Broadcasters have hit out at the “cancellation” of Alastair Stewart following his departure from ITV News over social media posts.
Stewart – whose career in front of the camera spans 40 years – said in a statement to the PA news agency that he made a “misjudgment which I regret”.
Martin Shapland, who was involved in an exchange on Twitter in which Stewart quoted a Shakespeare passage including the phrase “angry ape”, said there were several posts which have “now been deleted.”
But broadcasters have rallied to support the veteran newsreader, and are “pretty appalled” about the “ignominious end to his career”.
A broadcaster who worked with Stewart, 67, for many years told the PA news agency that the star had been “cancelled”.
“If they just wanted rid of him, which these days just happens because you’re a bit old and a bit expensive, there are other, fairer ways,” the broadcaster said.
“He’s senior, he’s well loved. He’s somebody who should have left in a blaze of glory.
“He’s one of the greats… It’s this quite modern idea that you get cancelled for saying just one thing.
“Very, very senior journalists, broadcasters who either worked with him or know him through their jobs, are pretty appalled that this has happened to him.”
The broadcaster, who wished to remain anonymous, added: “The idea of cancelling him like this… a lot of senior presenters who worked with him are saying if they wanted to get rid of him, why not arrange that he’s going to leave in 18 months?”
“The question is being asked, ‘Why on earth did they do it like this?’”
The broadcaster said of the tweet: “It was incredibly insensitive, but is it career defining when I don’t think there’s a racist bone in Alastair Stewart’s body?
“Was it a very stupid thing to do? Yes. Was it insensitive? Yes. I can’t imagine that for a second he meant that in a racist way.
“He certainly should have apologised of course. He could have apologised, come off Twitter, there are ways of showing mea culpa without having to end his career over it.
“It’s a strange world where we can’t quote Shakespeare at all.”
And the broadcaster added: “If there is something else why don’t we have it? There’s plenty of people going through everybody’s feeds to find out what it is about.
“He was a prolific tweeter and did get into battles all the time on Twitter. There should have been a warning before you sack him, saying, ‘This is getting a bit much’, rather than just this.”
ITN said that the journalist’s use of social media “breached” its editorial guidelines, but did not elaborate about the nature of Stewart’s actions.
The quote, which was taken from the play Measure For Measure, was sent during a disagreement on January 13.
Shapland has said he takes “no pleasure” in Stewart leaving his post.
He said: “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.
“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 thanked critic Kate Maltby, saying she “witnessed the whole incident” and concurred “that the exchange was out of character”.
Maltby had tweeted: “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.”
Ranvir Singh told Good Morning Britain she was “upset” about Stewart’s departure and texted her friend to see if he was OK.
“I feel really upset about it… I would never use the word ‘racist’ and his name in the same sentence,” she said.
“He has … only ever been gracious and encouraging to me… He has spoken about other black talent in the newsroom and why companies don’t give them more work … and he wants them to have more work.
“He’s a gentleman.”
She added: “He’s my friend and I feel sorry for him.
“In my gut, I would put my house on it that not for one second did he write that quote thinking that it was in any way a slur on someone’s skin colour.”
Good Morning Britain host Ben Shephard said: “I’ve been lucky enough to work with Alastair over the years as well, and he’s an extraordinarily generous person with experience as a broadcaster to work with.”
Broadcaster Katie Derham wrote on Twitter: “So very sorry to hear the news about Alastair Stewart stepping down from ITN.
“A very dear friend and colleague; enormous fun and extremely supportive, and unbelievably well informed. He will be missed.”
Andrew Neil wrote: “Alastair Stewart – very smart, kindly, professional, impartial, knowledgeable, fun…
“Now the only person to be fired for quoting Shakespeare accurately. The only explanation can be the ITN suits wanted him out — and seized their chance.”
Andrea Catherwood wrote: “What a sad end to Alastair Stewart’s long and distinguished ITN career.”
ITV newsreader Mary Nightingale wrote on Twitter: “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.”
Julie Etchingham tweeted: “So sad to learn this – we have worked on many big stories together and Al is a trusted friend and guide to many of us.”
Sky News broadcaster Adam Boulton wrote: “A great TV journalist, professional model and friend. Alastair Stewart. So sad.”
The statement said that the decision to quit was “supported by both ITV and ITN”.
Stewart, who joined ITN in 1980 as industrial correspondent, said: “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, who has deleted his Twitter account, has been a staff reporter and presenter on ITV News programmes.
Recently he has worked as a part-time freelance presenter, mainly on the lunchtime news and weekend programmes.
Michael Jermey, director of news and current affairs at ITV, said: “Alastair has been a long-standing, familiar figure to viewers of ITV News, both reporting and presenting with distinction.
“We wish him the very best for the future.”
During his career, Stewart has covered stories such as the Beslan school siege and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he has been honoured with several awards.
In 2004, he was named presenter of the year at the Royal Television Society Awards and in 2006 he received an OBE for services to broadcasting and charity.
A petition to get him reinstated has notched up more than 3,000 signatures.