Lorraine Kelly has said Piers Morgan should not be sacked from Good Morning Britain, after thousands signed a petition calling for him to lose his job.
Morgan, 54, has been criticised for “dehumanising” transgender people, with almost 14,000 asking ITV bosses to drop him from the morning show.
However, a rival petition to keep him on-air for his “common sense approach to life” has been signed by nearly 32,000.
Monday morning’s edition of GMB featured Morgan and his co-host Susanna Reid debating whether he should be fired from the show.
Kelly, who is celebrating 35 years in broadcasting, told the PA news agency Morgan, a close friend, was hosting the debate “with his tongue firmly in his cheek”.
She also praised the TV host and former newspaper editor as “actually a very kind person” despite his brash on-screen persona.
Speaking at the Women of the Year awards, she told PA: “He’s doing it with his tongue firmly in his cheek, of course.
“When he actually said, ‘We are going to debate whether or not I am going to fired,’ and of course my response was: ‘From a cannon?’”
The event in London was attended by well-known faces including former prime minister Theresa May, ex-Strictly judge Arlene Phillips and former Bake Off host Mel Giedroyc.
Last month, Morgan said he identified as a “two-spirit penguin” following the news a baby penguin at London Aquarium would be raised gender neutral by a lesbian penguin couple.
The aquarium said this was “completely natural” and Morgan faced criticism from LGBT campaigners and on social media.
Asked whether Morgan should lose his job over his comments, she said: “Of course not. Of course not. It’s ridiculous. But don’t you imagine he is not revelling in all the attention – because he is.
“Actually, he is making a very good point. Whether you agree with someone or not, you can’t have a situation where we are going to shut people down.
“Let them be heard and you can make up your own mind. And if you disagree vehemently, which very often I do – sometimes I do agree with him and sometimes I don’t.
“But we have to have a society where we can have those opinions and we can talk about it and debate it.
“Actually, sometimes we can shed light on something that needs that.
“So of course he shouldn’t be sacked. Of course not. And he won’t be.
“But actually, when you get to know the real person he is actually a very kind person. He would hate me saying that. He is a very kind person. He is. I have a lot of time for him.
“And of course, he can be provocative and controversial because that is what he does.”
Kelly, 59, became a familiar face hosting GMTV, ITV Breakfast and Daybreak, and now her eponymous ITV morning programme Lorraine.
She said: “How did that happen? Honestly, it feels like no time has passed at all.
“It has all merged into one but in a good way. 35 years… it’s crazy. Just crazy.”
Kelly said the Women of the Year awards, which shines a light on extraordinary women who have all achieved something of significance, were especially important in these “fractured” times.
“This event has always been important but in these times we have become so fractured and politics is very toxic,” she said.
“It’s so lovely to come to an event where we are basically celebrating women and their incredible achievements.”
Winners at the event included British-Syrian medical advocate Dr Rola Hallam, who worked in hospitals in Aleppo during the Syrian conflict, and The Hygiene Bank founder Lizzy Hall.