Broadcast watchdog receives ‘unprecedented’ number of complaints

·2-min read

Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has said it received an “unprecedented” number of complaints over the last year.

The “vast majority” of the record-breaking number of complaints were about “content that audiences found offensive”, the regulator’s annual report said.

Ofcom received 142,660 complaints in 2020/21, a sharp rise on the previous year’s total of 34,545.

A spokesman said: “We’re a nation of TV lovers, and it’s kept us entertained and informed like never before during lockdown.

“But, from time to time, viewers see things that trouble them, and that’s where we come in.

“We assess every complaint we receive, and while we don’t step in lightly given the importance of free speech we take strong action where we find serious harm to audiences.”

Piers Morgan interview with Keir Starmer
Piers Morgan (Jonathan Brady/PA)

An episode of Good Morning Britain in March which saw Piers Morgan discuss the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah Winfrey became the most complained about TV moment in Ofcom’s history earlier this year.

A total of 54,453 people complained to the regulator about the episode.

Morgan accounted for four of the top ten most-complained-about broadcasts in the last year after three of his interviews with MPs also attracted thousands of complaints.

There were also 25,017 complaints about a Diversity dance routine inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement during Britain’s Got Talent in September.

I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! attracted 11,516 complaints over the welfare of animals used in trials on the show.

Virgin Media BAFTA TV Awards 2021
Diversity’s Jordan and Ashley Banjo (David Fisher/BAFTA)

Ofcom’s report said it is “unusual” to receive such a large volume of complaints about individual broadcasts.

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

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”.

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

“Most of these complaints did not raise issues warranting investigation under our rules,” the report said.

“However, when they did, we expedited investigations due to the serious nature of some of the content.

“We recorded eight breaches of our rules in this area including on the service Loveworld, which featured highly misleading statements about the pandemic without providing adequate protection to the audience.”