The editor of This Morning, which recently sacked Phillip Schofield, has been scolded by an ITV boss for making “extremely ill-judged” comments when asked about an alleged “toxic” work environment on the programme.
Magnus Brooke, group director of strategy, policy and regulation at ITV, also refused to say whether Martin Frizell's job at This Morning was safe following weeks of rumours about a problematic culture at the show.
Mr Brooke was quizzed by MP John Nicolson about allegations of bullying and the behaviour of Mr Frizell when appearing at the Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing on Tuesday.
Mr Frizell on Monday told a journalist asking whether there was a "toxic" culture at This Morning that he'd always found aubergines to be toxic, before asking whether the reporter liked the vegetable.
"I'll tell you what's toxic... Aubergine": This Morning editor Martin Frizell dodges questions on claims about ITV's work environment
Mr Nicolson called Mr Frizell’s remarks “outrageously dismissive and flippant on camera about an immensely serious issue”.
Frizell was approached by reporters ahead of presenter Holly Willoughby’s return to This Morning following the furore over Phillip Schofield’s departure from ITV after he admitted having an affair with a younger colleague.
Asked if there is a “toxic” work environment on the show, the editor replied: “I’ll tell you what’s toxic, and I’ve always found it toxic – aubergine. Do you like aubergine? Do you? Do you like aubergine, because I don’t like aubergine. It’s just a personal thing.”
Mr Brooke told MPs: “I wouldn’t endorse what he said.”
He said he would not use the word “bizarre” to describe the comments and that it was “extremely ill-judged to say what he did”.
Mr Brooke added: “I can reassure you on behalf of ITV that we do take all of these allegations very seriously precisely because we do have a culture where people’s conduct matters enormously.”
Asked if Frizell’s position is secure, he said: “That is not a question for me and not a question for now.”
Appearing to refer to Willoughby’s statement on Monday, SNP MP Mr Nicolson also asked Mr Brooke if he was “OK” to which the ITV boss replied that he was “fine”.
Mr Nicolson added: “It’s the question du jour at This Morning.”
In her first on-screen appearance since Schofield’s departure, Willoughby told viewers: “Firstly, are you OK? I hope so. It feels very strange indeed sitting here without Phil.”
In the committee hearing, Mr Nicolson said: “I spent some time at the weekend talking to whistleblowers from ITV, including people who work and have worked at This Morning. It seems like a very unhappy place.
“Are you satisfied with the duty of care that the editorial team and senior managers provide to staff, especially young staff working there and at ITV more generally?”
Mr Brooke said: “I think there is a very sophisticated and significant system of safeguarding and duty of care at ITV.”
Addressing the bullying allegations made by staff, Mr Brooke said: “We take our responsibilities in relation to safeguarding and duty of care very seriously.
“Bullying is absolutely in breach of our code of conduct, it’s very clearly set out.”
He added: “Bullying is unacceptable. If we find bullying it’s inconsistent with our policy and we expect people to report it and and we would expect it to be dealt with appropriately and it will be.”
Ex-This Morning presenter Eamonn Holmes and former resident doctor Dr Ranj Singh have both made allegations of a “toxic” culture behind the scenes, with the latter saying he raised concerns about “bullying and discrimination” two years ago when he worked there.
Earlier in the session, committee chairwoman Dame Caroline Dinenage said MPs would not be addressing the issues around former presenter Schofield, 61, leaving the show.
The Conservative MP also referred to ITV chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall being called to appear at the committee on June 14 to answer questions about the broadcaster’s approach to safeguarding and complaint handling.