New York - Major advertisers have begun cancelling spots on America's most-watched cable news show following reports of sexual harassment involving the star Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
US insurer Allstate and French pharmaceutical maker Sanofi became the latest to exit on Tuesday, following the lead of a handful of auto brands dropping ads for Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor," a favourite among conservatives.
Allstate spokesman Justin Herndon said, "Inclusivity and support for women are important Allstate values. We are concerned about the issues surrounding the programme and we have suspended our advertising."
A Sanofi statement said the group had "reallocated" its ads.
"The controversy around 'The O'Reilly Factor' programme and allegations made against Bill O'Reilly are matters that we take seriously and will continue to monitor," Sanofi said.
The moves came after a New York Times report said the cable news giant and O'Reilly had paid five women a total of US$13 million(S$18 million) in the cases spanning 15 years, in exchange for their silence and agreement not to pursue litigation against Fox News, a favourite among conservatives.
While two of the cases were previously known, the Times said it had unearthed three more cases of harassment, two of a sexual nature and one alleging verbally abusive behaviour by O'Reilly.
Companies previously dropping advertising included BMW North America, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz.
"While it's hard to tell what the facts are, the allegations are disturbing," Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman Donna Boland said.
"Given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don't feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now."
"The O'Reilly Factor" is the most widely viewed US cable news show, with an average of 3.98 million viewers in early 2017, according to Adweek.
From January 2015 to September 2016, the programme pulled in some US$297 million in ad revenues, according to the research firm Kantar Media.
A BMW spokesman said the German auto giant was suspending ads for the programme "in light of the recent New York Times investigation."
Hyundai said it had no current ads on the programme but had scheduled some.
The South Korean firm is "reallocating them (to other Fox programs) due to the recent and disturbing allegations," a statement read.
"As a company we seek to partner with companies and programming that share our values of inclusion and diversity," Hyundai said.
"We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation as we plan future advertising decisions."
Toyota suspended ads for the show, saying "we take our duties as a responsible advertiser."
A Fox statement said the channel was working with its "partners to address the concerns.
"At this time, the ad buys of those clients have been re-expressed into other (Fox) programs," said Paul Rittenberg, executive vice president for ad sales.
Media reports said as many as 12 brands had decided to drop ads on the show as of Tuesday.
The reports on O'Reilly came as Fox News and its ousted chief Roger Ailes were hit Monday with a fresh sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a female contributor who says she was denied a job after refusing the chairman's advances.
The lawsuit by Julie Roginsky, a political strategist who was a contributing commentator, came eight months after Ailes, a confidant of the cable network's founder Rupert Murdoch, was forced out over an earlier harassment suit.