On 7 February 2020 TV presenter Phlip Schofield announced, on ITV’s This Morning that he is gay. Although Mr Schofield insisted that this was his own decision, the journalism website, Byline Investigates, has alleged that he was forced to come out as gay in order to “manage” a threatened Sun story about his private life.
Byline Investigates claims that the Sun threatened to publish a story about Mr Schofield’s sexuality and that an arrangement was then negotiated between the newspaper and his PR representatives as a “damage limitation exercise”. It is said that it was agreed that the Sun would not publish a story about Mr Schofield’s sexuality provided that he then gave them exclusive access on the days following his TV confession.
The following day, the Sun had a front page story about Mr Schofield entitled “I’m gay, I’m proud and I love my incredible wife” with an exclusive interview. Byline Investigates has a full run down of the background to these events and the individuals involved. It suggests that this is an example of “blackmail journalism”.
There is a comment about this story on the Hacked Off website. Executive Director, Kyle Taylor, describes relying on blackmail to force people to reveal personal and intimate details of their private lives as “gutter journalism of the lowest order”.
He went on to say
“It is impossible to know how common this practice is, as the power of the press leaves victims feeling they have no option but to cooperate with newspapers’ bullying tactics. Gareth Thomas and Layla Moran, who were blackmailed by newspapers over their HIV status and sexuality respectively, are rare examples to the contrary. Former Liberal Democrat MP Sir Simon Hughes also accused The Sun of blackmail at the Leveson Inquiry, after his phone records were allegedly illegally obtained, showing a pattern of this misconduct that stems back more than a decade with no signs of changing without proper accountability. None of these cases were backed up by a shred of public interest justification.