Daytime TV is like the visual version of hot soup and a blanket. It’s the accompaniment to our sick days, the white noise in the backdrops of our lives. It’s harmless – comforting even, like a cup of tea or a hug from a baby. Right?

But when you dig a little deeper, push past the 5-minute recipes and the competitions to win a sports car, when you rummage past the women gossiping about inadequate husbands or talk shows about family problems, you find that things don’t look quite so innocuous.

Daytime television has come under fire recently – particularly Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby of ITV’s This Morning fame. First, there was the gameshow-ification of the cost of living crisis in which viewers could “spin to win” the chance to get their energy bills paid, offering a sickening glimpse of a dystopian future where financial security lies entirely on the basis of luck (and the ability to pay for however many phone calls it takes to get live on air).

Unsurprisingly, social media and Ofcom was awash with complaints about the distasteful optics of the This Morning competition, which seemed alarmingly reminiscent of a Black Mirror episode, and how wealthy and privileged hosts gleefully spinning a glittery wheel that might determine someone’s ability to survive this winter perhaps wasn’t the best of ideas given the current economic climate.

Then of course came queue-gate – a scandal that seemed to inspire even more outrage on social media from people who felt the image of two entitled television hosts sauntering past members of the public who had queued for upwards of 15 hours to see the Queen’s coffin wasn’t particularly sensitive to the aching knees or grieving hearts of those in the queue.

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I do understand the outrage on both of these accounts, but I can’t help but wonder why it feels like the nation is only waking up to what’s been in front of our eyes the whole time. Something about daytime TV has made me uncomfortable for a while – maybe that’s because I’ve spent a concerning amount of time glued to it whilst on maternity leave this year, but the more you watch with a critical eye, the more the hostile politics, the racism and the classism, and the damaging narratives expose themselves. The question is: does daytime TV reflect our views as a society, or is it subtly, surreptitiously shaping them?

So much of daytime TV over the past decade-plus has constituted nothing more than exposing the struggles of vulnerable people. It’s an astonishing and depressing indictment of a society intent on gorging on the misfortune of the already materially disadvantaged.

Take the Jeremy Kyle show. Mercifully, it’s now rightly considered a black stain on the nation’s viewing history due to the tragic events that caused its downfall, but as a country we devoured it for 15 years. To think I spent my sick days home from school watching the lives of people structurally disenfranchised disintegrate on my TV screen, observing their poverty and their mental health struggles and their addictions as though it was a sport makes me baulk now, but we all did it.

Even now, we consume hardline, sometimes even extreme views whilst munching on our morning cornflakes without thinking twice, because they are dressed in the language of no-nonsense, tell-it-how-it-is facts from our favourite faces. And that’s what, troublingly, lends them their authenticity and the trust of the nation.

Consider how shows like Loose Women discuss complex and nuanced political issues such as immigration or extremism. In seemingly defending the government’s Rwanda plan, panelist Jane Moore suggested that, unlike Ukrainians, not all refugees coming to British shores are from war-torn countries – an argument peddled by the far right to paint refugees as dishonest scroungers (although I am not saying that Moore is far-right).

And a whole host of unsavoury individuals with views that come across to many as nothing short of discriminatory are regularly platformed on daytime television – their often unproven views packaged up and dispersed for public consumption as we lounge on our sofas. Whether that’s Julia Hartley-Brewer, a periodic feature on programmes like This Morning and Good Morning Britain, who seems to possess a vitriol-filled opinion on everything from islamophobia (“It’s not Islamophobic to criticise a style of dress based on a medieval misogynistic culture,” she once tweeted) to Meghan Markle, or Dan Wootton, who was a Lorraine regular up until a couple of years ago and is still a prominent face on our screens despite calling Black Lives Matter organisers “race baiters”.

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As if it wasn’t bad enough that these strong views are being disseminated to the public, in the aftermath of the pandemic, we’ve seen that even harmful conspiracy theories about the coronavirus vaccine can be freely wielded by daytime television favourites live on air and to their significant social media following.

Common faces on our screens such as Carol McGiffin, a Loose Women panelist, and This Morning presenter Josie Gibson have promoted vaccine-sceptical views. “My son will not be subject to an experimental vaccine,” tweeted Gibson, who also suggested, with no evidence, that people with severe allergic reactions had been deliberately excluded from the vaccine’s clinical trials. McGiffin, meanwhile, said that claims by deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam that the vaccine had prevented thousands of deaths were “meaningless bulls***”, claiming that the numbers were “made up”.

It’s difficult to measure the true impact of this, but if we are to consider that daytime TV shows hit peak ratings during the pandemic when more people were working from home, it’s possible that misinformation could have influenced the decisions of people already sceptical about the vaccine – to potentially deadly effect.

The problem with daytime television is built into its format, upholding and normalising hostile politics by design. We come to trust the faces we see every single morning implicitly. We invite them into our homes, allow their opinions to soak into our children’s minds as well as our own. We task them with holding politicians to account in interviews, with educating us about the most pressing issues of the day even though they are far from impartial and have careers that rely on viral moments of controversy. For some people, this is the only format of “news” they consume. Shows like This Morning and Loose Women, then, impact how people up and down the country behave. This has genuine and frightening consequences that reach much further than the innocent background noise as we get ready for our day.

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