Ghislaine Maxwell and TalkTV’s battle for ratings

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TalkTV has come under fire for broadcasting an interview in which Ghislaine Maxwell claimed that Jeffrey Epstein was murdered in prison.

Speaking to Jeremy Kyle in a pre-recorded interview from prison in Tallahassee, Florida, the British socialite said she was “shocked” to hear of the disgraced financier’s apparent suicide at a New York City federal jail in 2019. “I believe that he was murdered,” she said. 

Maxwell, daughter of media baron Robert Maxwell, was sentenced in 2021 to 20 years in jail for helping Epstein abuse teenage girls. During the show, Kyle addressed the question of whether Maxwell was paid for the interview. “Let me tell you categorically… not a damn penny and nor would we,” he said.

Nevertheless, the interview has proven controversial and has revived a conversation on what TalkTV and its broadcasting competitors are willing to do to attract viewers.

‘Grotesque’ interview

Kyle has been “pulled apart on social media” for giving airtime to Maxwell, said Metro. For victims to not be “given the same right” must “feel absolutely awful”, wrote one viewer on Twitter.

Chloe Combi, an author, tweeted that broadcasting such an interview is “grotesque” and “like Fred West phoning into a DIY programme”.

If Maxwell “derived narcissistic pleasure out of helping Epstein”, then it’s “fair to say she will gain the same out of continued publicity”, wrote Holly Baxter and Clémence Michallon for the Independent.

Describing the interview as “narcissistic and dangerous”, they said Ghislaine Behind Bars was a “disconcertingly jaunty-feeling title that gives the interview a ‘what she did next’, reality TV-style flavour”.

‘Crap’ ratings

TalkTV, owned by Rupert Murdoch, has struggled to attract the viewers it wants. In an interview with The New Statesman last year, the channel’s flagship presenter Piers Morgan admitted that his “crap” ratings “used to eat away at my soul like a flesh-eating bug”.

In response to that disappointment, Morgan has invited “some pretty controversial interviewees” on to his show, said the magazine, including online influencer Andrew Tate and InfoWars host Alex Jones.

However, the guest who finally delivered numbers for TalkTV was the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. The interview, and clips from it, helped Piers Morgan Uncensored draw 48.3 million views across YouTube and other online platforms in the week in which it aired. Between 8pm and 9pm on the night it was shown, TalkTV was the UK’s seventh most popular channel.

Meanwhile, TalkTV’s rival GB News celebrated a “surprise resurgence” in November, said the inews site. But the success came at a price because “even as the ‘insurgent’ broadcaster pats itself on the back, it is being forced to deny claims that it is winning more viewers by giving a platform to anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists”.

Indeed, said The Guardian last week, the channel “continues to blunder into image-tarnishing controversies”, which see it fall foul of Ofcom and potential advertisers alike, leading to an in-house drive to “clean up its image” and enforce “discipline”.

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