Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom sees complaints in 'unprecedented' numbers

Piers Morgan

image copyrightReuters

Media regulator Ofcom received a huge number in complaints over the last year – the highest since it started in 2002.

The UK broadcasting watchdog received 142,660 complaints between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021, a 410% rise on the previous 12 months’ total of 34,545.

Piers Morgan’s comments on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Oprah Winfrey TV interview on Good Morning Britain in March drew a record 54,453 complaints.

Morgan accounts for three more of the 10 most-complained about TV broadcasts.

The other instances relate to two Good Morning Britain interviews with social care minister Helen Whately and a third with Home Office minister Victoria Atkin.

Morgan chose to leave Good Morning Britain in March rather than retract his criticisms of the Duchess of Sussex.

Diversity’s Black Lives Matter-inspired dance routine on Britain’s Got Talent in September prompted 25,017 complaints.

Ofcom did not launch a formal investigation into the routine, which went on to win the Must-See Moment award at this year’s TV Baftas.

Jordan and Ashley Banjo

image copyrightPA Media

Another 2,565 complaints were received after Alesha Dixon wore a BLM necklace while judging the ITV talent show.

The use of live animals during trials on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! prompted 11,516 complaints to the media regulator.

All 10 of the most complained about TV broadcasts originated on ITV, though only three of them generated more than 3,000 complaints.

Good Morning Britain accounts for half of the 10, with Britain’s Got Talent accounting for four and I’m A Celebrity the remaining one.

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Ofcom’s 10 most-complained about single transmission programmes:

  1. Good Morning Britain: 8 March 2021 -Comments by Piers Morgan about the Duchess of Sussex’s reference to feeling suicidal – 54,453.
  2. Britain’s Got Talent: 5 September 2020 – Objections to performance by Diversity on 5 September referencing Black Lives Matter – 25,017.
  3. I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! – Welfare of animals used in trials on the show – 11,516.
  4. Britain’s Got Talent: 19 September 2020 – Alesha Dixon wearing a necklace with the initials “BLM” being offensive and not suitable for a non-political show – 2,565.
  5. Britain’s Got Talent: 10 September 2020 – Objections to Nabil Abdulrashid’s performance on the grounds of finding it offensive – 2,253.
  6. Good Morning Britain – 15 April 2020 – Objections to Piers Morgan’s manner of interviewing Helen Whateley MP – 2,017.
  7. Good Morning Britain – 22 April 2020 – Objections to Piers Morgan’s manner of interviewing Helen Whateley MP – 1,334.
  8. Britain’s Got Talent – 3 October 2020 – Objections to Nabil Abdulrashid’s performance on the grounds of finding it offensive, and Amanda Holden’s dress was too revealing, unsuitable for a family audience – 1,189.
  9. Good Morning Britain – 28 April 2020 – Perceived bias / bullying from Piers Morgan when interviewing Victoria Atkin, MP – 1,178.
  10. Good Morning Britain – 26 November 2020 – Disputed Rishi Sunak’s claims that he had met with excluded UK leaders – 1,068.

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Ofcom said: “In many of the cases above, we did not find the issues warranted an investigation.”

They added that on some occasions, where they did decide a programme “did not raise substantive issues under the code but there was significant public attention”, they published the reasons behind their decision not to investigate.

According to Ofcom, the vast majority of the complaints it received in 2020/21 were about “content that audiences found offensive”.

It said there was an “increase in the number of complaints specifically about potentially racially offensive broadcast content”.

‘Nation of TV lovers’

Previous research by Ofcom found “societal norms have shifted in recent years, and discriminatory behaviours and language are now more commonly perceived as unacceptable than was previously the case”.

“We’re a nation of TV lovers, and it’s kept us entertained and informed like never before during lockdown,” its spokesperson said. “From time to time viewers see things that trouble them, and that’s where we come in.”

Ofcom said it was “unusual” to receive such a large volume of complaints about individual broadcasts.

The regulator said it had also received a high number of complaints relating to content about the pandemic.

Almost half of the broadcasts Ofcom formally investigated – 48% – were found to be in breach of its broadcasting code.

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