To that end, they say the conduct of controversial GMB co-host Piers Morgan should be subject to the same standards.
Friday, 31 January: Details on other offensive posts
ITN was roused into a response on 31 January by previous calls for clarity on inoffensive Tweets that landed Stewart in hot water. The Daily Mail reported that there were, in fact, numerous warnings levied to Stewart by ITN bosses over his social media conduct.
Inside sources indicate Stewart is out of a job because of a series of inappropriate comments, not just one. On some occasions, Shapland is the target in question. The source added that other targets were also subject to posts which violated editorial guidelines.
One anonymous ITN higher-up said this:
“Alastair was already drinking in the last chance saloon over his social media comments and this was simply the final straw. This is not about one Tweet that has become public, but multiple breaches. It’s a real shame.”
“This is not the first time he’s been spoken to about the way he conducts himself on social media. The suggestion that he’s lost his job over one Tweet is simply wrong.”
It remains unclear as to which posts – directed at whom in particular – were deemed inappropriate.
What did Stewart say in stepping down?
Stewart said the following in announcing that he was quitting:
“It was a misjudgment which I regret, but it’s been a privilege to bring the news to households throughout the UK for the past 40 years.”
Stewart had more than one questionable post?
That’s the contention of ITN, according to news media reports. From that beginning, the situation gets rather murky. Media reports show that ITN is still not forthcoming in specifying which Stewart posts are inappropriate. Especially those posts that were offensive enough to warrant a decision that led to his resignation.
Coupled with the Tweet deletions by both Stewart and Shapland, getting to the bottom of this may be impossible. To make matters worse, it has made Shapland the focal point of the online wrath of Stewart’s defenders. We’ll expand more on that in another section below.
What is the public saying about his decision to quit?
First things first: the notion of Stewart’s defenders needs to be qualified in this case.
Second: Stewart built a major following through 40 years of broadcasting prior to the 30 January announcement. As a result, journalists across broadcast and print/digital media have either indicated their sorrow for his demise or stood up for him.
The sorrowful for ITV broadcaster Alastair Stewart
Among the sorrowful is ITV presenter Julie Etchingham:
So sad to learn this – we have worked on many big stories together & Al is a trusted friend and guide to many of us.
So sad to learn this – we have worked on many big stories together & Al is a trusted friend and guide to many of us https://t.co/05kv3nYd5X
— Julie Etchingham (@julieetchitv) January 29, 2020
ITV presenter Mary Nightingale also expressed her lament for Stewart’s resignation:
Very sad about the departure of #AlastairStewart. He was a good friend and mentor to me when I started at Carlton TV, and we worked together for more than 27 years. I will miss him.
Good Morning Britain and ITV political journalist Ranvir Singh stood in support of Stewart. She said on air for GMB viewers the following:
‘I would never use the word racist and his name in the same sentence. I have sat with him for hours and hours and hours, days and days and days, years, and he has only ever been gracious and encouraging to me.
‘We have had talks about how he and his wife have felt proud of what I have achieved and how Alastair Stewart has talked about other black talents in the newsroom and wider and why companies don’t give them more work and how he sees black talent in other places and he wants them to have more work and he would know in his position that that might mean that he might get less work.’
Another defender is writer Etan Smallman, who Tweeted the following:
Alastair Stewart responded to a black man on Twitter with a passage about “an angry ape” from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.
But it also seems worth pointing out that he previously used this passage to respond to at least one other tweeter who was not identifiably black…
Alastair Stewart responded to a black man on Twitter with a passage about "an angry ape" from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.
But it also seems worth pointing out that he previously used this passage to respond to at least one other tweeter who was not identifiably black… pic.twitter.com/MZgyyPlJuC
— Etan Smallman (@EtanSmallman) January 29, 2020
The Black Community’s Response
A particularly contentious exchange between journalist Afua Adom and radio broadcaster Ed Adoo on Good Morning Britain revealed two sides of thinking in the UK’s black community. Hosts Susannah Reid and Ben Shephard presided over the discussion.
Adoo, a defender of and acknowledged acquaintance of Stewart, eventually cited “political correctness” as a factor in Stewart’s downfall.
What has happened to Shapland in the wake of this scandal?
In short, aside from ITV News, Shapland has become the primary target of Stewart’s Twitter defenders. Without the benefit of other examples of Stewart’s inappropriate social media conduct, Shapland is the lone target of Stewart’s supporters.
The backlash has been significant, to the point that it has even led to death threats for Shapland. The Guardian revealed that Shapland said he was forced to delete all the posts on his Twitter account following a stream of abusive posts on Thursday. One respondent even told Shapland that he “would need to look over his shoulder for the rest of his life.”
Shapland’s Tweet deletions did not occur before some Stewart supporters pulled up some of his own seemingly questionable posts.
How did Shapland respond to the resignation?
Before the deletions, Shapland finally responded on Thursday with a Tweet in the wake of the announcement by the former ITV news presenter:
“In so far as Mr Stewart caused hurt and upset, intentionally or otherwise, in an exchange earlier this month, there is a wider context. There was not a single post, as has been widely reported, but several posts written by Mr Stewart, which have all now been deleted.
“I understand that Mr Stewart has acknowledged the words he used were misjudged and has expressed regret at what happened. I thank him for that.”
Intriguingly, as the news went out about Stewart’s resignation and supporters stated the punishment was too harsh, Shapland indicated that he agreed to some extent. He said:
“No one is perfect. We are all human and we all need to learn from our experiences and mistakes and try to be better people in the wake of them. An apology and commitment to be more careful about language was all that I would have asked.
“It is regrettable that he has decided to stand down and I take no pleasure in that. He has evidently gone through an ITN and ITV process and I respect his choice.”